UPDATE: the consequences referred to below have begun. A round a layoffs at Stardock, alongside the termination of an upcoming (unannounced) game project, may just be the beginning.
UPDATE UPDATE: Mr. Wardell has posted a “final” remark on the Elemental flap here at the Elemental forums. One of the things I appreciate most from him on this one is that he recognizes how hard it can be for journalists to harshly criticize a game created by developers they consider friends. But it has to be done sometimes.
For those who’ve followed the 24-hour firestorm that erupted in the wake of Elemental: War of Magic’s botched Day Zero release, you’ll know that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stranger.
Stardock CEO Brad Wardell, initially condemned for what later turned out to be (to his great credit) an exhausted, awake-36-hours, unthought-out response to several pages of very personal attacks on the Quarter to Three forums, apologized for that within a few hours. Stardock went on to release approximately 9,457,092 patches within four days to address Elemental’s problems. None of them truly fixed the game, though, something apparently now recognized by Stardock’s leadership. And the damage, though, had been done; Elemental, so anticipated, has self-imploded no matter what happens next.
Wardell is not a fool. He’s been in this business for a long time, and despite occasional brashness, he’s an advocate for gamers. What he did next, therefore, is not only brave, it’s rather unheard of – especially given that, not being a fool, he surely realizes that it won’t help; it was just the right thing to do.
He fell on his sword. Big time. If you click that link, know that “Frogboy” is Brad, and the “Up North” to which he refers is Northern Michigan, a location to which those from my fine state retreat when they’ve had a crappy week. They really do have terrible internet up there. This is what he said:
(I’m up north on vacation typing on an extremely slow connection so bear with me)
I don’t think people yet fully realize the completeness of Stardock’s fail on Elementa’s launch.
I’m going to write more about this but not only did we think v1.05 was ready for everyone but we felt v1.0 was too. That’s the level of disconnect/poor judgment on our part we’re talking about.
If the game had come out in February, it would still have been a disastrous launch because lack of time wasn’t the issue. It was blindness, sheer blindness. We felt the game was finished. And I speak of v1.0, not v1.05. Blindness.
There will be massive consequences for Stardock’s game studio. I’ll be talking more about this when I get back. But the game wasn’t released early. The game was released poorly. Head in the sand syndrome imo. I’ve read the reviews as much as possible given my hideous internet access up here and I agree with them. We just didn’t see what they were talking about. We thought any complaints would be about polish points or something.
The point is, the issue here is far far worse than many of you think it is. I wish it was an issue of the game being released too early. That’s an easy thing for a company to “fix”. 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. 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.
We’ll do better.
Stardock is unlikely to fold or anything as a result of Elemental’s likely financial failure. The company has a large office/productivity arm, is privately owned and self-published, and thus can contain whatever consequences to which Brad refers.
What’s frustrating to many journalists and gamers is that Stardock is one of the good guys, as is Brad Wardell, a fact proven by that post (can you imagine a big publisher studio doing something like that, despite the fact that games easily as broken as Elemental appear on shelves monthly? I think not). But the post, his recognition of the company’s mistakes, doesn’t change the fact that it is ruined. A small game, admittedly anticipated by a smaller audience than those who anticipate Call of Duty 864 or Halo: Reach (into your pocket to steal your money with another crapgasm of a shittastic shooter series by a whored-out developer that’s been in quality decline for the last 10 years), but a more devoted, more committed audience. Wardell’s post tells me, at least, that he realizes how much he’s hurt certain gamers. The Bungies and Activisions wouldn’t give a rip; those companies have not been or cared about gamers for decades.
Will Stardock fix Elemental? I suspect the company will. It has a long, long history of generous patches, expansions, improvements, and fixes to its own games. It hasn’t moved on to its next project, leaving this behind.
But will it matter? Poor Stardock, no. It won’t. And it kind of makes me sad because you know it won’t. But I have a feeling you’ll fix it anyway.
I haven’t bought Elemental. A friend described it – just last night – as “unplayable,” worse in every respect than a similar fantasy/strategy from 2004 that he’d recently played. I want to buy it. In fact, I wanted to buy it more than ever after Wardell posted that remarkable message because I wanted to support the company. But I’m not gonna. I’m gonna wait… until it’s fixed. Which may be a while, or may be never. While the apology doesn’t make right what Elemental failed to do, I personally hope other gamers appreciate that Stardock had the decency to recognize its own failure – something many people and most companies never have the balls to do – and to promise that it’ll do all in its power to prevent it from happening again.
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