Demigod is Early

By Shamus Posted Thursday Apr 16, 2009

Filed under: Rants 45 comments

Gamestop violated the street date for Stardock’s new game, Demigod. They put it out a week early, just before Easter weekend. Stardock employees were just coming off of crunch mode from finishing the game, and were looking forward to the nice holiday weekend. Instead, they had to come in and rush to get the multiplayer servers up and running to handle the incoming flood.

This happened a week ago, obviously. I’ve been waiting for some kind of response from Gamestop, but they have been giving everyone “no comment”. Of course, this is all “old news” to the fast-moving gaming press, and so I assume the story is over. Gamestop is never going to say anything about this or even apologize. This hurt Stardock, but it also hurt the gamers who bought the game and who couldn’t play online because the servers weren’t up yet. Gamestop doesn’t even have the decency to come out and give one of those boilerplate non-answers like companies do when they make a mess in public. You know, “We regret that this bad thing happened [without accepting blame or admitting our error] and we’re conducting an internal investigation [which we will keep private and never reveal how this happened or why] and thanks for being our customers [and please don’t sell our stock] because we’re dedicated to quality and professionalism and that kind of stuff.” I would consider this to be the most basic thing to do for any company attempting to to uphold the basic pretense that they aren’t just complete assholes.


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45 thoughts on “Demigod is Early

  1. Ghoul says:

    Unless it was a plot from the mega-big-huge game developers to put a hurt on the do-gooders at Stardock.

  2. Meatloaf says:

    I think what’s even worse about the so far extremely bumpy launch of Demigod is just how many people have pirated it. This was (unfortunately) bound to happen, but in this case they are clogging the multiplayer servers, and this is detracting from the experience of those who paid for the game.

    Sigh. Yet another set of problems caused by cowardly corporations and pirates.

  3. Narkis says:

    According to Stardock’s CEO out of the 120,000 connections they got, only 18,000 are legitimate. It looks like their no-DRM policy completely breaks down for non-niche games. I’d like to hear how the pirates justify stealing this game from this company.

    On second thought, not really. It’ll just be the same canned excuses.

  4. Lochiel says:

    Gamestop doesn’t care about PC games, they probably see PC games as being on par with those stupid little Halo keychains they sell. So why would they care to apologize?

    What I don’t understand is why Stardock even bothers to do business with brick and mortar stores. PC gaming needs to just cut Gameslop loose and stop courting them.

  5. HeadHunter says:

    It doesn’t surprise me that Gamestop would do this.

    Stardock could do just fine without selling the product in stores anyhow – look at how well Battlefront has done with their Combat Mission games. Some few units have been sold in stores but most of their volume comes from online sales.

    Maybe Gamestop figures they can do what they want, because Stardock is a small company. But if I were in charge of a larger company, I wouldn’t want to risk the chance that a merchant might decide to sell MY game a week early next time.

    It’s only a matter of time before Gamestop’s ridiculous policies and utter disregard for ethics or customer service drives them right out of business.

  6. Juni says:

    Narkis: No… it wouldn’t matter if they had DRM or not.

  7. Colonel Slate says:

    I shall admit that I pirated the game, however, I now own it, considering it is EXCELLENT, if there had been a demo, or if I had been able to get into the beta, I wouldn’t have pirated it to see if it would run on my computer, but it does, and I’m happy.

    PS – I no longer have the pirated version on my computer anywhere

  8. @Narkis: Stardock’s policy is that there is more money to be _lost_ fighting software theft than there is money to be _made_ doing the same. Given that we saw similar numbers with, say, Spore I’d say that there policy looks correct…

    @Colonel Slate: You can get into the beta for all Stardock games in the same way: preorder the game. I’ve not missed a stardock Beta in about 5 years…

    @Shamus: Demigod is why I’ve not been L4Ding as much of late. It’s that good! :)

  9. JFargo says:

    When I owned a video store, if we broke street date there was a $20,000 fine per incident, and the publisher would never sell through us again.

    Is there anything like this for games?

  10. Ancorehraq sis says:

    I’m not sure I understand the anti-pirate RAAAAAAAAAAAAGE here. When it comes to multiplayer games, more players is always better. It doesn’t matter whether they are lying, cheating, stealing scumbags or honest customers. Audience is audience.

    Remember Savage 2? Now that was sad. They built a game and… nobody came to play it. Whoops.

