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.