Game & Mod Development

Development: Stellaris

A grand space strategy development saga

This is a tale on how not to release and support one of your games, this is not a review, I will be writing one later on but I felt as I had dedicated quite some time to Stellaris I had an obligation to write about my experiences with the handling of the game outside of the actual playing of the game. That’s what this article is about.

I preordered Stellaris back in 2016 for the nice price of £20 from an online retailer called What drew me to make the preorder was all the coverage that the developers had put out on the games progress. The videos they released showed a whole host of game play features that really appealed to a space drama junkie like me. Everything appeared to be in the game from all the weird and wonderful alien tropes to the crazy random events that were clearly inspired by numerous Sci-Fi films, series and literature stories. Everything was covered even the games re-enactment of the famous Star Trek Prime Directive.

Then the game was released.

It didn’t take long before the players cried foul, for all the talk, the game just wasn’t fit for purpose. It wasn’t necessarily bugs that were upsetting people, it was the lack of game play, for all the bells and whistles, and there was a lot of them, it all felt like a whole load of content but without any meaning to any of it.

Thankfully, the developers quickly acknowledged this and set out a roadmap for a series of up dates that they claimed would flesh out a lot of the gaps that players had identified. It struck me as somewhat silly at the time that the developers would of even bother releasing a game like Stellaris knowing full well that it had gaping holes in its game play. But apparently unknown to me at the time, this was a trend with game from Paradox Studies.

Paradox Studios had a repetition for releasing half finished games to the public, while playable, they weren’t exactly as promised. In fact the usual plan was to release a playable skeleton of a game and then release numerous patches as well as paid DLCs over an extended period to efficiently deliver on the final promise of what the game should have been on release. The Studio had done this a number of time for a number of games including the now very successful and popular Crusader Kings 2 and Europa Universalis 4 games, both of which have ridiculous amounts of DLCs available for them. In fact as of writing to purchase the discounted copy of EU4 with all of its DLCs would set you back £193.72, not exactly pocket change.

So this all sounds quite negative doesn’t it?

Well yes it does, that’s because back when I preordered and finally got my hands on the game I wasn’t exactly expecting all of this drama. All I was interested in was playing as my favour Sci-Fi space troupe in a game that promised I could do exactly that. Had I know about all of this drama before hand I most likely would of avoided this game like the plague.

But that would of been a mistake, well Paradox Studios doesn’t exactly have the best repetition with regards to their handling of post release sales of a game, they do, after release know how to get the game done. This is why both CK2 and EU4 started off with OK reviews but ended up with outstanding reviews after all the post-release patching. Paradox do care about their products, it would certainly be easier to understand that if they chose to do the patching prior to release but hey you can’t have it all.

Over a period of a year Paradox Studios promise to fix Stellaris was delivered upon, each month or two, the developers released a major update to the game, changing aspects and adding much welcomed improvements, in fact each patch was received and embraced as if it was a major free DLC something that the developers also appeared to suggest. By the end of the first year of patching of Stellaris the game was no only playable and enjoyable but surprise, surprise was getting glowing reviews as well.

It was in this period that Stellaris excelled, it had numerous modders rushing to make mods to appease the fans and it did have fans. The game even got itself re-review on several game review sites. It appeared everything was finally ok in the Stellaris world and then… Version 2.0 was announced!

During the time between the final release of patches for what was latest referred to as version 1.9 and version 2.0, players angrily debated on the Paradox forums why the game needed to be changed again. Version 2.0 wasn’t just a new set of improvements needed in the game, it was a total rewrite of the base game mechanics, it removed a lot of what all the previous patches over a year had just put in and replaced them with new mechanics that were neither tried or tested. To a lot of the fan base it felt like a return to initial release of Stellaris and to worse times. It felt like an unnecessary change that neither was wanted or needed.

But it was at this point that Paradox really dropped the ball.

Paradox was getting an earful and they knew why. This wasn’t like the initial release of the game, the release while not great wasn’t exactly poor neither. The game did, to a certain extent, everything it promised it would do. Just not balanced or very well. The base mechanics had been there just not optimised but the patches had fixed all of that. But this rewrite was different it changed what Stellaris was and would be, it altered the very promise of what the game was supposed to be about, the mechanics would have to go in order for that change to happen and people were really not happy about it. It was during one of the many heated exchanges on the forums or perhaps a stinging review on Steam that someone at Paradox made a bad decision.

A post was dropped from Paradox Studios stating that they would no longer accept all the negative comments they was receiving in regards to their game or their planned changes, they would view it as harassment or some other silliness. What they seemed unwilling to accept is that were had split the community supporting their game down the middle and were does absolutely nothing to try and address everyone’s concerns. In fact they were actively encouraging further division by ignoring half the player base and pushing forward with the changes, this just angered the community even more.

By the time the big 2.0 was dropped a significant faction of the old community had just upped and left, the released was paired with the release of a major new DLC which was use to soften the initial sting of the new version. To their credit this seemed to work “financially” for Paradox as in that period of time there appeared to be a rash purchases of the game. But that didn’t stop the tidal wave of damning reviews, mine including, after playing the bugged and clearly broken version 2.0. The game was a mess, far more of a mess than the initial release. The game put layers upon layers of restrictions stopping you from pretty much doing anything. The fans were annoyed, even those who had rallied for the new changes.

It was at the point that I had to walk away. I didn’t see this game getting back from this change to where it had reached with the final version of 1.9. I saw it as a bridge too far for them, they had changed the game so much that it wasn’t the same, they knew it, I knew it, the community knew it. So I moved onto greener pastures, however…

Paradox wasn’t done just yet…

Someone over at Paradox is either a bi-polar workaholic or just plain crazy. Either way they clearly like making a mess for themselves to clean up, and that is exactly what happened with Stellaris. After a break of almost 6 months something nagged at me to try Stellaris again, I noticed a lot of the old guard had left but I thought I’d give Stellaris another chance. And to my surprise I didn’t hate it, the game had been patched quite a few times since the train wreak that was version 2.0 but was now playable, it was different and it took a bit of getting use too but it kind of worked due to the flexibility with the new customisation controls on how the game is initially setup, that and a lot of essential mods that the new community had developed.

It was at this point that I finally realised the truth about Stellaris, it wasn’t what Paradox Studios did that made the game work, all they did was publish a skeleton of a game, it was all the community and the modders that were picking up the skeleton and fleshed it out to what people wanted. And to a certain extent that part of the development is what Paradox Studios had excelled it, they had built the game right from the beginning with modders in mind and with the later 2.2 release modding of the game and the levels of modding got a whole load easier and more in depth.

Now if we could just get Paradox to stop changing the base mechanics every few months and develop some content we might start getting somewhere.

So here to waiting and seeing what they do next.

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