Update: Since IGN’s publication of this interview clip, Randy Pitchford has taken to Twitter to defend Borderlands‘ art style, saying that it would be in place going forward for the next Borderlands. As proof, he referenced a GDC talk we reported on earlier this year and stated that the full IGN interview would provide more context to explain his statements.
In our original reporting, we failed to include that Randy mentioned support for the art style decision from the beginning in the IGN interview. Additionally, Randy’s quote about sales figures may have been in jest since they were noted to have been said with a laugh. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused and will continue to update if said context makes things more clear.
Our original article continues below.
Besides the Borderlands series’ resonating, irreverent humor and substantial breadth of content in its open worlds, one aspect that has made it iconic is its graphic novel, cel-shaded art style. In a market replete with photorealistic first-person shooters, it helps Gearbox’s flagship franchise instantly stand out. However, the developer’s CEO Randy Pitchford actually believes it has hampered Borderland’s financial success despite its strong sales over the years.
In an interview with IGN’s Executive Editor Ryan McCaffrey, Pitchford explained that the more cartoonish style of Borderlands arose from wanting to complement the first game’s tone. He said, “I knew it was putting a ceiling on us because there’s – especially back then – there’s just a huge percentage of the gaming audience that does not want a cartoon.”
McCaffrey points out that Borderlands 2 sold particularly well. Indeed, it happens to be 2K’s best-selling game and shipped over 5 million copies several months after its launch and has gone on to sell over 12 million copies across all platforms up until 2015. Despite these commendable numbers, Pitchford thinks they could be significantly higher.
Our mission is to entertain the world, so we are dismal failures. Borderlands is a horrific failure if our goal is to entertain the world. There’s seven billion people in the world. What’s 25 million, 30 million units? That sucks. It’s a horrible failure.
It makes one wonder if Borderlands 3 will be moving in a different direction considering Pitchford’s regrets. Not just artistically, but also tonally with its story and characters. While that doesn’t appear to be the case with a small look into the game’s potential assets, his comments are certainly unexpected given the relative success of Borderlands.
I think Pitchford needs to read the old tale of “The Man, The Boy, and The Donkey” where the moral lesson is that if you please everyone, you’ll end up pleasing no one. Niches are meant to be filled and, while limited in appeal, can attract a host of people waiting to be catered to with specific types of gameplay, art styles, and stories. Borderlands fills its space incredibly well in the first-person shooter market and would’ve likely not been as successful if its cartoonish art style had remained realistic. While he seems to be half-joking, I can’t help but feel Pitchford is missing the forest for the trees in regard to how much of an impact Borderlands has made because of its art style, as evidenced in its massive impact on the cosplay scene. Again, it just matches the Borderlands world and stands out against the competition.