Gearbox has a long history of treating their workers poorly. One look at their Glassdoor page and you’ll find workers reporting low pay (with unreliable quarterly bonuses), awful leadership, almost no training, impossibly long hours and a complete misuse of profit sharing.
It seems like they’re still up to their old antics. Borderlands 3 was a huge hit, having made over $1 billion in revenue. It’s questionable why, then, as Jason Schreier reports at Kotaku, Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford told the studio’s developers they would not be receiving their promised royalty bonus.
To compensate for the below market salaries the developers are paid, Gearbox employees are on a profit sharing system. Reportedly, royalties from all of the company’s profits are meant to be split 60/40, with 60% going into the pockets of the owners and the remaining 40% being split between workers in their quarterly bonuses. These bonuses were so large after the release of Borderlands 2 that some workers were able to buy houses just from the money made from their bonus, which became a convenient way to on-board new recruits with a false sense of job security.
Gearbox hasn’t found much success since Borderlands 2, releasing the severely under-performing Aliens: Colonial Marines and Overwatch clone and overall butt of many jokes Battleborn, which just shuttered in-game purchases in February after a scant four year run. Many employees stuck on during this dark period for Gearbox because of promises made of alleged six-figure bonuses following Borderlands 3’s release, a game that was in development for so long it became questionable if it were ever to be released.
On March 31, in a meeting with Pitchford, Gearbox employees were told their checks would be much less than the promised six-figures, citing the supposed cost of Borderlands 3’s development as the reason. Somehow, COVID-19 failed to come up at all. Pitchford allegedly told employees if they weren’t happy with the profit sharing bonus system, they were “welcome to quit.” Gearbox issued the following statement to Kotaku regarding this development:
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 videogame, had officially become a profitable videogame 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.
In other Gearbox related news, just last week Gearbox co-founder Landon Montgomery passed away. He left the studio in 2010 and later, in 2019, became a producer for Nvidia. Pitchford shared a thread announcing his passing on March 25, expressing a compassion for him that was completely absent for his workers days later.