The launch of Gearbox's newest shooter has been by all accounts a pretty successful game. Unfortunately, all of that success is reportedly not enough to ensure that Gearbox employees get their Borderlands 3 bonuses.
Kotaku spoke to several sources at the studio which detailed the scope of the problem. Gearbox is said to have lower pay on average as compared to other studios in the industry. They make up for this with a royalty system: 40% of the game's profits are split between developers in the form of quarterly royalty checks.
These checks were expected to go out recently, but the company was mired in a tricky situation. An engine swap and a contract requiring recoupment of development costs meant that while Borderlands 3 was indeed profitable — it sold 5 million copies in its first 5 days — 2K was to receive their money first.
According to those at a recent meeting, Randy Pitchford had stated that he would try to secure some additional money for employees as an advance against future royalties. While the coronavirus pandemic was not cited as a reason behind the lack of bonuses, their absence is probably felt pretty strongly considering how so many people are stuck at home right now.
In 2016, Randy Pitchford reportedly took a $12 million bonus as an advance against Borderlands profits. This led to a lawsuit which was eventually dropped. However, Kotaku notes that this bonus came out of the 60% company share, so it would not have affected the revenue sharing scheme that regular employees participate in. It may, however, have helped set high expectations when combined with the success of Borderlands 3 according to Take 2, that company management had said to expect large bonuses, and the legacy of the large Borderlands 2 bonuses.
What did Gearbox Have to Say about the Borderlands 3 Bonuses?
As for Gearbox, they sent Kotaku the following statement which we've reproduced in full:
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.
Hopefully, the higher-ups at Gearbox will be able to work something out with 2K and get the employees some extra cash in the near future.
What do you think about developers missing out on their Borderlands 3 bonuses? Do you think it was unwise for them to allow 2K to recoup development costs before paying out bonuses to employees? Let us know in the comments below!