3D Realms suing Gearbox over Duke Nukem Forever royalties

It seemed the Duke Nukem Forever saga was finally over, released and sunk without a trace, but oh no, not quite. Creator 3D Realms has filed a lawsuit against Gearbox Software--the developer which bought DNF after 3DR failed then finished the game--claiming that the Borderlands developer hasn't paid everything it owes, and is blocking an audit to find quite how much that is.


It seemed the Duke Nukem Forever saga was finally over, released and sunk without a trace, but oh no, not quite. Creator 3D Realms has filed a lawsuit against Gearbox Software--the developer which bought and finished DNF after 3DR closed--claiming that the Borderlands creator hasn't paid everything it owes, and is blocking an audit to find quite how much that is.

3D Realms claims it's owed over $1.3 million. Gearbox, stingingly, has responded saying "everyone wished that 3DR's game was better received" and that it lost both money and credibility.

It's been a long time since I had to read court documents about DNF, but not nearly long enough. Thanks a megaton to Duke4.net poster 'Green' for digging up the filing. Let's do this.

When Gearbox bought DNF--and the Duke Begins game it was once developing, turns out--it agreed to pay off a $2.9 million loan 3D Realms owed to an unspecified software company. Gearbox also agreed, 3DR says, that it wouldn't recoup the cost of the loan from royalties it'd owe to 3DR from sales of DNF.

3DR wanted to be quite clear about that point, so it double-checked with Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford. And has an included as evidence Pitchford's e-mail reply saying that's the case. But, 3DR says, Gearbox is refusing to pay royalties until that loan is covered. Which is a problem.

Between royalties and an advance it's entitled to a share of, 3D Realms claims Gearbox owes "over $1.3 million" in total. It can't come up with a precise figure because Gearbox is supposedly refusing to let 3DR bring in an independent auditor to examine the books.

Gearbox issued a brutal response to Law360, saying that it "enriched 3D Realms, saved 3DR from its debts and rescued 3DR from its failed dozen plus year attempt to ship Duke Nukem Forever." It claims it owes nothing, in short. And then Gearbox put the boot in.

"Everyone wished that 3DR's game was better received by the market for the benefit of gamers and profit to its creators," the unnamed representative said. "While 3DR might not wish the reality that the results make clear, 3DR turned out to be the only beneficiary of the deal. Gearbox Software, meanwhile, experienced damage to its credibility and loss of its money."

It's unlikely we'll see the two companies settle it amicably over tea, then. To the courtroom!

3D Realms and parent entity Apogee may be essentially dead as a developer, but whatever's left still has some interesting assets to flex. March saw the unexpected release of an enhanced version of Duke Nukem 3D, while it's publishing a revival of the Rise of the Triad series, and a "reimagining" of its Shadow Warrior is in the works too.

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From The Chatty
  • reply
    June 13, 2013 10:45 AM

    Alice O'Connor posted a new article, 3D Realms suing Gearbox over Duke Nukem Forever royalties.

    It seemed the Duke Nukem Forever saga was finally over, released and sunk without a trace, but oh no, not quite. Creator 3D Realms has filed a lawsuit against Gearbox Software--the developer which bought DNF after 3DR failed then finished the game--claiming that the Borderlands developer hasn't paid everything it owes, and is blocking an audit to find quite how much that is.

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      June 13, 2013 10:51 AM

      All I have to say is WOW.... for someone that bails you out and you pull that kind of crap on Gearbox.

      DNF was a turd anyways. I wrote a whole paper on it for a Game Theory class.

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        June 13, 2013 10:52 AM

        A whole paper D:?

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          June 13, 2013 11:02 AM

          lol yup, it was part of the "bad game" section of our syllabus.

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            June 13, 2013 11:13 AM

            I'm curious what points you used to show that it was a "bad game".

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              June 13, 2013 11:29 AM


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              June 13, 2013 12:14 PM

              is this really a case of citation needed?

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                June 13, 2013 12:28 PM

                I'm not arguing that he's wrong, I'm more curious just to know what kind of thought went into writing that paper. How do you prove that something is critically bad in an academic context?

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                  June 13, 2013 1:08 PM

                  My first question for you is, have you played the game? Of course, I understand that there are far worse games out there.

                  The game theory class was a prerequisite to game development. Basically, how things work when it comes to pitching ideas, to the actual development, to things that are good or bad in concept and design.

