SEGA and Gearbox have become the targets of a class-action lawsuit in Northern California which claims that the company mislead the public with demonstrations of the 'actual gameplay' of Aliens: Colonial Marines which bore little resemblance to the final game.
The case is being brought by law firm Edelson LLC on behalf of Damion Perrine, reports Polygon. Perrine and Edelson believe that, by showing trailers and playable demos to the public and press at events like E3 and PAX, SEGA and Gearbox were promising something which they could not and had no intention of delivering - contravening several civil and business codes.
Also mentioned in the suit is the fact that review code for the game was sent to press with an embargo for coverage of the game's launch date - an immediate warning to any most reviewers - thereby preventing anyone with a pre-order from properly assessing the game's quality. As a class-action suit, the result of which will be applicable to the public at large, Edelson hopes to elicit a ruling for all customers who pre-ordered the game.
"Each of the 'actual gameplay' demonstrations purported to show consumers exactly what they would be buying: a cutting edge video game with very specific features and qualities," Edelson's filing explains. "Unfortunately for their fans, Defendants never told anyone - consumers, industry critics, reviewers, or reporters - that their 'actual gameplay' demonstration advertising campaign bore little resemblance to the retail product that would eventually be sold to a large community of unwitting purchasers."
"their 'actual gameplay' demonstration advertising campaign bore little resemblance to the retail product"
Class-action lawsuit filing from Edelson LLC
Speaking directly to Polygon yesterday, Edelson further explained the reasoning behind the case.
"The gaming community had a strong reaction to the release of Aliens: Colonial Marines," said the firm's Ben Thomassen. "We think the video game industry is no different than any other that deals with consumers: if companies like Sega and Gearbox promise their customers one thing but deliver something else, then they should be held accountable for that decision."
Gearbox boss Randy Pitchford was deluged with tweets of complaint, some offering constructive criticism, others less nuanced. In response, he tweeted a reply which is now being cited as evidence of his prior knowledge that the game had not offered the sort of quality which previous demonstrations had indicated it might.
"I think while vulgar criticism is unfair to you most people just want an explanation to why the game is so different to the demo," asked one customer.
"That is understood and fair and we are looking at that," responded Pitchford. "Lots of info to parse, lots of stake-holders to respect."
SEGA Europe has also already admitted to the UK's Advertising Standards Agency that the trailers were misleading after a Reddit user sought clarification from the ASA.
"My aim was not to get fines, compensation or any of that. Gearbox and Sega spoke very clearly" wrote Redditor 'subpardave'. "By saying absolutely nothing - and showed the purchasing community that they would rather this mess all quietly disappear.
"The games industry - like any other - needs to be held accountable for blatantly deceiving the consumer, "And doubly so when a wall of silence is the only response to resounding criticism for shipping a shoddy product, having shown off one with all the bells and whistles."
In response, the ASA sent a letter which says that SEGA had admitted the disparity and agreed to add a disclaimer to any future airings of the trailers. The case was taken no further.
Colonial Marines scored between 40 and 50 per cent on all platforms, according to aggregator Metacritic, despite a single stand-out 90 per cent from EGM magazine. Nonetheless, it saw some commercial success, hitting number one on the UK retail chart.