[Update: Just to make it clear, I have been able to corroborate the basic information presented by "Danielson," not his more editorialized opinions. I can't back his claims of "embezzlement" -- likely more an emotional response on his part than anything else. I cannot vouch for the blogger firsthand, only the information I've been able to double check with my trusted sources -- chiefly that Gearbox had at least tried to present SEGA an unfavorable contract, the game was slated for cancellation and later resurrected, and that Gearbox was not fully truthful with the publisher on how much work it was putting into Aliens. Naturally, with no official word, this is all still just off-record stuff until someone can actually explain something publicly.
After chatting with some developers from various studios, I've edited the headline to be more clear, and am adding this update.]
An anonymous writer, who has been regularly spilling details from within SEGA on the blog SEGA Awakens, has addressed the ongoing Aliens: Colonial Marines saga, adding fresh perspective and blaming SEGA, TimeGate, and Gearbox in different ways. Mostly Gearbox, though.
I've independently corroborated the blogger's information using my own resources, which is why I'm confident enough to share his rather valuable insight. In his blog, the man writing under the alias "Bryan Danielson" states that the torrent of rumors following Colonial Marines' release are "99% true," but wished to correctly apportion the blame.
In an engrossing read, the writer separated the culpability of the three main entities involved, detailing exactly how SEGA, TimeGate, and Gearbox messed up. He begins with TimeGate, the studio rumored to be responsible for most of Aliens' development under Gearbox's command.
"TimeGate is at fault for: Wanting to even take on this project and their shoddy work," Danielson wrote. "Granted, I heard about their claims about Gearbox having full creative control, but they should have tried to show their side of the argument and fight more if they had problems with Gearbox's creative control and creative direction.
"Honestly, I thought they should have risked some arguments and the possibility of losing the contract, if they had problems with the project like the Reddit poster said. However, there still is a chance of their claims being a lie or a half truth, but as I said above, TimeGate has some responsibility."
The whistle blower addressed the idea of TimeGate throwing out Gearbox's original project work when it took over, but could only offer speculation. The possibility is entertained that TimeGate may not have been legally allowed to use Gearbox's work, but it's also entirely possible the new studio decided to start again from scratch for some other reason.
"SEGA is at fault for: Announcing the project in 2007 when no work was done at all," he continued. "In my views, a game project should be announced publicly when it is 50-60% done, so you won't have to wait 6 years for a game that turns out to be shit.
"SEGA is also responsible for not permanently cancelling the game in 2008. I don't know who found out about the mishandling of funds by Gearbox, but [canceling Colonial Marines] had to be one of the few right decisions the board has done, or this person is one of the few board members who knew what they were doing (from what I heard, this person may have left the board a while ago when SEGA decided to start the project again). This game should have been cancelled permanently, and the final product is undeniable proof of it.
"Despite that, I believe SEGA wanted to try to get some of the money back, at the fans' expense. So another blame for SEGA there. SEGA should have also watched the project and development a lot better, because there was a lot of warning signs that said this was a disaster in the making. So whoever was assigned to watch Gearbox and the game has some responsibility too, unless the board was forcing him to do it. SEGA and their lawyers also have some blame on the wording of the contract too, but more on that later."
The blog then moves onto the main event, addressing the involvement of Gearbox Software and its CEO, Randy Pitchford. In no uncertain terms, the studio is accused of robbing its publisher and lying to its face.
"Now here is the company that should get most of the blame: Gearbox Software and Randy Pitchford. Gearbox stole from SEGA, they robbed us, lied to us about the game, and tried to get another company to make the game instead. Let's see where the funding went shall we? Everyone said the game went to both Borderlands games, but Duke Nukem Forever gets a mention as well, but it's pushed out of the spotlight, because people want to forget about that game, and I don't blame them! Duke Nukem Forever had a big impact on Aliens: Colonial Marines as well."
A Gamasutra article was used to back up the claim. The article in question is an interview with Pitchford, in which he explains how his studio got the rights to Duke Nukem Forever.
"It clearly shows that Pitchford and Gearbox wanted to focus heavily on Duke Nukem Forever, but how would they get the money to hire some of the 3D Realms team and even buy the intellectual property? Sure, they made a lot from Borderlands, but guess where they got the money to fund Borderlands in the first place? Yup, SEGA.
"So Gearbox essentially lied to SEGA, mishandled funds, broke agreements and contractual obligations to work on other projects, didn't want to work on a game they were contractually obligated to work on and gave it to another team, poor organization and direction on ACM, took on too many projects from different companies at once, and other things that we may not even know about. Hell, part of me believes that Gearbox wanted this thing delayed as much as possible so they can get more funding money to embezzle from SEGA."
Danielson concludes by saying he's heard rumors of possible legal action being taken by SEGA, but admits the contract may preclude such a step from being taken. All Gearbox apparently had to do was ship the game to fulfill the agreement, which it's now done. He added that SEGA should have canceled A:CM and taken the studio to court, rather than try to make the fans pay for the investment. The writer even goes so far as to suggest SEGA ought to have published Borderlands, given it paid so dearly for it.
"In this case, what happened clearly was SEGA had a decent eye on the project, rightfully cancelled it, when they saw the problems, then someone decided to restart the project, leading to this massive mess," he concludes. "Where is our money Randy? We should get sales from Borderlands 1 and 2, since it was our money that funded it."
That eventual Aliens: Colonial Marines post [SEGA Awakens]