Stardock CEO Takes Responsibility For Broken Game

After a reader complained that a computer game he downloaded from Stardock was broken, company president and CEO Brad Wardell refunded the money but said the problem was probably caused by a fan-created patch.

We showed Wardell a forum that indicates Stardock was indeed selling a busted game, and he says he did some research, discovered the forum posters were correct, and now says the company will refund the purchases and make it sells the correct version.

He writes:

The publisher continues to maintain that this is the latest version of the game and that it is working as intended. However, it is our determination that the users are correct and that when the game was re-released without Securom years ago through various channels that it triggered this issue.

We followed up with Enlight this morning with the option of having the game pulled from Impulse and its customers refunded or allowing us to integrate the fan made update that addresses this issue. Enlight gave us the green light to update the game on Impulse and we will then contact all its users to make sure they are aware of the update.

Should the Impulse staff have taken the issue higher up the chain? In hindsight, I would say yes. However, the problem here is that there are thousands of games and every forum has users claiming that a given game is “broken.” Does that mean that this isn’t a big screwup? Obviously it is.

On the one hand, you have a publisher saying that we have the latest version of their award-winning game that is working as intended and on the other hand a handful of posts in the forum having problems and that the game is working.

Impulse, like other retailers, assumes that the titles it receives work as designed. We put them through QA to make sure they run.

My contention is the problem here is that someone at Impulse or Stardock could have simply loaded up the game on Windows XP and seen if this was a legitimate issue or not. The counter, however, is that with thousands of games available, the publisher insisting after multiple queries that the game is fine and very few complaints that it is the role of the publisher or game developer to follow-up, not the retailer.

As we have seen with incidents like this on other services, this is going to be an on-going challenge with older titles. My view is that this incident demonstrates the need for older titles to get more scrutiny.

Kudos to Wardell for admitting his company’s fault here and doing the right thing, even though it took some prodding.

(Photo: frankieleon)

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  1. ezacharyk says:

    “CEO Brad Wardell refunded the money but said the problem was probably caused by a fan-created patch.”

    the problem wasn’t a fan created patch. The solution was a fan created patch.

    The problem was a game that was stripped of the DRM but the code that relied on the DRM was still intact.

    • thompson says:

      @ezacharyk: Continue reading… while it’s not spelled out precisely, it looks like that was his initial conclusion and, upon further investigation, he gave a mea culpa and admitted the forum posters were correct.

  2. Chumas says:

    Wow.
    Saddens me to say this, but it is a cold day in Hell when a CEO takes responsibility and says things did not work out the way they ought to. Heck, he even says what should be done to make sure this doesn’t happen again, and probably has the wheels turning for it right now.

    That makes me more afraid than Cheney with a gun.

  3. mantene says:

    I am a bit fuzzy on the blame here. Stardock is the retailer, not the creator of the game. And, while I think retailers should refund money for defective products it has long been the policy of all major retailers to not do this with computer games. If there is a bug in a game, Walmart will not refund you the money nor can they fix the bug. Why is it different with Stardock? I agree it is nice that they DID refund the money after looking into the problem but you also say they “took responsibility”. How was it their’s to take? and did Wardell take responsibility? I don’t really see that in his response.

    • shepd says:

      @mantene:

      Why do we treat software different than hardware for this?

      If Walmart sold me a mower that exploded the moment I started it, you can bet they’d take a return. Even though they didn’t make the mower, they sold it.

      Software should be no different for major issues like this. For minor problems, maybe not, but then again, would you feel okay with returning a lawnmower to walmart if the only problem was that it’s too hard to start?

      • mrsultana can't get a password to work says:

        @shepd:
        It is different because software and hardware are inherently different.
        If you buy a lawnmower and it doesn’t work, you should be able to take it back. But it is impossible for your neighbor to buy the same lawnmower, use it once to mow his lawn, return it and claim it was “defective”, get his money back, but still keep using the copy he keeps in his garage to still mow his lawn.
        When I take home a game, install it, and use the activation code, the game usually works now with no disc (and there are some programs out there that will let you use games that require the disc without the disc). If I were dishonest, I could just return it at this point and get to use the software for free.
        Now, I agree that this kind of policy is fundamentally treating all of us like we are criminals at our cores, but your comparison doesn’t jive.

        • shepd says:

          @mrsultana:

          But it is impossible for your neighbor to buy the same lawnmower, use it once to mow his lawn, return it and claim it was “defective”, get his money back, but still keep using the copy he keeps in his garage to still mow his lawn.

          I thought all this asinine “all customers are pirates” DRM crap was designed to make this impossible? If it isn’t, then why are they hurting their legitimate customers with it?

          When I take home a game, install it, and use the activation code, the game usually works now with no disc (and there are some programs out there that will let you use games that require the disc without the disc). If I were dishonest, I could just return it at this point and get to use the software for free.

          If you’re going to download the crack, you’re most likely seconds away from the “Full Download” link for the entire game, anyways. The same link you could have gotten without bothering to buy the game in the first place.

          The lack of reasonable return policies on software just helps justify piracy as a means to see if the non-returnable item is going to suck or not. I know when I buy final sale stuff from a store I expect to be able to handle and test the merchandise first, and will be loathe to purchase if I can’t.

          • mantene says:

            @shepd: I agree with you completely on the complaints about being treated like a criminal and actually fostering piracy but it doesn’t change that fact that software IS treated differently by retailers. If it can be copied they don’t refund, just provide the same item in exchange.

          • Kogenta says:

            @shepd: While I agree that return policies are somewhat unreasonable, you also have to look at it from the retailer’s perspective.

