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Elemental: Wardell Opens His Bally Veins

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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Alec Meer

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Co-founder of RPS. Dungeon Keeper & X-COM 4 Life.

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