A brief timeline of Elemental: War of Magic

Mostly without comment, here is a collection of posts that, for me, tell the tale of Elemental so far:

June the 25th – Brad Wardell

This year marks the 16th year we’ve been doing these open betas and every single one has forums (or Usenet back in the 90s) proclaiming that there’s “no way” the game would be done in time – based on their own massive game development experience no doubt.

Most games do not have any public beta. Our beta process, one that has worked pretty well for a decade and a half, has been to provide those who pre-order public beta versions that let us address things like compatibility or game mechanics we’re not confident on. They’re not designed as the beginning and end of our game design and development process.

We had an extensive (9 months+) beta process in which players could suggest new and interesting game mechanics and we implemented many of those ideas into the game. We had it be 9 months so players could have extensive influence over the development of the game.

But as was said at the beginning of the process, AFTER beta 1, we move into tweaking more than changing. There’s no scenario where we would re-design the tactical battle system we’ve developed based on forum posts. We made clear from early on that the game was heavily influenced by Master of Magic. If you like MoM battles, you’ll probably like our tactical battle system. If you didn’t, you probably won’t.

July the 2nd – Brad Wardell, in response to a thread concerned that the game was not ready for release.

People who have not been part of Stardock betas should really stop worrying about this stuff. Every game we’ve done for the past 15 years has had posts like these. They get pretty tiring.

A few examples:

1. In GalCiv, the betas didn’t even have starbases in them. They were added after the beta closed.

2. In Sins of a Solar Empire, the economic system in the final game wasn’t added until after the beta closed. Imagine Sins of a Solar Empire where crystal and metal resources were finite (i.e. ran out) and there was no game speed option beyond normal.

3. Demigod was pretty solid except for the multiplayer coding which worked during beta (i.e. it certainly wasn’t rushed). This isn’t an issue for Elemental because 1. It’s primarily a single player game and 2. We’re providing the servers on day 1 rather than doing peer to peer. We also didn’t develop Demigod (it’s a Gas Powered Games title) so our ability to deliver updates and respond to player feedback was limited to what GPG could afford to do while working on multiple other titles (by contrast, Elemental is the only game developed by Stardock’s game studio).

Anyway, I’m going to lock this post. They really don’t serve a purpose. The game is coming out on August 24th. As of July 1st, the game is running approximately 55 engineering hours ahead of development schedule.

People who are non-technical or looking for a demo should wait until the game is released. I should have a hot key for this speech because I’ve had to give it so many times over the past decade and a half.

August the 23rd – Brad Wardell

Also, to anyone, like you Ben, saying the game is like an “early beta” then well, please stay away from our games in the future. I consider it ready for release and if others disagree, don’t buy our games.

August the 24th – Brad Wardell

We consider the game, as released, finished. You don’t agree. I am offering you a solution.

If I buy a pair of shoes in the shoe store and don’t like them, I don’t go back to the shoe store and start loudly proclaiming to everyone in ear shot how I don’t like it.

You’ve spent several posts (including one that was hidden) proclaiming how we haven’t lived up to the Gamers Bill of Rights because you don’t think the game out of the box is “done”. Fine, we get it, you don’t think it’s done. So get a refund then and move on.

Elemental is a finished game. You don’t agree. Item #1 on the GBOR states you can get a refund. Because item #2 states that it is the GAMER that determines whether the game is done, not the publisher. We don’t agree, but item #2 states that it is the gamer. Therefore, you can get a refund.

I’m not sure what you are looking for? I think the game is very good and complete. You don’t. What else is there?

August the 30th: Neoseeker gives Elemental 9/10 and an Editor’s choice award.

Elemental: War of Magic is an essential purchase, one easy to recommend because it’s relevant to so many different types of gamers: strategy fans, RPG nuts, newbies, veterans — it doesn’t matter. Pardon the pun, but it’s got all the elements of the classics you know and love — fans of Master of Magic, Ogre Battle, Heroes of Might & Magic, Shining Force, and so on should find lots to love here, and find that Elemental earns itself a top spot on their game shelf. And with Stardock’s commitment to the game (they’re dedicating a year exclusively to updates and new content for it), you can be assured it will become a classic of its own.

I learned of this because it was proudly linked to in Elemental’s news section. Neoseeker should be embarrassed to have posted such a blatantly corrupt review, and Stardock should be embarrassed to link to it, given the admissions that were to now come.

September the 2nd – Brad Wardell

Stardock will be working on Elemental for years to come. Literally. Let me be specific: Stardock will NOT release a new game next year. It’ll all be Elemental related. Releasing it in August wasn’t a financial decision. Hell, Stardock’s games aren’t funded by PC game revenue. I wanted you guys to get the game ASAP.

I think most people would agree that Elemental has tremendous potential. The reason it was released when it was was because we thought it had reached that level ready to be shipped. When you’re living, breathing and eating something 24/7, your perspective changes.

From a personal pride point of view, it would be much easier to say “Whohaah, my jet fuel requires Elemental to ship in August!”. To give you guys an idea of how certain I was that the game was ready for everyone to ship, I didn’t just give copies to reviewers, I sent copies to my friends who used to be reviewers (long story but the gaming media has changed a lot in the past 18 months) because I was dying for them to see this masterpiece.

Tom Francis’s debiliating PC Gamer preview only was possible was because I personally compiled a version for him (of v1.0) for him to see because the v1.0 version doesn’t work outside North America (region checking). In other words, that negative PC Gamer UK preview was only possible because I was so confident in Elemental’s readiness that I bypassed Stardock’s PR people to get a friend of mine in Europe a copy.

