Randy Pitchford wants to keep your expectations in check. The Gearbox Software president, CEO, and founder is excited to bring more Borderlands 2 content to fans that, nearly a full year later, still seem ravenous for more, but he wants everyone to be clear on one thing: this is not a second “season” of content.
“We’re doing more beyond season one,” he says, laughing nervously. We’re sitting in Pitchford’s Plano, Texas office, a modest space packed with vintage consoles sitting on pedestals, various awards, and other bits of ephemera. There’s even an Oculus Rift dev kit case stashed in a corner, a brand new toy to play with. It’s an inviting office for a serious gamer to step into and a generally relaxed space overall, but Pitchford seems tense when the subject of a “second content season” comes up. Why wouldn’t he be? Borderlands 2 has a very large and very vocal fanbase. When information is miscommunicated – it happens, that’s life – the scale of the community gathered around the game makes damage control very tricky. Just try Googling “Borderlands 3 release plans” for an object lesson in conflicting reports.
“If you think about what’s in the Season Pass, it is an incredible amount of stuff,” Pitchford says. “There’s four campaign DLCs, that was the promise from the beginning. You get them for the price of three. Then later we added the level cap increase and some other features. We just threw it in that bundle because a lot more people bought it than we expected, so we could afford to put more value into it. If you think about all of that, the sum of all that content is larger than the game itself.”
Now we have the recently released Ultimate Vault Hunter Upgrade Pack 2: Digistruct Peak Challenge, which boosts the game’s level cap to 72 and adds a whole new system of “Overpower levels.” It’s one for the super-duper fans, the folks with multiple, fully leveled characters and hundreds of hours invested. And yet it’s nowhere near approaching something on the scale of the four Season Pass content releases. Those were fully fleshed out mini-campaigns with multiple locations, new enemies, and re-worked systems. The same can be said of the upcoming Headhunter packs, like TK Baha’s Bloody Harvest. There’s no comparing these single-mission-plus-boss DLC offerings with something like Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep.
“We’ve got more content to come, but if you get it in your mind that you’re expecting the same amount that was in the Season Pass, I’m afraid we’re going to disappoint you,” Pitchford continues. “Because the content that’s to come is not of that same scale. It’s not going to be priced at the same scale, so the value will be great, but it’s not at that same scale.”
“If you get it in your mind that you’re expecting the same amount that was in the Season Pass, I’m afraid we’re going to disappoint you.”
“What typically happens in a AAA game is you launch and [usage] spikes really high. At launch, that’s when most people are playing. And then from that moment on, it just goes down, down, down… tapering off in a little tail. That’s the typical pattern,” Pitchford says. “Here’s what we see in [Borderlands 2]. In terms of player sessions, the amount of data that we’re getting out of our [player-tracking] system is more today than it was when we launched. It spiked with the launch of the Krieg character [in May 2013] and the Tiny Tina DLC [in June]. Those two things together combined with things like… the Steam Summer Sale [and other discounts].”
“The combination of all of that now means there’s more people playing Borderlands, more time being spent playing Borderlands, than there was even when we launched the game. That’s a new world for us. That’s the opposite of any pattern you see with a AAA video game.”
There’s no denying that Borderlands is a different beast in comparison to other AAA titles. There are many games that share one feature or another with it, and many games before it that inspired those features. None of this is what sets it apart. There’s something in the secret sauce that is Borderlands 2‘s success, that propels it into this other space where gamers are putting in the sort of time and effort that would normally be reserved for a massively multiplayer online game. It’s not an easy thing to pin down, but Pitchford thinks it relates to the way Gearbox works as a team.
“Why is Borderlands different from every other game with respect to DLC? It’s because we haven’t really worried about what the past models are. We just thought about what would be fun for us to make and what there would be demand for if it were to exist,” he says. “People inside of Gearbox have ideas they’re excited about, things they want to create, things that would be fun for them to build. That’s always good. Things that are created with passion tend to work out better than things that are assignments that we don’t really want to do.”
“We are still spending energy building new things for Borderlands 2, but we are also building new things for the future.”
The way that Gearbox is wired, demands means very little unless someone on the inside has a good idea – something they’re genuinely excited about – for taking things further. You can see it in the origins of Bloody Harvest. We learned previously that the premise of this first Headhunter Pack has been around since fall 2012. It was conceived as a Halloween treat, a quick piece of post-release DLC that amounted to little more than a boss fight. Development and certification timetables prevented that release from happening, but the idea stuck around and was later developed into the first of what will be this series of Headhunter Packs.
“It’s the nexus between demand and creative passion,” Pitchford says of the internal process that leads to DLC planning “On the development side, demand wouldn’t do it. Demand alone might let a business case be created, but things driven by that will have a risk of being soulless. You need it being driven from both directions. You need the nexus between demand and creative passion that wants to make something. Everything that we’re working on right now is entirely inspired by passion.”
That passion goes a long way, but there are still basic realities that Gearbox needs to deal with. Borderlands 2 is last year’s game at this point, and no amount of new content will allow a game released in September 2012 to steal much attention from 2013 heavy-hitters like Grand Theft Auto V and Call of Duty: Ghosts. That’s not even mentioning the imminent launch of new consoles, which could see many of the platforms that Borderlands 2 is currently playable on shoved into a closet. There’s always an eye toward letting the Gearbox team have fun and try new things out, but most ongoing efforts at the studio are currently being funneled into what’s ahead for gaming. That, more than anything else, is the reason why Pitchford tenses at the thought of referring to the new Borderlands 2 content as a “season.”
“We are still spending energy building new things for Borderlands 2, but we are also building new things for the future. We’re building some new things for next-generation consoles, we’re creating some new IP, we’ve got a lot of attention diverting to other efforts beyond Borderlands 2,” he says. “It’s not fair for me to say there’s another season. There’s not going to be as much new stuff, but the good news is, there’s more stuff and it’s awesome and the value of it will exceed the cost. But I don’t want anyone, later, saying, ‘Why wasn’t there a whole season like there was before?’ There might turn out to be, but I can only see what we have in motion right now.”
This chat happened when we visited Gearbox Software’s office in August 2013 for an inside look at the dev team’s DLC development process for Borderlands 2. If you missed it, make sure you check out our deep-dive looks at the story DLC and character DLC, as well as early glimpses of the post-Season Pass content. Not enough? We’ve also got a gallery jam packed with never-before-seen concept art that also includes a handful of DLC script excerpts.