Elemental Sucker-Punch Gave Stardock a "Black Eye"

Elemental Sucker-Punch Gave Stardock a "Black Eye"

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Stardock says the botched launched of Elemental: War of Magic "created a black eye for the company" and was such a mess that it's probably not even worth trying to save.

Stardock's Elemental: War of Magic has had a pretty rough ride since it came out in August 2010. The following month, Stardock CEO described the launch as a "complete fail," which he attributed to "catastrophic poor judgment" on his part. Then in October, he offered to make it up to everyone who actually bought the game by giving them the first two expansions at no charge and promised major changes in the 1.1 patch, which came out in December. But in its 2010 Customer Report, Wardell admitted that the game did considerable damage to the company's prestige, and that all the efforts to save it may have been a waste of time.

"Last year was a difficult year for the games unit. The release of Sins of a Solar Empire: Trinity was a high point, but the launch of Elemental: War of Magic created a black eye for the company. War of Magic was the second Stardock title that had launch troubles, Demigod being the first," he wrote. "Demigod went on to be quite successful, because while it suffered from some initial networking issues, the game itself was excellent. By contrast, though War of Magic was able to resolve its technical problems very quickly, it soon became clear that there were underlying compromises in its basic design, compromises that resulted in a game that fell far short of our expectations."

"Put another way, what appears 'fun' on paper does not always result in 'fun' in reality," he added.

The game was bad enough that it actually led to some serious changes at Stardock itself, including a reorganization of the Elemental development team and "a rethinking of Stardock's development and publishing philosophy."

"It was determined fairly quickly that Stardock's games unit treated its development process much more casually than the typical rigorous software engineering effort," Wardell wrote. "While such a process can work with very small teams of dedicated personnel who are all comfortable wearing many hats, it falls apart on larger projects."

"While War of Magic has subsequently been greatly improved, Stardock is not convinced that this title, with a 55 Metacritic average, can redeem itself," he continued. "Therefore, rather than tie new designer/project manager Derek Paxton to the previously planned expansions of War of Magic, it was decided to have Derek and his team focus on the creation of Elemental: Fallen Enchantress, a standalone expansion which will not require users to purchase War of Magic."

It's not often that the CEO of a game studio admits without reservation that the game his company made is so stinko that he doesn't want gamers going near it, but Stardock has carved itself a reputation as a very customer-oriented studio and that means that sometimes, you have to tell it like it is. Gamers are far more likely to forgive a bad game launch, or even a disastrous one, if the publisher responsible is honest and up-front about it, and takes steps to make things right. It's a PR strategy other companies would do well to learn from.

The 2010 Stardock Customer Report is a little on the thick side in places and deals with the company's entire range of products, including the Object Desktop suite, ObjectDock and the Impulse digital distribution platform, but it's nonetheless a very worthwhile read that covers topics including Stardock's take on DRM and the Gamers Bill of Rights. The full report is available in PDF format at stardock.com.

via: GamesIndustry

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personally i do agree that if a CEO says that they effed up and tries to make amends for said eff up i dont lose respect for the company/CEO.

Even though the game seems to be universally panned everywhere I look, I can't help but feel a strange attraction to it. I find the news of the expansion being a stand-alone very positive, because there is a chance that it will be markedly superior to the original product. Maybe they'll give the original game for free as a pre-order bonus for the eckspack?

Maybe we fans of the age old Master of Magic WANT to see it saved.

Come on kids, you admitted it. Now fix it, not just bounce on to the next project.

Recall Jurassic park Site B? 120 Meg game with a 240 meg patch?

You want to make it right...then do it. Not say sorry and move on. That makes it wrong...and ditches what could have been the next big Sim game.

Better to experiment and fail than not to experiment at all.
Total mediocrity is one of the worst things that your game can achieve, so if you must fail, at least fail in a unique way.

Carlston:
Maybe we fans of the age old Master of Magic WANT to see it saved.

