Updated: Gabe Newell’s Lack of Poker Skills Lost Him Gearbox Name


The story of how Gearbox Software got its name is a long and colorful one, involving a high stakes poker game played on a riverboat between studio head Randy Pitchford and none other than Valve’s Gabe Newell.

When you ask someone where they got their name from, you generally expect a brief answer. Maybe there’s some kind of story, and maybe it’s ridiculous, but rarely does it involve the kind of events that transpired to lead to the naming of Gearbox Software, the studio behind Brothers in Arms and Borderlands. No, studio boss Randy Pitchford didn’t come up with it while sitting on the john. It’s a bit more complicated than that.

“The story begins when, and don’t ask me what led to this, Gabe Newell and I were in New Orleans together and we decided to get on one of those river boats to cross the river,” Pitchford told Joystiq. Wait, what? Hanging out in New Orleans with Gabe Newell? That’s crazy enough, but it gets crazier.

“As chance would go, it turns out we accidentally got on a cruise boat instead of a crossing ferry,” Pitchford recalled. “But, we made the best of it. The food was pretty good and there were gambling tables there with dealers and other players and so we got into a little poker game.”

Over the course of the game Newell and Pitchford started brainstorming names for the studios the two of them were back then just preparing to launch. After some time the two decided on Gearbox, but then hit a problem: there was no clear cut owner of the name, since both of them had sort of worked it out. What to do, then? What else would you do on a New Orleans riverboat when you have to settle a score? Poker.

Newell, who Pitchford says hadn’t “played a lot of poker before that night,” apparently began the game with a huge stack of chips while Pitchford had barely anything, but Pitchford worked his way up and, when the time was right after “four or five hours,” landed the killing blow:

“The next two cards were blanks, which is what the expected results were when I got the money in. I had him covered, so that knocked him out of the game! I did it! By knocking him out, I won a lot of chips, but more importantly I won the wager and with it I won the name ‘Gearbox.’ We got to keep the whole, big awesome Gearbox and Gabe had to settle for just being the Valve.”

UPDATE: Oh Pitchford, you master storyteller. Turns out that this story was indeed too ridiculous to be true, and Gearbox was just pulling our legs. I’d like to tell myself that it was for real, though.

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