Randy Pitchford – incredibly cheerful and easy-going person, who, being a head of such a large and famous studio as Gearbox Softaware, remains an infantile geek, in a good sense of this expression, he selflessly loves what he does. Thanks to the developers, including Randy, we have Brothers in Arms series and Borderlands, as well as, for example, Halo: Combat Evolved. Just a few people know that this person was involved in the development of Duke Nukem 3D Atomic Edition – before the foundation of Gearbox in 1999. Pitchford had been also working for Apogee Software, a.k.a. 3D Realms.
Among other positive qualities, Randy appeared to be an interesting conversationalist and we were pleased to use this opportunity to speak with him on different topics – from the ideas that his studio is guided by during the development, to his personal views on Gearbox and opinions about other gamedevelopers.
Hi, Randy. Let's talk about how Gearbox Software has been formed, how it made through to its current state? What does guide its employees in game development?
Myself, my partners and the people of Gearbox are passionate about entertainment and believe that interactive entertainment is the best form. As a new medium that is still evolving and growing, it's really exciting and stimulating to be part of that growth and evolution. I think the core foundational philosophies and sense of purpose has been really simple and consistent since the beginning and that's really helped our studio.
We know you'd created your first game when you were a child. You were working as a wizard for the famous 'Magic Castle’ club in Hollywood during UCLA years. Are video games and magic similar in some ways?
Video games and magic have a lot in common. In both cases, your audience must trust the entertainer and let themselves believe in a world that isn't real in order to access the entertainment. In magic, we make an unsaid deal with our audience where we basically say, "Trust me and follow me down this rabbit hole, even if it's a little strange, and when we get there together you'll have a sense of wonder and surprise that will delight you and entertain you." Video games often make the same sort of deal with their audiences and being able to anticipate what the customer is imagining along the way is really critical to getting the customer to the joy and wonder we hope to offer them.
What are the main principles of the Gearbox? What were the goals you and the other co-founders (Stephen Bahl, Brian Martel, Landon Montgomery and Rob Heironimus) originally set? Did you reach those goals or did the goals themselves change?
Our simple philosophy is to prioritize Happiness and Harmony among talent, direct our Creativity towards Entertainment for our customers and, as a business, always be conscientious of Money and the necessity for our partners and ourselves to Profit so that we can keep doing what we do. The metrics we use to measure ourselves include the number of people we are able to reach and entertain and the extent to which we are able to gratify and build good will with the people we reach. This connects with our purpose, which is about adding joy and positivity to the world through entertainment that we create. We know there are a lot of noble and important things each of us in this world can spend our time doing to be valuable citizens that are furthering positive human interests.
We know that a huge component of why life is worth living relates to the joy we can experience while we're alive. So, we have dedicated ourselves towards the creation of joy and we have done this in the area of interactive entertainment because it's so interesting and complex and stimulating. This overall purpose of creating interactive entertainment really animates us all here at the studio and I always feel so proud and grateful that I'm able to share my time with such wonderful, inventive people.
What is the biggest company's achievement? And the biggest failure?
I think we're just getting started — that our biggest achievements are ahead of us. I think our biggest failure is that we haven't nearly gone as far as we wish to. When we take risks, which we must, we are bound to have some failures. In my experience, the failures are great opportunities for learning and for growth. I've always profited from failure and, fortunately, I've never had to go too long without one.
What is the source of inspiration for you, your muse? Is there any game or studio that delights you? Do you have serious rival companies and what are them?
Talented, driven people and the results of their efforts are always an inspiration. I'm really impressed with our publishing partners, for example.
Sega is really miraculous to me — especially given how much influence Sega had on me when I was younger in playing games on the Master System and the Genesis and the Dreamcast and such. I'm impressed that they were able to reinvent themselves with a focus on multiplatform software. I'm impressed that they continue to take risks and that they are finding enough success to continue to take more. I really look forward to being there when Sega gets another bulls-eye. Along those line, I cannot wait to launch Aliens: Colonial Marines with Sega as I think it's going to be a big game for them and for us and I think it's going to help further the sense of range that we get when we think about Sega. Success there can open other doors and I hope to be partnered with Sega for many years to come in exploring what's behind those doors.