                  Part of the assignment was to find a game with a very low meta score. Since I have played shooters forever (no pun intended), I picked DNF, for many reasons. When it comes down to it, meta score, for some people, is just a number. If your a fan of a series, you will buy it and play it, regardless of reviews or score.

                  Part of the assignment was, we had to play the game for 2 hours. I was comparing the game to triple A run and gun shooters and that's where a lot of the thought process came from. You know, game play, graphics, stability, etc, etc.

                  I'm sure there is more to it for Gearbox and DNF but quite honestly, when someone bails you out, to polish a "turd" to quote some people, you would think they would have some respect for Gearbox.

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                    June 13, 2013 1:17 PM

                    But what are your academic reasons for saying DNF is a bad game?

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                      June 13, 2013 1:37 PM

                      good point. this sounds like an opinion and you have not shown anything on this forum yet to distinctly showcase a supporting argument other than "i did not like it, therefore it is a bad game". you could have easily written your paper saying that metacritic is a bad game as well.

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                      June 13, 2013 2:15 PM

                      For the same reason Nickelback is the worst band on earth and EA is the worst company in America, the internet told me and I have no testicles

                  • reply
                    June 13, 2013 1:33 PM

                    did, you, use, that, many, commas, in, your, paper?

                    do, you, know, the, theory, behind, the, difference, between, your, and you're?

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                      June 13, 2013 1:58 PM

                      Thanks for the information. I wasn't aware that my forum posts had to be perfect when it comes to grammar and spelling.

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                    June 13, 2013 1:55 PM

                    I played the demo. Well, most of it. That was enough for me. I can say, from my experience with the demo, that I did not have enough fun to expect to get much enjoyment out of a full game, assuming it was representative. But I don't know if there are any elements I can point at as representative of bad design, so I'm curious what things you picked out.

                    A buggy game, or an ugly game doesn't really mean that it's designed badly, and comparing its merits against other AAA shooters that you've played doesn't really seem like a fair evaluation of the game that they presented. Saying "it would be better if the cars in all shooters controlled like the cars in Halo, because I liked that part of Halo", for example, wouldn't be very useful criticism to tell developers or players what mistakes were made.

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                    June 13, 2013 2:35 PM

                    I'm not sure why you're getting piled on but I for one would be interested in reading your paper.

                    I liked DNF and I don't regret buying it but I'll admit that it is not the best game. I'm sure nostalgia and just the sheer principle of the thing being finished. It was the game equivalent of Chinese Democracy - more amazing that it was ever released than anything else.

                    But even as someone who liked the Star Wars prequels (sort of, nowhere near as much as the originals) I still liked RedLetterMedia's rundowns of why they thought they were bad.

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                      June 13, 2013 2:49 PM

                      Exactly, I agree. It's been a couple years or so since I wrote it. I will have to see if I still have a copy of it on my back up drive.

                  • reply
                    June 13, 2013 7:30 PM

                    This would be game studies, not Game Theory. Game Theory is something else: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Game_theory

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            June 13, 2013 12:30 PM

            Post your paper for all to see!

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            June 13, 2013 2:30 PM

            I actually thought it would be a great example to learn from, for the semi-obvious points of failure, upgrade treadmill production, super uncomfortable sexism, new player behaviors expected but untrained, unacceptable load times... but also as a window into the trends of the industry throughout the game's production as it has artifacts of trends both lampshaded and played straight.

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              June 13, 2013 2:54 PM

              See, these would be interesting points that I'd like to see explored in an essay. I've only heard some of the issues touched on in discussions.

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                June 13, 2013 5:28 PM

                I was originally going to do a write up about it, but I ended up not finishing the game and am so easily distracted by other things.

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                June 13, 2013 6:09 PM

                I don't want to write up some huge thing, but I can share a few thoughts.

                I felt that the maps and missions were fine. There was diversity in the scenery and a decent mix of shoot-em-up missions vs puzzles vs boss fights.

                I felt that the guns were diverse and serviceable.

                I felt that the enemy was diverse and serviceable.

                The load times were horrible.

                The health regen and 2-weapon limit were a departure; but that is a modern FPS trend.

                So, with those basic building blocks, I think the game was average and, again, serviceable.

