Gearbox's next game is Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, a first-person shooter set on the moon of Pandora and nestled between the events of the first and second game. But despite coming out in the second half of 2014--a year or so after the launch of next-gen consoles--it's to remain an exclusively last-gen affair. According to Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford, next-gen simply hasn't reached a point where there are enough consoles out there to justify it. And while he's technically correct, that doesn't mean keeping the Pre-Sequel off next-gen is actually the right call.
During the reveal event for the Pre-Sequel, he explained that "there are fewer Xbox Ones and PlayStation 4s than we sold copies of Borderlands 2. I imagine over time--you know, maybe by the time we get to third or fourth Christmas--there will be enough of an install base."
Pitchford isn't wrong. From a business sense, he's likely making the right short-term decision for Gearbox and 2K: creating the product that'll bring the largest return. The audience for Borderlands exists on last-gen, and a Borderlands game exclusively on next-gen systems wouldn't do as well as one that lands on the Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. That's all true.
But it's also a move that could hurt the industry more than it could help Gearbox. Next-gen's success hinges largely on people wanting to buy next-gen games. If developers make awesome stuff that you can only play on the Xbox One and PS4, people will buy the Xbox One and PS4; and if developers continue to make games for the Xbox 360 and PS3, gamers will just continue to play them on the hardware they already own.
Getting people to fork down $400-500 on a new piece of hardware is already a tough sell, and it's all the harder when it doesn't do anything that your current system can't. But if every developer waits for every other developer to carry next-gen hardware to success, there's a chance that day may never come.
Take the 3DS, for example. After its shaky launch left far too few systems in far too few hands, several games were pushed back in hopes that they'd be released when the hardware was more successful--including both Crush 3D and Shinobi. This lack of content hurt the hardware even more, forcing Nintendo to slash the price in a last-ditch effort to save the handheld. It worked out in the end, but I'm not sure that's a game of chicken worth repeating.
Pitchford's also ignoring games like Assassin's Creed and Call of Duty: Ghosts, both of which succeeded in providing strong next-gen experiences while still releasing last-gen versions. If Gearbox is making a PC version, and it's going to take advantage of the powerful PC hardware, it's already making a game that will outpace the power of the Xbox 360 and PS3. Why not release that version on next-gen consoles? Sure, it might not look as good as it could if it was next-gen only, and it's not as cheap as developing it as a final last last-gen hurrah, but it would at least contribute to the success of next-gen. And that's the kind of success that's needed for the health of the industry as a whole.