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Stardock's 'really dumb' plan: Make a sequel to a 'mediocre' game
Stardock's 'really dumb' plan: Make a sequel to a 'mediocre' game Exclusive
March 29, 2012 | By Tom Curtis

March 29, 2012 | By Tom Curtis
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    22 comments
More: Console/PC, Exclusive, Business/Marketing



Stardock, the Michigan-based developer behind the Galactic Civilizations and Elemental games, has a lot riding on its upcoming strategy title Elemental: Fallen Enchantress. Not only is it one of Stardock's biggest releases in years, it's also the studio's opportunity to make up for what it's calling the biggest misstep in company history.

In a recent interview with Gamasutra, Stardock CEO Brad Wardell explained that the original Elemental: War of Magic ended up as the studio's worst reviewed game ever, and his team has done everything they can to transform into the series into something worthy of the Stardock name.

Considering Fallen Enchantress changes nearly all the fundamental mechanics of is predecessor, it might have made more sense to start fresh with a brand new IP, but Wardell said it's important that his studio owns up to its blunders.

"From a business perspective, what we're doing is really dumb," Wardell said. "For starters, the Elemental name is tarnished because War of Magic was a mediocre game. So why make an excellent game that has that baggage?"

"The reason is that I feel there's a principle involved. Stardock makes good games. I know people don't like Metacritic, but our averaged Metacritic score is one of the highest in the industry, and we put out what was arguably a stinker, and so we have a duty to our fans to make good on that."

Stardock knows it has an uphill battle ahead to sell audiences on this new Elemental, but the studio is prepared to take whatever blows it needs to in order to set things right.

"Even though we're going to take a black eye in terms of the inevitable comparisons, it's really about those people who trusted us to make an outstanding fantasy game -- we're going to deliver that to them," said Wardell.

In fact, he and his team feel such a responsibility to their fans that they're giving away Fallen Enchantress at no extra cost (or at a discount) to customers who purchased War of Magic in 2010. "Not only do we want to make it up to you, we're going to give it to you," Wardell said.

When asked why he feels the need to make such drastic moves, Wardell said that he owes his fans everything, because if it weren't for them, Stardock would have gone under years ago.

He explained that in the late 1990s, Stardock unexpectedly had to switch its development efforts from OS/2 to Windows, and the studio just wasn't prepared to make the transition. In the end, fan support was the only thing that kept the studio on its feet.

"We had to switch to Windows, and it would take about two years to make new stuff. We only survived because we told people what we were going to put out, and people pre-ordered it sight-unseen because they trusted us. That's the only reason we survived that transition," he said.

"Because of that, we feel we owe our audience, we owe them the assurance that if they give us their hard-earned money, then we owe them a really good product. We've all worked hard for our great reputation, and this is our chance to make good on that."

For more from Wardell, keep an eye on Gamasutra, as an expanded interview will be available in the coming weeks.


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Comments


Evan Combs
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I like Wardell, he is unique for a CEO, but I think he is going a little overboard with principles on this one. If the game as drastically different as the article suggests there is nothing wrong with creating a new brand name, in my opinion.

Dan Felder
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This is a genius business decision. They're going to win huge PR points for this great action to their fans. I'd have to look at the development costs to see if it's worth it, but considering how amazingly hard it is to generate goodwill from customers and how easy it is to lose it in this industry (see: Bioware Mass Effect 3 scandal) this is a huge windfall for the company. Even if it loses them a lot of money, it'll probably still be worth it.

Jerome Grasdijk
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Well, the dice are still rolling on the ME3 furore. Bioware could still recover a lot of kudo's by making a well-judged response which strikes a balance between artistic integrity and an acknowledgment that "the customer is always right". What they do will say a lot about the company, and about fan power. It's worth following.

Dan Felder
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Precisely Jerome. I hope Bioware can salvage this crisis. Is astonishing and thrilling that a company could cause such agony in their loyal fans due to approximately ten minutes of poor content.

Cupcakes for all.

Matthew Mouras
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"Poor content" in the minds of a vocal minority.

