Stardock Sues Former Employee Over Ugly Elemental Launch

Stardock Sues Former Employee Over Ugly Elemental Launch

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Stardock is now blaming a former marketing manager for the disastrous launch of Elemental: War of Magic.

The 2010 launch of Elemental: War of Magic was an absolute train wreck, but to Stardock CEO Brad Wardell's credit, he didn't try to dodge any bullets. He called the launch of the game a "complete fail" and said that the studio showed "blindness" and "poor judgment" by releasing it in the state it was in, and then compensated gamers a month later by offering the first two expansions at no charge to anyone who'd purchased the original game. It was, and is, a mess - aggregate score of 53 at Metacritic - but Stardock took the heat and did what it could to make things right.

Which is why it's a bit surprising that the studio has now filed a lawsuit for more than $1 million against Alexandra Miseta, who had been Stardock's marketing manager for more than three years prior to the launch of the game. On August 3, 2010, however, she quit the company without notice - but roughly three weeks before that, according to the suit, she destroyed all Elemental-related marketing materials, analytics, trade show information and other related data.

Stardock claimed it cost more than $5000 to assess the damage done by Miseta, but worse, her sabotage short-circuited marketing efforts and diverted valuable resources away from the game. "Plaintiff had to spend vital time leading up to the release of Elemental attempting to re-create the Elemental Materials, rather than programming, debugging and otherwise readying Elemental for release," the suit says. "As a result of the loss of the Elemental Materials, and the detraction from programming, debugging and other responsibilities, Elemental was unsuccessful in the marketplace, earning a fraction of its anticipated profits and causing Plaintiff damages of over $1,000,000."

Almost as an aside, the lawsuit also notes that Miseta ran "several side businesses" during her Stardock work hours and refused to return her company-supplied laptop when she quit.

The suit may not be without merit, although what would cause a previously loyal employee who Stardock acknowledges had "prepared similar materials for the launch of several other games.... all of which were commercial, professional and financial successes" to suddenly turn to the dark side, set everything on fire and join the forces of the laser skin care industry is completely beyond my reckoning. But regardless of that, the sudden effort to tie the actions of a rogue marketing manager to a multitude of bugs, poor documentation and other game-related issues is baffling.

"Elemental's launch is the result of catastrophic poor judgment on my part ... EVERY competent software developer knows that the programmer must never be the one deciding whether the program is done. Yet, my love of Elemental broke my self discipline and I began coding on the game itself in vast amounts and lost any sense of objectivity on where the game's state was," Wardell said in his 2010 mea culpa. "I normally only program the AI on our games so I can keep a level of distance from the game itself to determine whether it's 'Ready'. On Elemental, I was in love with the world and the game and lost my impartiality."

And yet now the finger is pointing in another direction. A bit odd, to say the least. Stardock is seeking damages in excess of $1 million, plus costs, attorney fees "such further relief deemed justified by the Court." Stardock's complaint against Miseta can be read in full at PDFCast.org.

via: Gamasutra

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Sooo, because she destroyed all that stuff everyone in the company just sort of dropped what they were doing to fix it all? I mean really, the problem was in marketing your core dev team shouldn't even be involved in the cleanup of disasters in that department. Sure they have a case for her messing up public awareness to their game's release by going for a scorched earth policy when she left, but blaming her for a crappily made game makes no sense. I'm sure it sucked and was broken just fine all on it's own before she left.

KeyMaster45:
Sooo, because she destroyed all that stuff everyone in the company just sort of dropped what they were doing to fix it all? I mean really, the problem was in marketing your core dev team shouldn't even be involved in the cleanup of disasters in that department. Sure they have a case for her messing up public awareness to their game's release by going for a scorched earth policy when she left, but blaming her for a crappily made game makes no sense. I'm sure it sucked and was broken just fine all on it's own before she left.

Ok they aren't suing because the game failed on launch but suing because she deliberately destroyed the work that she was paid to do. This destruction cost Stardock money and they want it back. Stardock are suing for 1 million, so that means if they win they will get about 300k plus costs. The game failing has no bearing on the suit, they could have equally gone to court if the game was a success.

