Elemental: Wardell Opens His Bally Veins

By Alec Meer on September 6th, 2010 at 9:35 pm.

In what is hopefully the final word on the sorry release saga of Elemental, Stardock bossguy Brad Wardell has issued another remarkably frank public mea culpa, following the weekend’s awful news that several Stardock staffers were to lose their jobs and a future project may be axed as a result of poor reviews and lower-than-hoped revenues for the roleplaying strategy game. While it’s by now scarcely any secret that the man’s publicly holding himself accountable for the release of a rickety game, the sum total of information and apparent self-flagellation offered has been extraordinary.

The headline-grabber, I suspect: 82,000 copies sold. According to the infinite knowledge of Windows Calculator, that amounts to some £2.65 million / $4.1 million in revenue within a week – which sounds nice, but once you excise costs and drill it down to pure profit I suspect it’s not all that much. The strange irony is that the ongoing drama keeps the game in the news, which could potentially sell more copies.

One of the more curious angles that Brad’s adopted in both this comment and the last heart-on-sleever is that he doesn’t want re-reviews once the game’s been patched up (this time affirming that there’ll be no Director’s Cut-style re-release, simply updates and expansions to the release version). For the life of me, I’m not sure if it’s nobly lying in the bed Stardock made with Elemental’s thorny release state, or if it might perhaps be an attempted “screw the press, we’ll eventually sell enough copies anyway.” Or both. It’s an unusual approach to take on this: regret and bullishness rolled into something that ultimately sounds as proud as it does apologetic. It’s publicly refusing to give up on the game and to beg for mercy, which I suspect is key.

Also of note is the attempt to detach Elemental’s woes from Demigod’s notorious multiplay-blocking release state. Stardock call on external factors and a communication problem about the networking system, which strikes me as odd – doesn’t that boil down to being precisely the quality control issues and over-eager sign-offs that led to Elemental’s tortured release? I like both games and I like Stardock titles in general, but from afar it sounds as though both games suffered as a result of being given release approval they simply weren’t ready for. The technical insight is appreciated, but I’m not sure it’s ingenuous to claim that the problems were so entirely different.

And, well, there’s a lot of defensiveness in that post – while no bones are made about where the fault lies and the game’s team suffer no ire, it’s also a open statement that public criticism will be controlled, pride rides strong media coverage will not dictate the game’s ultimate fate. What does this bold amalgamation of self-harm and self-help achieve? Do any of you feel more or less compelled to buy Elemental as a result?

For my part, the desired end result is simple. I would like to play a fixed and improved Elemental, and I would like that to happen without a bunch of Stardock employees losing their jobs first.

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127 Comments »

  1. Pardoz says:

    Ultimately no amount of public vein-opening by Wardell will affect my decision (not to) buy the game a whit; the only thing that would get me to open my wallet at this point would be the announcement (by reliable – ie. non-Stardock/Wardell) sources that “the game is now playable”. Meantime I’ll spend the money I thankfully didn’t waste on paying for the Elemental early beta on a copy of CiV later this month.

    • StingingVelvet says:

      Yeah, when they release an actually complete game on a disc in some repackaging like Sins of a Solar Empire got then I will buy it. I don’t want it now and to wait for a complete game, and I don’t really want to buy the original disc in a year and depend on Impulse to get it playable with GBs worth of patching.

      So… re-release it when it’s done with a couple of the DLC expansions and I’ll get it.

      Nice paid beta you guys are running.

    • Caiman says:

      My response at this stage is “Enough already Brad, we get it, just get back to work on Elemental.”

    • dadioflex says:

      I strongly approve of the people saying that pre-ordering is a gamble and that customers shouldn’t complain. Of course, I sell things to people as a living, so I’m biased. The rest of you, the ones that expect to get what you paid for – shame on you!

  2. Hallgrim says:

    His psuedo apologies are meaningless as long as he is refusing to offer proper refunds to people who pre-ordered the game.

    • Wooly says:

      Stop whining, that’s what happens when you preorder.

    • zanchito says:

      But they are giving refunds (or so the forum posts imply, I haven’t checked the refund instructions thread, I like the game and want to keep it).

    • Starky says:

      Indeed, that is the very gamble or pre-orders, you know the risk and you took it willingly – no one forced you to pre-order it.

      Also the reason why I never pre-order anything, with one exception proving the rule (natural selection 2) – which I didn’t pre-order to get the game, I did to support the developers. Same reason I donated to NS1, the constellation icon I got in game and forum access didn’t mean a thing.

    • The Great Wayne says:

      Oh so true, wooly. Pre ordering is a leap of faith, stop whining.

    • PHeMoX says:

      Pre-ordering is mostly a webshop or retail shop kind of thing. Many developers have nothing to do with that.

      I’m not even sure if people that pre-ordered Duke Nukem Forever years ago will get the Take2 game that is set for a 2011 release now.

      Of course, if STEAM or any other distribution platform promises extra content for a pre-order, they should give you the possibility to cancel such a pre-order and get a refund. But you’re taking a risk.

      Why would one pre-order anything, anyway?? It’s not like you truly will get the game earlier.

    • frymaster says:

      “Of course, if STEAM or any other distribution platform promises extra content for a pre-order, they should give you the possibility to cancel such a pre-order and get a refund. But you’re taking a risk”

      that is, apparently, the only circumstances in which getting a refund out of steam ISN’T like getting blood out of a stone – they will quite happily cancel pre-orders and refund you if the game hasn’t been released

    • ScubaMonster says:

      @PHeMoX : “Why would one pre-order anything, anyway?? It’s not like you truly will get the game earlier.”

      Well, in some cases you get early access, at least for MMO’s. Other times you get extra content. Is that worth taking a gamble? Guess that’s up to the buyer and the game in question.

    • Archonsod says:

      Stardock’s refund policy is 100% if you have technical issues and engage support first, and 75% if you refuse or just plain don’t like the game.

