Why the Borderlands 3 gameplay reveal was refreshingly authentic

The Borderlands 3 gameplay reveal took place earlier today, with Gearbox showing off what we can expect to see from the game when it releases on September 13, 2019. The developer also highlighted just how refreshing it is to watch a gameplay reveal in real-time, with the typical staged interactions we usually see in these presentations replaced with action that we can expect to emulate when we play the game ourselves.

Over the years, we’ve seen an inordinate number of developers show us demos that aren’t necessarily representative of the final game. Recently, we came to the realization that the Anthem which reached store shelves didn’t live up to the promise of its E3 2017 unveiling. That demo featured actors pretending to be players, guiding viewers through a purposely created section of the game that didn’t appear in the final cut.

In contrast to this, the Borderlands 3 gameplay reveal featured Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford guiding players through the game alongside a developer. The demo played out in real-time, with the developer completing it live on-stage. Pitchford even cut away during certain sections to explain what wouldn’t be in the final game, such as the presence of a rare red chest in an early level.

The Borderlands 3 gameplay reveal was the antithesis of “live” demos

borderlands 3 gameplay reveal

As the continued rise of Twitch has highlighted, players are into the authenticity of just watching someone play through a video game, mistakes and all. The gaming industry has largely avoided showcasing demos that aren’t highly coordinated; even in onstage demos, the action sequences are highly choreographed. When you watch a demo at E3 or another press event, you have to keep in mind that this probably isn’t what the game is going to look like when you’re playing it. Whether it’s the visuals that have been toned down a notch, or the level is structured differently in the final version, you’re constantly having to temper your expectations to a certain degree. But the Borderlands 3 reveal felt authentic. Pitchford, a highly divisive figure in gaming yet someone who inarguably knows how to stage a presentation, spent time explaining the various features players can expect to get their hands on.

Loot instancing, a system in which high-level players can receive valuable rewards even when playing alongside low-level players, was detailed while the players just stood around twiddling their thumbs. Gearbox knows that this is appealing to Borderlands fans, so rather than tucking it away amid a choreographed fight sequence that would put Hollywood to shame, Pitchford instead spent time discussing it. Similarly, cool sequences such as the player throwing an oil barrel into a mini-boss and lighting them up in a fiery blaze came across as real events that happened during the heat of combat. It didn’t feel like the wool was being pulled over our eyes.

Authenticity over perfectionism

borderlands 3 gameplay reveal loot instancing

Unlike many other major game companies, Gearbox clearly prioritized the authenticity of this reveal. In one particular sequence, two developers showcased how co-op worked. Pitchford quipped that it was the “world’s first Borderlands 3 stream,” and it felt like that was what we were watching. While there was no chance of them failing disastrously, the devs playing the game still lost health, missed shots, and looked like they were actually playing through a stage in the game rather than a carefully devised demo area. This is massively important when it comes to appealing to an increasingly jaded audience.

Loot shooters are in vogue, with the game industry recognizing them as fertile ground for the live service business model. However, this continued push to wring as much cash out of a game as possible has seen more consumers peaking behind the curtain and not liking what they’ve seen. Many have become even more skeptical of the industry as a result, with controversies surrounding loot boxes and microtransactions leaving many feeling like game companies just want to nickel ‘n’ dime them.

Pitchford hammered home that he wanted the stream to feel “real,” and in an age when players are frequently burned by games that promise so much yet wind up offering so little, this was a great strategy. Of course, the devs who have spent years creating this game are going to know it like the back of their hand, but watching them play it was far more realistic than the likes of the Anthem demo. We don’t want to hear voice actors pretending to be us; we want to hear developers discussing their enthusiasm for the game they’ve created while actually playing it.