“When I made the decision to take the risk, to buy the brand, I became the guy responsible for making sure this ships,” said Pitchford, president of developer Gearbox Software. “I felt the best commitment I could make, was to make the game we’ve been waiting for all of this time.
“I bought the brand. I have plenty of time. I can do whatever I want to do down the line. But this has to be resolved, I need this as a gamer.”
Pitchford’s words have weight, a sense of gravity not lost on me, a fellow gamer who needs the resolution as much as anyone else who gamed on a computer in the ’90s.
Duke Nukem Forever won’t be a game that reboots the series or a game that changes the way we think about a genre, or a brand. It will be instead a reminder. While it can sometimes feel lost in its time, Duke Nukem Forever in action still delivers those same old experiences.
“Duke tends to get his own attention,” Pitchford says. “Somehow he’s become important to gamer culture. He’s kind of like our Chuck Norris.”
But that doesn’t mean that publishing this game, a title that was first announced in 1997 and with endless delays spurred both anticipation and irritation among its fans, will lead to success.
Duke Nukem Forever and its new developers, Gearbox, are in an unusual position; the years of hype means that expectations are high, but it also means that it has a level of awareness few games so long off the shelves can boast.
“There is no game that can live up to 12 years of development,” Pitchford said. “But I bet on it. I didn’t have to risk my company and my fortune to become the guy responsible for this. I think it was a good bet.”
And Gearbox isn’t exactly a one trick pony. The developer has Borderlands, Brothers in Arms, Aliens and some other project in the works besides Duke Nukem.
“It wouldn’t kill us if this didn’t work, but that would suck,” Pitchford said. “What would be better is if it worked. “
Either way, Pitchford thinks this is a better ending to the Duke Nukem Story than the one gamers woke up to in the summer of 2009, when news broke that the game wasn’t happened.
“What we thought it was dead,” Pitchford said.
Is this a make-it or break-it game for the brand, I ask Pitchford. If this game fails will we never see Duke again?
“If it doesn’t succeed it depends on why,” he said. “It’s very hard for me to believe it won’t succeed, but I can’t think of a scenario where it can be considered overall profitable either.”
What will matter instead, Pitchford says, is how many copies sell, a surefire way of measuring potential interest in a future installment in the series.
“If it does less than one million copies, that’s bad,” Pitchford said. “1.5 million? That means there’s something there, maybe only curiosity.
“If it does two million, you’re there. 2.5 million? OK it wasn’t just curiosity.”