    • Hallgrim says:

      Oh, so asking for a refund on a multiplayer game that doesn’t even have multiplayer is whining now, is it?

      It is just amazing what people will put up with sometimes.

    • Azradesh says:

      Yeah, it’s clearly a multiplayer only game. -_-

    • Dean says:

      I’m sorry, did I miss a law that was passed that means pre-ordering games means that I lose my statutory right to a refund if the game isn’t fit for purpose?

    • Hallgrim says:

      @Azradash:

      There are 7 bullet points of features that Stardock chose to describe Elemental in their Impulse store.
      #7 is “Online multiplayer games support up to 16 people playing at once”. Wardell was talking about multiplayer for Elemental in interviews back in 01/08, and has been continuously since then.

      The game still doesn’t have multiplayer, tech support couldn’t give me a date for when it would be available, refused to refund me 100% because the lack of multiplayer isn’t a “technical problem” (apparently they differentiate deliberate incompetence and false advertising from the accidental), and won’t refund me real money because its been more than 90 days since my CC was charged.

      I’ve found it interesting that the game is so terribad that there hasn’t been any real criticism about the missing multiplayer. Apparently they were right that have zero multiplayer was better than having terrible multiplayer.

    • bill says:

      @Dean:

      The point is that if you pre-order the game, and then it’s not what you hoped/expected then you can’t expect a refund just on that. (though it sounds as if stardock are giving refunds).

      Software is almost always a gamble, most developers have high hopes and high promises, but many games don’t live up to that, and can have bugs or issues.

      That’s why it’s always been sensible to wait for release, and check reviews, and see if the game is (a) good or (b) what you want. Pre-ordering is pretty dumb imho – not that i’ve ever done it in 20 years of gaming. Can’t honestly see why anyone ever would.

      But if you do, it’s the gamble you take.

    • battles_atlas says:

      Just to needlessly complicate things, there is pre-ordering and there is pre-ordering. I’ve ordered Civ 5 off the back of the PCG review, and am fairly confident it will be in full working order when it arrives. Pre-ordering before reading any reviews is completely nuts though.

      That said, I pre-ordered Empires:TW after reading PCG’s review, and that turned out to be a shit sandwich, so its still a risk ordering anything until other test saps have had a chance to get enraged all over the interweb.

      In a conclusion unconnected to my previous statements, I say the seller is still obliged to provide the buyer with a working product, pre-order or not. The buyer is obliged not to moan about it on forums when it turns out the game they bought sans reviews turned out to be broken.

  3. leeder_krenon says:

    i know it’s conjecture, but £2.6m and they won’t see much profit from that? this is insane. it shouldn’t cost £2.6m to make a niche market computer game. these figures blow my mind. the games industry needs to streamline the development process if a company can’t make a tasty profit on £2.6m of sales.

    • Starky says:

      Huh? 2.6 million is no where NEAR enough to make a A level game, probably not even a B game.

      Even if you have only 20 staff for 2 years that is probably going to total more than 2.6 million.

      Say 4 highly qualified coders/software engineers – 80k each per year: 320k per annum.
      6 Fresh out of college coders/software engineers – 25k each, 100k P.A.
      1 Art Director – 75k
      1 Lead 2D artist + 1 lead 3d Artist – 60-80k each, 120k
      4 FOOC artists, 25k each – 100k
      +4 Misc staff (tech support, admin worker so on) 25k each – 100k

      That’s 815k per year alone.

      Then add on freelance workers, sound recordists, music writers, voice actors, office rental, testers, PR people, lawyers fee’s, hardware costs (workstations with all the tech needed for PC development are not cheap) the list goes on and on.

      This is ignoring any supplemental costs, marketing and such.

      I’d be shocked if this game, or any modern B+ game cost less than 5 Million – 2-3 million will just about cover salaries for 18 months of Dev time.

      Of course these are just ballpark figures, but unless you’re farming out work to $100 a day 3rd world coders, staffing is expensive.

    • FunkyBadger says:

      It’s *really* difficult for any business to make the step from tiny (bedroom coders) to small-medium (20-200 employees) – there’s a completely different set of skills needed (as there are running a behemoth).

    • RQH says:

      Admittedly, that’s the case. But before the disastrous launch it was all “Stardock is so lucky because we don’t rely on our games for income, so we can work on this for as long as we need to.” Situation upgraded from SNAFU to FUBAR.

    • PHeMoX says:

      ” Huh? 2.6 million is no where NEAR enough to make a A level game, probably not even a B game.”

      That is totally and utterly untrue. It’s quite possible to make an excellent game with minimal investments.

      In fact, many socalled AAA games that had literally millions of dollars spend for them to be be made, failed at being close to good and finished games! So go ahead and explain to me why any more money would have made it any better?

      Game development requires individual skills, quite a bunch of experience and simply a very very good and streamlined team. At the same time it also requires a good game concept that has a good chance of becoming a success. Many game ideas sound great on paper, but really should have been ditched graciously into the bin right after their (failed) prototyping stage!!

      Also.. sometimes good games just don’t get the sales they deserve, but there’s not much that can be done about that.

    • iax says:

      According to Brad Wardell, they were able to brake even on pre-orders alone, as you can read . It is reply #55.

      I don’t know how much of the 82.000 were pre-orders but I assume they are making profit by now.

    • Starky says:

      That is a total and utter strawman, at no point did I state that budget and quality of game were linked.

      Yes it is possible to make a great game for minimal investments but it is NOT possible to make a A-game for minimal investment.
      Just to be clear by A, B or AAA game I’m not talking about their review scores or how good they are I am simply talking about their level of scale.

      Simply put it is NOT possible to make Grand Theft Auto 4, God of war, or hell not even a modern Total War game on a small budget, it just requires too many people doing too much work.
      Just as if you want a large game with good looking graphics you need a serious budget. If you want a current gen, or even next gen title that is a LOT of money.

