Aliens: Colonial Marines – The Whole Stinking Story

Colonial Marines box art

There’s been many video game fiascos throughout the medium’s short history. Some of us will remember John Romero not making us his bitch in Daikatana, more of us fell prey to Sonic 2006 and some of us may have even been burned by EA’s diabolical SimCity. But if there’s one scandal we’ll remember for years to come, it’ll be the one surrounding Aliens Colonial: Marines.

Hit the jump to read on. And remember, stay frosty.

Although Sega and Gearbox had been routinely releasing Aliens: Colonial Marines developer diaries, concept art and teaser trailers in the run up to the game’s release, the start of the scandal can be traced back to the now infamous, non-playable gameplay demo. The footage was shown at events such as E3 and PAX to crowds of excited gamers who were told they were watching real in-game footage that was almost fully indicative of Aliens: Colonial Marines‘ final version.

The trailer looked good. It looked really good. So good in fact that many gamers went out and put money down on pre-orders, DLC season passes and expensive collectors editions. Their decision to spend money on a game before it had come out had been made, at least in some part, by the demo footage shown at expos and plastered across Sega’s Youtube account.

Aliens: Colonial Marines – Broken, Unfinished and Buggy

February 12th, 2013. A date that will be remembered by gamers and the gaming press alike as the day Aliens: Colonial Marines launched. Those who pre-ordered the game went to pick it up at their local game shop or eagerly awaited its arrival through the post. Either way, the game that they had paid for wasn’t the game they had received. Aliens: Colonial Marines was a broken, unfinished, bug ridden joke of a game that was not only horrible to play, but was markedly different from the aforementioned demo footage. Our own Joshua Newey can attest to the game’s poor quality in his review of Aliens: Colonial Marines; the first Sega Addicts review, may it be noted, to ever achieve an F grade.

But how were gamers supposed to know? Both Sega and Gearbox had only positive things to say about the game prior to its release. That’s not surprising, but what was surprising was the strict embargo Sega applied to reviewers which blocked professional reviews of the game being published before the day of the game’s release. It wasn’t long before players and the press alike suspected that Sega knew it had an awful game on its hands and therefore silenced reviewers until it was able to rake in the pre-order cash.

But how did this happen? Why did the developer of Borderlands agree to release a game that was clearly unfinished?

Who Really Developed Aliens: Colonial Marines?

Within the same day of Aliens: Colonial Marines’ launch numerous reports started to surface suggesting that Gearbox had only developed the game’s multiplayer and had outsourced the vast majority of single player development to TimeGate Studios. Sega of America’s Senior Producer Matthew Powers adamantly denied such claims in the following statement,

The game [Aliens: Colonial Marines] has been developed by Gearbox Software. Other studios [TimeGate Studios] helped Gearbox on the production of single and multiplayer.

timegate

Many were quick to call Powers a liar, however it turns out he might not have been lying at all and that it was in fact Gearbox that was the deceitful one. A Reddit post by an anonymous Gearbox whistle blower detailed how the team had repeatedly halted Aliens: Colonial Marines development in favour of their own projects i.e. Borderlands, Duke Nukem Forever and Borderlands 2. The same source also revealed that roughly 85% of the game’s single player was developed by TimeGate before they handed the project back over to Gearbox who then rushed the game’s completion to avoid a lawsuit with publisher Sega.

This claim was backed up by a report on Destructoid that highlighted the many TimeGate employees whose CV’s boasted high levels of involvement in Aliens: Colonial Marines‘ development. The plot thickened after yet another whistle blower, going by the pseudonym Bryan Danielson, claimed that Gearbox had used Sega’s money to develop Borderlands and Duke Nukem Forever without their knowledge.

Gearbox wanted to focus heavily on Duke Nukem Forever, but how would they get the money to hire some of the 3D Realms team and even buy the intellectual property?

Sure, they made a lot from Borderlands, but guess where they got the money to fund Borderlands in the first place? Yup, SEGA.

Sega and Gearbox Made Money While TimeGate Paid The Price

While Sega kept its mouth shut and raked in the cash, and Gearbox’s Randy Pitchford jovially dodged bullets on Twitter, TimeGate Studios were faring far worse. In fact, less than one moth after the Aliens: Colonial Marines launch, it came to light that TimeGate fired 25 staff members in order to prepare for “the transition to next-generation consoles and new business models”.

colonial marines wii

Sega and Gearbox continued to keep the wolves from the door with the release of several huge patches for the PC version of Aliens: Colonial Marines as well as for its PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 counterparts. The Nintendo Wii U version was cancelled shortly after.

At this point it was clear that Sega’s plan was to simply sit on its hands and wait for the storm to pass, and for a short period of time it looked as though it might just make it. Sega Europe were effectively forced by the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority to add disclaimers to all relevant trailers, but the news failed to make any substantial impact in the gaming press.

But that all changed on April 30th 2013 when American law firm Edelson LLC announced that its client Damion Perrine was filling a lawsuit against both Sega and Gearbox for what he claimed to be Aliens: Colonial Marines’ false advertisement; a lawsuit that Sega and Gearbox believe to be “without merit” and “beyond meritless” respectively.

Aliens: Colonial Marines – The Truth is Out There

As of now, all parties have been asked to engage in an “Alternate Dispute Resolution” by the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, allowing for a private settlement to be discussed. We ourselves discussed the issue of Sega’s potential punishment in our feature “The Sega Addicts Speak!: Does Sega deserve to be punished for Aliens: Colonial Marines?“.

TimeGate Studios, however, had already succumbed to the American judicial system and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy over the tens of millions of dollars that they owned to roughly 50 different creditors. Then, on May 9th 2013, TimeGate asked all its staff to leave early and closed its doors for good.

At the time of writing this article, TimeGate is no more and Sega, Gearbox and Mr. Perrine’s lawsuit has yet to reach a conclusion. It’s certainly a fascinating story of one of the greatest video game scandals of all time, but whether the whole truth behind this Aliens: Colonial Marines saga will be revealed is yet to be seen.

About the author

Michael Westgarth

Michael Westgarth is a freelance writer and geneticist for hire who has been writing about video games since 2011. Michael enjoys saving the world and building creeper-proof, vertical sheep farms. Follow him on Twitter @MegaWestgarth, Tumblr and Google+.
  • It’s a sad story. It’s plain to see that big corporations tend to be only after the big payoff, regardless of what it takes to get there. Release a broken product? Go ahead. Rerelease super mega editions of earlier successes? Be my guest.

    I think it’s time we as consumers start to make them pay, by not paying for anything less than worthwhile. No more purchasing something that holds back the review copies until after release dates. No more buying and rebuying classics that have so many rereleases. NO MORE, SEGA

    • I totally agree Stooball. I think that as consumers we need to stop investing in products before they’re released. Publishers and retailers have artificially created a system whereby they make a significant amount of their money on pre-orders. It’s this system that really needs to crumble if things are to change.

      I’m not against re releases of classics per se, as I think that classic games should be as available as possible. What I don’t agree with is Sega’s continued practice of slightly upgrading these games and palming them off as new products along with a hefty price tag. This is what happened with Sonic Adventure 2 HD and Jet Set Radio HD.

      • Those are some great examples, Michael. Hey, what they should do is more stuff like After Burner Climax, and maybe include the originals in there as a secret bonus.

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