                The part I didn't like, was the tone. Which is what Duke is all about.
                Here are some possible reasons that I didn't like the tone:
                - I played the original when I was 12 or so. I am no longer 12.
                - The old original version had crappy graphics that gave it a cartoony feel. Maybe the modern, realistic graphics just don't fit well with the tone. Maybe cartoony, is what is needed for Duke jokes to work.

                I was mostly put off by the mission in the caves. Where they wanted me to kill the trapped women; while navigating a dark, creepy, alien environment. I think being sent on a mission where you put people out of their misery is ok to do. It puts the player in an emotionally serious and morally troubling situation; but media is welcome to do. Players should be pushed.

                But the writers have to understand that you can't expect the player to mercy kill dozens of women, while also slapping alien wall-boobs and cracking one liners. Those things don't go together. At all.

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                  June 13, 2013 7:40 PM

                  I agree on those points, and with the HD texture packs for Duke3D I really think keeping it unrealistic and low detail keeps it... a little more detached? Closer to cheesecake than sadcreepertown? There are parts of Duke3D that now make me cringe and feel uncomfortable about, but nothing like DNF.

                  The caves... when you come across "the twins," I played out that sequence, then just stood there a bit in stunned silence before exiting the game. I was really wondering just what the fuck I was doing playing it; I nearly uninstalled the game then and there. The tone was so utterly fucked.

                  I ended up playing further with some resolve telling myself I would write about it... then between boredom, frustration, and hatred of the load times by the post-dam underwater bit I just gave up. Never even wrote about what I had played up through.

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                    June 13, 2013 8:25 PM

                    Detached. Yes. Where the characters live in some alternate universe that has different rules.

                    It is no wonder that so many comedies come in cartoon format. Like Archer, Family Guy, The Simpsons, etc...

                    The things those people do and say would be horrifying, if they were coming from a real(istic) people. Making them be abstract representations of people, allows the jokes to work.

                    Maybe the right format for Duke is more along the lines of the art direction of Team Fortress 2.
                    Maybe we can return to laughing at Duke's one-liners then.

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                      June 13, 2013 9:15 PM

                      To be honest the writing was done nearly for free (bad decision) by two women (yup, women, so the misogyny thing is just baffling) who had never written anything or anything like it before (one a technical writer right out of college IIRC, the other a relative of someone on the team who's never written anything published at all before AFAIK). There was no story or written dialog or fucking anything like a cohesive level progression to the game when 3DR shut down. All that was all done while the game was forcibly assembled from misc parts, over a few months between the shutdown and when GBX picked up the project.

                      One hope I had for the project moving to GBX was that they'd trash the writing, the recorded dialog, and give a decent professional doing-over story-wise - but they didn't want to spend the money or time on that, and thought what existed worked, apparently.

                      I'm convinced now that giant swaths of people who were making decisions were or are tone-deaf to what makes media work, let alone what would be needed for a game character like Duke; I know with Borderlands, it's a tiny group of 2-3 core guys who are creative directors on it and they have the power and freedom to hire actual popular, professional and proven funny people like Anthony Burch, trash and rework and polish the story elements, and were willing to make story and tone a central element of the game, not an afterthought or some insultingly bargain basement amateur project.

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                        June 14, 2013 6:21 PM

                        hey hi. women can have internalized misogyny too

                        *floats away*

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                      June 13, 2013 9:26 PM

                      Going forward it for sure needs non-realistic stylization going on and... much better writers.

        • reply
          June 13, 2013 11:12 AM

          small font

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        June 13, 2013 12:15 PM

        Turd or no turd, they have to honor any contractual agreements they made. Good chance GB is guilty if they're blocking audits and are just trying to prolong payments.

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      June 13, 2013 10:59 AM

      F them all for screwing up what should have been a slam dunk Duke Nukem game 10 years ago.

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      June 13, 2013 11:14 AM

      Pitchford was nuts to get involved with that mess in the first place. If it was me, I would have laughed if they asked my company to try and save that unmitigated disaster. In fact, if it was between finishing DNF or wiping poo all over my face, I'd have asked where the poo was so I could just get it over with. At least poo can be wiped off. No amount of showering can remove the filth of being associated in any way with DNF. Hell, I feel dirty just having it listed in my Steam library.

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        June 13, 2013 1:01 PM

        At one in time Duke Nukem was an incredibly strong IP - anything and everything with the character sold well. My guess is that Gearbox really just wanted the IP to give it another shot. Problem was they would look evil if they didn't finish and release DNF first, no matter how bad it was.