      Like movies, I enjoy indie films, I like low budget horror, and “B” movie sci-fi (think Sci-fi channel made for TV movies), but to argue that you can do a summer blockbuster for a small budget is just insanity. A “small” budget for such movies is now 20-40 million dollars. Even the lowest of the low budget action films are over 10 million (think Machete).
      The same is true for games.

      If your game requires 30 employees working for 2 years that is a BIG budget and there is no way around it, you can only streamline so much.
      Modern games just require too much “stuff” – 2D art, 3D art, voice actors, writers, musicians, coders, testers, so on and so forth.

      That doesn’t mean they are inherently better than lower budget titles, but no indie game costing less than 5 million dollars will EVER match something like GTA4, or hell even saints row 2 (it’s lower budget red headed cousin) in scope.
      Hell the voice acting alone in GTA4 probably cost 5 million dollars (when you include the cost of hiring a the talent, sound engineers, studio time, editing, post production so on so forth).

    • Starky says:

      The above was @Phemox

  4. We Fly Spitfires says:

    “I would like to play a fixed and improved Elemental, and I would like that to happen without a bunch of Stardock employees losing their jobs first. ”

    Well said. I’m a little sad over the whole debarcle because I’ve always liked and admired Stardock and held them on pedestal for making great, fair games. Unfortunately this incident is gonna tarnish their rep for a long, long time.

  5. Freud says:

    In the end I kinda like that market economy works and shoddy products don’t get bought. If they manage to make this game good, I have equal hope that market economy works well.

    I think the last apology was quite enough. He should be quiet and get to work. I think the groveling is becoming awkward now.

  6. Lizardman says:

    They should release Elemental on Steam, I’m sure that would both revive their finances and give them a dose of humility, moreso than exclaiming loudly about how they’ve cocked up.

    • cliffski says:

      That will never never never never ever ever ever in a billion million trillion zillion years happen.
      Stardock own impulse, the #1 steam competitor.
      You might as well expect to see half life 2 on impulse.

    • Lizardman says:

      @ Cliffski

      I’d agree with you on that, however, it would probably be the most sensible business decision.

      Why? Well for one thing, Steam has a much more massive userbase. So putting it up there, along with some sort of discount, could probably quite easily double their sales.

      The other reason is that it is completely disconnected from Stardock! Currently, who will be using impulse? The people that know about Elemental and how it may not be a game worth buying. So put it on Steam, and reap the sales of the ignorant impulse buyers.

      I for one see no reason that a large portion of the market should be cut off, not unless you have the userbase to cope, which it appears that Stardock lack (Unlike Valve and Steam).

      Anyway, the funds from Steam sales would directly fund their own sales service, so what’s not to lose?

      Ah well, maybe next time they’ll release a finished game?

    • MWoody says:

      I’m loving the inherent irony of your suggestion: that they should put it on Steam for “impulse” buys.

    • ScubaMonster says:

      @Lizardman : What you’re suggesting would basically require Stardock to just toss their entire Impulse digital distribution business out the window. Impulse sales are a big factor in funding I would imagine. Releasing your game on a competing digital distribution outlet would be financial suicide. How is pushing MORE users to Steam going to help their own business on Impulse? Stardock refuses to sell games with Steamworks for this very reason. That’s why you can find the original Supreme Commander on Impulse, but they do not sell Supreme Commander 2. Same for Dawn of War. They sell the first, but not Dawn of War 2 which requires Steam.

      Also, how is Impulse completely separate from Stardock? How do you think they make the vast majority of their money? They only have a handful of games they have published themselves. The rest of their business entirely depends on people buying other publisher’s titles so they get a cut. Driving people to Steam is NOT the way to do that. Any short term Steam sales would not be worth it at all given the devastating consequences in the long term for their own digital business.

      Do you think Microsoft publishing Halo on PS3 would help their business? (yes I know, consoles, the horror! But it drives my point home).

    • Archonsod says:

      Err, they make their money on the enterprise software. $2.6 million is small change in that market. The games side of Stardock has always been more of a personal hobby for Brad than a serious business concern. I mean they released the original Gal Civ primarily on OS/2, in 1993. That’s not the kind of thing you do if you’re concerned about actually selling it, by the time you’d given the studio team their free copies you’d have covered 50% of the OS/2 market ….

    • Alastayr says:

      They should really put it up on Steam and be done with it. At this point in time there is already a “Steam-only” crowd that might sensibly be interested in E:WoM. Ewom, that sounds nice. Anyway, you don’t deprive Impulse of sales they wouldn’t have got anyway and Steam opens up another way to market the “optional” Impulse service to customers. Think of Impulse as the GfWL in Dawn of War II. Did MS lose anything by having their MP capabilities in a game that’s tied to a competitor’s digital distribution service? Nope.

      Wardell’s whole argument of not carrying Steamworks-enabled titles in his Impulse catalogue is just a major concession to his insecurity about Impulse’s success and its viability. Instead of finally delivering a competitor or scaling back his business model to DD / GamersGate levels, his store continues to have the worst worldwide deals with the least attractive prices and titles. Since the major Steam overhaul, Impulse doesn’t even have the better client. In all seriousness, what does he expect?

      His public flagellation will only enhance his further ridiculement, once “frogboy” goes on an Anti-Steam rant again. Or maybe he’ll preach about quality on release day, or how to treat customers right. Or maybe he’ll shut the hell up for once.

    • thebigJ_A says:

      Do you guys not get it? Impulse is their second-biggest cash-cow, after their nongame software. Impulse is the Pepsi to Steam’s Coke.

      What you are suggesting is that Pepsi start selling their drink in Coca-Cola bottles.

      How does that make any sense?

    • bill says:

      If their concern was making cash quick and saving jobs then, yes, they should do just that.

