Wardell On “Unfinished” Controversy

By Jim Rossignol on August 26th, 2010 at 10:28 am.

The Stardock logo is nice and uncontroversial.
Following yesterday’s energetic discussions of Elemental’s release state, Stardock CEO Brad Wardell has issued a statement which can be read in full below. In it Wardell addresses comments made on the Quarter to Three game forum, saying that the remarks about people not buying Stardock games if they disagreed about their state of completion were simply a heated remark to a friend: “This comment was totally out of line and I apologize for it. It was made in the heat of a ~2000 comment long thread and is not how I honestly feel.”

On the issue of the Gamer’s Bill Of Rights, which we initially thought deleted from the Stardock site due to a broken URL, Wardell says: “We stand by it. It is, with some irony, our commitment to no DRM on our DVD release that ultimately caused the rough pre-release experience of Elemental. Several retailers broke the street date and we felt we needed to release our gold version to our customers who had pre-ordered from us as well as to our beta community that helped make the game the outstanding strategy game that it is.”

RPS remains uncomfortable with industry practices that involve shipping incomplete gold code, requiring – and assuming – day zero patches as a standard.

Stardock’s Response to PC Gamer UK and RPS
By Frogboy Posted August 25, 2010 1:52:32 PM

There was an article posted earlier today on PC Gamer UK outlining some of the frustrations that the reviewer had with the pre-day 0 version of the game as well as a problem he was having with tactical battles.

In the article, he quoted an inflammatory forum posting I made on a site I participate in called Quarter to Three. This is a site I’ve been a participant in for many years and many of the people I discuss things on there are personal friends of mine.

During one such exchange with my friend Ben Sones, I angrily responded with a statement “Ben, please stay away from our games in the future. I consider it ready for release and if others disagree, don’t buy our games.”

This comment was totally out of line and I apologize for it. It was made in the heat of a ~2000 comment long thread and is not how I honestly feel. Ben’s a friend of mine and his comment that the game felt like a “beta” to him upset me and I responded inappropriately. I post a lot on many forums and unfortunately, sometimes the things I say are inappropriate or inflammatory.

As the CEO of Stardock, I want to be clear that my comments on the Quarter to Three forums do not reflect my team at large. They were words spoken out of frustration and sleep deprivation and I am truly sorry. We stand behind what we feel is a great product, one that we will continue to support for a number of years.

With regards to a post on Rock Paper Shot Gun, which picked up the PC Gamer UK story, they erroneously point to a 2+ year old URL to a Stardock news item that is no longer active (we switched news systems a year or so ago). Their article falsely implies that we have stepped away from our commitment to the Gamer’s Bill of Rights.

The site, www.gamersbillofrights.org was set up and is run by Stardock. We stand by it. It is, with some irony, our commitment to no DRM on our DVD release that ultimately caused the rough pre-release experience of Elemental. Several retailers broke the street date and we felt we needed to release our gold version to our customers who had pre-ordered from us as well as to our beta community that helped make the game the outstanding strategy game that it is.

However, it also became clear that the pre-day 0 version of the game was problematic as outlined in the PC Gamer UK article. The official day 0 version of the game, what is available right now, should address most, if not all the issues that have been described. That said, as is our long-standing policy, we will continue to release updates and improvements Elemental just as we do for the other titles we develop.

I anticipate us putting out regular updates for Elemental for months or years to come based on player feedback, suggestions, and yes, bug reports.

I hope this offers some explanation as to the events that have come up. I sincerely apologize and feel terrible for the effect my forum posting on Qt3 may have had not just on our fans but also my team that has worked incredibly hard over the past 3 years to produce what we hope, is a game that you will enjoy for years to come.

__________________

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277 Comments »

  1. Tei says:

    I hate internet flames like this. Also attract the worst of people.

  2. Risingson says:

    It’s great to have so many Stardock fanboys that accuse RPS of bad journalism (without any argument) and that defend that buggy release for sentimental reasons. I hope they get a “Thanks! You are the best!” congratulation from the CEO, or maybe a free game in the future. That ammount of suffering reading opinions that differ from their own should be rewarded somehow!

    • Wilson says:

      @Risingson – Because people never make decisions or comment on things a certain way because of sentimental reasons? Just because someone happens to view something a certain way doesn’t make them a fanboy. By all means point out where they have no argument, but I don’t think you achieve anything by accusing everyone with a certain position of being a fanboy.

    • Archonsod says:

      RPS claimed the GBR had been taken down. It would take anyone capable of typing a url into a browser a couple of seconds to prove the claim wrong. Most people consider failing to verify sources to be a hallmark of bad journalism …

    • suibhne says:

      Before Quinns edited it, the previous article was predicated on Stardock having reneged on its Gamers Bill of Rights, and one of the crucial pieces of evidence was that the Gamers Bill of Rights appeared to have been taken down from Stardock’s site. The article led with that info. Given that the document in question has had its own prominent site for over a year, and that Wardell continues to quote that Bill of Rights in forum communications, Quinns needed only to perform a simple Google search to substantiate (or not) his headline-creating speculation.

      So, yes, that’s not good journalism.

      The rest of the article was totally fair, but that doesn’t excuse this very basic error. And it’s one thing to bury unsubstantiated, highly critical speculation in the body of a post, and quite another to use it as the fundamental assumption of the post and to base the headline off of it. Bad play.

    • Hallgrim says:

      If you google “stardock bill of rights” you get exactly the broken link that RPS used in their original article

      Regardless of where the Bill of Rights is published, Stardock has absolutely violated some of it’s tenants:

      “Gamers shall have the right to demand that download managers and updaters not force themselves to run or be forced to load in order to play a game.” FREQUENT CRASHES without zero day patch.

      “Gamers shall have the right to demand that games be released in a finished state.” STILL NO MULTIPLAYER

  3. LionsPhil says:

    “The link broke because we changed systems.” So they don’t understand how to set up permanent redirects. Hurr durr derp.

  4. Heliocentric says:

    I’m fine with unfinished code being distributed as long as its priced appropriatley(sp?). So if i’m a customer without the internet and i buy the disc game i’m not being sold down the river.

    In other words (all together now!) bargain bin purchase for me given how broken it sounds.

