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.