Gearbox Software employees were reportedly denied promised royalty bonuses linked to Borderlands 3, despite the looter shooter’s massive sales success.
Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford told employees that they will receive bonuses, but nowhere near the up to hundreds of thousands that many expected, Kotaku reported, citing six anonymous sources close to the studio.
Employees of Frisco, Texas-based Gearbox receive below-average salaries compared with peers in other studios, former and current staff have told Kotaku over the years. The draw for working for the Borderlands developer is its profit-sharing scheme, with 40% of the royalties from its games distributed to employees as quarterly bonuses. For 2012’s Borderlands 2, many Gearbox workers reportedly received enough money to buy houses.
The bonuses have since been smaller due to the struggles of 2013’s Aliens: Colonial Marines and 2016’s Battleborn, but Borderlands 3 was expected to turn things around for the studio. Several employees told Kotaku that Gearbox management promised six-figure bonuses, which kept them motivated when working many long nights and weekends to finish the third installment in the series.
Pitchford, however, told employees in a meeting that the Borderlands 3 bonuses will be significantly lower than promised, three sources told Kotaku, as the game cost more to make than planned largely due to the switch mid-way during development from Unreal Engine 3 to Unreal Engine 4, and because the company has grown larger with the addition of a second studio in Quebec, Canada. Pitchford also said that sales projections for Borderlands 3 were off-base.
According to people who were in the meeting, Pitchford also told employees that if they were not happy with the studio’s royalty system, they were welcome to leave.
The promised Borderlands 3 bonuses made a “golden handcuffs situation,” Eurogamer reported, citing sources close to the studio, as developers were forced to stay until the game was completed in order to collect their expected royalties. With the bonuses now handed out, a mass exodus of employees from Gearbox may happen, according to Eurogamer.
In response to Kotaku’s report, Gearbox issued the following statement:
“Borderlands 3 represents an incredible value to gamers and an incredible achievement by the team at Gearbox Software. Our studio is talent-led and we believe strongly in everyone sharing in profitability. The talent at Gearbox enjoys participation in the upside of our games –a to our knowledge, the most generous royalty bonus system in AAA. Since this program began, Gearbox talent has earned over $100M in royalty bonuses above and beyond traditional compensation.
“In the most recent pay period Gearbox talent enjoyed nesws that Borderlands 3, having earned revenue exceeding the largest investment ever made by the company into a single video game, had officially become a profitable video game and the talent at Gearbox that participates in the royalty bonus system has now earned their first royalty bonus on that profit. Additionally, a forecast update was given to the talent at Gearbox that participates in the royalty bonus to set expectations for the coming quarters. Gearbox is a private company that does not issue forward-looking statements to the public, but we do practice transparency within our own family.”
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