Gearbox’s Randy Pitchford: Reviewers Who Don’t Like Duke Nukem Forever Will Be “Held Accountable”

After more than a decade of delays, the release of the much-ballyhooed Duke Nukem Forever is only a week away. With the weight of huge expectations lying heavy on Duke’s abundantly muscled shoulders, it’s no surprise that his masters at Gearbox Software are going to any lengths — and stooping to any lows — to ensure the game‘s success.

There was the press event at the strip club, which only presaged other cynical, exploitative P.R. stunts: carefully choreographed leaks that showcased all the game’s corny, sexist touches, like the tag-team blow job, the glory hole, and the capture-the-flag mode in which the flag is a woman — if she dares to complain about being treated like an object, players can smack her on the ass to shut the bitch up.

Not content to blow the dog-whistle of misogyny while cowering behind the fig leaf of purported parody, Gearbox C.E.O. Randy Pitchford recently ascended his bully pulpit to indulge in another industry standby: intimidating reviewers with cheap scare tactics. Affecting a tone that was part Baghdad Bob, part Tony Soprano, Pitchford unburdened himself to to Eurogamer:

“First of all it is great, it’s very, very entertaining, it’s very fun. It’s also Duke frickin’ Nukem frickin’ Forever. One could not be a gamer in this world without consuming that and having that experience.” The man doesn’t beat around the bush, though presumably his marketing team would have no compunction turning that phrase into some sort of mouthbreathing double entendre. What Pitchford is doing, in essence, is trying to frame the narrative — all real gamers will be buying Duke Nukem Forever, so the rest of you can check your plush headcrabs and pixel art neck tattoos at the door on the way out.

His next statement underscores this point, while suggesting a laughable corollary: the longer a game takes to come out, the better it is, and the more people should want to play it. “You’re just missing out on an entire, ginormous aspect of video games history if you fail to participate. This game’s gonna ship and we’re all going to be there, so it doesn’t matter what the score is.”

Every time a video game developer says it “doesn’t matter” what kind of review scores their game gets, that’s code for “this game is not very good, and it will probably get mediocre review scores.” Pitchford is trying to have it both ways. If the scores are good, he’ll help himself to the credit. If they’re not, he can point to his Eurogamer interview as a post-dated example of realistic expectations.

Ever since Gamespot editor Jeff Gerstmann was shit-canned for having the temerity to give a “6″ to the thoroughly mediocre Kane & Lynch (whose publishers had inundated Gamespot with ad buys) the high stakes of the Metacritic-powered reviewing game have been apparent. Some developers even depend on attaining a certain average score to be compensated fairly for their work — publishers craft contracts that only pay out certain bonuses if a minumum threshold is met.

This monomaniacal focus on Metacritic explains Pitchford’s willingness to get knee-deep in the numbers. Since most people in the game industry treat the press as an easily-manipulated marketing apparatus, it’s no surprise that he assumes that review scores will depend more on Duke’s burgeoning reputation and less on silly things like critical acumen or journalistic ethics: “It’s a very difficult problem for journalists…there’s going to be very few of them that decide to go perfect…you’re going to see a lot of 8s and 9s, and the number in that range doesn’t matter. Even if some people start to skew in some 7s in there, it’s not going to matter.”

Can you imagine Steven Spielberg saying “not everyone will think this movie is perfect, but a lot of people will think it’s 90% perfect?” Not content to browbeat the media with his own hubristic prognosis, Pitchford went for the jugular: “We know the game’s great. Any journalist that decides…to lowball it is gonna be held accountable by the readers.” It’s at this point that the bespectacled C.E.O. attempts to act the underboss. “Nice publication you’ve got here,” you can imagine him saying, switching the toothpick to the other side of his mouth. “Wouldn’t want anything to…happen to it.” Given the industry’s history of unethically punishing reviewers who award low scores — at the very least, cutting them off from bloated teat of early, privileged access — this barely-coded threat is troubling in the extreme.

There is no objective measure of a game’s quality. To suggest that there is is as laughable as it is duplicitous. Even if there were, it’s certainly not curated by Pitchford, who makes the transparently self-serving claim that “the last time I had a really solid experience like this was Half-Life 2.” Nor is the final verdict determined by the legions of “readers” on the internet. When Duke Nukem Forever is release on June 14th, hundreds of reviewers will write hundreds of subjective reviews, accountable to no authority but their own consciences. The game looks to be a turgid, misogynistic flop — so much so that the revelation that it is actually good would come as a welcome surprise. If it isn’t, though, don’t expect the GameFront review to pull any punches.