      Though from the apologies it seems as if they might feel bad if lots of people bought it who weren’t happy with it. It almost sounded like they were closer to withdrawing it from sale.

    • cliffski says:

      I’m starting to think that a lot of PC gamers will not be happy until every game ever made is only on sale through Steam and when Gabe is basically the guy who decides what PC gamers get to play.
      Guys, competition is a good thing. Competition is the only force that ensures customers get a good deal. Without it, you are screwed.

    • MultiVaC says:

      Comparing Steam and Impulse to Microsoft and Sony or Coke and Pepsi is a little off. Those other comparisons are of fiercely competing companies on more or less even footing. Impulse may be doing pretty well for itself, but far as competition for Steam goes it is (at best) an extremely distant second.

    • pipman3000 says:

      why would anyone on steam buy elemental when they (will soon) have civilization 5.

      “wow this is a really good movie but what netflix/blockbuster/whatever really needs to add to their library is dungeon siege: in the name of the king or house of the dead or {insert uwe boll movie here}!”

    • Archonsod says:

      The other thing to remember is there’s a sizeable crowd of anti-Steam folk too, and a fair crossover between those and Stardock’s fanbase.

  7. pupsikaso says:

    It’s painfully obvious what Stardock has to do now. Brad needs to step down. He f*ed up two games in a row. Both were, ultimately, his own faults. Both were the /same/ fault. The team, however, has very well demonstrated their ability to create a very good game and on time. None of them should be getting fired. If Brad is all so apologetic, and if he claims it’s all his own fault, then he should know as well that the best move would be to step down and have the board hire someone more competent in his stead.

    • Gorgeras says:

      Step down? He’s not just the CEO but founder and owner. It’s like taking the Tony Stark out of StarkTech or Norman Osbourne out of OsCorp.

      But Tony Stark probably could have made Elemental in a cave bug-free, with a box of scrap.

    • ScubaMonster says:

      I always like how the small guys feel the wrath when upper management is to blame.

    • Mad Doc MacRae says:

      Tony Stark could’ve fired those guys in cave – with a box of scraps!

  8. Maniac says:

    Here’s my take on the whole matter.

    I pre-ordered Demigod months before release, because Brad said that they wouldn’t forget the single-player mode, and they would do something nice and different.

    Demigod comes out (and I didn’t mind the MP problems, as I bought it for single-player), and single player content is barely more than a normal skirmish. It was not bad, but it was not what was promised once. I don’t need to say that I was disappointed.

    Then Elemental pre-orders start. Brad again says that its single player experience will be fantastic, how it will be a spiritual sucessor to Master of Magic, and that, unlike Demigod, they will not let promises go unfulfilled, because, after all, “it’s OUR baby” (his words, IIRC).

    I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt (as I liked Galciv2), and I pre-ordered Elemental almost a full year before its release.

    And we all know what happened.

    Elemental has serious technical issues (though I didn’t experience most of them), and even greater design issues. It feels to me like a very bland Galciv2 total conversion mod. It does have a few great ideas, but I just can’t bring myself to enjoy it; for me, the worst offender is the dreadful magic system.

    Perhaps Stardock will manage to fix most of Elemental’s issues. However, I don’t trust Brad anymore, at least not enough to pre-order anything from Stardock again, or even to say “don’t worry, Stardock will fix Elemental”. I’ve seen heartfelt big talks before. I’ve seen unfulfilled promises before. Not once. Twice.

    Shame on me.

  9. tekDragon says:

    “It’s all my fault…. you’re all fired.”

    • The Great Wayne says:

      This is absurd. Wardell is founder/president/CEO of Stardock. He doesn’t have anyone above him to present his demission to, and you can’t fire yourself from your own company.

    • The Great Wayne says:

      And, might I add, if people end up being fired it’ll not be on accusations of failure – I think by now he took most of this responsibility – but for economical reasons, which you can’t really blame, from a financial pov, of course.

    • Ignorant Texan says:

      The staff has been ‘laid-off’, not ‘fired’. A matter of semantics, but one that matters in the ability to collect unemployment benefits immediately.

    • ScubaMonster says:

      Of course Wardell won’t leave Stardock, but letting the people go from the studio when he was the one overseeing everything is a bit ridiculous. Unless they lost so much money they can’t afford the staff anymore.

    • Archonsod says:

      They’re laid off because the plan was to open a second game studio, it’s the staff they were taking on for that who went, not anyone from the team actually working on Elemental.

      The real suspect thing is using Elemental as an excuse. The lay off announcement stated due to lower than expected sales, yet as Brad said today they’ve more than broke even on pre-orders alone. Either their sales projections were somewhere beyond the unicorn standard of realism, or there’s something else behind it. Maybe Mr Wardell only just caught up to the fact the economy was tanking on his week off?

    • MrPyro says:

      @Archensod: what I got from that forum post was that they were planning on funding the second studio from the profits they made on Elemental. Elemental might have just turned profitable, but probably not profitable enough to reliably provide enough capital to run a second studio.

    • tekDragon says:

      @wayne. Nah at that level you resigned or you’re dismissed by board members or some such. Why is he still there?

  10. Legionary says:

    At the risk of popping the bubble, he let go a second games development team because Elemental’s damaged launch meant financially it was unsustainable. He owns the company, so he can’t resign and even if he were to step down and sell the company, the new owners would still sack the second team because, guess what, there isn’t enough money to sustainably run two teams.

    The situation sucks, and Brad Wardell is relatively objectionable, but let’s not live in a fantasy land where he’s a James Bond style supervillain sat laughing at a desk of pure gold whilst the downtrodden developers are forced into poverty.

  11. Andy_Panthro says:

    It’s a real shame for three reasons.

