Ship it for Christmas or else...

I am only creating this topic because, given the nature of the site, I wanted to get constructive discussions about this issue, unlike what you see here.

Basically, you all remember my 1996 debable with Take2 in which they shipped my first game while still in Beta and without my permission. We settled out of court. I got a whole heap of money - and my IP rights. And went to Interplay. Since that time, I have shipped BC3K v2.0 (Interplay 12/98), BCM (EB 11/01), BCM Gold (Dreamcatcher 03/03). During this time, I had really strong contracts and the companies involved just let me work without micromanaging and manhandling me. So, everything went smoothly, I delivered my games, made some money, rinse, repeat.

Because of the success of BCM (though on limited release), I accepted an offer from Dreamcatcher (they approached me) to ship my next big game (then BCG). I accepted because even though BCM did OK (not stellar) for a limited release, I wanted to give the next game (being a major re-write) a wider international audience. So, I agreed. While we were talking, the idea of doing a re-release of BCM Gold came up. So, in the end, after talking for almost two and a half months, we signed a three title deal (I have recently literally yanked back their first/last on the third title) and moved forward. I delivered BCM Gold within a three month time frame - while still working on BCG.

In Summer - after E3 - they decided (in mid-Beta) that they wanted me to refocus and rebrand the game in order to get a broader appeal. This was primarily based on the E3 showing in May, the retailer anticipation etc etc. To cut a long story short, I agreed. You have all probably read the PR spin on it.

That added 2.5 months of dev time, slipping the game into a Christmas release. In addition to the increased dev time, the bugs and things which needed to be resolved/reworked, also increased. In late October (late Beta) I advised them that we were probably going to miss it - but I continued working as if it would happen. During this time, I finished up the manual, gave them the manuscript, worked with them on the box art and other production materials etc. I also got my contract amended which addressed the IP switch (I also own the Universal Combat IP) etc.

Then they told me that if we didn't meet the 11/10/03 Gold date, we would miss Walmart. I tried real hard but couldn't make it. To the extent that I flat out refused to ship the game with known fatal bugs - luckily they saw my point of view.

Moving along, I finished up EVERY pending issue in the Beta and then we moved on with the RC (Release Candidates) which contained cleanup etc - while the testers continued taking the game apart. When I got a report of the issues, I delivered an RC1 candidate (burned on 12/08/03) and delivered it.

I stayed put, working on the other reported issues, which ended up making my build RC2 and theirs RC1. I usually deliver new builds each week. And because we were at RC level, all builds were to be CDROM burns, delivered via FEDED yada-yada.

Knowing how close it was and with the intention of shipping the RC2 code base a a GM (Gold Master), I created this poll on my website in order to gauge reaction. The intent was to send DC a new burn on Monday (today) which would be the RC2 code base and then see if we could in fact release it or not. Remember, they have distribution rights, so I can't put the title into the retail channel.

If you read that thread, you will get an idea of what has transpired since then. Particularly this post which clearly outlines the sequence of events leading up to DC wanting to ship the flawed RC1 burn into the retail channel in order to meet Christmas.

As you can see from that post, they advised me, not once, but TWICE that the burn they had (RC1) which they had been tested, was good to go. Now, take a look at the fixed items in my RC2 burn (which they don't have) and the remaining five (non-critical some would argue) items in my RC version control.

What's wrong with this picture?

They know my rep for patching and supporting my games, so they are banking on shipping RC1 into retail and expecting me to release an RC2 patch in order to avert a firestorm. Ignoring the fact that the RC1 burn has the five issues listed in the post above.

They can't even do a SafeDisc burn because I have the license to to do that. Because the CDROMs I send them are not SD protected, I use my own DRM to protect them from unauthorized use. They don't have the Installshield (ISX) install project. In short, when I deliver games, I do EVERYTHING (thats why I get the big royalties). Not only do I handle the ISX installer, I also do the SD protection etc etc In short, the RC1 CD they have, is not SD protected, has an expiring DRM (mine) etc etc. So, HOW they could up and - in the blink of an eye - proclaim that they are going Gold knowing fully well that (1) their build is seriously flawed (2) they don't have a GM ready master, is what is mind boggling to me.

Now the attorneys are involved, all bets are off and I'm sitting here wondering how all this is going to end. If they DO ship it and I don't release the RC2 patch, I'm the bad guy. If I DO release the RC2 patch - thereby encouraging this - they, like most publishers, are going to take it as a carte blanche to continue doing it. Since I'm the only developer crazy enough to not stand for this, I'm beginning to wonder how far I can go without putting my gamers at risk.

Your thought please. And do try to be objective. Bear in mind the following guidelines.

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[*]I was signed on to deliver two games. One in Q1 and one in Q2
[*]I delivered the Q1 game
[*]They decided to rebrand and refocus the second game, thereby not only extending the dev time, but also opening the development up to problems e.g. a possible slip
[*]They probably figured that it could be done by Christmas and so did I. But we all know the rules of game development
[*]I didn't have ANY particular problems allowing them to ship the RC2 build, but I would have liked to address the remaining five issues first
[*]I had NO idea that they would tell me they were going Gold on the RC1 build - then asking for a patch - knowing fully well that they needed a *new* CDROM in order to make that possible.
[*]That whole bit about from a business POV they should ship, is nonsens. They don't have as much money and resources invested in this project as I do. And they already KNEW back in early November that there was a possibility that Christmas was shot.
[*]They don't have any top tier games for Christmas (having slipped Painkiller into 04) and UC is marked as a must buy for most retailers, including Walmart. Thats what they're trying to do.
[/list:o:890d8f3411]

Again, I'm posting all this in the public domain because there's nothing secretive about it and explain stuff life this is not a violation of my contract. They have the right to explain their side, but they don't have the power that I do. That is, if they lie about it, all their emails - and my contract, will automagically appear in public. That will close the issue there and then. I don't suspect they will say anything because what I've posted in public - regardless of how people feel about me - are the FACTS.