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21 Comments on Gearbox’s Randy Pitchford: Reviewers Who Don’t Like Duke Nukem Forever Will Be “Held Accountable”

Heru

On June 2, 2011 at 3:43 pm

In reality, those “readers” are the only opinions that do matter. It’s they’re word of mouth that will tell friends if it really sucks, and it’s they’re hard earned (or not) cash that will make the game a success or not. What a reviewer thinks is irrelevant to the success of a game, much like movies. Look at the Transformers franchise, reviewers hate it. Does that stop it from making hundreds of millions of dollars? Reviewers tear into buggy games, does that stop them from selling and making money? Nope.

Ben Richardson

On June 2, 2011 at 3:59 pm

You make a very good point, Heru. People vote with their wallets, and the opinions of readers/consumers at the cash register matters more to the success of a game than anything else. I don’t mean to belittle their contribution.

That said, I think it’s important not to confuse “successful” with “good,” as anyone over the age of 16 who as ever heard a Justin Bieber song can surely attest. My personal Bieber-phobia aside, when it comes to whether a game is “good” or not, everyone who plays it has his/her own equally-valid opinion, whether that person is I, another reviewer, Randy Pitchford, or a commenter on a forum.

My argument at the end of the article is essentially a defense of this equality — it’s scurrilous for Pitchford to claim that reviewers who don’t like the game will be “proven wrong” (read: punished) by popular opinion or by the objective reality of DNF’s awesomeness. Even if the first 99 reviewers love it, and the 100th hates it — that doesn’t make him “wrong.”

Heru

On June 2, 2011 at 5:51 pm

Well said Ben. I think I was agreeing with you, just saying it in a different way. I also think I took what Pitchford said a little differently. To me, it sounds more like he’s meaning readers would be upset and disagree enough with a bad review to not come back to those websites and magazines.

Honestly, I don’t remember ever hearing Randy Pitchford say anything in the context that your article presented it. He does say “held accountable by the readers”, not by Gearbox or 2k Games. Now maybe I’m wrong, but I think it would be much more likely to hear thinly-veiled threats from a Cliff Blezinski or a Derek Smart than Randy Pitchford.

(btw, the Bieber analogy is right on)

Luther

On June 2, 2011 at 9:53 pm

I agree with Heru, plus I’v been screwed way too many times by the people that review terrible games yet give them high ratings, for me I only pay attention now to user comments from trusted places for the confirmation of a game being any good or not, and It felt like that’s what Randy was sort of pointing out at, no bribes for high ratings from him it seems.

Ben Richardson

On June 2, 2011 at 10:20 pm

I feel your pain, @Luther! Review scores tend to be way over-inflated, and Pitchford is hoping to continue this trend by suggesting that DNF should only get 8′s and 9′s, or the occasional 7. Anything else, he claims, would be “low-balling” the game.

The user commenters that you trust usually point out that a game with a high score probably doesn’t deserve it. In DNF’s case, Pitchford’s hoping that readers will “hold accountable” reviewers who don’t like the game, by claiming that it’s actually good in the comments.

Matt

On June 4, 2011 at 8:11 am

The more I see of Duke Nukem’s marketing bull the less I want the game. I think I’ll wait until Serious Sam 3.

Austin

On June 4, 2011 at 8:18 am

To be honest, I fear for DNF when it hits shelves. The demo wasn’t that impressive… the humor felt forced and the gameplay has a nostalgia to it, but other than that it feels pretty standard. Granted, I’m not big into shooters, but Pitchford’s behavior seems to indicate a fear of failure.

Robin

On June 4, 2011 at 10:10 am

“The game looks to be a turgid, misogynistic flop” – good to know you’re going into a review with an open mind.

Max

On June 4, 2011 at 12:35 pm

I feel lilke you’re taking Randy Pitchford far too seriously. The guy is marketing Duke Nuken as he should, like it’s a joke. Taking the Duke seriously is like getting upset at an episode of the Daily Show for not accurately reporting the news.

Pritchford is clearly just doing what any tit-loving, alien-hating, bubblegum-chewing, American should do. Always bet on duke.

John Hattan

On June 4, 2011 at 12:58 pm

Wow, he’s still a rebel and a boat-rocker :)

Nathan

On June 4, 2011 at 3:00 pm

I agree with you Max. It also sounds like this author has had no experience with Duke Nukem games in the past. By the way, I think Pitchford’s comparison to Half Life 2 was apt, apart from the Duke stylization, I saw a lot of resemblance to Half Life 2, and Duke himself even makes several jibes at it ['A crowbar would be handy'].