        My analogy has always been: it's kinda like If Weezer had broken up after Pinkerton everyone would have been clamoring for their comeback. As opposed to what happened, which is that they continued to record for eighteen years and now they have people asking them to stop. If DNF had never been released we would have always wondered what might have been. Now we know.

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          June 13, 2013 2:00 PM

          Also, don't forget that Pitchford actually worked on the Atomic edition of DN3D (and Shadow Warrior, I believe?). He probably did have quite a bit of love for that game.

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      June 13, 2013 11:16 AM

      In response, a class action lawsuit is filed against 3dr for 13 annual counts of shattered expectations. lol

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      June 13, 2013 11:24 AM

      You spent 12 years making a turd and go bankrupt doing it. Someone then polishes that turd and releases it damaging whatever reputation they had.. and you then go and sue them for what little money it made?

      You really do have balls of steel to try this don't you?

      And if you were so worried about Duke's credibility.. maybe you should have stopped, oh say, about 5 years into development and scrapped the project?

      Just Sayin'

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      June 13, 2013 11:28 AM


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      June 13, 2013 11:38 AM

      i don't know who i want to see lose more, 3DR for making such a shitty game or Gearbox for... being Gearbox.

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      June 13, 2013 11:39 AM

      If 3DR had an agreement with Gearbox to receive a certain amount of royalties, and subsequently Gearbox 1) didn't pay the amount agreed upon and 2) is blocking an audit to determine the exact amount owed, then what are any of you idiots talking about? Whether or not 3DR should have released the game earlier or did a bad job or you don't like them or whatever has absolutely no relevance.

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        June 13, 2013 12:08 PM


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        June 13, 2013 12:13 PM

        3DR bailed on the project, and now they're greedy grubby paws wanna take a measly 1.3million from gearbox...why?

        I don't disagree, one thing has nothing to do with the other, if Gearbox owes them money, then they owe them money. Gearbox may have their own reasons for blocking an audit, none which have to do with 3DR or DNF, no one knows the details

        However, I think that the point isn't the amount of time they took to release the game, instead that there were gods among 3DR , and now it's nothing more then cowardly peasants who are really bad businessmen trying to scrape whatever they can get. Just like DNF. They need to learn to cut their losses and do something else with their lives, maybe take up cooking.

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          June 13, 2013 12:21 PM

          Equating the expectation that a contractual obligation will be honored (and pursuing legal action when it isn't) with "cowardly peasants who are really bad businessmen trying to scrape whatever they can get" makes you sound dumb.

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            June 13, 2013 12:43 PM

            Like I said, I don't disagree that "contractually" they owe it to them. There's no reason GB shouldn't be able to hand them what they owe them, but anyone who loved duke will be more then a little irritated with 3DR for what they did with that series. So nobody really cares what's "right" and "wrong".

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          June 13, 2013 2:00 PM

          I assume because of contractual obligations?

          I mean if it was up to me both 3DR and Gearbox owe me money for playing the demo but I didn't have a contract that relates to that.

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          June 13, 2013 8:52 PM

          "3DR bailed on the project"
          "no one knows the details"

          These two statements are not adding up.

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        June 13, 2013 8:31 PM

        I just want to know what's in the contract. But it doesnt sound like they had one? "3D Realms said the deal was one among friends, as Gearbox's president had a long-standing friendly relationship with its principals."

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          June 13, 2013 8:39 PM

          ohhhh, man harsh. we trust pitchford at his word with $50-60 and get burned, poor GeorgeB does to the tune of 1mil+.. :(

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          June 13, 2013 8:42 PM

          If that actually means they don't have a contract, 3D Realms is fucking stupid.

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          June 13, 2013 9:20 PM

          lololol. Didn't Pitchford say that his career began with the Duke? (assuming that is true).

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        June 13, 2013 8:45 PM

        Oh hell yeah. If it's all true the Gearbox is totally in the wrong.

        I'm just in it for the lols.

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        June 13, 2013 9:23 PM

        i swear the chatty is getting dumber and dumber

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        June 13, 2013 11:09 PM

        From one of the other posts it seems the case centers around a loan that Gearbox took over for 3DR and royalties suppose to be payed to 3DR both suppose to be payed from the revenue from the game. 3DR says the royalties were suppose to come first and Gearbox say the loan they took over was suppose to come first.