  5. Sigh says:

    Risingson is an RPS fanboi…

    Maybe you should think about your comment a little. The RPS comments portion is not being flooded by QuartertoThree and Stardock fanboys swooping in to defend their champions: Tom Chick and Brad Wardell. The people that have posted about being disappointed in the unusual poor quality of journalism and tabloid nature of the original Elemental post are more than likely long time readers of RPS who have come to expect something better here. They felt let down as did I. This site suffered a significant drop in respect by at least a portion of the community.

    For many people RPS is a haven and respite from a sea of videogame journalism drivel. I come here to avoid stories like “Killzone 3 is the new Halo-KILLER check out these LEET screenshots”. Or “Are videogames just soap?” (http://kotaku.com/5621563/are-video-games-just-soap) Yesterday that world entered into the RPS oasis and the borders became a little more blurred in my mind. You can label me an others with whatever dismissive title you like if it makes our arguments easier to digest. The people who were the most upset about the quality of the post are the ones who really want to hold on to the idea that this site is different and distinguishes itself from the chaff.

    I am still a fan and reader but I remain (as RPS put it so succinctly) “uncomfortable”.

    • Cat says:

      The accusation that the Bill of Rights was taken down was an aside to the fact their Bill of Rights said (says) that a customer should not have to accept a game which is not a full product – this point still stands – you’re being dismissive by using an ASIDE from the original post as a “defense of bad journalism” while completely ignoring the main point of the post – The irony between their Bill of Rights and the fact they released Elemental in an unfinished state, and then mocked these people for being upset.

      The people Risingson’s refering to as “fanboys” as he’s stated have given no good reasons why they are accepting an unfinished game, despite their ironic bill of rights and are simply focusing on one error the the original post.

    • Sigh says:

      @Cat

      Fair enough.

      Look, though I bought Elemental defending it is not the ultimate issue for me. I have formed my own opinions about the game and all I hope for is that those who were planning to have fun with the game do so (see my post below). In the end I don’t care about defending Stardock or their Bill of Rights or what state the game was released in. You are missing my point. I don’t care about any of that.

      What I do care about is that the level of journalism that I experienced on RPS yesterday was not what originally drew me to this site. It was depressing. I don’t want RPS to fail or choke on their words or anything like that. Perhaps I am an anomaly here: I love RPS, I love Elemental (so far), and I love Stardock…with idiosyncratic reasons for each.

      Perhaps parts of the story did amount to an “aside”. Though the original title of the post argues against that analysis. I don’t even know if I need to defend my personal experience here. For me that post yesterday seemed to mirror all of the hype and tabloid journalism that I try to avoid on other sites. Something about it seemed odd, misplaced, and foreign on this website. It was like I was shoved into an MC Escher drawing…something that I can’t place my finger on seemed a little disorienting. RPS and members of RPS on other sites have poured praise upon other games that were very buggy on release. For example Empire: Total War. Cf. Kieron’s review on Eurogamer. I am not criticizing those now ancient decisions…what happened happened, but why suddenly post a hype-based article on RPS that lacks their usual whit and charm about a game that has had 1 official day of release time from a small independent developer with a fraction of the budget? At least give the game a fighting chance. Again I am not trying to defend Elemental, Stardock, or their botched release issues, this post was bizarre. I mean at least I would expect RPS writer to fill the post with their own observations and very intelligent articulations. This post was just a bunch of quotes from other sites. It was a depressing because I normally love this website.

    • Stevo says:

      @Cat

      But in terms of modern day software development espeically PC games development it has to be accepted that a game being released by a dev cannot be perfect. You can’t account for hardware variables (ironically PC Gamer did a whole feature of system requirements and how it was a farce because there is no way of guarenteing software will run just fine on such any system)

      Stardock are victims of their own idea in the don’t release a game when it’s broken but your caught in a rock and a hard place there because even if this stayed in dev for another year even we still would of gotten the same sort of game crashing bugs due to hardware conflicts.

      Modern PC Gamers should be carefully when purchasing software these days especially titles that use a lot of complex features. It is impossible to come out and release a game and expect 100% of the userbase to encounter no game altering bugs. Realistically we should admit that the best we can do is when a game like this is released that the first week of bug reports will eliminate a lot of the hardware conflicts. But in the modern day of instant gaming and play before release day im not so sure that PC Gamers will head the advice to give software time to iron out the creaks.

      It’s just a way of life for PC Gamers. Could PC Review sites really say after Stalker was released this is a must buy game BUY IT RIGHT NOW or say well look it’s a ambitious title that suffers from hardware conflicts, buy it if you want to roll the dice if you think your machine is common in specs or wait a week or two for it to be patched.

      The whole community needs to wake up to the facts of where we are in terms of complex gaming and as a result no game this complex will ever be bug free on release day. It just aint happening.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      @sigh. What’s your problem with that Kotaku post? Seemed like a decent reversal of the normal arguments in that area.

    • Sigh says:

      @Jim

      I guess that I don’t think anything is intrinsically wrong with it. I just looked at the front page of Kotaku for the most inane gaming story and that one fit the bill…in the rushed state I was in.

      It is interesting in its own way, but that is not what I come to RPS for. Yesterday’s post had a touch of that inane quality to it. I don’t need to agree with everything RPS posts (and I don’t), but that felt out of character and differed in spirit.

    • Cat says:

      @Stevo

      Thats my point, its very difficult to test for every variable with PC gaming – yet Stardock stupidly promised they would, then when failing that, mocked their customers.

      As I’ve stated, the ONLY thing RPS got incorrect in this article was the fact the Bill of Rights had been taken down – where it had infact been moved. This ofcourse taking the post in its context is a moot point anyway because RPS were giggling at the fact Stardock had this Bill of Rights in the first place then ironically went against the whole thing. Whether or not the Bill of Rights has now been taken down is of very little sway to this.

  6. Aganazer says:

    One F’ing Day. Is that really what this stink is about? A patch comes out one day late and everyone goes off the deep end. The patch fixes 95% of the game’s problems. Grow some balls, plug in your internet connection, get the patch, and STFU. The game is great. There are some serious overreactions going on here.

    Christ, MoM had 10 times more issues than this game and its a F’ing classic and one of my all time favorite games.

    • Sui says:

      I agree to be honest. The original Fallout had a load of bugs just as a LOAD of decent titles do, including modern titles like Empire: Total War. If RPS wants to make a scapegoat of someone, why don’t they bitch at a bigger company who actually have the time, money and manpower to prevent day one patches. I hardly think Stardock are the bad guys here. In case RPS hadn’t realised by now, it’s actually really fucking hard to make a working game, let alone make a profit from it.