  11. JT says:

    I’m confused – I thought with Sins they were able to control pirates’ access to updates & multiplayer servers and the like because you had to register your game with them & login every time (not unlike Steam in that respect I suppose). Are they doing something different with Demigod? Why did they roll it out with no way to keep pirates out of multiplayer servers, and are only trying to block them out now? Or am I even more confused than I already feel?

  12. JKjoker says:

    Demigod sucks anyway, ive played FREE warcraft 3 mods that had MORE gameplay than this game (even if you like it, it will get old really really fast, meaning that unless it reaches Starcraft like critical mass you wont have anyone to play with in a month or two), no single player specific mode, no tutorial, and the game is so badly optimized that after half a game it slows down to a crawl and becomes unplayable even with all the options at the lowest for a game that barely looks better than war3 (in fact, changing the video options don’t seem to affect the framerate that much, its probably crawling with memory holes)

  13. @JKjoker: Other than the WC3 stuff (I have no experience with that), I disagree on every point. Also: I <3 the single player experience– I don’t play it online at all…

  14. Luke Maciak says:

    @Narkis DRM has nothing to do with piracy. Shamus has talked about this over and over again – the amount of DRM they put in the game has no correlation whatsoever with the number of pirates.

    Once again, the only people who see and interact with DRM are legitimate customers. Pirates go to their favorite torrent site and download a cracked copy on the release date. They never even see it. I’m pretty sure that most of the people who pirated Demigod were not even aware it had no DRM.

  15. Well, they’re a fucking game retailer. They’re cunts, what the fuck did anyone expect?
    For some reason, a lot of EBGames have been opening up in my town, and a couple of months ago I decided I needed to get and Xbox and Rock Band. I think I hit three different EBGames, and none of them had what I needed, and one of them tried to act like they did (hint: If the Rock Band hardware bundle says “PS3” on it, I probably won’t want to spend 250€ on it, especially if I’m buying an Xbox in the same transaction). In other words, when game retail dies, I won’t be crying, and the whole medium probably will be better for it.

  16. Mistwraithe says:

    Ancorehraq sis, more players is most certainly not always better.

    More players is nice for the other players.

    More players who didn’t actually pay for the game when multi-player uses servers paid for by the developers is potentially very, very expensive for the developers.

    You know, the people who made the game? The ones you would like to do well so they make patches, new features, even add-ons or sequels?

    Yep, those are the guys who lose money on your “more players are always better, even if they stole the game” philosophy.

  17. Matt P says:

    It’s brazen stuff like this that almost makes me wish online distribution shoves it to Gamestop one day. And this coming from a die-hard “must own a physical copy” gamer who even has a long-standing bet that brick-and-mortar will survive digital distribution for *checks date* three more years.
    If I were a betting man I’d lay money on this being Gamestop messing with an emerging competitor before he gets big (Impulse being the key).

  18. Robyrt says:

    I’ve heard an alternative explanation for this: When Demigod arrived at Gamestop, somewhere along the line it had lost the “Street Date of XYZ” stickers that new games are supposed to have. So they just put up the game on the shelves immediately. Whether that’s the fault of the publisher, the distributor, or Gamestop corporate – that’s a different question.

    As far as the game itself goes – I like GPG (die hard Cavedog fan) but I can’t shake the feeling that I’ll get burned by buying a multiplayer game that nobody is playing a year from now.

  19. Rutskarn says:

    I think this is something like 1 year past the point I needed any excuse to hate GameStop.

  20. kathleenb says:

    I thought that release dates were contracts – that is, the store signed (or accepted) a contract not to sell the game before release day. I know people got their arses kicked for accidentally selling Harry Potter books before their release date, but software might be different.

  21. Felblood says:

    @Punning Pundit:

    You find out if the game is good enough to buy by getting into the beta, but to get into the beta you have to buy the game?

    How exactly, does that solve anything? It does not.

    You still have to buy the game before you get to try it, making this completely unlike anything, that you could use as a demo.

  22. @Felblood: At this point, I trust Stardock enough to hand them cash, with the fairly reasonable expectation that I’m going to get my money’s worth. They, like valve and Blizzard, have earned it.