        Frankly I think Gearbox would have to be mentally challenged to take over the loan but let the royalties take priority from the DNF revenue. Its possible that it was never specified though and both sides assumed what they wanted too.

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      June 13, 2013 12:04 PM

      Pitchford and his company need to be taken down more than a few notches.

      Hopefully he gets put in his place.

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      June 13, 2013 12:15 PM

      two garbage companies yell at each other over garbage game

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      June 13, 2013 2:17 PM

      DNF may not have sold well but thankfully Colonial Marines helped pick up the slack for Gearbox.

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      June 13, 2013 8:35 PM

      Just curious. Has anyone ever received a game royalty in their lifetime? I've seen it happen only once and it was a massive hit. I had somebody approach me about royalties and I told him not to take them even from a friend because it's way too easy to block access to the books or make the accounting work against the product showing any kind of profit.

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        June 13, 2013 8:59 PM

        I knew some people that left GBX after the first Borderlands and spent 6 months traveling the world and then another six months just fucking around with the payout they got from that, before they went back to industry work. I know a guy who left full time work to freelance, but is still basically living on the profit from investing the money he made from working on Doom3. I know a dude who bought a house in California with money made from shipping Crysis, so it still happens.

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          June 13, 2013 9:18 PM

          Nice. Only person I've ever met who got a royalty was on Tony Hawk pre-merger. I know a whole lot of people who are owed payments, told they aren't owed payments, or just flat out never received their last paychecks.

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            June 13, 2013 9:41 PM

            Yeah to be honest I don't think it's the norm right now. From what I know, GBX paid Triptych very little to complete DNF, and we as employees were told by Triptych that we'd get some sort of payout even if the game didn't do that well, because we were saving GBX/2K so much money having presented them with a near finished project and then working for peanuts to ship it. We were told that it didn't even need to sell over a million to make money, etc etc. Then it came out, and from what we could tell it easily sold over 1mil between the three platforms (like .3mil PC, .75mil Xbox and 7.mil or something like that on PS3).

            Somehow this didn't happen, of course. We suddenly were told by Triptrych that 2K/GBX said it didn't recoup expenses and wouldn't be paying them any royalties, so there was not going be trickle down to us, obviously; seemed like the accounting changed magically, like some sort of fucking music industry deal you hear about. Well, at least we subsequently got giant raises to complete the DNF DLC and the two BL2 DLCs. Live and learn. But needless to say there's a few ex-Triptytch employees watching this closely, popcorn in hand. If they owe 3DR money, they owe Triptych money, I think, and therefore possibly me, money.

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              June 13, 2013 10:56 PM

              All GBX full-time employees receive royalties from the sales of our games, paid out every quarter, with extremely detailed accounting break downs of exactly where every cent comes from. There have been droughts, for sure, but I've received an ungodly amount of royalties in the 10+ years i've worked there.

              I cannot comment on our deals with external partners as I have no idea what any of those are.

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        June 13, 2013 11:11 PM

        I have but I co-own the company too so

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          June 13, 2013 11:57 PM

          I give employees equity rather than royalties because sure enough we haven't shown an annual profit and i've booked all the losses against our product line so far. It used to be a tax writeoff ( albeit a liability if we profited ), but this year we're paying corporate taxes so it'll rollover if it's a loss or the company will have to start paying taxes on the profit ( still pay on the gross / annual fees thanks to the great state of California )

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            June 14, 2013 7:35 AM

            My company did the same thing for a while. Gave people non-voting shares. Thanks to getting on steam this is the first year we've really made any money.

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        June 13, 2013 11:31 PM

        Lionhead used to send me royalties for a game I had left the company before they even started work on.

        I tried to be honest and told them "look I never worked on it and left before it was even started" only to be told "We have a cheque here with your name on it, do you want it or not?"

        I did.

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      June 13, 2013 9:04 PM


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      June 14, 2013 3:58 AM

      And Pitchford strikes again! First screwing up A:CM and now Duke. Wow what a scumbag.

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      June 14, 2013 5:00 PM

      Joystiq has a Gearbox response.

      "Perhaps the lesson learned here is to never enter a gaming business deal with a person who has had more lawsuits than shipped games." -sTeve

      This is it, you guys.
      This is now the most Shack thing that's ever happened.

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