Planetary Annihilation – delayed release (for good reason)

I’ve made some kickstarter mistakes before and will do so in the future, no doubt. Planetary Annihilation, from the alpha access, has been one of the poster children for me of a Kickstarter that offered almost too much potential for awesomeness that there was no real way they could deliver. So far they didn’t (which shouldn’t be expected in this early stage of dev) and likely they won’t. RTS games are very difficult to make. Even in the genre’s heyday there were very few contenders for the best and a few experienced developers that made horrific stinkers. While Total Annihilation was great, it turned out to be a fluke as TA: Kingdoms was awful and Supreme Commander didn’t capture the magic that TA did at all. It’s no wonder Planetary Annihilation’s alpha was so bad (and should never have been released to the public). Their decision now to use the famous id Software phrase “When it’s done” in regards to the game’s release I applaud, but I really think after what the alpha shows, there is no hope for this game to be any more than a minor blip in the history of RTS games, and certainly not worth playing for more than a couple days at most. Unique concept, poorly executed from a design standpoint is the crux of what the reviews will be.

Look at the tone change in the latest Kickstarter update:
That means Planetary Annihilation will launch when we feel confident about its level of polish and the amount of awesome we can jam into it. We don’t have a hard date moving forward. However, we do expect it to be feature-complete in early 2014.

“We are extremely happy at what we’ve been able to accomplish with the game so far, but we want to take some additional time to make sure we are releasing the best game we can,” said Jon Mavor CTO of Uber Entertainment.

“I want to thank everyone who kickstarted and pre-ordered the game again because without you this game wouldn’t have became a reality.”

Look what’s happening above. Typically you have a kickstarter message coming from a team member speaking directly to the kickstarter group– a direct communication without it being a press release sent out to gaming or business publications to publish AS THEIR OWN MESSAGE. What UBER did above was make it SEEM like it was from a team member, but then they quoted another team member within the same message like an official press release–this is a very very strange level of professional PR work for a kickstarter. Why not have the message direct from Jon Mavor? It’s as if at this point instead of the actual developers that we ‘paid’ to make the game speaking to us, the kickstarter people, we now have some sort of PR intermediary that is going around capturing quotes (or writing them for approval) within Uber to create what amounts to a professional press release–not to game mags, but to US. If the releases started off that way, I guess that would be normal, but the message above makes me think something changed very drastically at Uber in terms of what they want the kickstarter people to know. And I think that’s the realization that the game they are making currently sucks and “will never match their teaser videos.”

This is case in point of being wary of big, lauded kickstarters– they make so much money sometimes over what they are asking that something must happen to the developers and designers– that they think their game IDEA (since at the kickstarter time for most of these it’s not a reality) is goldplated by virtue of the amount of dollars they got– and this is indicative of what the final product will be. Grant you the idea for PA is great, but the execution and design decisions will have to be flawless to compete even with Company of Heroes 2 let alone Starcraft 2.

Lastly, I think the developers of this game bowed to pressure to put SOMETHING out after the kickstarter– and I believe kickstarter people exert a lot of pressure on studios to show stuff LONG before they are ready for it, and long before they SHOULD show it when they are starting from scratch, which is what PA’s team is doing. The studios focus their attention on pleasing the kickstarter people with shiny stuff when they need to be hidden away in a cave making a good game. I honestly believe they cast some design decisions in stone FAR to early when they should have been extremely willing to leave them on the cutting room floor if the game’s quality required it. While it’s because of us that this game is being made, it may be because of us that this game is impossible now to make well..hence we get the PR talk now instead of direct team communication.