    1. People have lost their jobs due to apparent mismanagement.

    2. There may be a reduction in the production of such niche games (although there’s precious few of them at the moment, so perhaps we’re already at rock bottom)

    3. Stardock may get tainted by the same image problem Obsidian has, for releasing unfinished/buggy/etc. games. This will hurt them in future sales for any new games they make (people will wait until a sale or first few patches before they buy).

    A poster above mentioned that they might have to bite the bullet and sell their products through Steam. However, I think that may be a step Brad wouldn’t take. There are other options though, if they were to allow sales through GamersGate, Direct2Drive and other smaller distributors they could still get a wider sales base without having to concede to the Steam behemoth.

    It remains to be seen how badly this will affect the company, and I doubt they will have bet the farm on this one game, so I expect them to be okay.

    • FunkyBadger says:

      If they sell through Steam they make even less money per copy, so how does that help?

      Do Valve run production QA teams like Microsoft an Sony do on their closed platforms? If that were the case then it might indeed help.

    • Andy_Panthro says:

      Less per copy, yes, but if you sell many more copies then it’s still worthwhile.

      Perhaps if the game was available from GG, D2D and Steam, they could have sold twice as many copies?

      Now those retailers might take a 30% cut, but that’s still getting you 70% of the money from another 82,000 sales. (Impulse/retail 82k make you $4.1M, other retailers 82k make you $2.87M, total of $6.97M and now things aren’t looking as bad…)

      Of course I have no idea how many extra sales they could have made, so this is all idle speculation.

    • Ignorant Texan says:

      @FunkyBadger

      Steam only guarantees that Valve games have had QA testing. Anything else is caveat emptor.

    • thebigJ_A says:

      Again. Stardock owns Impulse, the direct competitor to Steam. Als a direct competitor to GamersGate, D2D, etc.

      So…. No.

  12. Kurt Lennon says:

    LOL@People in that thread adulating Wardell… “Best CEO ever!”…

    I’m pretty sure the best CEO ever doesn’t have any project destroying screwups on his resume, let alone several.

    • Freud says:

      He isn’t only CEO. He is also the owner of the company, (lead?) designer, programmer, PR guy and author of shitty fantasy novels. I think in the case of Elemental clearly the problem is with design and project management. Perhaps he needs to resign from that instead and someone who is really skilled as a project leader instead.

    • FunkyBadger says:

      Freud: the problem is when he does both. See, this is where companies like Ubi and EA etc. do really well. Although I don’t expect many of the simps still stuck in the “Capitalism is rong!” phase to aknowledge that…

    • RQH says:

      @FunkyBadger: I’m not a fan of capitalism (nor socialism, really), but that doesn’t mean I’m against specialization. Clearly, this guy needs to run his company and stay away from design and PR. He apparently sucks at both.

    • stahlwerk says:

      Capitalism, ho!

      seriously though, it really seems that he needs to learn to delegate. Project planning is not a CEOs responsibility, AI programming is not a CEOs responsibility, and, as we witness, PR is also not the CEOs responsibility.

    • Archonsod says:

      When you’re the owner of the company, you can dictate whatever the hell you like as your responsibility. In fact I suspect the real problem wasn’t so much a lack of guidance as “the CEO is always right” syndrome. It takes balls to tell your boss that they’re being an idiot.

  13. stahlwerk says:

    How do you release a game without putting it through compability testing? Errors that occur “on 30% of all customer PCs” should be trivial to detect in a well equipped testing lab, shouldn’t they?
    Why even bother with a semi-open beta test when the result can not be worked into the release on time?!

    The picture I get from all that is this: It doesn’t matter who “takes the blame”. Stardock was too cheap for QA. They need to rethink their approach to their very production process. Or maybe it’s a communication problem in the team, so that error reports don’t get propagated to the person responsible (which should definetly NOT be the CEO!).

    I doubt that I’m accurate on this, but the smell is there.

    • Archonsod says:

      Not really no. The main problem with a lab environment is that it’s a lab environment, and therefore immune to things like users buggering up the system via visits to dodgy Russian sites or similar. When it comes to the home PC market I don’t think there’s a company which could afford to devote the money and manpower to building a lab to test even 20% of the most common configurations, it’s that varied.

      30% is actually good, since it means the problems will get fixed. It’s fairly common practice to not bother on anything which affects less than 10% of the user base.

  14. RQH says:

    @TekDragon: No kidding. If there’s one person who should be fired in this mess, it sounds like it’s Wardell or maybe his (apparently non-existent) PR department. Kudos too to Alec for summing it up well: cut the melodramatic crap, put your whip and your whipping boys away, and work on the damn game. Don’t talk up how you can develop a game for as long as you need to, and how money wasn’t a factor in its early release, and then try to convince me that you need to lay people off for any reason other than spite when the game is released incomplete and it’s your fault.

    So great, now not only would we have gotten a better game if it had stayed in the cooker longer, but members of the dev team would still have jobs? Brad Wardell apparently takes all his PR tips from soap opera scripts.

    To the question Alec asked: will I ever buy Elemental? I had been very interested in it, and probably would be again if I heard it was much improved a year down the line. But I still don’t think I could stomach buying it if I thought that people had lost their jobs as a sacrifice to appease me. Which I realize only results in, ultimately, in more people losing their jobs when the game continues to not sell, but it’s not a practice I can encourage.

  15. AtkinsSJ says:

    I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anything positive about Stardock. Sure, positive things about GalCiv and Sins, but never about the company, or at least nothing that’s stuck with me. And there have been enough negative things to completely put me off buying anything from them, or on Impulse. I’ve tried to like them, but there are plenty of other people making games who don’t damage their reputation every time they release a game.

    I think people are considering more and more who they’re buying from, and not just what they’re buying, so if Stardock, more specifically Wardell,doesn’t sort himself out soon I can’t see it going well.