KeyMaster45:
Sooo, because she destroyed all that stuff everyone in the company just sort of dropped what they were doing to fix it all? I mean really, the problem was in marketing your core dev team shouldn't even be involved in the cleanup of disasters in that department. Sure they have a case for her messing up public awareness to their game's release by going for a scorched earth policy when she left, but blaming her for a crappily made game makes no sense. I'm sure it sucked and was broken just fine all on it's own before she left.

If its the Stardock I'm thinking of (the company that makes windows utilities), it's just him, 2 or 3 other full timers and a bunch of contract/part-time employees (or was the last I paid attention), so it's possible that they had to drop everything to redo the marketing. That being said, there's obviously a lot more to this story than we have heard.

So what I'm gathering here is that absolutely NOBODY should have had access to this game.

They'll likely get receive some compensation, but nowhere near one million.

I find the concept of a programmer (who should be smashing bugs) writing copy for the latest advert campaign to be very funny.

I've never even heard of this game, which is unsurprising considering how boring the title is. They may as well have called it "Generic Fantasy Game: The Game".

Her destroying all that stuff does sound fishy though.

actually their claims might hold more water then you think. If the team was on the small side then it is not unheard of to reassign people to other things, and if any company reassigns people while going into panic mode it is not unheard of to reassign the wrong people.

then they cite the destruction (and needed reproduction) of analytics this is no small task, and could easily require month, or years of research by people who are highly knowledgeable of the work, and they had to recreate it in panic mode.

For example you have a Huge research paper, and a technical project to complete for a class in school you think the technical project can be done in a week, and so you spend all your time (all but the last week given maybe a 15 week course) on the research paper, and while your working on the technical project the research paper, and all the research gets erased (with no backups), but that research paper is needed for the technical project (suspend disbelief a little) is it truly possible to recreate the research paper as it was, and finish the technical project to the same level as planned.

granted that QA, and lead dev(s) should never be reassigned in any company.

Isn't it called termination?

SacremPyrobolum:
Isn't it called termination?

It's a little hard to fire someone when they, probably figuratively, though who knows, set their office on fire and quit before the smoke alarms go off. I had a cook do a similar thing, he absolutely destroyed the kitchen one morning, plugged all the drains, left the taps on full, baked something (we could never figure out what) onto the grill, threw eggs, milk, and god knows what else all over the place and wrote, in spray paint, "I F***KING QUIT" over the prep counter.

That was the last we heard from him, Everyone knew he was a bit of a grouch, but nobody saw that level of destruction coming, and I tried many times to ask why he quit, but he'd never answer my calls, and left town a month later. It ended up costing us something like $6,000 to clean up after him, plus however much we lost in sales for being closed for an entire day.

Point is, you can't always fire someone before the damage is done, and though my opinion may be jaded by the similaritis to what I've been through, I'd say Stardock are completely in the right to be pursuing her for the damage she caused.

Interesting development. Makes you wonder though how it took them 2 years to react to all that alleged evil-doing.

DVS BSTrD:
So what I'm gathering here is that absolutely NOBODY should have had access to this game.

Really when it was released they shouldn't have. The game was broken and unpolished beyond belief when I bought it.

EDIT: I can also confirm that they are indeed giving away the expansions free, I just recently got the first expansions pre-purchase beta added to my account

Tiamat666:
Interesting development. Makes you wonder though how it took them 2 years to react to all that alleged evil-doing.

Gathering evidence ect takes time. You want to be able to make the strongest case you possibly can the first time you go at someone instead of going off halfassed

Tiamat666:
Interesting development. Makes you wonder though how it took them 2 years to react to all that alleged evil-doing.

Honestly I think it's rather responsible of them to put some time between the launch of the game and this lawsuit. If they filed the lawsuit immediately when the game was being launched, it could be seen as trying to scapegoat the failure of the game onto her shoulders. Now that so much time has passed, it's easier to see past that into the actual merits of the case, since if they were trying to blame the game's failure on her, why wait until the game is a distant memory?

From what I gather this doesn't actually have anything to do with the game being what it was, but rather with an employee screwing over her employers.

I read this newspost's title quickly on Google Reader and for some reason parsed it as "Employee Sues Stardeck Over Ugly Elements of Lunch". Keep your food beautiful, guys.

KeyMaster45:
Sooo, because she destroyed all that stuff everyone in the company just sort of dropped what they were doing to fix it all? I mean really, the problem was in marketing your core dev team shouldn't even be involved in the cleanup of disasters in that department. Sure they have a case for her messing up public awareness to their game's release by going for a scorched earth policy when she left, but blaming her for a crappily made game makes no sense. I'm sure it sucked and was broken just fine all on it's own before she left.