            If you want retailers to take back opened software/music/whatnot we really need to rail on the publishers/manufacturers/etc to allow returns of said product. When you return a blow drier to a store, the store can more often than not send it back to the supplier/manufacturer for a full reimbursement of cost. If the store for whatever reason takes back open software, they basically eat the cost since the supplier won’t take it back opened. Since games have very little markup for a retailer, absorbing that sort of cost frequently can be disastrous.

            What it’s really boiling down to is that retailers cannot afford to eat the cost of taking back open software (and there’s enough unscrupulous people out there that they could make it a big problem), and no one else down the supply chain is going to touch the stuff, which is why we end up with exchange only policies.

    • biggerx says:

      @mantene: I believe the confusion lies in the fact that Stardock doesn’t sell games with DRM on them. From what I understand the game in question had DRM on it at one point (Securom) & Stardock probably told the previous publish/creator that they wouldn’t allow the game to be sold unless the DRM was stripped. The DRM has since been stripped but some code was left over making it so the game won’t function. The guy whos machine it won’t work on probably has another game installed that uses Securom.

      • alstein says:

        Stardock does sell games with DRM. Stardock even has a DRM scheme (which isn’t bad)

        What Stardock does which the other guys don’t, is they let you know what the protection is before purchasing, so if the game has something you find unacceptable, you can not buy it. They also don’t use any on their own developed or second-party games (Sins is second-party, Ironclad produced as an Impulse exclusive)

        To me, that setup is perfectly fair. I don’t ask for DRM to be outlawed, I just ask to be able to make a decision whether I wish to support or not. This open policy has caused some companies to use less DRM on Impulse then other services (Capcom SFIV is one example- Securom on most places, just GOO on Impulse)

    • alstein says:

      It’s different because Stardock has declared that to be a right of the consumer to get a product that works. Wardell’s the guy who made the gamers bill of rights- which isn’t perfect, but he runs his business mostly according to those principles.

  4. NICU says:

    That’s great to see a CEO stand up for his customers openly like that.

    It is troubling that no one even tested this game prior to someone contacting the CEO. Why didn’t any customer service or QA or hell even some intern delivering coffee just download and run the game. It sounds like you could see that it’s defective almost immediately. QA should not test every aspect of every game, but they should at least check out games with issues that have been reported.

    • cecilpl says:

      @NICU: This was addressed in the article. The CEO mentioned that *every* game has users complaining that the game is broken, and it would be prohibitively time-consuming to have QA do a complete play-through of all their games.

      • trujunglist says:

        @cecilpl:

        most games are broken in some way, especially lately because developers can release half-finished games and then release a patch later.
        a simple way to deal with this QA process would be to have a ticket for each complaint and then total the number of complaints. lots of issues will probably be user error, and there should be a faq in place that addresses 80% of those problems. if some other issue keeps coming up, then that obviously should be addressed via QA.

    • Bunnies_Attack! says:

      @NICU: I’m not even sure you could say you could tell it was defective immediately. Sounds like you’d only notice that it was defective when you started getting the same random item over and over again and noticed that your scouts were just running to the corner. That would take quite a few turns of play before that became apparent… so if someone at QA just booted it up and played a few turns it would appear to be working fine.

      I mean… usually, when you have a problem its really obvious like the software doesn’t run at all.

  5. Geekybiker says:

    Stardock is one of the good guys out there. They believe in treating their customers fairly, and not treating all their paying customers like they are criminals like the average game company.

  6. axiomatic says:

    Now if we could just get Brad Wardell to take responsibility for aligning his company with the likes of Glenn Beck then they could again have some of my money.

  7. psm321 says:

    If you read the original forum thread it sounded like there were reps from Stardock admitting there was a problem (i.e. they confirmed it so it wasn’t just “some people are saying”) but then saying there was nothing Stardock could do about it.

  8. SkuldChan says:

    My experience supporting crazy copy protection schemes (safecast and flexnet) is they do tend to fail in certain situations without explanation – even when you uninstall and reinstall the product. Good example – both schemes generate the unique machine ID based off the HDD serial number. Worked great, until you encountered a machine that wouldn’t let you read the HDD serial number (say like a raid controller… or certain model hdd’s). Then the poor user had to call in and get an activation code or a patch – what a pain.

    It wouldn’t surprise me if the user had already done so (uninstalled and reinstalled) in this case and was still encountering the problem. After all – resetting it to factory defaults should cure the problem right?

    In reality – the CEO of this company should realize one thing a) the only people copy protection seems to screw over the most is the paying customers and b) the pirates authored a crack for your game 5 days before its launch and aren’t running into any of the cryptic problems your paying customers are.

  9. Covertghost says:

    Awesome response.

  10. alstein says:

    Stardock among all the major manufacturers, has a well-deserved reputation for good customer service. It’s part of their business strategy.

    They really deserve our business, especially since the alternative is a Valve monopoly.

  11. Foxstab says:

    There seem to be an error here.
    “We showed Wardell a forum that indicates Stardock was indeed selling a busted game”

    Consumerist.com has neither contacted Mr. Wardell when they first ran the initial article piece nor has it contacted him to show him the forum.

    Seems to be eating a whole lot of credit and self-back-patting here for doing practically close to nothing.

    @SkuldChan: The CEO of this company is actually an avid “anti-DRM” preacher whose main business releases software, amongst them games, DRM-free.
    The game in question here is one which his company was selling via their Retailer service, Impulse (akin to Valve’s Steam), and is being sold “as-is” as was delivered to them via a Publisher. The Publisher (Enlight) or the original developers are the ones who had put the copy protection in.