I don’t think there should be much disagreement that Stardock absolutely blew it with the launch. Holy cow that should be obvious by now. In my mind, anything less than “game of the year” (in a year with Starcraft 2 and Civ V in it) means we totally screwed up.

The real question, and the question I think every single person who shelled out $50+ for this game should ask is this: What is Stardock going to do to make me whole?

And the answer, I hope, is in the coming months because, like I said, most of Stardock’s revenue doesn’t come from making PC games.

Having my idiocy shown on a global stage is humbling but probably very constructive for PC gamers. I think most people would agree that Elemental is a fantastic game — once you get past the idiotic UI decisions, balance, etc.

We are very fortunate to be in a position to make the situation right. We’re our own publisher. We don’t have the same financial constraints as other companies so we can spend months or even years if necessary to do right by you guys.

September the 2nd – Brad Wardell

(I’m up north on vacation typing on an extremely slow connection so bear with me)

I don’t think people yet fully realize the completeness of Stardock’s fail on Elementa’s launch.

I’m going to write more about this but not only did we think v1.05 was ready for everyone but we felt v1.0 was too. That’s the level of disconnect/poor judgment on our part we’re talking about.

If the game had come out in February, it would still have been a disastrous launch because lack of time wasn’t the issue. It was blindness, sheer blindness. We felt the game was finished. And I speak of v1.0, not v1.05. Blindness.

There will be massive consequences for Stardock’s game studio. I’ll be talking more about this when I get back. But the game wasn’t released early. The game was released poorly. Head in the sand syndrome imo. I’ve read the reviews as much as possible given my hideous internet access up here and I agree with them. We just didn’t see what they were talking about. We thought any complaints would be about polish points or something.

The point is, the issue here is far far worse than many of you think it is. I wish it was an issue of the game being released too early. That’s an easy thing for a company to “fix”. Elemental’s launch is the result of catastrophic poor judgment on my part.

EVERY competent software developer knows that the programmer must never be the one deciding whether the program is done. Yet, my love of Elemental broke my self discipline and I began coding on the game itself in vast amounts and lost any sense of objectivity on where the game’s state was. I normally only program the AI on our games so I can keep a level of distance from the game itself to determine whether it’s “Ready”. On Elemental, I was in love with the world and the game and lost my impartiality.

We’ll do better.

September the 3rd. – Brad Wardell

Elemental’s revenue was anticipated to provide the revenue both for our main games team’s next project as well as a second team. Unfortunately, that is unlikely to happen so we’ve had to start laying people off.

No one is being fired. None of these people did anything wrong. Stardock is a small company and each person here is truly amongst the best and brightest. So you can imagine how much it sucks for all of us to lay off anyone. We haven’t had to lay anyone off since our migration from the OS/2 market in 1998. It would be great if we can bring as many of these people back over time if the studio can afford it.

No one involved on the core components of Elemental is affected.

Elemental’s rocky launch can be summed up (IMO) as follows: Our QA process was insufficient to handle a brand new platform (Elemental = Kumquat 1.0 versus say Galactic Civilizations II was using Pear which was the same engine, modified, from 1997’s Entrepreneur) + my own catastrophic poor judgment in not objectively evaluating the core game play components.

Rather odd that the people getting laid off are apparently not the ones actually responsible for the state Elemental is in.

September the 4th – Brad Wardell

For the record (since I saw some rather disgusting comments on the Shack thread) the financial projections for Elemental occurred while I was out of town along with the projected budget revisions. Upon determining our initial course of action, I ended my vacation early — as my journal makes clear. It should also be emphasized that no one was fired. I’ve had to let go many people over the years and as anyone who has ever been in that position can tell you, there is a world of difference between terminating someone and laying them off.

Running a business is a difficult challenge. I’ve been doing it for almost 20 years now. Good decisions can create jobs and bad decisions can destroy jobs. Right now, my focus has to be to save as many jobs as possible over the coming weeks so that we can most effectively support our customers and remain a financially sound enterprise in the long-run.

Making sure Elemental becomes the outstanding game it has the potential to be isn’t just a matter of principle or ethics but of sound business. Loyal customers are the bedrock of any small company. You do not abandon them. Ever.


September the 4th – “Unknown Source” over at Joystiq

“All of the posts [Wardell] has made in our public forums about how the games team is funded by our commercial software development and that Elemental was not rushed out the door for monetary reasons is a lie. These people are getting laid off due to poor sales and Stardock’s inability to pay back the capital investors that funded Elemental’s development.”

September the 4th – Brad Wardell, in response to the Joystiq allegations:

This is really bizarre on many levels. I wasn’t aware that Stardock had investors (outside of me) and have to wonder what this “source” thinks paid for Elemental in the first place (oh wait, the “investors”). I’m skeptical that this person is connected to Stardock. Joystiq should be careful with this kind of thing – not to mention, I can’t imagine anyone from Stardock (present or former employee) would behave in that way.

Update: As of September 5th, the Unknown Source quotes have been removed from the Joystiq article.

September the 4th – Brad Wardell

There’s going to be major additions in the 1.x version.

The horrible reviews do have a silver lining, we (you guys and us) have the opportunity to do some major good stuff that would normally raise eye brows in a non-sequel.

And so the circle of hype begins once more… It’s frustrating to be a naysayer, but I don’t consider getting the game up to release standard to be something I should be surprised by, especially from the company that wrote and owns the domain to the Gamer’s Bill of Rights.

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