  16. Unaco says:

    My initial exposure to this whole sorry saga was Wardell saying “I consider it ready for release and if others disagree, don’t buy our games.” From what I have heard, I disagree with him, and think it shouldn’t have been released. I disagree, therefore, I will not buy his* games. First impressions are quite important.

    I also think it’s quite disingenuous that he is making these mea culpa’s, falling on his sword to the press (“it’s all my fault, don’t give our game a 2nd chance at review, oh slings and arrows!”), while back stage his position is secure and other people are getting fired. He even says “If you’re going to spend years railing about CEOs not taking responsibility when something goes wrong, it would be the height of hypocrisy for me not to take responsibility when things go badly on a launch.” So… take some responsibility Brad, remove yourself from the Consumer Entertainment division of the company, and hire someone competent, so you don’t hire and fire an entire second development studio, or lay off a significant portion of your staff after every release you make..

    If anything, the whole self flagellation thing, in public, after a refusal to acknowledge the problem, has put me off the game even more. Shame… because it is actually a decent sounding idea for a game.

    *I consider them HIS games, because he is a very active and vocal figurehead for the company… his personality seems to be a large part of the company.

  17. Tim says:

    Stardock is owned by brad.

  18. Vinraith says:

    There was never any real question that I was going to buy Elemental, I gave serious thought to preordering it but ultimately ended up spending money elsewhere. Launch problems are pretty standard for ambitious, sprawling 4X games and Stardock’s got a lot of currency with me (via Gal Civ 2) so I’m confident they’ll get it working. It’s not a matter of if, just a matter of when.

    • jeremypeel says:

      Agreed.

      I’m upset talented devs are going to lose their jobs over this; I also think, as has already been suggested, Wardell spreads himself too thin to be a responsible CEO.

      His close involvement in Elemental’s development blinded him to its myriad problems before release, and possibly even more damagingly, led to bi-polar PR madness that helped turn public opinion.

      Frankly, Stardock deserve better – I’m genuinely looking forward to playing Elemental a year or so down the line, but not before.

  19. Bhazor says:

    OK my respect for Brad stemmed from how good a business man and savvy PC gamer he is not this self flagellation. Where’s the Brad from this interview http://www.computerandvideogames.com/article.php?id=186918

    “GalCiv II was incredibly successful, but it still wasn’t a multi-million game.

    Wardell: There’s a myth because back in the days before NPD (American retail sales tracking – Ed), that we’d have PC games companies saying they were selling eight million copies of their game.

    But there was no way to verify it. And I know that a lot of those came from bundling deals… which count as sales, but when people think of something that sells millions of units, they’re thinking of someone buying it in the stores. It still happens occasionally – The Sims and World of Warcraft do sell millions of copies.

    But typically it’s always been considered if you sell 100,000 copies of your PC game, that’d be a success. That’d be the equivalent of a movie making 100 million dollars. In the case of GalCiv II it sold over 300,000 copies, so we’re pretty happy, especially considering the budget.”

    And how can I get him back?

    There is no excuse for Elemental shipping like it did when Stardock were their own publishers.

  20. Zenicetus says:

    Well, I read that and I still think Wardell doesn’t get it. He’s still too close to the game and his “personal vision.” According to that post, the main problems are technical issues, not enough QC testing across different hardware. He managed to slip in a knock on Civ5 for using a licensed engine instead of developing from scratch.

    I think he still doesn’t get that this might just not be a fun game to play… that there might be too many loose ideas thrown together that don’t work especially well, and all wrapped in a bland, generic fantasy shell. Instead, he says: “Elemental is the finest game we’ve ever released. Ever”. I’ll bet he thinks the companion book he wrote is great too.

    Well, I’m a fan of GalCiv2 and was ready to buy this, but I’m just not seeing it. If this game had been released with zero crashes and other technical flaws, I still think it would be panned for the UI design and the unimaginative magic system and fantasy world. Also the art direction, but maybe that’s more subjective. Some people seem to like it.

    I’m really hoping this turns out to be something different, but he’ll have to solve a lot more than just technical glitches to make me enthusiastic over this game.

  21. undead dolphin hacker says:

    I’m pretty sure the dig at Civ5 is a typo, as Civ5 has its own engine. I’m assuming Civ4 is what he meant.

    • Archonsod says:

      It depends on what you define as an engine. Civ V has a new scratch built graphics renderer, but the rest will likely be the same as Civ IV – cobbled together from third party and previous iterations. The Kumquat engine Elemental runs on is scratch built in it’s entirety I think.

  22. Tei says:

    Normally is amusing to see trainwreks, In this one there was sad things, disgusting things, personal attacks, lame ideas,… pfffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff… this whole thing stinks.

  23. Profligate says:

    I dunno. I’m just not buying his “I loved the game too much to see it’s flaws” line. A “I was running out of money and had to release to retail” seems a better fit since he quickly laid off workers in spite of his claims that Stardock didn’t have to give a rat’s about Elemental’s market performance, as they are super rich from selling something else.

    In a similar vein: http://scarsofwargame.com/DevBlog/?p=1452

    • Kurt Lennon says:

      I agree. Wardell’s whole “but… but… the game seemed AWESOME to me!” schtick seems way too contrived, especially after reading the excerpt from his Jul 31 devblog in your link…

      “Casters should not get to cast spells more than 1 per turn.
      The UI makes me cry. Clickity click click click. What’s going on?
      Goodie huts are boooring.
      The spells are booooring.
      Tactical combat is boooring.
      The spell books are confusing and make me feel violated and I’ve already consulted my attorneys about the issue. (Sorry Stardock, it’s too late already)
      The spells are all the same and boring.”

      This doesn’t sound like someone who’s blown away by how incredible his game is.

  24. Ted says:

    It’s becoming increasingly clear with each new message that Brad Wardell is just a con man.

  25. fabamatic says:

    I remember that when CivIV came out it was pretty buggy too, with huge memory leaks. Is everybody aware that maybe this could also happen to CiV?

