Borderlands 2 – How to Keep Customers Happy 17 Months Later
By Jon White, Multimedia reporter
The developers at Gearbox Software have created a game that continues to be played by millions of gamers by continuing to give players a reason to come back. Borderlands 2, although released in September of 2012, has attained the elusive magic that many games strive to get right… fun and addicting co-operative gameplay while keeping the game feel fresh with new content as recently as last month.
The first Borderlands game sold well, but had its fair share of critiques about the lack of story or character development. Regardless of criticisms, players loved the co-operative aspect that was mixed with the gameplay. There was a genre blend of role playing game and first person shooter perspectives. Players accomplished missions to gain experience and money so they could level up and to buy better equipment. Unlike traditional RPGs where a player used swords or sorcery, Borderlands lets the player use guns, guns, and more guns. As with some other games in the RPG genre, like Diablo, the weapons that are dropped are randomized so you never really know what you will find. Every enemy you kill potentially explodes like a piñata, but instead of candy and confetti it is blood, ammo, money, or guns. The addictive nature of the game comes from trying to find better and better equipment while you level up and improve your stats.
However, no matter how much you are enjoying the game, after you finish it a few times you will eventually get tired of the game by playing through the same areas over again. Given the current state of technology for gaming, players can buy add-on content to extend the life, commonly referred to as downloadable content (DLC). DLC has sometimes been criticized as a “cash grab,” a way for companies to make a quick dollar off games that people have already paid full price for. However, the DLC they have released for Borderlands 2 has gone over quite well with fans due to the amount of content, variety, and quality they have put into each pack. They are priced at $10 per pack (or you get four for free if you pay for their season pass), which bucks the industry trend of paying $15 per pack. The packs were spaced out far enough apart so that they kept players coming back for more, but not so close together that players felt bombarded with too much content. Even after Gearbox delivered all of the DLC they promised, they decided to do even more DLC to help keep fans able to get their Borderlands fix.
The stigma attached with Gearbox’s DLC is that it is made by people who love their job and are awarding fans with quality to demonstrate appreciation for all the support. Thankfully, the amount of content and variety in the Borderlands DLC seems like it is anything but thrown together for a few extra bucks. While some packs are more fun than others, they offer up some different settings: an area flooded with sand pirates, a Thunderdome-esque battle arena, an exotic hunting trip through swamplands and a game of a Dungeons & Dragons knockoff where anything goes and the rules of the game change whenever the main character feels like it. Also, Gearbox offered packs to let gamers reach even higher levels of progression, as previously character’s stats were limited to maxing out at level fifty. For those gamers who are completely opposed to paying for any kind of content, Gearbox saw fit to give away codes for free that could be redeemed for in-game items. There are a finite number of keys that one can get, but the sentiment is that you are still getting something to help your experience that doesn’t cost anything extra. Lately, Gearbox released bite sized content that cost $3 per pack, but it was a relatively small amount of content that was holiday themed. Despite the size of the holiday themed content, it was priced competitively to lure fans back into the fray.
So while levelling up characters can be done independently, the allure of the game comes from the potential four-player co-op that people can join in for. There are six different classes (four from the initial game and two from DLC) that all have different abilities from one another. With this, the player has the ability to team up powers and abilities to create spectacularly devastating results. Borderland 2 is one of those few games that, once you play with some friends, going back to it as a single player makes it feel like a different game. Some of the additional fun (or frustration) comes from having to share the guns that drop, so you better hope that you have some friends you can trust to share things equally. If you do not have trustworthy friends, you can always battle for items in an attempt to get what you want. The co-operative aspect of the game harkens back to the days when groups of friends would crowd around the TV or in a room with computers and just play the game for hours while interacting with each other. This is especially helpful, as you will need help from other players to battle biggest and hardest bosses in the game in order to get the best kind of weapons and awards.
With some franchises getting annual sequels (Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, and every sports franchise) and then flooding the market with DLC before the next version comes out, Gearbox saw fit to spread out their content in order to make the experience more meaningful. It feels more like a thank you to fans, rather than letting players glut themselves on content right before the newest entry comes out. With every new version of the annual franchises, a substantial amount of the previous year’s version comes flooding back to second hand stores. Money is money and the games industry is a business, but in the long term overexposure can hurt a brand and lead to franchise fatigue. Borderlands has taken a safer route and spread out content since its launch to keep gamers interested instead of relentlessly releasing content or sequels.
Digitaltrends.com quoted head of Gearbox Games, Randy Pitchford, as saying. “If you think about what’s in the Season Pass, it is an incredible amount of stuff. There’s four campaign DLCs, that was the promise from the beginning. You get them for the price of three. Then later we added the level cap increase and some other features. We just threw it in that bundle because a lot more people bought it than we expected, so we could afford to put more value into it. If you think about all of that, the sum of all that content is larger than the game itself.”
With the positive fan support and enjoyment of the product, Gearbox essentially gave back to the fans. The end result was a cycle of happy fans grabbing more friends to play the game with, effectively boosting sales over a long period of time and garnering new fans by positive word of mouth. The upcoming years are going to prove crucial for how game developers are going to be battling the rising cost of development, along with competing with the mobile gaming market for people’s attention. Gearbox seems to have stumbled upon to the right kind of business model; keep people happy over the long term and they will return for new product.