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Aliens: Colonial Marines dev discusses the highs and lows of triple-A development (exclusive)

GamesBeat: Yeah. That answered a couple of questions. [Laughs] You mentioned PR earlier. You’re actually a little bit notorious for breaking PR plans, in that you’ll talk about whatever you want to talk about.

Pitchford: Yeah. That’s one of the consequences. No one can fire me, so … [Laughs] only customers can fire me.

GamesBeat: Do you think that you’ve gained or earned a position within the industry where you have this unique standpoint?

Pitchford: I don’t know. Maybe you could tell me. I’m just being who I am and doing what I’m doing.

GamesBeat: I think the fact that you said, “Only customers can fire me” — that’s not a position a lot of people have.

Pitchford: That is true. Yeah, that is true. When I think about that, there are very few of us that are in that seat. In fact, most of the heads of publishers — their challenge is that there’s a board of directors and there’s shareholders. They have like three masters, right? A board of directors, shareholders, and then the actual customer. That’s a challenge. Those guys are amazing, to me. Being able to manage these disparate constituencies… Holy crap. That’s an art form. We vilify them and we imagine horns on the heads of these guys that are the heads of publishing companies, but just knowing what I know and the things I have to manage and the different constituencies I have to deal with to successfully navigate these shark-infested waters … I must acknowledge the challenge of what these guys do and give them tremendous deference. I don’t know if I would put myself in that position. [Laughs] I do have it a bit easier, because I really do only have to, ultimately, concern myself with our customers. By being a single-minded advocate for the end user, I can take those other kinds of risks that you might not be able to take if you had more than one master.

GamesBeat: But by advocating for the fans and the customers and doing hard things like you did with –

Pitchford: It’s hard enough as it is. I don’t even succeed. [Laughs] Even with that single goal, a single aim, I don’t always succeed. Sometimes I fail.

Borderlands 2

GamesBeat: Yet you have obviously pleased quite a few people, especially with the Borderlands series, by, as you said, taking creative risks and doing the thing that’s best for the game and best for the customers, as you illustrated with the Brothers in Arms example. Because as you said, we imagine the vilified publishers. They have the shareholders and their other masters, all with financial reasoning for the decisions that directly impacts game design. Do you feel like it’s a conflict, where who they’re answering to and what they have to do conflicts with creating the best possible game?

Pitchford: I think that the more people who have involved in an effort, the more possibility there is of disparate interests. Any time you have even slightly misaligned interests, there will be some tension in the resolution of which interests have higher priority. When something is on the table where the interests become mutually exclusive. That tension has to be resolved. But it’s just part of the process. Any one of us that chooses to be resentful or scream about it … OK, solve it or work with it. Do it differently. You’re welcome to. It’s a free, open world. Any of us can do whatever it is that we want to do. You’re welcome to try to do it differently if you have a better way. Some people do. Sometimes they try and their way is better. Sometimes they try and their way isn’t. Or, given what is there, find a way to work with it and make it work. Turn all of that power into a resource instead of a detriment.

There’s a million things that are going to kill you in any endeavor. A million things are going to stop you in any endeavor. You can let that defeat you, or you can say, “Well, OK, here’s something that is driven by a motive, an interest. That’s power. That’s potential energy. Let’s turn that into kinetic energy.” If you understand what’s driving it, tap into that in some way. Let it work in your favor. There’s a lot of things to think about, a lot of angles, a lot of complexity to it. It can become overwhelming for some people. But I think it’s exciting. I think it’s terrific, frankly. I’d be bored to death in most other endeavors. There’s so many components to it. It’s endlessly stimulating.

By the way, I do want to make sure that it’s clear that. when I interact, I’m speaking on behalf of my studio. When I say “my studio,” I really mean “our studio.” Gearbox is a team. There are awesome people, lots of awesome people, who I’m thrilled to work for. I was talking about how my real constituency is the customer. What I really mean is that our real constituency is the customer. In fact, I might argue – if I debate all my interests intellectually – that I’m probably more working for my studio, rather than working for the customer. But my studio is directed toward the customer. The most important thing that we all have given to Gearbox is we’ve created a culture which exists only to entertain. That is its purpose. That is a very customer-minded kind of approach. Some of the pronouns and the weakness of language might suggest that I speak as if it’s a one-man show, and that can’t even be any farther from the truth. There’s a lot of people involved.

It’s impossible for a guy like you to talk to every person on the team. Here’s this body of work that’s clearly complex and clearly a lot of people are involved. We tend to attribute it to the figurehead. As talent, as someone who started as just a humble programmer and a lone designer on the team, I have a lot of love for everyone that I am so privileged to work with every day. I never want to take anything away from the company, the studio, the team.

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