Stardock makes a huge mistake… and apologizes?

I don’t have enough time for anymore, and it shows very clearly on the “games” side of things… though this article’s lateness should also be a pretty good indicator. Too much is going on in my real life, unfortunately.

But I thought I would take a moment to pay respect to Stardock. After Galactic Civilizations II, particularly with its expansions, I was very impressed with their quality of games. So much so that I pre-ordered Elemental: War of Magic.

That game was one of the worst gaming experiences I had ever had. It was worse than pre-ordering Heroes IV, which I previously considered one of the biggest gaming failures I ever saw firsthand. (For the record I liked the concepts – the AI was just so ridiculously bad that the game was unplayable on maps that didn’t have heavy use of static scripting)

I played some betas. I played the real game when it came out, but only a few times. It was garbage, in my opinion. Worth perhaps $5, but even that would have been a disappointing purchase. Then Brad Wardell, CEO of Stardock, was making some inflammatory statements about the people with criticisms of the game. He was using the fact that retail outlets broke the street date as an excuse for the game’s quality. He was telling long-time fans of Stardock that if they didn’t like Elemental, they should take their money somewhere else. Having been a customer since 2003, and a huge fan of their general practices (customer is important, DRM is bad, quality above all else, etc.), this got me to thinking that Stardock’s “golden age” had come and passed.

I stopped looking at updates or even really following anything Stardock did. It’s not that I was trying to teach them a lesson or something absurd like that, it’s just that I didn’t believe they were likely to produce quality games with such a shift in their beliefs. It seemed that Brad was saying, “we like this and if you don’t, you should go away.” So I did.

A couple years ago, I received an email from Stardock. The important pieces follow:

Elemental: War of Magic was a game we had very high hopes for. Unfortunately, it was a disappointment both to us, as well as to many of our customers. Stardock’s success in its nineteen years of existence has been because people know if they buy something with our name on it, it’ll be excellent. With Elemental: War of Magic we failed that expectation.

For the past year, Stardock has been working on something new — Elemental: Fallen Enchantress. We went back to the drawing board to create not an expansion, but rather a new game in the Elemental universe.

Fallen Enchantress is currently in beta. Both the beta and the final version will automatically be added to your Stardock account free of charge.

The CEO incapable of admitting a mistake… admitted a mistake? And instead of just talking to customers still loyal and frequenting the forums, those of us long-gone were informed that he wanted to make it up to us by completely rewriting Elemental and giving it to those who had previously pre-ordered.

And not only did we end up getting Fallen Enchantress, we got its expansion, Legendary Heroes.

Now, this new game still isn’t amazing (though it is pretty slick, and even managed to get a decent review from a lot of critics). But it was completely free, and came with an apology. It’s not something that will eat hundreds of hours like GalCiv II did, but … I guess to me it’s the message that impressed me so much. It’s not the giving away of free stuff that impressed me — other companies try that all the time. It’s the “we screwed up, we know it, and we’re building something entirely new to make up for it” message that impresses me. This is a big deal to me, and maybe, just maybe, Stardock and I can be buddies again.

Admitting that Elemental was a failure had to be really tough. Thanks, Brad.

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