    Having said that: I would never enter into a Beta to find out if the game is any good– Stardock Betas come with the warning that “this game isn’t fun yet”. Nonetheless, @Colonel Slate complained that s/he was unable to get into the beta. It seems like a strange complaint to me, but…

  23. acabaca says:

    The easy explanation for Gamestop’s behavior is that they simply don’t think anybody gives a damn about Stardock. I’m an oldschool PC gamer so I should theoretically be in their prime audience, but even I only know them as “that company who doesn’t do copy protection” and “that company who think researching Laser 6 after researching Laser 5 is exciting and interesting game content”.

  24. Caffiene says:

    As I commented on Jeff Vogel’s blog, Im not sure that the excessive piracy has anything to do with Stardock’s policies.

    It seems to me to be a question of access.

    As Shamus has pointed out plenty in the past, most games have a pirated version online within minutes of going on sale. Sometimes much earlier.

    In this case, Gamestop released some copies early. That means copies were available to a few legal buyers, but not the entire market. But when one of those copies is pirated its available to the entire pirate community.

    So you have a game thats only been available a few days (I think it went live the 15th?) to most of the legal buying public, but has been available to pirates since before Easter.

    Im not surprised that a week of pirate downloads is bigger than a day of legal buying. We need to see what happens in the next few weeks before we can draw the conclusion that the piracy is because of something Stardock did.

    Not that that makes it any better for Stardock. They deserve better luck after the effort they put in to actually respect their customers.

  25. Cthulhu says:

    I think Gamestop already knows there isn’t a person left in the world who doesn’t know they’re just complete assholes. They don’t worry about their reputation because it’s so terrible it can’t really get worse.

    On a more pleasant note, I bought the game off Impulse yesterday. Beat the single player normal mode and found it too easy, but I’m getting my rear end handed to me on Hard, and there’s another setting after that (yay, functional difficulty settings).

  26. that after half a game it slows down to a crawl

    due to the malware in the “cracked” version.

  27. Narkis says:

    @ people who answered me:
    I have read Shamus articles. I only talked about DRM because if they had even a most basic one in place, then the pirates would be unable to connect to the servers and bring them down with numbers. Stardock is getting the fallout for a problem that’s not at all their fault.
    And I talked about the pirates’ excuses because restrictive DRM and customer-unfriendly policies are frequently used by them. Now we got numbers about one of the few companies that don’t abuse their legitimate customers, and they are just as bad. I wonder how they justify that one.

  28. Fieari says:

    You know, in my experience, the very very best “DRM” is to allow the game itself to be copied freely, but to have some sort of authentication to play multiplayer. I’ll be perfectly honest and say that this is the reason I have legitimately purchased Diablo 2 at least three times. (that and the fact that repurchasing it is like three bucks)

    You can’t control what goes on in the customer’s computer. But you CAN control your own server. And I don’t think it’s unreasonable to provide proof-of-purchase of some sort in order to utilize their SERVICE. Not product, mind you, but their ON-GOING SERVICE.

    Why doesn’t Stardock do that?

  29. Factoid says:

    Wow, how did I not know that Stardock was making another game? This is made by the GalCivII team or is it one they’re publishing for another developer and just sort of helping out with on development a la Sins of a Solar Empire?

    I’ll have to go investigate. I just started in on Left 4 Dead, though, which is the first non-console game I’ve played any serious amount in about a year. Actually I like that game so much I’m really considering buying it again for the 360 because then I could play with my friends.

  30. Factoid says:

    Am I the only one who doesn’t get why piracy is possible on multiplayer servers? I saw this with COD4 and now again with Demigod…90% of the players on the multiplayer server are supposedly pirates.

    Why doesn’t the multiplayer system filter out non-unique product keys? It doesn’t have to require activation or any of that nonsense, just make sure that a player with key# XXX is only playing once.

    Key generators wouldn’t work to create new keys, because Stardock could very easily create a database of valid keys that have been distributed to retailers. Well maybe not THAT easy, there’s some logistics involved in that, but it’s really not that bad.

    This is how it used to work in the pre-steam days of Half Life. There were auth servers that checked your key and didn’t let you play if someone was already using it.

    You can still install on as many computers as you want, resell the game or loan it to a friend, you just can’t all play at the same time.

    This is completely unintrusive to legitimate players except in the scenario that the company goes bankrupt and the auth servers go away. In which event you were screwed anyway because almost every multiplayer game requires a listing server for you to find games.