    • drewski says:

      Every game is pretty much buggy on release and, the more complex, generally the buggier.

      I’d say it’s a locked in certainty Civ V is going to have bugs on release. New games are like bunks in an Amsterdam hostel.

      (Full of bugs.)

  26. strafe says:

    It’s starting to seem more and more likely that the networking problems of Demigod were far more on the side of Stardock and not Gaspowered, with Elemental having such a rough launch. I swear I heard this exact same line about demigods networking woes: “Stardock call on external factors and a communication problem about the networking system” How many titles in a row can you use the same excuse?

  27. Dean says:

    Something doesn’t add up here does it.

    Whole bunch of people laid off due to ‘financial issues’ yet ‘we launched the game because we thought it was ready, not because we needed the money’.

    Yeah that doesn’t work for me. If they didn’t launch the game they’d have even less money now. If they hadn’t launched the game they’d have had to lay even more people off. That to me, suggests the launch was not entirely a choice.

    • John Peat says:

      They’re likely to have had a financial plan in place/a limited time to get the game out and replenish the coffers…

      Problem is we’re now in ‘silly season’ – most games released between now and the end of Nov will compete with BIG names who are spending silly money on promotion – a specialist PC niche title would simply get buried/ignored – hence I think they decided to go for a launch (they probably kidded themselves things weren’t as bad as they are too).

      The first week or 2 at most are crucial to any game tho – the bulk of sales/money to keep your studio going comes from that initial rush (see APB and dozens of other titles for why a poor launch hurts).

      On the ‘poor reviews’ front tho – there actually aren’t that many reviews of the game out there – Metacritic has 4 I think and I’ve seen a couple who don’t contribute to Metacritic and they were generally higher (80%+) so I don’t think you can blame reviews for poor sales – that would be the internet ‘vibe’…

  28. cpuwhiz11 says:

    This reminds me when Battlefront released Combat Mission : Shock Force in a pretty poor state. They won me back though 21 patches later.

  29. Daniel Carvalho says:

    Although I think there’s no excuse for such a buggy release, I think Brad Wardell’s latest response is as sober, respectful and controlled as one could make out of this situation.

    “…it’s also a open statement that public criticism will be controlled, pride rides strong media coverage will not dictate the game’s ultimate fate”

    Which I think is the perfect stance to take. Public criticism at a granular level isn’t always helpful. It should be controlled at all times. Out with the bad, in with the good. Why should a blunder now suddenly mean that the company must bow to the whims of everybody, including the irrational. The company recognizes the problems, some brought up by the public, and has hard work ahead to fix it. Seems reasonable to me.

    However, on another note, I do wish the retards at Stardock would stop sending me spam.

  30. Aberinkulas says:

    What would have been more hilarious would have been if Wardell told everyone that they were holding the game wrong.

  31. cpuwhiz11 says:

    Reminds me of when Battlefront released Combat Mission Shock Force in a very poor state. I was a little upset, but they one me back 21 patches later.

  32. Frodo says:

    Elemental is a fantastic game and I’ve recommended it to my gaming friends. It may have had a rocky launch… but so have all the other Stardock games. They all get better over time. I admire Stardock’s devotion to developing niche games and I will continue to support them in doing so.

    And to all you guys recommending they release this game on Steam…

    … Lol.

    • Nick says:

      No, it *really* isn’t a fantastic game and you must hate your gaming friends.

    • Stromko says:

      He wasn’t making a proclamation of eternal truth, Nick, and neither are you. I’m someone who got a kick out of Fort Zombie, mind you. I’m willing to put up with a lot for a game that’s different.

    • Nick says:

      Look, even if you like it despite its many flaws, that doesn’t make it a fantastic game. Flawed gem, maybe, but the complete and undeniable fact is that it was (and in many ways, still is) a complete mess of a game mechanically and that isn’t fantastic unless you twist the meaning of the word completely.

    • Frodo says:

      Does it really bother you that much that someone really likes what you really don’t? What may be a fantastic game to some will inevitably be a bore to others, and vice versa. And as of the latest version, I would hardly say Elemental is a mess mechanically. I guess it depends on your tastes and expectations.

      As for my gaming friends, many of them are as into niche genres as I am.

    • Nick says:

      No, what bothers me is that someone might read that and decide to buy it. Also don’t mistake me for someone not into niche games. Or even incapable of overlooking slightly wonky ones when it comes to bugs (usually find plenty to like in Obsidian’s releases for example and VtM: Bloodlines is one of my favourite games).

      I’d just reccomend anyone wanting a fantasy strategy game to play Masters of Magic, Heroes of Might and Magic (2, 3, 5), Age of Wonders series, either Wildmana or Rise from Erebus variants of Fall from Heaven 2 for Civ 4, Kings Bounty, hell even Fantasy General or Warlords.. pretty much anything but Elemental. Maybe in a year it will be fantastic, but it need a hell of a lot of work to get there.

    • Frodo says:

      Again… why does it bother you that someone might go out and buy it? Maybe there are other people out there like me who are familiar with Stardock and know what they’re getting into buying a Stardock game. And I know for sure there are plenty of people who aren’t really interested in playing old games like Master of Magic that were initially released on DOS. (I’m one of them)

    • Archonsod says:

      Amazingly enough, while I like Elemental I found FFH2 crap. How amazing people can have different tastes.

    • pipman3000 says:

      i don’t like either of them and i liked lords of magic :D

  33. Stromko says:

    It’s actually not that bad. Galactic Civilizations 2 was in pretty sorry shape when it came out, not much better than this. Had there been no expectations, Elemental would be seen as an intriguingly deep strategy game with significant technical problems. It’s nowhere near as polished as Civilization IV was, but it adds enough wrinkles I don’t much care.

    It will still be many patches before it reaches its potential, though, and 30% of people having major technical problems is a rather hideous number.