If it's a small company it makes sense that all hands would be diverted towards cleaning that sort of damage. As the article points out, Stardock's version appears to be exaggerated at best and made from whole cloth at worst; but if it is true, then they sure as hell deserve compensation.

Andrew_C:

If its the Stardock I'm thinking of (the company that makes windows utilities), it's just him, 2 or 3 other full timers and a bunch of contract/part-time employees (or was the last I paid attention), so it's possible that they had to drop everything to redo the marketing. That being said, there's obviously a lot more to this story than we have heard.

Never heard of that Stardock but this one is a game developer, on a smaller scale but a top notch one at that. They specialize in sci-fi strategy games, such as Galactic Civilizations 2 (AI in this puts all others to shame) and Sins of a Solar Empire. They also had their own digital platform for a while, which I believe they sold to Impulse which got sold to Gamestop? Or something like that.

Elemental was supposed to be their fantasy setting strategy game, but they admit to over extending on too many projects and botching the release.

RandV80:

Andrew_C:

If its the Stardock I'm thinking of (the company that makes windows utilities), it's just him, 2 or 3 other full timers and a bunch of contract/part-time employees (or was the last I paid attention), so it's possible that they had to drop everything to redo the marketing. That being said, there's obviously a lot more to this story than we have heard.

Never heard of that Stardock but this one is a game developer, on a smaller scale but a top notch one at that. They specialize in sci-fi strategy games, such as Galactic Civilizations 2 (AI in this puts all others to shame) and Sins of a Solar Empire. They also had their own digital platform for a while, which I believe they sold to Impulse which got sold to Gamestop? Or something like that.

Elemental was supposed to be their fantasy setting strategy game, but they admit to over extending on too many projects and botching the release.

They're both the same Stardock - Brad started out making GalCiv I, then branched out into Windows utilities alongside game development (and started thinking about digital distribution).

Regarding Elemental - yeah, the initial release was kind of bland, in addition to being filled with game-breaking bugs. Part of the problem can be pinned on retailers requiring you to book a release date almost a year in advance - but the result was nonetheless a big failure to plan ahead.

On the upside, their Fallen Enchantress standalone expansion (which I got for free as a WoM purchaser) is coming along very nicely, with lots of neat spells and abilities (they picked up the lead designer for Fall from Heaven 2, the Civilization IV mod, to take charge of the game direction this time round).

Valanthe:

SacremPyrobolum:
Isn't it called termination?

It's a little hard to fire someone when they, probably figuratively, though who knows, set their office on fire and quit before the smoke alarms go off. I had a cook do a similar thing, he absolutely destroyed the kitchen one morning, plugged all the drains, left the taps on full, baked something (we could never figure out what) onto the grill, threw eggs, milk, and god knows what else all over the place and wrote, in spray paint, "I F***KING QUIT" over the prep counter.

That was the last we heard from him, Everyone knew he was a bit of a grouch, but nobody saw that level of destruction coming, and I tried many times to ask why he quit, but he'd never answer my calls, and left town a month later. It ended up costing us something like $6,000 to clean up after him, plus however much we lost in sales for being closed for an entire day.

Point is, you can't always fire someone before the damage is done, and though my opinion may be jaded by the similaritis to what I've been through, I'd say Stardock are completely in the right to be pursuing her for the damage she caused.

And you never pressed charges? Did you just leave that part out?

I couldn't help but notice the part where Miseta refused to return a company laptop. Maybe I'm just a BOFH, but if I were the Stardock IT guru I'd be looking at remote kill-switches for equipment that leaves the office. Don't want to return our laptop? Okay, hope you didn't have anything valuable on it... like from your several side-businesses.

I would be more inclined to believe this (though still convinced, how many programmers were really diverted to redo marketing work. Sounds weird.) if Stardock didn't botch every second game launch since then. Stronghold 3 and Sword of the Stars 2 both launched in late 2011, and were complete and utter disasters too. I do like that Stardock keeps supporting niche PC genres, including genres that I personally like, but for the love of all that's holy, they need to step up their QA department and do some actual tests before launch.

