It’s amazing what a year and a bad game can do for a company.
There was news recently about the last of THQ’s intellectual properties finally being auctioned off, with a list of the publishers and studios that walked away with their new prizes in hand. One of the smaller, cult/fan favourite IPs was Homeworld, a franchise that holds a place in many top 10 lists of real time strategy games. There had been hopes that Sega—who now owns Relic, the original creators—would buy up the right. There was also TeamPixel, the little indies that could, that tried to start a Kickstarter fund to acquire the rights to the IP. Instead, when the dust settled, the victor that walked away with the rights to Homeworld was Gearbox. If the old adage “You’re only as good as your last project” is any indication, then Gearbox, with disappointing release of Aliens: Colonial Marines bears bad tidings for the future of the Homeworld franchise.
But here’s where things get murky. If gamers cast their memory back to even a few months ago, Gearbox was one of the darlings of the industry and the gamers. They were regarded as a company that cared about their fans, and with good reason; Borderlands 2 was hailed by critics and players alike as an enjoyable, expansive improvement to the first game, and it sported some of the most worthwhile DLC released for a game. Gearbox even went the extra mile with the creation of a Borderlands 2 in-game character based on a deceased fan who loved playing the original game. They even helped a fan who wanted to propose to his girlfriend by providing—free of charge—a fully animated, scripted and voiced video featuring Claptrap. They were regarded as a classy developer that really cared about their fans and went above and beyond to do right by them.
All of that changed with the release of Aliens: Colonial Marines and the subsequent stories of outsourcing and deceptive game demos at E3. Gearbox went from being the company many liked to an example of what was wrong with the game industry today. Clearly this is one of the best demonstrations in recent memory of how to view a company; it’s not a single entity with only one purpose pursued by a collective mind. It’s a group of people that have different goals and agendas. That’s why an act of coolness like helping out a fan with his marriage proposal can come out of the same company that created a false demo to drum up hype for what would eventually be a poor game.
Now, one of the most beloved franchises in the real time strategy genre is in the hands of a developer that has never created such a game before. The first question that pops into anyone’s mind is “Why?” Why would a studio more focused on cinematic, in-your-face shooter experiences spend over a million dollars to own a stately, cerebral strategy game that emphasized tactics and outthinking opponents over headshots?
Again, it comes down to looking at the company not as a single collective, but as a group of individuals. It’s already been reported that Brian Martel, the Chief Creative Officer at Gearbox is responsible for the company initiative to acquire the IP. He is a professed fan of the series, and according to Gearbox’s own official announcement, the first order of business is to get the original games out on modern digital platforms. That probably means at the very least PC and Mac versions, probably on Steam or Good Old Games. So at the very least, people will get digital copies that can run on the latest operating systems without too much hassle, which is a good thing.
Anything beyond that is anyone’s guess, and as for a Homeworld 3? Gearbox doesn’t have a pedigree in the RTS genre, and the Aliens: Colonial Marines fiasco doesn’t inspire much in the way of confidence. Gearbox, when given the time and resources, have the background to make a great FPS. They also have people in management that clearly have a great love for a classic PC franchise. But the road to hell is, as they say, paved with good intentions, and the lack of expertise in the RTS genre is a worrying one for future outings in the Homeworld universe. It’s also telling that on prominent gaming forums such as neoGAF, the response to the Homeworld legacy going to Gearbox has been anything but positive.
It’s good that this signals a chance for Homeworld to move onto modern operating systems. But perhaps we should restrict our anticipation to just that, not hope for newer, better sequels.