Come on kids, you admitted it. Now fix it, not just bounce on to the next project.

Recall Jurassic park Site B? 120 Meg game with a 240 meg patch?

You want to make it right...then do it. Not say sorry and move on. That makes it wrong...and ditches what could have been the next big Sim game.

not really, every time I remember a Site B for Jurassic Park I think of The Lost World and I go into a blind rage........................

ffffffFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU.................... and whatnot.

OT: Stardock, I liked SoaSE, it has kept me up for consecutive days trying to destroy my enemies only to find that they moved their homeworld across the star system.

I will admit it, I strayed away from Elemental mainly because I thought it was going to suck, and my non-space management game itch is and will always be remedied by Empire Earth. You admitted that Elemental sucked, good, now you know what is wrong with it you have a chance to fix it.

If you can do that, I might think about giving the game a go.

They're not totally abandoning it (Elemental, that is). In the report Brad stated that while Fallen Enchantress will be a stand alone expansion, E:WoM will receive updates along its own development tree. The game is not dead.

chemicalfire:
Even though the game seems to be universally panned everywhere I look, I can't help but feel a strange attraction to it. I find the news of the expansion being a stand-alone very positive, because there is a chance that it will be markedly superior to the original product. Maybe they'll give the original game for free as a pre-order bonus for the eckspack?

Strike this and reverse it. Brad has promised that those of us who bought E:WoM last year will receive FE (Fallen Enchantress) for free. Also, those who purchase E:WoM this year, will receive a 'steep' discount on FE.

I am happy to know that there is an as yet unannounced Elemental RPG title (This was revealed to be planned in a post by Brad and in the customer report). I'm excited to see what Stardock does with an RPG title.

I'm just glad to see a developer or publisher owning up to releasing a bad game (I say bad not ever playing it and judging strictly on the meta score) instead of telling everyone they are playing it wrong or not to judge the game as X because it's really Y just in a way that looks and plays like Y. Or pirates. Yeah, I've seen somewhere where a dev said a game was bad because of the pirated versions being out there (can't remember the game but just remember reading it and thinking WTF).

Yay! More handwaving posturing by Brad Wardell. Seriously, this guy is so full of crap. He'll basically say anything to try and make things 'okay' with the public. He first claims it is the players fault, then later admits it was all his fault, then later 'restructures' the company... but still has him in it.

Now saying things like "What is fun on paper..." like this was some incredibly unforeseeable consequence.

And their comments about demigod being ultimately successful? I think that's crap. The game barely scraped back the capital put into it, and was ultimately unfinished and unloved.

He's tries to make it look like he's totally cool, and everyone should be his friend.. but it's just lies as far as I can tell.

If I had the money I would buy this game just to support Stardock's work. (I guess I would buy the expansions to Galactic Civ 2 first, but still)

It's literally a shit poor business decision to abandon the game. I see this all the time in the videogame business. Unless fixing the game with whatever the issues are with it is going to take as much time as it did to develop the game, it's a bad decision. First off, though I haven't played it, I have heard some favorable stuff about the game. It's not going to be a Call of Duty in popularity, but everyone talks about how promising the game still is. My point is this, it's outright retarded to NOT try and recoup some of the costs of development. That is why I laugh at companies who have a near finished product and then they decide not to release it. You mostly only see this from the bid dawgs though, like Activision/ Blizzard and EA Games, who I have no great love for anyway.

RowdyRodimus:
I'm just glad to see a developer or publisher owning up to releasing a bad game (I say bad not ever playing it and judging strictly on the meta score) instead of telling everyone they are playing it wrong or not to judge the game as X because it's really Y just in a way that looks and plays like Y. Or pirates. Yeah, I've seen somewhere where a dev said a game was bad because of the pirated versions being out there (can't remember the game but just remember reading it and thinking WTF).

I agree, it is refreshing to see a company take responsibility for a game. If I were to hear that guy from Treyarch talk in real life, I think I would probably knock his teeth out.

