Gearbox is no stranger to controversy, but things have been relatively rosy for the studio lately thanks to the success of Borderlands 3 and its DLCs. That changes a bit this week though, with a new report indicating that employees at the studio are paid less than market value and were lied to about their bonuses for working on Borderlands 3.
Kotaku’s Jason Schreier spoke with a handful of anonymous Gearbox employees and published their accounts of the situation today. Borderlands is now officially a ‘$1 billion franchise’, but despite the latest game’s success, employees have been informed by Randy Pitchford that their royalty bonuses will not be close to what was originally projected.
These royalty bonuses are a profit sharing scheme at Gearbox, which the company uses as an incentive for developers to accept a lower wage, but with the potential for higher earnings later on. With Borderlands 3 being a huge game, Gearbox higher-ups apparently told employees to expect six-figure bonuses, but it turns out that won’t be happening.
One of the key issues here is that people who worked on Borderlands 2 did get huge bonus payouts, a fact that Gearbox often uses when recruiting new talent. Many Gearbox workers were even able to buy houses after the royalty cheques for Borderlands 2 came in.
According to sources that were at an internal meeting with Randy Pitchford, he admitted that Borderlands 3 was more expensive than anticipated and sales projections were off-base. Beyond that, Gearbox is now an even larger company, operating two studios, with one based in Quebec.
Borderlands 3 is estimated to have cost around $95 million to make, and the budget rises to $140 million when you include post-launch DLCs. However, due to a contract with publisher 2K Games, Gearbox doesn’t get royalty payments until after the game has recouped development costs.
When asked for comment on the report, a Gearbox spokesperson told Kotaku that to date, $100 million has been shared amongst employees through profit sharing and added the following: “In the most recent pay period Gearbox talent enjoyed news 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.”
KitGuru Says: I understand the frustration from some here, especially after spending many years working on a game. However, the games business is also unpredictable, so profit sharing schemes is going to be a bit risky. What do you all make of the latest talk surrounding Gearbox?