The Legal Battle Over Aliens: Colonial Marines Just Got Juicy

By Jason Schreier on at

We're still seeing fallout from one of the biggest video game flops in recent history, and some recent court documents reveal a number of juicy details that give us a behind-the-scenes look at the marketing of Aliens: Colonial Marines, including internal e-mails and some jargon-filled PR plans that are as surreal as they are revealing.

Last year, the class-action lawsuit firm Edelson LLC filed suit against publisher Sega and developer Gearbox for Colonial Marines, claiming false advertising in a legal battle that has lasted far longer than either party anticipated. The game, which looked drastically different in trade show demos than it did when it came out last year, was unanimously panned. In the weeks afterwards, Kotaku learned that Gearbox had outsourced the majority of development to the studio TimeGate, only stepping in at the last minute to finish production on the much-maligned game.

The plaintiffs behind the class-action lawsuit reached a settlement with Sega earlier this summer, but Gearbox pulled out, asking to be dropped from the suit and arguing that Sega was the main party responsible for publishing and marketing the game.

Gearbox never belonged in this lawsuit. Gearbox is a video game software developer. It was neither the publisher nor seller of the video game at issue. For more than a year, Gearbox has quietly abided the plaintiffs' claims so that Sega, the game's publisher and the party responsible for the game's marketing and sale, could assume the defence of this lawsuit. Gearbox has honoured its publisher's request in spite of plaintiffs' highly-publicised—and highly-misplaced—claims against Gearbox. At this point, however, Gearbox is obligated to pursue its rightful departure from this case.

(You can read Gearbox's full case on the bottom of this post.)

This week, Sega struck back. In court documents filed yesterday, the publisher released a whole bunch of e-mails that were exchanged during the development and marketing processes for Aliens: Colonial Marines. Within the filing (which I've also embedded below), Sega argues that Gearbox was heavily involved with marketing the game and that they essentially did their own thing. Sega claims that Gearbox boss Randy Pitchford repeatedly spilled details about Colonial Marines without the publisher's approval.

One e-mail released to the court, for example, shows Sega brand manager Matt Eyre accusing Pitchford of "doing whatever the fuck he likes."

The Legal Battle Over Aliens: Colonial Marines Just Got Juicy

None of the other e-mails are quite as juicy: most contain discussions from 2011 and 2012 over screenshots and minor details of Colonial Marines that got out to the public, purportedly without Sega's knowledge. A few of these e-mail exchanges involve Sega and Gearbox reps asking gaming websites to take down those screenshots accordingly. (I've reached out to Gearbox for comment, and will update should they choose to send over any statements, though that's unlikely given the legal ramifications here.)

Beyond the e-mails, though, some court-released documents give us a rare look into the marketing plans behind an AAA video game, which is surreal and fascinating.

As an example, here's one section of the PR and marketing campaign for Colonial Marines:

The Legal Battle Over Aliens: Colonial Marines Just Got Juicy

My favourite part: "Do E3 awards = sales? Randy puts forth Epic Mickey example."

And here is the proposition document for Colonial Marines, which is equally surreal:

The Legal Battle Over Aliens: Colonial Marines Just Got Juicy

Fascinating that their target market is "suspicious of new IP." "After all, you can't go wrong with a badass shooter."

Large chunks of these documents are censored, but still, this stuff is gold. Here's what might be the most surreal section of all, stating that Gearbox should have "free reign to generate PR hits" through Pitchford, a "respected development celebrity" who "is guaranteed to be headline material in worldwide press coverage."

The Legal Battle Over Aliens: Colonial Marines Just Got Juicy

You can read the entirety of Sega's most recent filing here:

Sega Gearbox 1

And here is Gearbox's filing from July 30:

Gearbox Case

(h/t Polygon)