    • Harlander says:

      Grow some balls, plug in your internet connection, get the patch, and STFU. The game is great.

      Brad Wardell, everybody…!

      (Just kidding :p)

    • Nick says:

      No, its still massively broken after the patch. Oh and missing an actual feature for a week. That’s not really cool.

  7. Sui says:

    Plus, I doubt very much that those people who are 1 in 5 play video games. They’re probably old people who think that the internet is a collection of tubes

    • Sui says:

      Also, why do my replies never actually show up as replies? I just look like an idiot now.

    • Heliocentric says:

      A bad workman blames?

      I’m on a mobile and my replies only fail when a post is so massive with big comments my phone can’t render the page properly, but even then they just don’t get posted.

  8. Sigh says:

    I guess at the end of the day very little will have changed with each faction of consumers.

    Those that hate Stardock/Brad Wardell, find Gal Civ II bland/boring, and generally dislike TBS 4X strategy games with dated-looking graphics, those who believe they were “burnt” by Demigod, and passionate Civilization fans will probably stay away from Elemental like they would have anyway. No change there. They will still come here and voice their opinions about why Stardock is a failing company and Impulse is just a DRM platform that forces Day-0 updates on consumers (as they have every right to their opinion). This group was never going to pay a cent/shilling for Elemental and never will. No change.

    Then there is the group the preordered and is planning to order Elemental because their memories of Stardock are a little fonder (for full disclosure I fall into this group). They may already be having fun with the game or trust that Stardock will patch (freely) the game into a very playable and fun game for years to come. These people probably found something worthwhile in Gal Civ II and enjoy the fact that Stardock published a Gamers Bill of Rights even if they apparently fall short of their own lofty ideals from time to time (who doesn’t). This group will probably keep their faith in the potential of Elemental for some time. No change.

    The group I am a little worried about is composed of individuals that were casually following this game and may have connected with its premise and potential, but now have to wade through overly passionate arguments from both sides. For them it may be a little harder to weigh the value of Elemental and to intuit the proper measure of its worth and how it fits into their needs/desires. Although if they had any interest in an obtuse 4x TBS game they probably have cultivated a very refined sense of judgment. I just hope this controversy doesn’t ruin potentially the fun someone may have had with Elemental. At the end of the day isn’t that what matters? It’s not whether Brad Wardell or Tom Chick are arrogant, its not whether Stardock seems to stumble with game releases, it’s not whether physical media sold in a big box store need to have flawless sparkling game-code etched on their discs by lasers…what really matters is if the game (Elemental) is able to connect with the subset of the community that will have hours and hours of fun with it.

    That is what I am hoping for following all of the finger pointing.

    • Schaulustiger says:

      I would most likely fall into your third category, but I still remain highly skeptical. There are people enjoying Elemental right now, but most of them seem to get their enjoyment from the premise that the game will one day hold up to the high expectations. I get the impression that alot of stuff is still missing (multiplayer), not properly explained (UI, the underlying gameplay mechanics and numbers) or barely working (like the tactic battles). All the outrage aside, I’m not sure if this is a game that I, as a TBS and 4X fan, could enjoy right now. And I’m not getting my hopes high up just by the prospect that maybe, eventually, some day, this will be fun.

    • Sigh says:

      @Schaulustiger

      The best that I can offer you is to read up on and follow the Elemental Dev journals. Brad et al are very transparent about what went wrong, what worked well, what their near-future plans are, and so on. The changelogs detail every known bug and list every specific change with the game.

      I still believe that Stardock is planning a demo of the game for September or perhaps a little later. Those on the fence should wait for that since the demo’s code will probably include all of the updates/patches leading up to its release and will be a good test of the stability of the game on your unique hardware combination as well as a test of the gameplay mechanics.

      The Elemental development journals and the demo experience in combination should be enough to give you a deep glimpse into the game.

    • Wilson says:

      @Schaulustiger – Yeah, wait for the demo and future patches. I’m fairly confident the game will improve a lot over time, but at the end of the day, who knows. It’s not worth taking a gamble on, and there’s certainly no need :)

    • Schaulustiger says:

      I’ll certainly wait for the demo.

      Thing is, the dev diaries were pretty interesting but I still don’t know if everything holds together as well as I would imagine it. Especially with people (even Tom Chick) complaining that the mechanics and underlying mathematics are scarcely documented or presented in an understandable manner. And I’m the kind of strategy gamer that wants to understand *why* a certain percent value is as low or high as it is. Not being able to comprehend core mechanics is a dealbreaker for me.

      Well, plenty of other stuff to play in the meantime.

      @Sigh: Care to elaborate why you already like the game? I’m really interested in how it actually plays.

    • Sigh says:

      @Schaulustiger

      You wrote: And I’m the kind of strategy gamer that wants to understand *why* a certain percent value is as low or high as it is. Not being able to comprehend core mechanics is a dealbreaker for me.

      If that is true then Elemental won’t win you over immediately. I am still forming my opinion as I have only performed around 50 turns each in 2 sandbox games…just testing the waters a little. Playing Elemental produced in me the same sort of thoughts/feelings that Gal Civ II (which I first played this year at RPS’s goading) did. At first I couldn’t figure out what all of the giddy gushing was about. Gal Civ II felt very empty and soulless and extremely obtuse…even after reading the manual. I stuck with it (Gal Civ II) because I thought that there must be something buried in this game of obfuscation based on everyone’s praise for it. Eventually, Gal Civ II started making a little more sense and I GOT why people salivate over it. It never became my game of the year, but I did have some fun with it and I even think about returning to it to mine some more gold from that cavern.

      Think of Elemental as an uncertain update on the Gal Civ II model dressed in fantasy clothes. The maps start out as empty as the galaxy in Gal Civ II and I am admittedly stumbling around gleaning game mechanics through trial and error, much like my experience with Gal Civ II. The AI of the main opponents also seem to be stumbling around and kind of quiet in a way, but that is exactly what happened in space as well. This game is not one of those grab-you-by-the-collar-and-slam-its-mechanics-into-your-face type of games. I think it will require a little work on both the player’s end and the developer’s end to squeeze all of the potential out of this product that shivering with kinetic energy.

