Gearbox is no stranger to controversy, and a new report only makes the developer look worse and worse. According to Kotaku, who spoke with a handful of sources under the condition of anonymity, Gearbox is not offering staff the expected royalty bonuses they had thought they were getting for working on Borderlands 3.
Sources speaking with Kotaku said that Randy Pitchford, who took a $12 million bonus in 2016, held a meeting yesterday in which he told employees that their bonuses would be much, much less than expected. Pitchford apparently cited the game being more expensive than anticipated to make, the company expanding, and off-base sales projections as the reasoning behind this. He did not point to the COVID-19 pandemic as a factor in this decision.
The company is known for paying its workers less than the industry standard, but would previously make up for it through profit sharing. Royalties from all of the developer's games would be split 60/40, with 60% going back to Gearbox and its owners, while the remaining 40% would be split between the employees in the form of quarterly bonuses. This had been going on since the studio was founded, and the report indicates that bonuses from Borderlands 2 were so large that some employees were able to by houses from them. Management apparently promised some of the Borderlands 3 team that they would get six-figure bonuses this year.
Gearbox provided the following statement to Kotaku:
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 – 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 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. Gearbox is a private company that does not issue forward looking statements to the public, but we do practice transparency within our own family.
Pitchford reportedly told people that anyone unhappy with the royalties system — people who are now potentially missing out on tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of dollars — was welcome to quit.
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