This is an interesting read. http://scarsofwargame.com/DevBlog/
This part really stands out.
I check in on Brad’s blog every now and then, let me refer you to a post on the 31st of July :
What’s going to be better than Beta 4? What isn’t changing?
I think it’s pretty well known I don’t like Beta 4. I’m not a troll. I’m the designer. I’ll bullet point my gripes:
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.
These are the kinds of things people can expect to change by release. Technical people can tell you that this stuff is pretty trivial. Making a game is a lot like writing a term player expect that we have to program the word processor prior to actually writing the term paper. After programming the word processor, writing the term paper doesn’t seem so bad.
I addressed this in the podcast but specifically:
As beta testers (I hope) will attest to, we made pretty dramatic changes to the spell casting, the UI, goodie huts (they all used to jsut give you gildar), the quests were basically all just escort quests, tactical combat was incredibly painful and ugly, the spell books were incredibly confusing, the spells all had names like "Summon Unit" or "Fire Ball 1", etc.
A screenshot from beta 4 matched up with what was released would really show just how much changed between beta 4 and release.
And while, even with the benefit of hindsight, have gotten dinged for the elements listed above that weren't sufficiently addressed, it is important to remember that the single biggest killer on Elemental's reviews was the stability which Stardock believed was fine on release.
Given the feedback on UI and some of the weaknesses of the design itself, it's not as if Elemental goes from a 3 out of 5 (Metacritic average right now) to a 5 out 5. But I think it's likely the game would have gone from a 3 out of 5 to say a 4 out of 5.
The original Galactic Civilizations, unfortunately, suffered from many of the same issues (design wise) as Elemental when first released. The big difference, however, was that Galactic Civilizations I was reasonably stable versus Elemental that proved to be very unstable or slow on a significant % of machines. The combination doomed Elemental's launch.
Stardock operates pretty openly. We will respond and address criticisms as best we can. What I find irksome is the charge that we knowingly released something that we didn't think was "ready". There's been a lot of internal soul searching on how Elemental's painful launch occurred and it really boils down to poor judgment from bottom to top.
I sometimes wonder at the empathy of anyone who would argue that a company that operates so openly on the Internet as we do would release something it knowingly thought wasn't "finished". What would be the motivation? Certainly none for me. I don't even get paid a salary, my compensation comes from long-term profits, a system, I set up precisely to discourage early releases. I.e. I am Stardock's one and only investor so my own interests are best served by a successful game in the long-term.
The one bright point I can think of is that Elemental's negative reviews liberate us to make fairly significant post release changes to the game mechanics. This was something we didn't feel we could do in Galactic Civilizations II. For instance, people who know me know that I really REALLY hate the economic system in GalCiv. But I didn't feel we could change it because it would be a bit of a "bait and switch" if we made a fundamental change to the economic system of a game that got so many awards as it was. I have to wait for a full blown sequel someday in the future to revisit the economic system.
By contrast, in Elemental, we can do things like redo the magic system and combat system fairly dramatically because, after all, the game is only averaging 3 out of 5 and so we should look to address the things that led to that (stability - of course as well as design elements). I don't think we'd get a huge outcry from players if we make the magic system more like Master of Magic's or if we changed the combat system to have units take their turn based on their combat speed rather than Side A and then Side B and so forth. By contrast, if Elemental had gone and gotten a 4.5 out of 5 (like GalCiv II) we'd have felt kind of stuck with whatever system we had because that is what people were signing onto and changing it all after the fact would likely cause a riot (people get very tied to this kind of stuff in strategy games).
The point being, we released the best game we could. We thought it was a great game on release. We can be faulted on many levels but please don't ascribe malice or greed to it. We're a very small company of people who just want to make cool strategy games. We'll keep at it no matter how long it takes. I'd just ask people to put themselves in our shoes and think what they would do in our exact situation. I think (hope) most people would do what we're doing and that is keep working on the game to make it live up to the expectations we have and others have for it. It's not about the money at this point, it's about the game. We're not a publicly traded company and my interest as "the investor" in Stardock is making sure Elemental is successful in the long term and the best way to do that is to make sure we stick to it.