      I am probably not painting it in the best light with this post. I have not had any substantial interactions with the AI to get a decent sense of the state of it, but other parts of the game just click, and they click well. The researching component (spells and technology) is refreshing and well thought out. With spells you either decide to research specific spells like “Lightening Bolt” or you invest your research time into raising your spellcasting level thus unlocking new spells. With technology you pick a category (Civilization, Warfare, Magic, Adventure, etc.) and when the requisite number of turns passes you can pick from a selection of specific technology nodes…each of which had a percentage chance of showing up at each research “breakthrough”. Some specific technology nodes are rare or ultra-rare so they won’t show up until multiple playthroughs and Stardock has promised to secretly inject new technologies and spells in future updates so that whole part of the game will always be refreshed so to speak. Those are the moments that shine through for me and make me believe in the potential of the game.

      Once the dust settles with all of the Day-O patch controversy I think gaming reviewers (like RPS) will have some interesting things to say about the game. This is a labor of love for Stardock Brad recently posted that the development team will be devoted to just this one title for all of 2010 and most of 2011…producing more content, tweaking AI, adding to the tech tree, releasing expansions. My personal reflection is that this is going to be a fun game to watch as it grows and evolves over a couple of years…something I will be seeing firsthand. I played Gal Civ II only this year with a copy that included all of the expansions and updates rolled into a complete package. While it was nice to not have to experience any bugs in some GOTY edition years after the fact…I felt like I missed out on a living breathing beast…sort of like only seeing it in a museum after taxidermy. With Elemental I will be looking the living breathing beast in the eyes of its natural habitat as it evolves and matures, experiencing each subtle update and gestalt shift along the way.

      So the best I can say is approach it like Gal Civ II or like-minded game. Your first outing or two will feel a bit empty and lonely, but specks of genius and charm will start to shine through.

    • Schaulustiger says:

      @Sigh:

      Thanks for sharing that insight. Actually, a game that doesn’t throw everything at your face once you started it, but instead slowly opens up once you invest some time in it, doesn’t sound bad at all. As I already said, what I have seen so far looks and sounds promising and your impressions fuel my interest even more.
      I’m eagerly awaiting the demo to see for myself.

  9. Daniel Klein says:

    Kael — he of Fall From Heaven 2 fame — is working on a new game with Firaxis. Wait for that.

    • Tei says:

      I like from FFH2 the totally crazy stories about people having a civilization of demons (with lava flowing everywhere burning forest), or people commanding pirates that worship a tchulu incarnation. More of this, please!.

    • undead dolphin hacker says:

      I hope that Fall from Heaven: Descent from Clouds (or whatever the box name turns out to be) will be able to escape Civ4′s limitations (not that it’ll use the Civ4 engine, but more like Kael won’t be able to snap out of it). Last time I played the mod it was more of a novelty than a solid gameplay structure. It was fun to play with the wacky powers but there wasn’t really much there in terms of a “game.”

      Of course, with Firaxis watching Kael’s back, I think it has a good chance of turning out to be really good, if the project survives to release. A shame Brian Reynolds isn’t there anymore — what an experience it’d be to work with the dude that lead the team that created SMAC!

    • Lacero says:

      I think this is harsh. FFH2 is very well crafted in my experience, it has a very solid end game mechanic in the armageddon counter and the concept of creating a side that gains the dead of certain civs is genius. Rather than attacking an enemy making you more powerful, it makes the infernals or mercurians more powerful too. Even more so as they’ll gain the dead of both sides.

      The werewolves are another great idea to help speed up the endgame in the same way as the armageddon counter and divine civs. Really there’s some awesome design in it, I’m hopeful that the new game will have something equally clever.

  10. undead dolphin hacker says:

    Day-0 patching might leave a bad taste in your mouth, but it’s standard practice (for games that require online activation at least). Brad made the mistake of being honest and actually telling everyone it’s standard practice.

    Starcraft 2 had a day-0 patch and my attitude was “oh nice, they’re already supporting the game!” Then it starts melting GPUs to their boards thanks to a non-throttled framerate (even after the day-0). Instead of indignant raging, everyone (except those who got hit hard) basically said “look how fast Blizzard got support going! I’m sure it’ll be fixed fast.” Plus, no one except the truly clueless retailers leaked Starcraft 2, and even if they did, it was unregisterable. You had to wait like everyone else. This pissed off the .01% of the userbase who got it early, but really, who the hell cares?

    Elemental tells me in advance that there will be a day-0 patch. This sets off warning bells in my head despite the fact that every game that I’ve bought in awhile has a day-0 or day-1 patch, no matter how small, assuming the game’s patching is automatic. In less sensible individuals, the sky starts falling and Elemental is doomed to fail miserably. Now everyone’s combing over every last detail attempting to fault-find — which is a perfect attitude from the beta to a month after the release, but not IMMEDIATELY BEFORE THE RELEASE, as you’re basically damning the game by trying to help it. And the less sensible individuals just rage, whether or not they’ve actually played the game.

    Then you have the leak, and the moronic way it was handled, which is partially because their pie in the sky idealism about customers’ attitudes to DRM (hint: no one minds a one-time online activation. Drive to fucking Starbucks if you don’t have a connection.) So they release what they know they’ve said is way outdated code to predictably disasterous results.

    Stardock’s transparency and honesty is their greatest quality from a philosophical sense and their worst from a business sense. Brad is a standup, honest guy, but when he acts like a fucking human being he gets demonized until everyone’s moved on to the next big thing. Then the next big thing loses its lustre and people go back to try GalCiv/Elemental/whatever to find it’s pretty good now, and Brad is the working gamer’s hero again.

    Here’s the thing. Transparency in design is cool, but transparency in development is moronic. While the nitty gritty brutal truth of making something as ambitious as a comptur game endears you to your existing fans, you won’t get any new converts from it. In the age of “Beta” meaning “Demo,” the game’s PR rep saying “beta testing isn’t fun” means “this game is no fun” to Joe CoD:MW2 Schmoe. The world at large doesn’t want a look behind Oz’s curtain.

    tl;dr: Never buckle on your declared release date. Let your customers see your offices, but don’t let them see the bathrooms. And for god’s sake, don’t tell them what deadlines really entail.

