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Is Homeworld In Safe Hands?

Fans of some of THQ’s better properties are in a weird place since the company’s liquidation, with its properties flying off in all directions to new homes. While most of the matchups are sound, there is one so far that stands out as questionable, and maybe even frightening. One such matchup that may prove to be frightening is Gearbox Software’s acquisition of Homeworld. Gearbox Software, creators of Borderlands, Brothers in Arms, the Half-Life expansions, and more, are unquestionably a talented development studio. The big questions come up when you notice the rather glaring discord: Gearbox Software is an FPS studio at heart, and Homeworld is an RTS. And while they could outsource for this project, they don’t exactly have a great reputation for that.

Now, the issue aforementioned does not mean I believe that a studio’s capability to develop outside their favoured genre should be called into question. On the contrary, I fully acknowledge that talented dev-teams like Valve, Naughty Dog, Double Fine, etc, can easily flip between various styles of gameplay. What seem appropriate to me is to ask if we really think Gearbox can pull it off as well. Even for the most diverse teams, the gap between an RTS and FPS is immense. There are no notable similarities, and so it cannot be held as a mark against them if they, as a shooter-centric developer, are not able to bridge it. Though that only makes the question of why so pertinent. Why would they have taken this on if they didn’t feel it would benefit them? Maybe in haste, they latched onto whichever property they could and found themselves with a bit of a mismatch. Either way, they have it in their care now, and they’re going to find a way to make this game.

Making their own Homeworld

It could go a few ways, and the most likely of their options is a re-purposing of their team. By hiring devs with RTS experience, they could theoretically expand their studio with a wing equipped to make a Homeworld game faithful to the originals. This is a risky move, as the Homeworld name hasn’t been tested in years, and the upheld status of Relic’s dependability no longer applies. If this were to happen, and the game fell short of profit or even just a decent score, the team would be let go soon enough. (We do already know that they plan to re-release Homeworld and Homeworld 2 onto Steam. This alone could provide them with enough revenue to justify the acquisition.)

Conversely, if “Homeworld 3” were to sell well, that opens up a huge possibility for a Borderlands or Brothers in Arms RTS series. The Real-Time Strategy market has been diminishing for years, and should Gearbox successfully move one or more of their brands into the RTS realm, they could revitalise it.

Outsourcing it

Unfortunately, risking new staff and copious waves of money on such a risky venture may not be on the top of their to-do list, and so this is why I personally find the prospect of them outsourcing the project the likeliest course of action. By tasking a completely external studio with the Homeworld sequel, they create a mutually beneficial partnership that would exist as long as their shared profit warrants.

However, the issue with this that scares me and a lot of other Homeworld fans is, if the recent Aliens: Colonial Marines debacle offers any insight, it’s that it simply will be bad. The thing is, Colonial Marines held promise. The game which was showcased early on at E3 2012 was not representative of the hollow husk that gamers received. That desecration of the venerable Aliens franchise tarnished the trust between consumers and Gearbox.
Again the outcome is unclear, and while Gearbox is one of the best current developers, there are still no guarantees that this game will be good. All is in flux, and with such a sacred series as Homeworld, it is terrifying.

Adapt or die – Do what you do best

Those philosophies may well be what Gearbox will decide to function by as they begin planning this game, and it’s tough to argue against. The property belongs to them, they’re good at making quality First-Person Shooters, so why not give Homeworld an FPS makeover? Sure, it would anger a chunk of long-time fans, but it would also be far more likely that the game will end up being critically successful.

Luckily, in an update, Gearbox announced that their first priority is to “preserve and assemble the purest form of the original acclaimed and beloved games, Homeworld and Homeworld 2, with the intent of making them accessible on today’s leading digital platforms.” This gives us at least some indication of their viewpoint on maintaining faithfulness to the Homeworld we know.  However,  their “intent” on accessibility on “leading digital platforms” is alarming. That could mean they’re looking for a broader audience, and that usually means simplification and “dumbing down”, though maybe it is simply too early to speculate on that just yet.

What to think?

You’ve heard what I have to say! Tell us what you want and expect from Gearbox’s Homeworld below.


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