Zechnophobe:

And their comments about demigod being ultimately successful? I think that's crap. The game barely scraped back the capital put into it, and was ultimately unfinished and unloved.

While it is not good business to only make back what you put into a project, it's not necessarily bad business either. That is one of the biggest fallacies I see thrown around. They did manage to scrape back development costs, so they are not really any better off than if they didn't produce the game at all, in respect to money. But, the dev team behind it now has a games worth of experience out of the situation, and they have enough capital to go into a similarly sized project. Only this time, they are more familiar with the hurdles they will face, as long as they actually learned from their mistake.

While War of Magic has subsequently been greatly improved, Stardock is not convinced that this title, with a 55 Metacritic average, can redeem itself....

While that score sucks, is it not most of the determined from the games really bad launch? I don't care for metacritic and think that people pay way too much attention to this. An average of reviews is a stupid idea. It's better to pick a site you trust and go by that. For instance, I like PC Gamer. They are hard reviewers. Lots of time you read a review and you can barely detect anything bad within the review, you think to yourself, "solid 90+". Then you get to the bottom and they gave it an 83. PC Gamer gave it a 70, which is like a B in the real world. And they said they would have reviewed it higher if some of the issues with the AI were fixed.

I like this bunch way better than I do most of the AAA devs who would just blame it on piracy and spam DRM.

I won't lie, I'm not surprised.

I like Stardock, I really do but this game just sounds like a bargain bin game to begin with.

I do like Stardock. One of the very few truly customer oriented companies left.
At least they've admitted to their fuck up instead of shifting the blame onto someone/something else, now they have the opportunity to fix their mistake and I truly hope they take it.

Stardock are a talented bunch, Sins alone absolutely proves that beyond any shadow of a doubt, that game has kept me up for literally days hunting down enemies with fleets so large and capital ships so huge that Star Destroyers and the Empire themselves would hang their heads in shame.

I hope they recover from this one, they deserve to.

The expansion will be better, it has a spell I designed in it.:D

Even though War of Magic wasn't the revival of MoM I had hoped, it may still get there. The people at Stardock are very dedicated to their community.

Carlston:
Maybe we fans of the age old Master of Magic WANT to see it saved.

Come on kids, you admitted it. Now fix it, not just bounce on to the next project.

Recall Jurassic park Site B? 120 Meg game with a 240 meg patch?

You want to make it right...then do it. Not say sorry and move on. That makes it wrong...and ditches what could have been the next big Sim game.

They are "fixing" it. You can say that they are moving on to the next project, but that project is what the original game was supposed to be, and will be free to the people who bought the first one. You can think of this as a patch. A really really big patch with it's own box art and everything. A super patch.

Think they is being a little hard on themselves, was Elemental:War of Magic the greatest game ever? No, was it a horrible atrocity to PC gamers and blight on the face of gaming in general? No... I played it and it was not that bad, I still go back and play it more.

Dude, this game was awesome, what are they talking about? I bought the collectors edition that came with all the awesome stuff at the same price as a normal game.
I admit, it's not perfect, but I'd still give a solid 8-9 out of 10.

I dunno, maybe getting a pewter dragon sculpture with it biased my opinion a little, but I thought it turned out pretty well.

On one hand, credit to them for admitting fault and not resorting to the usual reaction of deflection (piracy, reviewers who "don't get it", advertising, etc).

On the other, I have no sympathy.

This is the company which released its sanctimonious Gamers' Bill of Rights; key among them that gamers have the right to expect that games be released in a finished state.

I was annoyed at Gal Civ II, which was broken out of the box due to the absurd planet rush. This game was in a far worse state.

I admit, I went in with high hopes - it combined so many aspects of my favourite games. The end result, however, was ugly, buggy, unfinished and poorly designed.