    Oh, and inb4 Stardock fanboi/Wardell apologist/whatever. Elemental’s fucked up, but it wouldn’t have devolved into this insane self-righteous jerkoff jihad were it not for Brad being a moron and letting people in on the sad state of the industry.

  11. Flakfizer says:

    Congratulations to ‘the internet’. You just taught the gaming industry the following lessons;

    (1) Fuck retail. They’ll demand set release dates months in advance then break those street dates without regard for anyone else. Digital releases only, preferably with DRM.

    (2) Don’t talk to customers. They’ll eat you alive when you show them you’re human. Hide behind faceless marketing & buy good reviews.

    (3) Don’t be passionate about games. Tell people your hopes and they’ll throw it in your face when commercial reality bites. Just concentrate on making it look nice enough to sell.

    (4) Don’t innovate. Don’t make new games. Remake old ones or make a ‘new IP’ that plays like every other game in the genre.

    (5) If you don’t have a triple A budget make ascii games. You’ll be told it’s not sparkly enough.

    I guess we’ll end up with tha games industry we deserve :(

    • Tei says:

      (1) Fuck retail. They’ll demand set release dates months in advance then break those street dates without regard for anyone else. Digital releases only, preferably with DRM.

      No, that’s not the right lesson. The right lesson is not to put on a ROM device and sell it, a version of the game that is buggy.

      (2) Don’t talk to customers. They’ll eat you alive when you show them you’re human. Hide behind faceless marketing & buy good reviews.

      PR exist for a reason. This dude, maybe is a good CEO, but that don’t means he has to be a good PR. Let the PR people do his work. Also: teamwork, the programers help the PR do his work.
      You can have the best product on the world, but if not correctly advertised, will not sell. So PR is more important than production (the programmers).

      (3) Don’t be passionate about games. Tell people your hopes and they’ll throw it in your face when commercial reality bites. Just concentrate on making it look nice enough to sell.

      Don’t oversells, if you are not ready to correct the backslash.

      (4) Don’t innovate. Don’t make new games. Remake old ones or make a ‘new IP’ that plays like every other game in the genre.

      The game is all not that innovative. Is a MoM wanabee, a good one. Has some good ideas, and the entire package need the designers and programmers to “massage” it.

      (5) If you don’t have a triple A budget make ascii games. You’ll be told it’s not sparkly enough.

      Pff….

    • undead dolphin hacker says:

      (5) If you don’t have a triple A budget make ascii games. You’ll be told it’s not sparkly enough.

      You’re right in general but wrong about the sparkly response. Instead, you’ll instantly get a front-page post on RPS to the tune of “Hmm, interesting! Check it out!”, no matter how shitty your pretentious excuse for a “game” is. And if you’re charging for it, also expect a thread on QT3 and later Something Awful Games if you reach a critical mass of 30 combined comments/posts! FREE ADVERTISING!

      Otherwise, all your points are 100% correct, mostly because they’re the exact same ones I made (except now in fancy tl;dr format!)

    • Klaus says:

      (2) Don’t talk to customers. They’ll eat you alive when you show them you’re human. Hide behind faceless marketing & buy good reviews.

      Being criticized when you say something contentious. Wow, something everyone has to deal with.

    • Zenicetus says:

      Let’s change that to “(5) If you don’t have a AAA budget and can’t deliver a AAA product, then don’t charge a AAA product price.” There’s plenty of room in the market for indie developers selling niche games at a lower price. People expect a bit more for a $50 USD game.

  12. protobob says:

    The mistake Stardock made was sticking to the ‘put it in a box’ paradigm while they are operating under the extended development and community input paradigm.

  13. Redd says:

    What a fool.

  14. TariqOne says:

    What I find odd and yet oddly fascinating about these sorts of things is everyone’s need to polarize the debate. No party to this matter performed at peak, and i think it’s fair to point it out on all sides.

    * Elemental was released a buggy obtuse mess, a mess compounded by Stardock’s luring jerks like me in early with promises of beta play for prepurchasing. It’s inexcusable.

    * Quintin Smith jammed out a slipshod, threadbare and reactionary piece. For a contrasting traditionally meticulous RPS coverage of games controversy, scroll down a few articles to Rossignol’s article on the EVE debate. The two are worlds apart. and Rossignol’s piece is EXACTLY the sort of thing most of us come here for. Smith’s is exactly not that.

    All politics, however, are local. Therefore, anyone making the latter point, or both of the above points, will be labeled on these pages a “rapid (sic) Stardock fanboy” by certain quarters. Anyone making the former point will be accused of trying to kill Elemental. How silly.

    The demise of civil debate in favor of demagoguery and demonization is an unfortunate and exapnding feature of our times. It sucks. And that’s why I wag not one but two fingers at Quintin for stirring up such an unfortunate and screechy debate here on my beloved RPS.

    For the record, I prepurchased Elemental to play with my girlfriend. I can’t, because like E:TW, multiplayer isn’t in. Also it’s awfully buggy and confusing and rather bad right now. The only other Stardock game I own is Sins, which I didn’t much care for. I prefer Steam greatly to Impulse.

    I read RPS every day. I’m an RPS fanboy. Yet I think Quintin fucked up.

    We’d all do better to try and see all sides of a thing. IMO.

    • Wilson says:

      @TariqOne – To be fair to our times, I don’t think there’s been any demise in civil debate. I expect debate is as it’s always been, but mass media and the fact it’s so easy to give your opinion about stuff on the internet and so on magnifies and makes more clear the state of debate. I very much doubt that debate at any point in the past was any different to how it is now for the majority of people.

      That said, I have no evidence for the above assertion, and it is mostly a gut feeling on my part.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      @TariqOne: All of RPS had some say on that piece, it wasn’t down to Quinns.

    • TariqOne says:

      @Rossignol: Well you did a lot better on the EVE piece, then. This one had none of that Rossignol-Gillen-Walker feeling. Not that I’m in love with any of you, but you guys tend to hit it about right tonally. Does it really take 5 guys to pop out a couple paragraphs of snark and some block quotes? I smell wagon-circling around the new guy.

      @Wilson: You may be right. I’m not old enough to remember any particular golden age of civility, but it does seem like opinion and accusation is more of a default position than previously. But maybe you’re right, maybe it’s just there’s more outlets for it, not more reliance on it.

  15. Joe G. says:

    This “controversy” is the most short-sighted, overblown thing I’ve seen on gaming blogs in quite a while. It must be a slow news week.