Doublepost, sorry

I would have rather they stuck to making GalCiv 3 or more expansions for GalCiv 2. And if the game wasn't ready for launch, why launch it? Why not just delay it some time?

laserwulf:
I couldn't help but notice the part where Miseta refused to return a company laptop. Maybe I'm just a BOFH, but if I were the Stardock IT guru I'd be looking at remote kill-switches for equipment that leaves the office. Don't want to return our laptop? Okay, hope you didn't have anything valuable on it... like from your several side-businesses.

Yeah, I'm kinda surprised that no precautions were given to that little aside. They hadn't considered that an employee might take off with one of their laptops if fired or if they quit?

Anyway, if what I've seen is true and Stardock does have a small amount of people, it does make sense that some key programmers might need to have been put onto marketing in the wake of such a ridiculously stupid departure. I still don't see what kind of possible benefit she, or anyone, could have gotten from completely deleting the entire marketing of the game, but hey, people have gone crazy before.

But yeah, from what it sounds like, this seems like a solid lawsuit. They're at least gonna get some compensation.

Uuh....lawsuit heavy season for Stardock. They sue and get sued, by Rebellion, for using the word "Rebellion" in the title of the recent Sins of a Solar Empire expansion.

shiajun:
Uuh....lawsuit heavy season for Stardock. They sue and get sued, by Rebellion, for using the word "Rebellion" in the title of the recent Sins of a Solar Empire expansion.

I really hope Rebellion gets a few lawsuits on them for all the names of their games that used something trademarked by others in turn.

Frylock72:

And you never pressed charges? Did you just leave that part out?

You know, now that you mention it, I don't think we did, I was just a supervisor there, so while I was pissed he did that, I wasn't the one who had to pay to clean it up, and I ended up leaving that company in a far less dramatic way a few months later. He ditched town before that, but I don't actually know if they did press charges.

Tohron:

RandV80:

Andrew_C:

If its the Stardock I'm thinking of (the company that makes windows utilities), it's just him, 2 or 3 other full timers and a bunch of contract/part-time employees (or was the last I paid attention), so it's possible that they had to drop everything to redo the marketing. That being said, there's obviously a lot more to this story than we have heard.

Never heard of that Stardock but this one is a game developer, on a smaller scale but a top notch one at that. They specialize in sci-fi strategy games, such as Galactic Civilizations 2 (AI in this puts all others to shame) and Sins of a Solar Empire. They also had their own digital platform for a while, which I believe they sold to Impulse which got sold to Gamestop? Or something like that.

Elemental was supposed to be their fantasy setting strategy game, but they admit to over extending on too many projects and botching the release.

They're both the same Stardock - Brad started out making GalCiv I, then branched out into Windows utilities alongside game development (and started thinking about digital distribution).

Regarding Elemental - yeah, the initial release was kind of bland, in addition to being filled with game-breaking bugs. Part of the problem can be pinned on retailers requiring you to book a release date almost a year in advance - but the result was nonetheless a big failure to plan ahead.

On the upside, their Fallen Enchantress standalone expansion (which I got for free as a WoM purchaser) is coming along very nicely, with lots of neat spells and abilities (they picked up the lead designer for Fall from Heaven 2, the Civilization IV mod, to take charge of the game direction this time round).

I bought WoM too along while before release, and I was disappointed with it as well. But I was ok with that, as I'd taken a risk in buying an unfinished product. I do think it was pretty awesome of Brad to step in, admit the company's mistakes, and offer the two free 'expansion packs' (though honestly I think WoM:FE is more of a sequel that improves on the original than a simple expansion pack).

Brad as head of Stardock has generally been a pretty awesome CEO as far as I can tell, in dealing with customer/public relations. I still like to refer to his statement about why piracy is something you need to accept with game development and how to deal with it reasonably effectively (i.e. don't horse-whip the customers who could have pirated and didn't).

So, in regards to this lawsuit, I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt; but I doubt if we can ever be sure of what happened for absolutely certain.

I'm still happy to buy games with the Stardock label, and I've been saddened by the sale of Impulse to GameStop (which I'm guessing was something of a direct consequence of the failure of WoM). It's also sad that we've not really seen much else coming from Stardock at the moment, probably because of them focusing on WoM:FE and publishing Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion.

Anyway, I still wish well for Stardock, and Brad in particular.

 

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