  34. Calle says:

    I will probably buy Elemental in the future IF it gets fixed.

  35. bill says:

    I wonder how much the state of the game affects initial sales though. I’d imagine that the number of users who didn’t buy the game because it got bad reviews is pretty low. From now on, it might not get the sales they’d hoped for, but it’s usually expectation and hype that sets initial sales.

    Lots of terrible movies open huge – and then drop off quickly. If they’d have been a great movie then they’d probably have opened exactly the same – but sales might have continued longer due to reviews and word of mouth.

  36. DJ Phantoon says:

    So he’s still self flagellating.

    If I buy the game now, will he let me beat him too?

  37. Vague-rant says:

    Is that bally as in Ball (eee) or Bally like Tally?

  38. razorblade79 says:

    That guy always seemed like a douche but I liked GalCiv 2 and Master of Magic and based on that I probably will purchase Elementals – once it is patched enough that it’s in a playable state.

    premature released games are a sad thing usually, you can actually feel all the potential which was wasted and most people will move on pretty quickly and never look back. I wonder if there really was no way around releasing this game early (in that case I’d be sorry for everyone having worked on it)

  39. amanda says:

    It seems like too much of a gamble for Stardock to ever release a game again. Too much of a gamble for anyone to preorder it, certainly (and Stardock obviously relies on that revenue).

    Shame the second team was laid off. Anyone know any details of the RPG they were going to be working on?

  40. amanda says:

    Stardock obviously had plans for that second development team to work on a big project. Now they’re gone and the remaining team is dedicated to fixing Elemental and then maybe working on expansions. That’s a long time to tie that team up.

    Wouldn’t it have been better to have kept that second team on and have them work on a series of smaller games? A couple of good, fun, simple little games would help to restore my confidence in Stardock as a game developer. How about taking the game artwork from Elemental and Galactic Civ and making a couple of non-collectible CCG style games like Spectromancer or that recent Magic the Gathering game? Hire some of the one-man indies and churn some games out. Do something.

  41. Enough is enough says:

    RPS, interested in doing something else for a change than Badmouthing developers?

    This information isnt even true…

    • Schaulustiger says:

      @Enough:

      RPS only exists for badmouthing developers, didn’t you know? Look at the front page news, they are all about making every development studio known to man look bad!

    • pipman3000 says:

      How fucking dare anyone out there make fun of Bradley after all he has been through.!

      He lost him aunt, he went through a divorce. he had two fuckin kids.

      His husband turned out to be a user, a cheater, and now he’s going through a custody battle. All you people care about is….. readers and making money off of him.

      HE’S A HUMAN! What you don’t realize is that Bradley is making you all this money and all you do is write a bunch of crap about him.

      He hasn’t performed on stage in years. his song is called “give me more” for a reason because all you people want is MORE! MORE-MORE, MORE: MORE!.

      LEAVE HIM ALONE! You are lucky he even performed for you BASTARDS!
      LEAVE BRADLEY ALONE!…..Please.

      Perez Hilton talked about professionalism and said if Bradley was a professional he would’ve pulled it off no matter what.

      Speaking of professionalism, when is it professional to publicly bash someone who is going through a hard time.

      Leave Bradley Alone Please…. !
      Leave Bradley Wardell alone!…right now!….I mean it.!

      Anyone that has a problem with him you deal with me, because he is not well right now.

      LEAVE HIM ALONE!

    • pipman3000 says:

      stupid find and replace pretend that said his

  42. Bob's Lawn Service says:

    Nice. A boss who admits to being responsible for a failed project who then goes about firing his workers anyway for not performing. I’m sure we’ve all wanted to work for that dude.

    I think it’s time Brad just shut his trap. He is looking like a clown right now.

  43. w says:

    I WILL buy this game when it’s done and patched. Stardock isn’t perfect but all you haters need to understand we should support companies like it. Otherwise we’ll all end up with a remixed mash of putty console shit.

    Stardock didn’t deliver this time, but they’re making a big effort that will eventually pay off. It also surprises me RPS doesn’t give more credit to the company who gave so much love to the PC (even if someone somewhere was wrong and behaved like a dick).

  44. Archonsod says:

    He said much the same things after Gal Civ II:

    http://www.gamasutra.com/features/20060405/wardell_03.shtml

  45. ts061282 says:

    Essentially, he’s saying the game should be in the middle of crunch and the lead designer and studio head just went on a three month vacation. Actions speak louder than forum posts.

  46. suibhne says:

    A counterpoint:
    http://scarsofwargame.com/DevBlog/?p=1452

    Basically, Brad pointed out many of the game’s massive problems in a July blog post, but now says that he was too close to the project to see the problems. Which is it?

  47. Mavvvy says:

    Do you think it gets lonely up in a Ivory Tower?

  48. Jimbo says:

    82k copies sold already doesn’t sound all that bad to me. It could have easily been much worse. I can’t imagine this is the type of game where the first week is absolutely make or break.

    I don’t think re-reviews are really all that important either. If the game does ever gets to a point where it is what it was supposed to be then word of mouth will sell it.

  49. Dreamhacker says:

    The enlightened masses voted with their wallets and the less fit disappeared. The beauty of evolutionary economics.

  50. A says:

    Would the people who pretend like people getting laid off or not affecting their purchase decisions please all STFU.

    You have all, each and every one, paid for, bought and possibly even enjoyed(however briefly) games that involved not just the handful dimensions of Stardock, but massive quantities of layoffs over time, be it pre- or post-release(yes, post-release, as in support crew, contact, DLCs that got scrapped, patching that got killed etc pp).
    You just weren’t as well and closely informed about it.

    Stop being delusional. We all get it, you want to be decent human beings. Just don’t be so disturbingly ugh about it. (Yes, I hereby declare ugh as a universal replacement word for whatever I think I may have meant in any way possible)

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