Duke Nukem Forever: Taking Tits To Task

Or in this case, one tit in particular: President and CEO of Gearbox Software Randy Pitchford.

Eurogamer conducted an interview with Pitchford a few weeks ago covering Gearbox’s generally poorly received 2011 title Duke Nukem Forever. In the interview he made a few comments worth evaluating:

  1. On why Duke Nukem Forever was a polarising title: “There were 15 years of expectation [for Duke Nukem Forever]. So the expectation gap was impossible. The game had been in development for 15 years. Some of the content is from 2006. That’s judged harshly I guess.”
  2. On why Duke Nukem Forever was a polarising title: “What [a chart showing Duke Nukem Forever's review scores] did was this: it had one bell curve here and it went back down again, and it had another one there. This one was at the 75-80 mark, and this one was at the 30 mark. And it looked like a pair of tits. It’s the only game that has that, which is really interesting, right?”
  3. On ‘tabloid’-style gaming interviews: “I’ll just talk to you and I’ll say what’s on my mind – but then they’ll take what I’ve said and they’ll put it as if I’m trying to publish a statement. Like, this is something Randy wants to tell the world. It’s like, no, I was just having a conversation where someone asked me a question and I answered it.”
She's tied up against a large phallic looking object.

The captured ‘babes’ are tied up, some against this large phallic organs, and all moan and cry and wail at their treatment. You have the option of either shooting them dead or watching them explode when the aliens they’ve been forcibly implanted with hatch. Remember: DNF is funny, cheeky and not serious.

Go back and read the quotes in full context if you think I’m misquoting to be all tabloid-y.

Done? Right then. Time to call bullshit.

Expectation

Yes, as a title that had been in development for 15 years (I thought it was 12 years, but whatever) on an IP that attracted quite a bit of attention, there was some expectation for Duke Nukem Forever to be an FPS that did a lot of things – a return to the mainstream for a once-notable character, an old-school shooter that was going to show all the Halo / Call of Duty FPS newcomers how it was done, for a title long languishing in development hell to shine.

It was an expectation that Pitchford helped stoke once Gearbox took on the project He was the face of a PR tour, with press events organised at strip clubs and numerous interviews about how good Duke Nukem Forever was going to be. Review scores weren’t going to matter to this title – Duke Nukem Forever (DNF) launching was going to be an event you’d never forgive yourself for missing and reviewers who didn’t get on board were going to be “held accountable” by well, everyone.

So it seems a little a lot hypocritical to pretend that expectations somehow unrealistic when you spent so much time stoking the fires of hype, Pitchford. Gearbox was perfectly happy to benefit from that hype right up until it turned, so now it’s a case of “we just couldn’t meet expectations”. DNF fell short on the very strengths you promoted – it’s light-heartedness (WHA?), it’s humour (DOA), that it would be iconic (which it is, but for the wrong reasons), that it wasn’t on-rails (yes it was), an old-school shooter and comparable to Half-Life 2 (in that both were FPS video games, I think). And yes, I’d expect that if gamers are paying full price to play content that would have been mediocre in 2006, they probably aren’t going to be happy about it.

DNF’s DLC also failed to impress, so little appears learned from reactions to DNF by Gearbox. Even when expectations are set low, Gearbox fails to meet them when it comes to Duke Nukem.

Review Scores

“Looked like a pair of tits”? Plus yet another one in the “video games and open misogyny category”.

But that’s the obvious reaction to such a stupid statement. Let’s actually look at the substance of what is being said.

Pitchford talks about how some guy (who he also talked about back in August 2011, so he’s repeating the same anecdote to Eurogamer almost a year later) who charted DNF’s review scores and came up with a double curve that one of his designers pointed out looked like a pair of breasts, so it suits DNF.

First off, it’s embarrassing that such a stupid anecdote appears to disarm a lot of follow-up questions about DNF’s quality or reactions, because y’know, he said tits! Teeheeheehee! He makes a statement that DNF is an “edge case” because of its long development and that some reviewers got it (and had fun) and some didn’t, which is why it polarised opinion. “That’s the only explanation” he says.

It’s a nice deflection and subtly moves consideration away from thinking that the long development time and pre-release hype probably helped raise those scores from a larger critical mauling. A lot of people invested energy into thinking that DNF was going to be an awesome game and some reviewed it with this confirmation bias in full effect. Instead, Pitchford says the review scores aren’t what they are because DNF is a bad game, but because of exceptional circumstances. Right.

Put it this way: strip Duke Nukem from the game as a character, or imagine he was a new character. Think about how the game would have been reviewed without that protective insulation of IP.

Secondly, let’s look at the evidence. I can’t find that “some guy” Pitchford talks about. The best I found was someone who plotted DNF’s review scores in order to rant about certain reviewers being too high or too low. I’m not sure that’s the right conclusion there, but anyway, lacking the original source I’ve plotted DNF’s review critics scores on MetaCritic for the PC, Xbox and PS3.

If you can't read this, take my word for it - they don't look like a pair of breasts.

If you think any of these curves look like a pair of breasts, I can’t help you.

Do most video games have a parametric / normal distribution / bell curve around the mean? Without checking a lot of games, I’m sure they do because normal distribution is a common pattern of population distribution and means are measures of central tendency (i.e. they typically fall in the middle of the curve unless pulled out by outliers). There’s also the issue of what 7 out of 10 means when it comes to reviewing video games, given that a lot of reviewers have incorrectly used it to indicate a passable title instead of one that is better than 70% of titles on the market.

That DNF polarised the market is interesting, but it points to a highly flawed title, not a work of unrecognised genius (and if you look at those curves, the review scores skew to the lower end of the scale, meaning negative scores outnumbered the positive ones).

What were you saying about review scores not mattering, Pitchford?

Tabloid Interviews

Pitchford is upset that he’ll say things to the gaming press that are then repeated to a wider audience. Apparently he’s blind to the fact that when you are talking to the gaming press, you are representing your product / company and that the entire point in talking to them is to get them to communicate to their readers about you.

Some people love supposedly ‘honest’ talk from spokespeople, but I can’t help seeing this as an “I was misquoted” defence from someone who’s just pushed criticism about DNF aside because mumble mumble expectations mumble mumble not our fault.

And of course, Pitchford is only out to complain about the gaming press because he’s out there promoting Borderlands 2 to the gaming press.

I’d like it if the actual gaming press called Pitchford on some of this, but they won’t because then they might not get access to Epic for future interviews.

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One thought on “Duke Nukem Forever: Taking Tits To Task

  1. Pingback: Borderlands 2: Girlfriend vs. Girlfriend Mode « Vicarious Existence

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