There’s been a lot of comments around the ‘net the last couple of days about the messy launch of Stardock/Gaspowered Games latest title, Demigod. And yes, it wasn’t pretty.

First, good ol’ Gamestop broke the release date, selling the game early. Naturally, in no time at all, Demigod was out on the torrents. Since DG is meant primarily as multi-player, there was a big rush to connect.

Unfortunately, while the servers were configured for 50K users, over 140,000 were trying to get on. By far, the majority of them were freeloaders; Brad Wardell estimated that only around 12,000 or so were legit buyers.

So everyone starts talking about how terrible it is about piracy, and how these thieves are stealing resources and preventing the game buyers from playing. Brad, however, has a different view of the matter.

He pointed out that people with illegal copies can’t play online; all legitimate games have a serial number that must be authenticated first. Ergo, no pirates were on, hogging the servers for their own games.

What happened was an oversight on Stardock’s part:

It was the HTTPS requests to inform users if there was a new version along with checking the community features for info (friends lists, chat channels, etc.) and things like that. […] we could have simply had the retail version not have any HTTP calls in it and instead just had an update button on the main menu to check for updates and voila, problem solved.

They have since made changes so that legit copies with the latest updates go to a different server. Some other tweaks were done, and things have settled down a bit.

Much work is still ahead, though, as connection problems have not been cleared up entirely. What really hurts, however, are the early reviews on several major game sites.

These reviews have been giving mostly low numbers, usually pointing to poor MP experience as the main reason. I consider these cheap shots. There hasn’t been a launch of any online game that didn’t experience early-days difficulties.

Rather than wait a few days for resolutions, these sites rushed their stuff up, giving readers false impressions. That is simply irresponsible. Too many people just look at a game’s score to decide if they want it or not.

This is especially true with Metacritic, which aggregates the numbers from many big sites. Anyone checking there would likely pass up Demigod, whose overall score at the moment is 70/100 (user score is currently 8.2/10, a little better).

While Stardock is willing to take the blame for this, we can’t overlook the piracy, either. It was those 100K+ illegal connect attempts that caused such terrible experiences on the first day. Had that not happened, the tech team could have addressed the real connectivity problems much sooner.

That is on top of the usual bug fixes, balancing problems, and other tweaks every new release needs, however well-tested. Stardock and GPG still have a long road ahead of them.

Whether that road will lead to eventual success in sales is unknown. A poor launch with bad reviews is often hard to overcome, though certainly not impossible. And Stardock has a reputation for good customer service, which may help.

Demigod isn’t my kind of game; nonethless, I hope the companies will be able to work through these problems, and the game will enjoy the same success as Sins Of A Solar Empire.

For those interested, below are links to two updates on the DG forums, and an interview with Brad Wardell on gamebizblog, where he discusses this and other topics.

Weekend Status Report

Report On MP Problems

Brad Wardell interview