    The only way pirates would be able to play multiplayer would be on a LAN or with a reverse-engineered listing system that bypasses the auth check. Those are around for a lot of games, but they’re very easily avoided by legitimate customers and most casual pirates won’t know to look for such a thing, plus they’ll hate the game experience because it will be filled with hacks and cheats as well…just like Bnetd

  31. Vladius says:

    That’s really too bad.
    Demigod looks good, I might get it.

  32. John SMith says:

    Quote: According to Stardock's CEO out of the 120,000 connections they got, only 18,000 are legitimate. It looks like their no-DRM policy completely breaks down for non-niche games. I'd like to hear how the pirates justify stealing this game from this company.

    I’ve not looked into this specific game or anything so I could well be wrong with the next statement, but if this is like any other Stardock game this game requires the Impulse DRM client to allow updates and the multiplayer is only runnable on the Impulse platform too. Thus this game requires activation. If stardock are saying that only 18,000 connections were from valid customers then surly that means that their activation and multiplayer DRM prevented 102,000 illegal copies from playing multiplayer and getting updates (Single player games were still poss as install from star dock CD does not require activation unless muleiplayer and/or updates are attempted)

    On another note how come all these figures are so nice rounded? How come there are never 120,125 connections?

  33. John SMith says:

    @Factoid – I completely agree with what you are saying there.

    On a personal note I’m all from completely unprotected disks/downloads that you can install on any pc without activation and be able to get the updates without activation, registrations etc.

    If all games had (like they use to) a basic serial check/registration for multiplayer this is the cheapest and best form of DRM in my opinion that is also p*ss easy for the devs to setup and manage themselves.

    Any form of copy check is performed on the companies servers and not my hardware and best of all those people that don’t want to have Steam, Impulse installed don’t have to. If a check fails you can not join the server. Simple.

    As far as I can see this is a win win for everyone. Customers, developers and publishers. Of course DRM companies would go bust, but thats no great loss.

  34. Blackbird71 says:

    @Mistwraithe (16)

    I’m afraid I’m going to have to take you to task on that one. Yes, more paying customers is definetely better for the developers than more nonpaying customers. However, I would stipulate that the developers still see a benefit from the total number of players, even if a large portion are nonpayers, and this is why:

    When a mulitplayer game comes out, one thing that can make or break it is the presence of a community. If you logged into a multiplayer game and found you were the only one online in a virtual ghosttown, how long would you stick around? How good of a gaming experience would you have? Would you be likely to recommend the game to a friend? Probably not. When there are more people playing a game to the point that there is a large and thriving community, the game becomes more popular, it gains more attention, and sales will increase. When part of the game experience depends on the presence of other players, it will always come off as better when more are involved.

    Understand, I am in no way advocating piracy, I’ll always prefer the legal approach. I’m just saying that for a game with a large multiplayer component, the developers will see some benefit from having a number of pirated copies. Yes, the benefit would be greater if all the pirated copies were instead legit, but that’s unlikely to happen. At the very least, the pirated copies will increase the community size beyond what it’s potential would otherwise be.

  35. Dragonbane says:

    “had to come in and rush to get the multiplayer servers up”

    Fallacy. All they had to do was have an intern put a note on their main site saying “Release Date is XX/XX. Servers will go online then. We understand that some stores have pre-sold copies of the game, we recommend you go kick their arse. See you on XX/XX!”

    Also known as “your lack of planning does not constitute my emergency.”

  36. Adeon says:

    @Dragonbane: While that is technically correct the problem is that customers are demanding and believe that the company owes them.

    Imagine the following situation, Joe Gamer purchases his copy of Demigod early from Gamestop takes it home and attempts to log in so that he can pwn some noobs. He finds that he is unable to log in, who will he blame:
    A) The nice people at Gamestop who sold him the game before the jerks at other stores would.
    B) The idiots at Stardock who clearly messed up the rollout of their new game.

    Yes it’s stupid and yes it’s unfair but preventing people from playing online until the official release date would have resulted in a lot of un-earned negative publicity for Stardock (and it would mostly be word of mouth publicity as well which is generally the most powerful kind).

  37. Flakey says:

    “But what happened was that we ended up with 140,000 connected users, of which about 12% were actually legitimate customers. Now, the roughly 120,000 users that weren't running legitimate copies of the game weren't online playing multiplayer or anything. The issue with those users was as benign as a handful of HTTP calls that did things like check for updates and general server keep alive. Pretty trivial on its own until you have 120,000 of them. Then you have what amounts to a DDOS attack on yourself. ”

    The above is a clarification of what was happening at Stardock.