Jerome Grasdijk
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If it was only a minority, I'm sure they would not consider it a problem. But it dominates traffic on their forums, has impacted reviews, and most importantly has been visible in the mainstream press. Polls on CNet and IGN have put it at 80% of fans who are unhappy, so they have to do something.

What does it tell us? Enough fans feeling strongly enough to make a great game into "poor content" is an emotive triumph though perhaps not a positive one, and makes a strong argument that game endings may be much more important than we realise.

Sherman Luong
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Stardock, has always been one of my favorite devs. Galactic Civilization was great. Can't wait wait for the new Elemental.

Given how sales are in decline, amassing customer loyalty might be a new way to push content out than do freemium games.

Zach Grant
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Anyone know if this game will be on Steam?

Simon Jensen
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seeing as how they sold Impulse and since then have released GalCiv and Sins on steam, I'd say it's a fair bet that it will wind up on steam.

Shea Rutsatz
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It's so satisfying to see heads of companies who actually care about the fans and the product, instead of how much money they can get (which is still important).

I sure hope this goes well for them. They're definitely in my good book!

Herbert Fowler
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I love Stardock for this. I can't wait to buy Elemental: War of Magic on Steam (take my money already!) and will be buying the new Elemental too. Why? Because Stardock!

Mihai Cosma
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And this, is why it pays to be a friendly developer. A lot of business types just can't quantify the 'goodwill' factor. Paying for something not necessarily because of the product itself, but because you believe it's worth supporting idealistically and conceptually.

Sure, it's not as cut and dry as 'sell DLC and get 60% return on number of units sold' but it is a way of doing business.

Jerome Grasdijk
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Perhaps not such a dumb move - after all, a previous title will have *some* name recognition with the fans, and you can build on that. It worked for the original Warcraft RTS games, back when Blizzard was small.

Great to see a company look after its fans!

Matthew Mouras
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But the first Warcraft was amazing for its time! :) Still agree with the spirit of your comment.

Jerome Grasdijk
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Yes it was, I was only commenting on the rising trend in review scored for the series. Warcraft 1 reviewed in the mid-eighties on average, and it wasn't until Warcraft 3 that the series was scored as a mid-nineties tour-de-force.

Daniel Martinez
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One of the reasons to craft a sequel is because there is room for improvement over the original. We would have missed out if Miyamoto did not pursue Super Mario Bros 3. That's just one example out of hundreds in the game industry. I guess you could argue Mario Bros. wasn't so mediocre so how about GTA III? The whole franchise practically exploded out of its shell of mediocrity from that point on.

Keith Thomson
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I was skeptical when I heard about it, but they gave me the Beta for free because I bought the original collectors edition and I found it to be quite a bit more fun than the first game.

I actually went back and played the first game again as well. They've really polished it up, it's not as good as Galciv 2, but it's certainly as good as the first GalCiv game now. I remember with GalCiv2 it took them awhile to make the game as good as it is now.

Jamie Slaughter
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I have been a Stardock fan for a long time. I remember posting on the GalCiv 1 forum years ago when they first announced they were going to try and make a MOM sequel. I pre-ordered WOM and even bought the collectors edition. The game had potetial, but for me is un-playable. As a BETA tester for WOM:FE I can tell you it is already so much better than WOM and it is far from the release date. I have always liked Mr. Wardell as he is an active participant in the forums and seems to care for his customers. I hope WOM goes down in history as Stardock's only major failure and they go on to make games for a long time to come. Even if WOM:FE was horrible, I would still have fond feelings for Stardock and would remain a loyal customer.

Ujn Hunter
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Making sequels to mediocre games happen all the time... look at Assassin's Creed & Epic Mickey just to name a couple...

Darcy Nelson
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Holy publicity stunt Batman! I hope it pays off for them.

Jesse Mikolayczyk
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I have to say I'm one of those supporting fans. I pre-ordered a month ago as soon as I saw info about it on their site. I hope Stardock continues to make games and software for years to come.

The Le
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Wow. I don't a single other company that would do something like this. Well done, Stardock. Well done.


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