The Class Action Lawsuit Against Sega and Gearbox Isn’t so Straightforward

A little while ago, it was announced that a class action lawsuit was being filed against Sega and Gearbox for how they handled Aliens: Colonial Marines’ promotional materials. Specifically, it is asserted that all of the media being fed to consumers was completely manufactured and never represented the final product. As such, Gearbox and Sega were inducing consumers to buy a product that never really existed. I haven’t looked at the actual case against Gearbox and Sega, nor would I bore any of you with a look at any legal specifics, but there are some pretty big consequences to the industry if this lawsuit goes forward. It isn’t as simple as punishing Sega and Gearbox, nor is it a very limited situation. Developers constantly tease players with videos and previews of their games, and very often the content from these previews get dropped, or never even existed in the first place. Today, I would like to talk about the possible repercussions of this lawsuit being successful, instead of yelling that Sega and Gearbox deserve it, as seems to be the internet’s primary reaction.

Maybe one day we’ll get a decent console Alien game.
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That all being said, let me dedicate one paragraph as to why particularly Gearbox deserves some comeuppance here. From anonymous reports from internal staff, it has been gleaned that the promotional materials were created completely separately from the main game, and the game itself was blitzed out in a mere 9 month schedule. On top of that, Gearbox was fully aware of the extreme lack of quality found in the game and it shifted large amounts of resources towards Borderlands 2. None of this has been confirmed, so take it with a grain of salt. However, what really bothered gamers is the constant release of teasers and interviews, often from Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford, discussing how much care and attention was going into this game, while none of that was actually true. What gamers received was a broken, horrible game that many were tricked into buying from the large amount of promotional materials. Sure reviews were generally honest, but many gamers don’t trust reviewers, such as those who loved Resident Evil 6 despite its lacklustre reception, or hated DMC despite reviewers being extremely positive.

People really want to hate this game.
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That’s pretty much the end of my Gearbox blaming. Yes, Gearbox did something bad, and yes, gamers should know about it. However, do we really want to use the legal system in this way? What Gearbox was doing was pretending like their teasers were real gameplay footage, while it didn’t even begin to resemble what the game actually was. But, how far from standard practice is this really? Many teaser trailers are made by separate teams and, even if they are created with gameplay, many are built more to show a concept than to actually highlight the gameplay, especially at big conferences such as E3. How much will the new PS4 Killzone actually resemble that footage we saw at the PS4 reveal event? The truth is probably very little. The question is at what point do we say that by releasing such content, gamers obtain the right to sue the developer? Can gamers sue Irrational Games because they bought Bioshock Infinite based on some of the concepts that never made it into the game? From the looks of this lawsuit, if successful, the answer would be yes.

This never happened and you didn’t get to choose sides, so I guess you should sue, right?
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Gearbox was deceitful of course, but what was the exact moment they crossed the line? Was it always bad? If that’s the case than even the release of a purely cinematic trailer is an actionable offence. Is it really best for the industry for gamers to en masse sue developers for early trailers? Was it the lack of information leading up to release? This doesn’t seem likely, as real footage from the game was widely available, including a full first hour playthough of the actual game. Truthfully, I find it difficult to pinpoint the exact moment where Gearbox crossed the line, and if that’s the case then a successful lawsuit would be even more dangerous to the industry, as what is and is not an actionable offence would not be clear to developers. If there was a specific, exceptional thing that Gearbox or Sega could be accused of rather than this much broader “misleading” banner, then any judgment would have far less precedential value. However, under a much broader context with a judge weighing various factors, this law suit could be very dangerous to developers.

No one here will deny how bad this game is.
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So what are the consequences to a successful or even quasi-successful lawsuit. Some gamers would say that the fallout would be purely positive, and developers would have to be far more forthright about the games they are making, thus the lawsuit would be purely beneficial to the industry. I am far more pessimistic. It seems to me that all this lawsuit would accomplish is to shut down a significant amount of publicizing. As of now, developers have a certain amount of free reign to show off their products. It seems to me that it would reduce the flow of information given to gamers. True, most of that remaining information would likely be more accurate, but I for one don’t want developers to be scared out of their minds when releasing new content. I especially want developers to be free to show off concepts, get feedback from the community and work on their product without being sued by some disgruntled gamer.

Without feedback, Jar Jar Binks would probably been the one to kill General Grievous. Think on that.
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And then there is the gamer. How fooled were these gamers really? There was a wealth of media available, some of it was the phony teaser and Randy Pitchford hype, but other bits were far more true and realistic. Is it fair to penalize a developer simply because a gamer didn’t do their homework? The biggest problem comes with reviews. Gearbox did put a gag order on reviews until the day of release, which was dirty pool admittedly, but this also should have been a sign that something was off. Even the most uneducated gamer knows that reviews are important, and the availability of a vast wave of bad reviews should have been informative enough to at least bring question to the validity of the hype. This doesn’t excuse the practices of Gearbox, but, once again, are legal avenues really what we want here? If Gearbox or Sega gets punished then fine, but what about other less guilty developers. Should they have to pay as well? Remember, it isn’t about the cases that are obviously right or wrong, it’s about the cases that sit on the line.

It’s sad. The Borderlands series is very good, but Gearbox is getting a bad reputation.
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Of course, this case might get thrown out for lacking any merit. Despite the fact that Gearbox was acting shady during the whole affair, there might not actually be a legal case against them. Truthfully, I would prefer this outcome. I don’t like rewarding gamers for not educating themselves on their purchases, and it all just reeks of opportunism and buyer’s remorse to me. I personally don’t like the possible precedent this could set, especially due to the vagueness of the circumstances, and I don’t like indulging the internet’s petty revenge fantasies. If the internet had its way, gamers would sue every game that was even the least bit disappointing, and that’s what the primary motivator seems here. Even if Gearbox has it coming, none of this seems like a good idea to me. But, then again, what do I know?

– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer

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