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Chasing Call of Duty was Homefront's folly, says Gearbox boss

Randy Pitchford, head of Borderlands studio Gearbox, offers his take on the 2011 closure of Kaos Studios, saying he's "suspicious" of attempts to court the Call of Duty audience.
Last week, Gamasutra posted an expose on the downfall of Kaos Studios, developer of Homefront, THQ's attempt to enter the military shooter genre. This week, Gamasutra had a chance to talk to Gearbox president Randy Pitchford, who heads up the Borderlands studio. The conversation turned to bad decision-making at studios and publishers. Asked by Pitchford for an example of a bad situation, Homefront sprang to mind. "I tend to be careful about talking about other people's business," said Pitchford. However, he quickly identified one red flag: going for the Call of Duty audience. "Right off the bat, I'm suspicious of that approach, right out of the gate. That might not be the best strategy," said Pitchford. "The [game's] what-if scenario is kind of interesting," said Pitchford, but "it doesn't take a lot of risks from a gameplay point of view," he noted. But what gives Pitchford pause is the fact that while Kaos is no more, Crytek is working on the sequel. "Somehow that decision was made that 'We are going to build this game and hope it becomes an IP'," he said. "That suggests that the people at THQ that were making the decision, at the time, that Homefront was worth betting on again, but not with the same developer, which is interesting," he said. "Is the problem with the developer? Is the problem with the IP? Is the problem with the market? Is the problem with the promise that they were making?" asked Pitchford. "I don't know what they think the problems were, but they haven't given up." He also seemed skeptical of the choice of Crytek for the game, given the company's ability to build its own IP. "I wouldn't have put them on that," said Pitchford. Not "until I heard about it," he said. To compete with Call of Duty, he said, "you really have to go for it. You really have to spend a lot. You have to not only out brute-force the market leader, but out-clever them. The game has to be better, the marketing and production better have to be... Everything has to be bigger and better." Gearbox was able to carve a niche for itself with the multi-million-selling Borderlands, released in 2009. While it's a first-person shooter like Call of Duty, its premise, art style, cooperative multiplayer and randomized loot system differentiate it from the large selection of triple-A military action games. Borderlands 2 is slated to arrive in September, published under Take-Two Interactive's 2K Games label. Expect more from the interview with Pitchford on Gamasutra in the coming weeks.

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