    Many, many games release a zero-day patch, including just about every MMO ever. Try playing the 1.0 version of any Paradox strategy game and then tell me how “finished” or “polished” it is.

    The game seems pretty stable on my system, sure there are polish issues but I haven’t experienced any game-breaking bugs. The lack of documentation does make the learning curve quite a bit steeper than it needs to be but it’s nothing compared to being a new player in Eve Online.

    Most of the rage seems to be coming from people with some kind of personal beef with Wardell’s personality or politics. If I let those things affect my purchasing decisions then I’d probably never buy a video game.

    Elemental is a very ambitious game concept, in an underrepresented genre, from a small developer which is in the unenviable position of having to compete against the Civ V juggernaut next month. Whatever mistakes Stardock made with this release are certainly forgivable especially since everyone seems to agree that it will enjoy considerable post-release support.

    • Okami says:

      I think most of the “rage” (no matter if it’s directed at RPS or Wardell) seems to come from people who don’t have any real problems in their lives.

  16. Alextended says:

    He may have fucked up but look at all the page views he brought to those newly brought RPS full-backgground ads and such. I doubt anyone on the staff will hold it against him. I also sadly doubt that it’s a coincidence RPS went into tabloid mode and offered much more content, but also much more lackluster content (moddb copy paste updates in that new “column”, independent gaming copy paste updates when they used to only pimp one out of 100 games only, etc), when those were introduced. And the comment replying still isn’t fixed so yeah, @ Joe G.

  17. Arathain says:

    Hm. It’s an interesting one and no mistake. In a broader sense, I think it’s always instructive to highlight this whole Day 0 patch thing that’s become more the standard all the time. I’m surprised at how many people seem perfectly OK with it, even when it looks, in this case, more likely to creep into a Day 1, Week 2, Month 3 sort of thing. It’s legitimate to accept that as “just how it has to be”, but I always thought the prevailing attitude ran more towards “if I buy something, it should work”. Interesting indeed.

    Quinns has sparked his first RPS multi-page thread shitstorm, bless. Now, truly, he is one of the hivemind. It’s a good one too. Bonus marks for spreading to other forums and back again! Great news, great features, fantastic puns and occasional huge controversies… RPS, I love you, and I’m glad I subscribe.

  18. Eric says:

    Thank you for this post RPS. I’m glad that you issued a correction and update to your previous post.

  19. Sonic Goo says:

    A missed opportunity for an Unfinished Sympathy reference in the headline, I say.

  20. Fed up says:

    ah i love a game that crashes to desktop saying the game ran out of memory (i have 4gb).

    not even been patched in the 1.05 update. AWESOME!

  21. Maykael says:

    While I’m an avid reader of Rock Paper Shotgun, I rarely comment on this site. However, I always read the comments section, as they are usually informative, funny and/or intelligent. This time around I’m not really impressed.

    The whole reaction to Quinns’ post reminds me a bit of John’s Dragon Age: Origins PC Gamer review, when some readers accused him of selling out (!!!) for giving an excellent game an excellent mark and, most importantly, for all the good reasons.

    Now let’s put this story into perspective: Elemental is a small game that will be played by a small community. While I’m sure that Stardock’s releases are usually profitable, we are not talking about Dawn of War’s audience (not to mention StarCraft or Civ). The number of people who care about who Bard Wardell is and what are his thoughts on the state of the game is probably even smaller.

    From what has been said around here, RPS has around 500,000 readers per day. Do those who accuse Quinns of sloppy, sensational journalism (no matter how you put it, my friends, that what you are saying about his actions) really think that the misguided comments of Stardock’s CEO really brought a mass of readers to that article that would greatly increase RPS’ revenue for this month. Really? (Don’t confuse a vocal comments thread with a massively popular article).

    Do you really think this story had such an impact, similar to Medal of Honor/Modern Warfare story? Be fucking serious!

    I think it is really unfair to accuse a site that has proven to be as neutral as it is humanly possible in its reports and opinions, that has never had any annoying advertisments and that has essentially succeded since it was formed the incredible achievemnt of surrounding itself with the herd of cats that the PC gamers of becoming a tabloid.

    Furthermore, Quinns take on the subject is as sensationalist as a fucking weather report. Really now, the man saw that on every single thread about Elemental everybody was whining about how buggy the release was, that the Bill of Gaming Rights or how it’s called was nowhere to be found on Stardock’s website and that Wardell had an idiotic reaction on a forum. How was that not a story? Put yourself in the honest journalist’s shoes. Furthermore, it was something that could be important for some of RPS’ audience (Don’t buy this game yet, it’s not really in release shape!!). How’s that sensationalist? Does that look like tabliod-like journalism to you? Cause it sure as hell does not look like that to me. Same argument applies in Tom Francis’ case.

    It was a bit of poor fact-checking regarding that Bill of Rights that Stardock keeps on breaching, but was that the essence of the story? Moreover, Quinns is human, therefore he has a limited time frame to complete the work he has on his schedule. Sometimes shortcuts must be taken and, if I put myself in his shoes, seeing that something is not to be found on the official site of the company really seems like being enough to me.

    I won’t even begin to talk about Chick’s depressingly idiotic reaction. Kieron’s posts on Qt3 are the most elegant response he could have hoped for.

    In conclusion, are you sure that Quinns botched up that bad? Or that RPS is becoming a mainstream site hellbent on getting reads by posting sensationalist articles about the sex lives of small-time independent developers (seriously, what the fuck!?)?

    On a sidenote, what’s with all the Kotaku hate? It’s a mainstream site, intended for a wider audience. They need to do things a bit different. Do you guys feel like Che GUevara wannabes fighting against the capitalist pigs when reading RPS or what?

    To Quinns and the Hivemind, keep on doing what you are doing because it is honestly great. There are probably many other silent readers like me who feel the same and who will keep on reading you fine words here. I really do hope that you guys are somewhere in a pub right now laughing your asses off at the idiocy of this small-time scandal.

    Also Tei is right in every comment in this thread.

    PS: Sorry for the long phrases, but I’m not a native speaker (Romanian) and I’m a philosophy major.

    • Schaulustiger says:

      Well said.

      Also, I’d love to read about the sex lives of small independent developers. Someone give me a scoop!

