Game Development Outsourcing, the Hype Machine and You

With allegations flying that Aliens: Colonial Marines was outsourced, we examine what it means for the gaming community at large.

Erik Norrisby Erik Norris

Aliens: Colonial Marines isn’t a very good game. The game released yesterday worldwide and has received some abysmal review scores, including our own, which honestly rests on the high side of the spectrum. Since the review embargo lifted, a lot of scuttlebutt has hit the ‘net claiming the majority of Aliens: Colonial Marines, specifically the game’s lackluster single player portion, was outsourced to another company called TimeGate (Section 8F.E.A.R.); Gearbox barely touched that part of the game, instead focusing on the title's multiplayer component.

The reality of the situation has yet to come to light, with Sega issuing a statement confirming Gearbox did indeed develop the game, while moderators over on the TimeGate forums say they have talked to company employees claiming they handled a large chunk of development, yet don't know exactly what of theirs made it into the final product. 

And this brings us to a recent post on Reddit by a supposed member of the Gearbox staff, who confirms the outsourcing rumors and says fans have a right to be upset about the current state of Aliens: Colonial Marines. The post in question attempts to shed light on why, after six years of development, Aliens: CM turned out to be a bust. It also serves as the final nail in the coffin we needed to bring up an interesting debate about the ethics of outsourcing, fan expectation and the pre-release hype machine for “AAA” games.  

Aliens: Colonial Marines is just the latest game to fall victim to outsourcing and the distribution of false information to generate hype, but it isn’t the first and it surely won’t be the last.

Now before we move forward, maybe you should watch this Aliens: CM demo walkthrough narrated by Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford.

As you can tell, Pitchford sounds rather enthusiastic about the work Gearbox is doing on Aliens: Colonial Marines. However, if the aforementioned Reddit post is true, as well as the various other reports of Gearbox actually outsourcing the title’s single player component to developer TimeGate, Pitchford is knowingly lying in an attempt to deceive the general public about who is actually handling development duties on the game. Because let’s be honest, having the name “Gearbox Software” on your game’s case is much more likely to get money out of potential consumers’ pockets than “TimeGate.”

What’s also interesting about the above clip is that it’s nowhere to be found in the final product. The actual mission set at Hadley’s Hope in the retail version of Aliens: CM is completely different and features far worse enemy A.I. (Editor’s note: We feature it in tomorrow’s Watch Us Play episode). That means the above footage was fabricated by Gearbox to woo audiences and generate some pre-release buzz for the title. Unsurprisingly, it worked quite well, even on our own gaming staff.

It needs to be mentioned, though, that it’s nothing new for publishers and developers to create demos that don’t necessarily make it into the final build of the game for one reason or the other. The difference in this instance, however, is that when a developer like Naughty Dog shows off actual gameplay footage of Uncharted or something, they aren’t hiding the fact that it was actually developed by another studio entirely. Sadly, that’s exactly what we’re seeing with Aliens: Colonial Marines and Gearbox. The point being: even if TimeGate is responsible for the shoddy single player component of Aliens: CM, Gearbox deserves a big slap on the wrist for misleading everyone that they developed the entire game.

And this brings us around to quickly discuss fan expectations and how maybe we should be a little more cautious of what we’re being spoon-fed from publisher/developers/PR firms about upcoming titles – this not only applies to the fans, but to the press as well, as we’re just as accountable. As this point, the media machine for AAA games is on autopilot. The PR firms that represent the big name publishers/developers know how to control the flow of information and do their absolute best to keep everything all sunshine and rainbows until a game is on store shelves and people can form their own opinions about it. That's their job. So we can't really blame them entirely when we willingly take everything we’re told at face value, as if these companies are looking out for our best interests as gamers – the truth is they're hired to help sell a product, that's all. 

So let this whole situation be a lesson that we fans should maybe take everything we hear from now on with a pinch of salt and not let the hype machine so freely put blinders over our eyes. Because as we’ve learned from this mess, sometimes nothing is as it seems. 

Erik Norris is the Gaming Editor for CraveOnline and co-host of Watch Us Play and the Next Gen News podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @Regular_Erik.