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Gearbox Software is a video game studio and publishing company that currently owns the rights to the Duke Nukem franchise. The studio's co-founder and CEO, Randy Pitchford, is a controversial icon in the online gaming community.

In April 2021, Gearbox Software was acquired by the Embracer Group. At the time of the acquisition, Gearbox Software was valued at over a billion US dollars. In March 2024 it was bought by Duke Nukem Forever publisher Take-Two Interactive under its 2K division for less than five hundred million.[1]

Duke Nukem games

In 2010, Gearbox Software purchased the exclusive rights to the Duke Nukem franchise from 3D Realms, but their involvement with the Duke Nukem franchise quietly began much earlier with a canceled game from 2007 that was never formally announced.

Duke Begins

According to court documents revealed in a legal dispute with 3D Realms, Duke Begins began development in October 2007 when 3D Realms licensed Take-Two Interactive to publish a console-based Duke Nukem game, with a target launch date in 2010. Within two months, Take-Two Interactive signed an agreement with developers at Gearbox Software to begin working on the game. However, the title was put on hold in April 2009 after $2.5 million in advance royalties were delivered to 3D Realms for the continued funding of Duke Nukem Forever.

Based on statements made in public interviews (such as this one), some have speculated that development of Duke Begins briefly resumed in 2014 before the dispute over Duke Nukem: Mass Destruction ultimately killed it.

Duke Nukem Forever

Gearbox Software recruited Allen Blum, co-designer of Duke Nukem 3D, and his development team at Triptych Games to finish production of Duke Nukem Forever, which they had inherited from 3D Realms. Following a 14-year development cycle at 3D Realms, the game was finished within a year and finally published in 2011.

Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour

In 2016, Gearbox Software contracted Allen Blum and Richard "Levelord" Gray to add eight more levels to the classic Duke Nukem 3D. Several scrapped enemies and a scrapped weapon were reprised, and the game was ported to a modern engine. The final product was released under the title Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour.

Polarizing reputation

Gearbox Software has a polarizing reputation in the online gaming community. While they are widely praised for their work on franchises like Borderlands and Half-Life, they are frequently criticized for their work on the Duke Nukem franchise, as well as some of their managerial decisions.

Criticisms of work on the Duke Nukem franchise

Critics often blame negative reception of Duke Nukem Forever on Gearbox Software and allege that development of the franchise has been too slow under Gearbox Software's ownership.

In the years since the publication of Duke Nukem Forever, all of the following Duke Nukem games in development were canceled due to legal pressure from Gearbox Software:

Some critics who are unaware of the franchise's history also mistakenly claim that Gearbox Software took the franchise from 3D Realms as part of a lawsuit. In reality, Gearbox Software was solicited and amicably sold the franchise, but when 3D Realms was bought and restaffed by a different company, the new staff had misconceptions about the details of the transaction.

Other critics incorrectly believe that the franchise's original developers at 3D Realms are being wrongfully denied the right to work on their own game. However, none of the franchise's developers are still employed at 3D Realms; in fact, Allen Blum, Richard "Levelord" Gray, and other key figures have more recently been contracted by Gearbox Software, not 3D Realms.

Criticisms of the profit-sharing model

At Gearbox Software, employees' compensation is based on a profit-sharing model; their typical paychecks are beneath the industry standard but are accompanied by bonuses derived from profits. In years when profits exceed expectations, Gearbox Software's employees are vastly overpaid relative to industry standards, but when profits fall short, Gearbox Software is criticized in the online gaming community for underpaying their employees. Many critics believe this practice is inherently unfair. It should be noted that one common misconception about the profit-sharing model is the idea that unmet profit forecasts are failed "promises" to employees, which is not how profit-sharing works.