What's in a Name: Gearbox Software [update]

If you looked at the Joystiq calendar, you would have seen a bright red circle drawn around today with something like 17 little smiley faces around it. Sure, that was in part because it's taco salad day in the cafeteria, but also because we couldn't wait to share this new What's in a Name with you.

So, straight from boss Randy Pitchford, check out the totally epic story of how [Randy says] Gearbox Software got its name.

Update: Valve has informed us that Randy and Gabe didn't meet until after Valve had shipped Half-Life, making Randy's story seem ... well, unlikely. We're trying to find out what happened right now.

Update 2:
Well, we just heard from PR and they confirmed that the story is a fabrication. Pitchford is apparently going to get in contact to explain what happened. We can't wait to find out his excuse for taking advantage of our Pollyanna-esque faith in the inherent goodness of people, and, by extension, telling tall tales to you, the people who are buying his games.
"This is interesting because I've never been asked about how we got the name 'Gearbox' before, but there is a bit of a story to it. Given everything that's happened over the past 10 years or so, the story seems a little hard to believe now that I'm telling it!
"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. As chance would go, it turns out we accidentally got on a cruise boat instead of a crossing ferry. 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. It was like Maverick or something – playing poker on a river boat near New Orleans. But we were playing poker, which, as you know, is a form of gambling. Can you see where this is going?

"I had to win the game or it was all going to be over for our studio.."

"People that know me well know that I love playing poker. It's a great game about making decisions with incomplete information, but where the decisions affect the outcome. So it's a lot of fun and it's really helpful in learning how to separate the challenge of making best decisions from the reality of results since even the worst decisions can be rewarded and the best decisions can be punished when non-deterministic and/or unpredictable factors are involved. So I like to play poker whenever I have a good opportunity. But from the experience I had with him, I don't think Gabe had played a lot of poker before that night.

"Anyway – while we were playing we were discussing what we should name our respective video game development companies that we were starting up. After some crazy and dumb ideas made their rounds, we started realizing that something cool for a video game studio would have something to do with engines and machinery. We started going through the parts we could think of to come up with the BEST name along those lines and a few good ones were passed on before we agreed that the best and almost perfect name for a video game development studio along those lines was "Gearbox" – it's sticky and simple and gears are cool things that have both an art and a precision to them and it's generally a nice, short but really cool word.

"The more we thought about it, the more sure we were. But since we both sort of came up with it together through the talking and thinking we were doing together, it wasn't clear which of us could claim it to use. So we decided that the poker game would help us work out which of us would be able to claim the rights to the name – whomever knocked the other player out of the poker game or ended up with the biggest stack would win the Gearbox name for their studio.

"I quickly called my partners back home that I was doing the start up with and told them about the Gearbox name and the gambling I was involved in that was going to decide who got the name and, after they put me on hold for a few minutes, they came back and said that I had better win that name or I shouldn't even bother coming home. So the stakes were then really raised for me, so to speak – I had to win the poker game or it was all going to be over for our studio.

"The game lasted for a while with the usual ups and downs. Even though I was a far better player, before our wager started Gabe had come to the table with a HUGE stack and I bought in for almost nothing. I was able to build a nice sized stack, though, and kept taking chips from other players at the table until my stack was actually a bit bigger than his for most of the night. I just needed to stay up and wait for my opportunity.

"After about four or five hours of play, that opportunity came and the showdown finally happened. The funny thing is that the hand that decided it wasn't that significant of a hand as far as Hold 'em Poker goes. It wasn't one of those Royal-Flush-Over-Quad-Aces kinds of hands that you see in the movies. I still remember the hand, though I'm sure Gabe wouldn't remember. The hand was top pair over middle pair. I was playing AK suited and he was playing K9 off suit (a hand known as "Saw Mill"). Obviously I tried to build a bit a of a pot pre-flop and got a lot of callers before it was Gabe's turn to act and astonishingly he came over the top with a massive over-bet. His action isolated us down to just the two of us in the hand, which gave me a HUGE advantage in this situation (I mentioned that Gabe hadn't played a lot of poker, right?). Anyway, the board came K-8-2 mixed suits and we were both pot committed so, of course, the money went in.

"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.

"No hard feelings, though. We still worked together later when Gearbox did Half-Life Opposing Force and Half-Life Blue Shift and and Half-Life for Dreamcast and Half-Life for PlayStation 2 (a lot of Half-Life stuff between Valve's first and second Half-Life game). I guess Valve didn't want to spend any of their own time on add-ons or bringing games to the PlayStation. But I think that stuff was fun to do and made our customers really happy and made some money to help us build our studio and made them some money to help them fund the continued development of Half-Life 2, so that was a win for everyone. But getting the Gearbox name – well, that was only a win for us. Gearbox Software is ours. Watch this: Gearbox Software®. See that little ® symbol? That means Gearbox Software® is registered with the US trademark office as belonging to us ;)

"And, if you can believe it, that's the story of how Gearbox Software® got its name!"

– Randy Pitchford, CEO and co-founder, Gearbox Software®

See, what'd we tell you? Epic, right? We'll be back next week with another entry in the series, but we're not sure we'll be able to top Gearbox anytime soon. Here's hoping.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.