This is the age of Steam sales, cheap imports, widely-available classic games, casual gaming and DLC galore. There's so much out there that, if a game angers its players to the point that they quickly abandon it, they may not be back. I uninstalled it after a couple of months, and haven't bothered to go back. There's far too much to occupy my time, and it's all been released in a far better state than Elemental.

Not only was it a waste of money, it's a blow to the genre of game which I love so much. As I said, hard to feel much sympathy.

You know what they should do? Release it for free, with an SDK, and have the community mod the shit out of it until it becomes good. I have no doubt it would work. And seeing as this is Stardock we're talking about, they may actually do that.

Granted, they wouldn't turn a profit, but it would almost certainly bring back most of the fans they lost on Elemental's release.

I hope Stardock recovers from this.

They have fucked up and this isn't a good game but I still have a massive soft spot for them. Look, I'll be honest here, I'm a massive RTS fan. I play a LOT of RTS games, a lot of 4X games and they produced two of the finest strategy games I've ever played.

Sins is an absolutely sublime game and GalCiv 2 is one of my favourite Civ games (though Alpha Centauri is my absolute fave) so I know Stardock can release wonderful strategy games. They just need to finish this game, suck it up and try again.

Personally I dont know anything about Demigod but i have played GC and SoaSE and so I do know that stardock makes pretty good space games, personally i think its hard to do a good fantasy game now due to the flood of fantasy games on the market (seriously if its not some gritty spec ops type game its something WoW flavored....so annoying)so i say give them a chance and lets see how this new elemental comes out I mean the producer is the man who developed Fall from Heaven which honestly is why i bought Civ 4 so...yeah.

tl;dr edition: Stardock is pulling a Left 4 Dead.

Yeah that about says it all. I played Elemental for a couple months and had fun with it nonetheless. They did have the bugs fixed mostly within a month, but things like boring and inane magic and tactics, and a lack of quests and other content in the game, they still had plenty to work on. But when patch 1.1 roled out which broke as many design elements as it fixed, I've seen this pattern before in broken launches where the developer just gets stuck in a rut--I figured at that point Elemental was never going to be the game it should be. 

Still it has a really unique and charming style, and patch 1.08 was still fun despite the above problems, so the next release would benefit from a clean slate as Elemental 2 (or 1.5) rather than expansion packs.  

Oh and I agree with the disagreements about Demigod. Just fixing the netcode didn't make it into a successful game. I mean it was good for the couple hundred people who liked it and played it regularly--actually they complained non-stop about it too and probably still are--but for most others it was a bland, brief, and forgettable experience. Still, it's worth a $10 purchase for one of the best art designs in all of gaming. Too bad the gameplay couldn't keep up.

I'm with the crowd that really wanted this to be a spiritual successor to Master of Magic. And I remember, playing that game back when I was like 13: it was buggy, poorly balanced, etc: and still managed to bring hours of fun. But I can't bring myself to play games like that anymore calling themselves a finished product. Maybe they need to take a chapter out of the books of minecraft and dwarf fortress: if you're going to release an unfinished product, be upfront and call it an alpha/beta release.

I feel so bad for this company. They really seem like they just wanna make people happy but they get fucked badly a lot.(from Demigod piracy to this) I hope this will turn around.

Wait, wait, wait... this company clearly has no idea what it's doing.

Releasing expansions free to try to make it up to the players? Come on! Where's the inconvenient DRMs and ripoffs? WE'RE TRYING TO MAKE MONEY HERE! Not get a loyal fanbase and make good games, pffft.

unacomn:
The expansion will be better, it has a spell I designed in it.:D

Even though War of Magic wasn't the revival of MoM I had hoped, it may still get there. The people at Stardock are very dedicated to their community.

I pre-ordered it way back when hoping it would be MoM. Hell, I would pay full price if someone could just recreate MoM with just a couple of improvements to the AI, stability, and add multiplayer. Hell, I wouldn't complain if they kept the exact same graphics.

 

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