2Л Games really impresses me in that this label with some of the most innovative and artful games on the planet has become so meaningful and so relevant so quickly. I can't help but think that only 2K Games would've done games like BioShock and Borderlands and I'm really grateful for their sense of adventure. At the same time, how incredible is it that the label also manages some of the best sports games in the industry while still having a casual side and also having a side that partners with the great Sid Meier. It's just really impressive that 2K Games can bring such range so well. I'm really proud to be partnered with 2K Games and both grateful and impressed that they are able to recognize how worthwhile it is to bet on talent and trust where that talent can take things.
I'm also amazed at Ubisoft and how they have managed to become so powerful and meaningful across such a wide spectrum of interactive entertainment. When you consider Ubisoft's roots and how these guys built such a successful company over time, you really have to have a lot of respect for them. I remember when we first began working with Ubisoft when they agreed to publish our first Brothers in Arms game, they were somewhere around #7 or #8 worldwide in the ranking of third party publishers. Their success from that point grew to a peak of them being the #3 third party publisher worldwide. I really respect that success and I'm proud that our games helped to be a part of that success.
How does Gearbox manage to attract new fans?
That's an interesting question — it sort of assumes that it's a goal to attract fans. We certainly have the goal of reaching as many people as possible and we hope and do everything we can to gratify the people we reach. There's enough humility around here where I feel grateful for the attention of anyone who likes what we create and I think there's a lot of that kind of feeling going around the studio. We're often imperfect and with entertainment it's really impossible to please everyone, but I know it's always the intent to try and build good will.
Often, I'll get e-mail from people who've been exposed to our games and felt compelled to reach out to us and some of it is really moving and it reminds us of why we do what we do. I'll often forward some of these e-mails to the team with a comment like, "Why We Fight!"
Describe us (or maybe name us?) your 'ideal game'. What is it like?
I tend to like the natural elegance that comes when story, style and design are all working together harmoniously. What I mean is in those rare instances when a game has some kind of thing that makes it unique, whether it's a game design approach or an art direction or audio direction approach or even a unique story line where when you think about that one thing it's notable and you want to have a look but when you take all of the other things together with it they all just feel like they are exactly the right approach.
Sometimes some of these elements are generic enough where it could've been approached a lot of different ways and that seems to have less of an impact on me as "ideal". Sometimes some of these elements are actually wrong — where the color of the story doesn't match the feeling of the visual design or the flow of the input and feedback loop. In those cases it almost certainly doesn't feel "ideal". But when story, style and design all harmoniously support one another and feed into the sense that everything is natural and correct it tends to feel more "ideal".
While working for 3D Realms and Gearbox were there some things you really didn't like but had to do anyway?
The challenges that come along with game making tend to be very stimulating and gratifying and as long as we're thinking about the customer and thinking about the result we're trying to achieve, it's really natural to work through the difficulties and even the tedium sometimes. The tedious things tend to be the most difficult for me, but I can do repetitive stuff if it's necessary or optimal to do so or if doing so lends towards the sense of gratification I'll have from success. Sometimes there are things we have to do that aren't naturally enjoyable. That's when our true character and motives are exposed. When we can roll up our sleeves and get things done, it's clear evidence that we have the strength to be a commercially creative person.
Some people all around the world treat games as an entertainment for nerds and teenagers only. What counter-arguments you'd use if have a conversation with such person (for some reasons we suppose you don't treat games as an entertainment for nerds and teenagers only)?
I don't think I would bother arguing such a thing with such a person. I have, however, recommended games and gaming experiences that I think would be enjoyable to people who I imagine do not typically play games. I must have sold a number of Nintendo Wii's to family members with this line of reasoning.
Are you ever planning on leaving the game development industry for some other industries? Or would you say it's the job for your lifetime?
I feel pretty strongly right now about creating entertainment — it's difficult for me to imagine how I won't be doing it until I'm just mentally or physically incapable. But who can really think that far ahead with such certainty of outcomes?
What way the industry is following at the moment and what way it should follow, to your mind? What companies influence the industry now — large companies or small indie-studios?
That is an incredibly complex question! I'll attempt to offer a simple answer: everyone who is taking risks and trying new things and reaching people, big or small, is having an influence on the progress of interactive entertainment.
Journalist: Pavel Brel
Translation: Vyacheslav Bayramov