  38. JKjoker says:

    how do they know which ones are legitimate users if the game (supposedly) has no software DRM, doesnt need the dvd in the drive, and no cdkey protection ?

    also, come on, 150k users shouldn’t be able to clog the servers (maybe they expected their game to FAIL ?), most games have their user peak near the release so they should have been ready for the initial rush with a few extra servers for the first few months.

  39. Malkara says:

    I’m kind of annoyed at the people who seem to think Stardock is lying about the numbers of people pirating their game.

    Here’s Wired’s note on it by the way. Basically, they knew people were pirating the game because their games would ping the servers and be rejected. The Pirates can still play the game, just not online or with updates.

    Also: Stardock is not blaming the pirates for the server lag, it was completely unrelated.

    “Now, I do want to address something about the update that I've seen users talk about. We aren't blaming piracy for the fact that the day 0 multiplayer experience absolutely sucked.” ~ Quote from Stardock’s Brad Wardell.

  40. You know, in my experience, the very very best “DRM” is to allow the game itself to be copied freely, but to have some sort of authentication to play multiplayer. I'll be perfectly honest and say that this is the reason I have legitimately purchased Diablo 2 at least three times. (that and the fact that repurchasing it is like three bucks)

    You can't control what goes on in the customer's computer. But you CAN control your own server. And I don't think it's unreasonable to provide proof-of-purchase of some sort in order to utilize their SERVICE. Not product, mind you, but their ON-GOING SERVICE.

    Why doesn't Stardock do that?

    My question too.

  41. Flakey says:

    @ JKjoker It does have a cd key, which is how it knows.

    Plus Do you know how many games currently have 150k multi player users on a day. Just one, WOW. They built their servers to cope with 50,000 players, which technically was more than enough to cope with every legimate copy they released, and more than a bit to spare. Two things went wrong though. 2) Gamestop sold the game early 2). The game checked for updates before requiring to authenticate itself, which now has been corrected.

  42. acabaca says:

    Factoid: “Am I the only one who doesn't get why piracy is possible on multiplayer servers? I saw this with COD4 and now again with Demigod…90% of the players on the multiplayer server are supposedly pirates. Why doesn't the multiplayer system filter out non-unique product keys?”

    One possible interpretation: the devs don’t want to do that. In certain types of multiplayer games, most of the value comes from other players, not anything the developers did. Battlefield and all MMOs come to mind, basically anything that needs to have a huge amount of players on one server to be fun. Something like Diablo or Starcraft obviously doesn’t fall into this category because you play them in groups of 2-4 people and you can always find that much.

    Another possible reason: they want many people to get to try out the multiplayer so that the advertising effect would be maximized (pirated copies work as advertisements for the full game as long as they are playable but the full game still has something that makes it more desirable). This would apply to the sort of games that have no meaningful single player.

  43. JKjoker says:

    @Flakey: some guys in rock paper shotgun were saying it didnt have a cdkey, well at least that explains things

    @Malkara: they DID blame pirates (even if they tuned it down later)

    Brad said :
    “First, we've been trying to shuttle off the warez users so that they're not slamming our servers. Well, not slamming the same servers that legitimate customers are using. I'm feeling pretty confident that that is working better because there's a lot more people in games with lots of people in them. “

  44. StingRay says:

    I work for Walmart (I feel like I start a lot of comments with that phrase) and our Demigod shipping boxes all had firmly attached “DO NOT SELL BEFORE 4/14/09” stickers on them. Perhaps it’s GameStop policy to place every newly arrived shipment next to a tea kettle on full boil? That might explain the stickers “falling off.”

    I didn’t know that GameStop had done this. I hope StarDock chooses to punish them for it. With movies at Walmart, if we break street date, we not only risk a fine, but (more damaging) we risk not having new releases shipped to us until release day. Same goes with music. And I can tell you, having somehow gotten screwed out of our DSi shipment (when all the other local stores received theirs) not having a hot release on time can be a killer.

  45. Chris says:

    I have a theory. Games are usually cracked within a week of the release date, so if they release 1 week earlier than that they get 1 more week of it not being cracked. Makes sense to me :)

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