James

On June 5, 2011 at 12:30 am

Well I have pre-ordered Duke Nukem Forever already and have been waiting for so long, really the only thing that this game has to do now is just come out. Really the Graphics are not heart and soul of Duke, Award winning gameplay isn’t apart of Duke Nukem either. True Duke Nukem Fans know it is just about Duke doing what he wants and getting what he wants.

Simply put Randy is smart to market the game just like Duke would, it’s not meant to be taken seriously and at the same time Reviewers in the gaming websites really do suck. When I helped work and build on a few sites I can tell you money talks for big scores even on ty games. Your most likely to get a more honest review from the gamers on a forum then big website. Again this shouldn’t surprise anyone, like the Million Dollar man said “Everyone Has a Price” and its true.

I personally have loved Duke Nukem ever since Duke Nukem 3D, I consider only three games I have ever owned to be the great of all time for FPS, Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Duke Nukem 3D. These games created a genre and really set bars for what you can expect or wish to see.

Duke is for a more older and classical style of gamer that is really just happy to see the return of the King and get to see what we should have years earlier. Really what do you expect from Duke Nukem, look at the series and you see they don’t take Duke seriously because that has been played out and over done. Duke is simply put just guilty fun and enjoyment.

Forsythia

On June 5, 2011 at 5:06 am

Nice title of the article, cutting of the most important words. But hey, at least you got a more few hits on the website.

Chuck

On June 5, 2011 at 5:27 pm

When you buy a Duke Nukem game your not buying it for the gameplay your buying it for the voice! Duke Nukem has never been an amazing game at all, it was always great because of the things Duke said. If your buying this game and expecting anything short of a humorous X rated adventure your delirious. Duke Nukem is an experience and a hell of a funny one, its not cutting edge technology or graphics, its not award winning multiplayer, its a balls to the wall laugh fest with pixelated titties on every corner. If any reviewers go in expecting anything different then they need to check that at the door.

Build-A-Duke

On June 6, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Haven’t played the demo yet, but downloading it as soon as I get home. As far as the game goes, Duke Nukem has been and always will be a sophomoric game. I remember when Duke 3d came out, and people got up in arms because the original script for the demo called our a “kill” action. (this happened when you shot a stripper or coced woman. What happened when that hit the meadia?? Pre-order sales skyrocketed. In the myriad of other games that were coming out at the time, Duke suck his boot in and held his place firmly at the top of for adolescent gamers. This is who the game is for. This is just good fun, but not clean by any stretch of the imagination. The best feature of the game was that they packaged it with the level editor. A feature that I hope they will repeat. I would love to build my own dukematch levels again! The only reason the game really stands out in memory is because it was corney as hell. Duke will be Duke. A beer-drinking, tittie bar-owning, penthouse-living, icon of pre-pubescent humor. *cracks open a cold one* Hail to the King Baby!!

Scarx

On June 19, 2011 at 6:22 am

This article is circulating as an example of irresponsible agenda-driven journalism.

The headline itself is incomplete, in a way that paints Pitchy as a tyrant or something. It’s those horrible tabloid tactics that makes the media in to the sleazy agenda whore that it is.

He only ever said “people will decide for themsevles”. Nothing more. “Reviewers will be held accountable BY THEIR READERS.” I really like the guy. He’s one of us.

UnSub

On July 7, 2011 at 7:02 am

Given what’s happened since this article has been published, it’s funny to re-read the comments.

The readers did decide – DNF flopped. A PR company was fired for threatening to hold reviewers to account for poor DNF reviews. And the scores did matter. They mattered an awful lot. Lots of 8s and 9s? Sure, if the review was out of 20.

Guest

On July 21, 2011 at 9:20 am

DNF did not flopped.It didn’t sell as expected,but the sales are still good.

Jake

On January 19, 2012 at 12:21 am

DNF was good; flawed, but good. It was a dated engine, but they had no choice. The DLCs make everything better for it.
Haters gonnaa hate? Sure, those moronic, empty-headed haters can hate all they want, overexaggerate their view on it and call it the biggest pile of crap ever, but they’ll be wrong.
A shame many, if not all, stupid reviewers cannot see the uniqueness of this game. I like it. It deserves a 6, almost leaking into a 7.

dbahater

On February 7, 2012 at 10:35 pm

At the end of the day this game should have been sold as an XBLA/PSN title for $10-15

At that price and listed as a old-school shooter in the vein of Doom etc.

People would have had more respect for the game in that regard.

Not a full blown $60 title as was released

ffffff

On May 11, 2012 at 8:54 am

I personally started to learn Pitchford was a big jerk during the week of Borderlands 2 announcement, when he had called the reveal a case of “shoddy journalism”.