    • Arathain says:

      @ Maykael: regarding whether or not Quinns made an error, you’ve stated my position pretty well. Focusing on the honest error caused by the broken link in regard to the Bill of Rights is allowing a personal matter to obscure the valid main point: Stardock have made a commitment to releasing only finished games, which they appear to have breached.

      And, of course, Tei is always right, except occasionally when he isn’t, and even then he kind of is.

    • Sigh says:

      As someone has already pointed out: compare Quinns’ original Elemental post (which all of RPS had a hand in) with Jim’s post on the Eve controversy. Night and day.

      RPS did not sell out. Quinns is not a bad writer and is usually a pleasure to read. Readers of RPS do not think they are fighting against the mainstream capitalist profiteering pigs of Kotaku.

      Quite simply, the soul of the post differed in nature enough from the soul of the rest of the site. Readers of RPS come here for the refreshingly different product that is on offer here…a product that differs so much from the mainstream videogame journalist’s sites that RPS has built a loyal following. When they introduced the part of the forum where readers can submit their own essays, they articulated that they bend over backwards to maintain the tone, quality, and “voice” on offer and cannot just let anyone guest-write for them since they might break that quality product. That post broke the RPS formula…Not Quinns mind your or any other member…but the post itself broke the product they strive so hard to cultivate.

      That is what people are pointing out, mostly.

      With that said, I too hope they are sitting in a pub having a good laugh at the debacle.

    • Sigh says:

      I hope that Maykael is sitting in a pub somewhere also having a drink and deconstructing Michael Foucault.

    • Saiko Kila says:

      I fail to recognize a difference before “rescinding” and “backing away”. Stardock did back away from their promises. You aren’t an evil man if you’re saying you’re evil. You’re evil if you act evil. And even more that if you’re still saying you’re good. The whole Bill of Rights site is now meaningless, so they can safely shut it down and cut the costs of hosting. Maybe they don’t have to, being so rich, but still…

  22. John Peat says:

    There’s definately something in the fact that most stories around here get less than 1 page of comments but whenever a bit of scandal/fanboyism/DRM/piracy is involved the pages grow and grow.

    Coming Soon – DRM – Piracy and the fact Modern Warfare and Activision are SHIT!! – top read story on RPS :)

    • Klaus says:

      That’s because those areas are broad and subjective – everyone has the capacity to add in their two-cents. Whereas only so many people have an interest in Bioshock or GuildWars.

    • Freud says:

      I think it is quite simple. The quality of games at release, patching policies and DRM is something that every gamer is affected by and most likely have had bad experiences with. Of course this topic will attract a lot of debate. Perhaps even more so when a company like Stardock, which many gamers hold in high regard, is involved.

  23. Oliver says:

    Everyone who has commented in this post is wrong.

  24. geldonyetich says:

    It is, with some irony, our commitment to no DRM on our DVD release that ultimately caused the rough pre-release experience of Elemental. Several retailers broke the street date and we felt we needed to release our gold version to our customers who had pre-ordered from us as well as to our beta community that helped make the game the outstanding strategy game that it is.

    Well, shoot, it wasn’t their fault after all.

    Sort of. I have to wonder whose wise idea it was to release pre-release versions to retailers.

    • Josh W says:

      That’s exactly what I was thinking, it’s not like the retailers have a feed of the current beta and print off their own disks, stardock must choose when to go gold, and when to sell. If you don’t give people unfinished disks, they can’t put you in this position.

      So what was the original plan? Send them unfinished disks, them get them to unbox all those disks and replace them with new ones when their ready, then re-shrinkrap the cases?

      This sounds wrong, like he’s missing out some weird contractual step, or is lying: Either the shops had some power to force them to release a game before it was finished, or they expected to give a day one patch. If the latter is true, then they have effective internet-requiring DRM because of the system required to receive patches. I think this means they must have planned to break their commitments, and the only spanner in their works was that people got a day 2 patch not a day 0 patch.

  25. nessin says:

    Aside from the fact that the previous article still uses an incorrect quote and still implies Stardock took down the Gamer’s Bill of Rights from their website (which they haven’t as they own/run the gamersbillofrights.com site), the whole argument now seems to boil down to breaking the contract and releasing a bad game.

    The problem is too many people are labeling it a bad game without any consideration to the people who don’t. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I don’t enjoy the game in its current state but I can at least recoognize its in a “finished” state. It is a game. A valid source of entertainment that can be interacted with and have fun with. I don’t currently have fun with it, some others don’t currently have fun with it or can’t play it, but there are still plenty of others who DO have fun with it and do play it without bugs.

    I still have no problem with people being unhappy with the game and expressing it that. But then those idiots have to bring in the Gamer Bill of Rights and say its unfinished. Well, I’m a player of the game and I say it is unfinished. What in the ever loving hell gives you (who say it is unfinished) the right to contradict my opinion of the game by stating that Stardock is going back on their supposed word by releasing unfinished games?

    Think of it this way, no a single damn one of you could go to a court of law and get through against Stardock on false advertising charges and released an unfinished product. If you’re so delusional to think you could, then go ahead and do it and I’ll eat my words, but until that point all the talk of Elemental being “unfinished” is just whining.

  26. Vinraith says:

    I just hope this entire fiasco doesn’t completely destroy the game’s sales. Elemental may have launched a bit rough but it’s a Stardock game, they’ll fix it and then some. I appreciate PC Gamer/RPS’s intent to warn people off of a lemon, for all that I think the way they chose to do it was rather shoddy. I just hope that, when and if Elemental finds its feet, PC Gamer and RPS as as willing to bring that to the attention of the public.

    • Warduke says:

      All of this is so so reminiscent of Demigod to me. Even your point Vinraith that the game should be given another look in time reminds me of the initial calls for re-reviewing of Demigod after it had been properly patched. “It’s like deja vu all over again”.

    • Vinraith says:

      The fundamental difference is that Demigod wasn’t developed by Stardock, and Demigod’s problems were largely because it was a primarily MP game with a flawed netcode. Elemental’s present condition is more analogous to the original release of Gal Civ 2, which eventually became one of the best 4X games ever made.

    • SheffieldSteel says:

      As someone who read this in entirely the wrong order – i.e. the material on RPS first, then the PC Gamer article, and the Qt3 forum posts never – I have to say that the PCG article (not a review, note) sounds like it was written by someone with a lot of faith in Stardock and was overall very sympathetic.