Interesting question - whether to do the right thing (not pushing the RC1 build to retail) which will get you in big trouble (even though you didn''t do anything wrong), or the wrong thing (releasing a build with known bugs) that will make your publisher happy, but potentially get you into hot water with your users, and maybe make for some bad reviews.

I understand why you wouldn''t want to release a buggy game, especially due to unjust legal pressure placed on you by people who clearly have no idea what they''re doing, but, personally, I don''t have a problem with it. When I''m buying a PC game, I expect patches. It''s just the way the PC game world (unfortunately) works. As long as the patch isn''t some gigantisized monstrosity that''s going to take 3 days to download via 56K, the patch comes out fairly quickly, and all major issues are eventually resolved, it''s OK. The only times I''ve gotten irritated enough to give up on a game due to technical problems (ToEE, Ultima IX) was when the publisher/developer refused to patch the game, even when it was clear that major problems remained.

But that''s the problem, Tomato. dsmart is saying he doesn''t want to perpetuate the stereotyping of PC games needing patches.

dsmart, I think your audience will be happy so long as the game is fairly playable and, judging by the bug descriptions, I''d say it meets that criteria. However, being a dev myself (thought not in anything as stressful as games), I understand where you''re coming from about wanting to make something as solid as you can before letting it go, especially since you got fire drilled into the changes.

As I''ve said before,patches should be small and non-critical and RC2 sounds like it would meet those criteria. But, lawyers aside, I''d say you have a green light to do what you feel is best for your game. If that means releasing RC2 (or 3 or 4) as GM in another month or so, do it.

Kepheus, what you said is the problem. Apart from the fact that they have been behaving irresponsibly (for legal reasons, I can''t go into contractual details), I am highly nervous about releasing an RC2 patch, thereby encouraging their action.

I made a pretty lengthy post which summaries the state of affairs and in that post, I gave them an option. As it stands and because it is now a legal issue, my options are limited. And they brought this all upon themselves.

I may be a hot head, but when it comes to my products and gamers, I care more about both than I do about pissing off a publisher and being blacklisted.

This whole thing just makes me sick.

EDIT: I just checked. The RC1 to RC2 patch is 3.5 MB because it only contains two executables, a new mission archive (missing from the RC1 build) and some revised docs. And btw, because of the missing multiplayer executable in the RC1 build, multiplayer won''t work out of the box without the RC2 patch.

But that''s the problem, Tomato. dsmart is saying he doesn''t want to perpetuate the stereotyping of PC games needing patches.

I understand that - I was just stating that it''s an unfortunate reality (due to the ridiculous publisher/developer model we have in place today), and it doesn''t bother me too much unless the game is never patched. Would I admire dsmart for standing by his principles and not releasing the game? Absolutely. Unfortunately, that means nothing to the lawyers.

multiplayer won''t work out of the box without the RC2 patch.

Ouch. I''d say that''s an EXCELLENT reason not to release w/o the RC2 patch, since you''ll likely get crucified by reviewers. Wish there was some way to get the publisher to understand that THEY''RE DAMAGING THEIR OWN INTERESTS BY FORCING YOU TO RELEASE. Sigh. As a fellow programmer, I feel your pain (flashing back to previous, awful jobs).

I know you loath to self publish...but given the complexity of your titles and your fairly loyal fan base why not just distribute electronically?

You seem pretty knowledgable with all sorts of DRM methods I''m sure there is some method you could come up with to ensure that your downloadable titles are protected.

For those without broadband you could ship them CD''s with pdf manuals.

More and more I see very few publishers willing to risk missing the holiday season.. They would rather hope that the extra sales from the holiday season make up for pissing off a few hardcore fans..In this instance the publisher looked at your track record and figured your products and your fans will bear out the ship and patch method. It''s a testament to your fan base and yourself.. but unfortunently doesnt help you reach a wider ""mass market"" audience I suspect.

Best of luck.. while I''m not a fan of your games (too complex for my feeble brain) I do appreciate your passion and desire for the industry and gamers overall.

I tried the self-publishing gig back in 2001 with EB. While it worked out OK and I made my money (and then some) back, it didn''t have an international release. And when Dreamcatcher came along, the temptation to ship two games and an Xbox title, with a publisher with international distribution, was too great a temptation to resist. Here I am.

See why I don''t miss QT3, since I can''t post there and defend myself? Read the third post. Then my post here.

Did they run through a test cycle on the RC1? What''s the length of their test cycle if there is one? That''s the major pushback that we get (developer here, though not games) when we try to say ""don''t ship that RC, there''s another one being built right now that fixes issue X, Y, and Z."" If the test cycle is two weeks, that''s two weeks of non-Christmas sales and two weeks of paid tester time in addition to what''s already been performed. That''s not to excuse their thinking, but just to get possible reasons out there.

I don''t know what recourse you have, aside from simply withholding all the necessary elements for release,namely the expiring DRM and and Safedisk stuff. Have you already delivered a DRM-less and Safedisked RC2 to them? That might put pressure on them in the sense of ""you have an RC1 that is utterly unsuitable for commercial release, and an RC2 that is perfect for commercial release... take your pick.""

I agree with Coldforged - have you sent them RC2 yet? I''m not sure of your situation, but if you haven''t maybe stop posting here and get it out the door?

Quick pass update which answers your questions. Will post more later

As for the test cycle, I have NO clue. As you can see from this post, I have NO idea HOW they could sign off on RC1 knowing that they don''t have the multiplayer executable.