    • Vinraith says:

      @Sheffield

      The headline is likely to do the majority of the damage, lots of people don’t read anything else.

    • Warduke says:

      @Vinraith

      Yah I get that Demigod was a GPG game I just remember all the damage control from Brad W. then as the primary face of that game and it’s sounding very similar to now. I guess the main thing to remember at the end of the day is that his primary function is to sell product, no matter what state it’s in.

  27. wallish says:

    @Hentzau

    “I just find it a little odd that you’re choosing to do this for Elemental but not, say, for Empire: Total War.”

    Or, say, the Paradox games…

    I love the Paradox games and I really enjoy Elemental (and I enjoyed it through most of the beta). But if somebody asks if they should buy the newest Paradox game the response is almost always something like “Wait until the six month patch is released.”

    Paradox games are some of the buggiest and sometimes semi-unplayable messes on release. But they’re also accepted as being awesome games for fans of grand strategy. So why is there not an RPS post about Vicky 2′s bugs? The best I can figure, it’s only because the CEO of Paradox didn’t spit out some heated words to what he considered a friend.

    Paradox games are buggy on release, Total War games are buggy on release, Stardock games are buggy on release. Hell, I’d go so far as to say that there’s almost never a grand strategy/4x game that is released in a nearly bug-free state. It just seems to be part of the genre and I really don’t find Elemental to be as bad as detractors make it out to be.

    • Vinraith says:

      Indeed. Games of this genre virtually always launch in a rough state. Stardock, like Paradox, has a reputation for making good on the potential of those rough games by polishing them post release (unlike CA lately, but that’s for another thread). It’s unclear to me why Stardock should be singled out in this case, when in reality they’re one of the better strategy developers as far as long-term patching and feature addition in their titles.

    • sebmojo says:

      Because they published a Bill of Rights saying games shouldn’t be released in unfinished state? And because the publisher and CEO said he thought it was in a finished state in a public forum?

      It’s bread and butter journalism, nothing in the slightest bit tabloid about it.

  28. catska says:

    The people coming out against RPS and PCG are completely and utterly wrong. PCGamer’s job is to inform its readership on video games and help them make buying decisions, and letting people know that Stardock released yet another game in a completely unfinished and unplayable state is perfectly fine and in fact should be applauded. Too many gaming mags these days wouldn’t publish an article in fear that they would get snubbed the next time they need a preview build from that same publisher, but this time gamers actually got the relevant buyer information BEFORE actually putting their hard-earned money down. Bravo, PC Gamer.

    RPS reporting on it is just fine as well, they are a PC gaming news blog and PC Gamer giving an anticipated title like Elemental a pass is in fact big news. And after seeing myself what a completely unplayable state this game was released in, the more people know about this debacle the better.

    It’s especially important in this case where a lot of the people buying Elemental might not even go on the internet in the first place (Stardock has stated how the vast majority of their sales are retail) and thus never get patches or any information onto how broken their game is. For every person on the forums reading patch notes, there are ten gamers sitting in front of their computer confused as to why they keep getting CTDs, unhappy that they wasted their money and got scammed by Stardock.

    Although people seem shocked that RPS and PCG reported on the quote by Brad Wardell, to people who read QT3, Wardell saying something incredibly stupid and inflammatory is not news but rather par for the course. It’s about time he gets called out on his utter hypocrisy.

    Tom Chick flaming other journalists with hate-filled cursing is rather amusing as well, treating his little forum like a sacred ground for journalists and developers to say whatever they want with no regard for sanity while looking down on other websites and forums (see: their gaming journalism topics). He’s just upset that people reporting on a CEO making a fool out of himself probably got more hits than one of his shitty blog articles that only exists to stir up controversy. Hey, you talked down about another AAA game and used vague terminology to disguise your utter ignorance, that’s original Mr. Chick!

    • Bob's Lawn Service says:

      “Tom Chick flaming other journalists with hate-filled cursing is rather amusing as well, treating his little forum like a sacred ground for journalists and developers to say whatever they want with no regard for sanity while looking down on other websites and forums (see: their gaming journalism topics). He’s just upset that people reporting on a CEO making a fool out of himself probably got more hits than one of his shitty blog articles that only exists to stir up controversy. Hey, you talked down about another AAA game and used vague terminology to disguise your utter ignorance, that’s original Mr. Chick!”

      QT3 has always been a gathering of huge egos. It has become impossible to have a decent conversation withh people there. I suppose it is what happens wehen the self proclaimed “intellectuals of gaming” get together and try to out do each other.

  29. BruceCampbell87 says:

    http://www.elementalgame.com/journals Another patch. At 11PM. Great Stardock, they work hard to do a great game, and you made this controversy, well, shame on you.

    • mrmud says:

      Good that they are working on improving things.

      That still doesnt change the fact that at least as of last night the game was still riddled with bugs and completely incomprehensible.

    • Cat says:

      Shame on you for leaving Ebay customer feedback saying “Original Torch did not work but they replaced it after argument” when you now have a working Torch!

  30. Alextended says:

    Yeah, cos Stardock wouldn’t release patches if it wasn’t for this shiddy reporting job of RPS. Thank you for ensuring patches, RPS! Lol? In similar fashion, you would be quite the jerk if that’s the feedback you wrote when there was actually no argument and the seller was very apologetic and eager to give you a refund or replacement to that torch. Jerk.

  31. Inno says:

    The whole thing read like a minor editorial or a simple blogpost anyway. As such the implied dig at the removal of Stardock’s bill of rights is debateable either way. Everything else was blunt but fair. Certainly beats Shacknews’ “we don’t think this game is ready to be reviewed yet so we’re gonna wait it out until it is” erm what?

  32. vladesch says:

    Brad has complained that his tantrum was taken out of context, but its something he has said many times on his own forums to various people with valid criticism of the game.
    Sorry brad, but if you say it enough times, you cant say you didnt mean it.

    Stardock was warned numerous times on the forums that the game wasnt ready, but we were told to stfu basicvally, and we know nothing about making games, and he was god gift to humanity. So people shut up and look where we are now.

    Shame. Stardock dug their own hole, now they can lie in it.

  33. Dlarit says:

    I’m a manager in a shop and in my experience rather alot of people forget to be calm and polite when complaining its not just restricted to online posts…

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