GDC: Stardock's Brad Wardell explains the failure of Elemental and how he's making it up to fans

"Unlike the other examples you've heard tonight, this game shipped. It's at the store right now. At Walmart. Yeah." -- Brad Wardell, president and CEO of Stardock.

That ominous statement was slipped into the middle of Brad Wardell's "Failure Workshop" speech this afternoon, where the Stardock head discussed a project he now considers a full-on failure: Elemental: War of Magic. He was just one of five separate developers detailing a project that went awry.

"If someone had an idea, we'd say 'Oh sure, go ahead! Throw that in!,'" Wardell explained, describing the disorganized nature of Elemental's development. "That works okay if you have seven guys," he said, continuing, "It doesn't work so well when you have 18 guys."

His small team of folks working on Galactic Civilization 1 and 2 grew dramatically as Stardock switched over to Elemental. In fact, Gal Civ 2 pulled in over $12 million when all was said and done, out of an initial investment of approximately $600K, allowing Stardock to splurge when Elemental's development began. This, coupled with Wardell's own diversions (acting as exec. producer on Sins of a Solar Empire and Demigod), added up to a dangerous mix. In so many words, the project had no management.

"There was no structure, there was no project manager ... we didn't feel we needed one! Our team is so tightly knit," Wardell lamented. And when he did finally get back on the project, Wardell jumped in head first, getting involved in coding directly and losing objectivity.

Unfortunately, the lack of oversight lead to some major problems. Like an entire class in Elemental shipping without armor abilities. "This is a game with swords and stuff, and one of the races had no armor to wear. As it turns out, at the last minute, one of our developers said, 'Hey, you know what? I'm gonna make this little cosmetic change. What could go wrong?'" The missing armor, apparently!

As we all know, the various issues with Elemental lead to an eventual culling of some of Stardock's development team -- an unfortunate but necessary result of poor planning and mismanagement.

Beyond the staff cuts, Stardock will also be giving out Elemental: Fallen Enchantress for free, though it's unclear exactly who will be getting free copies of the sequel. Either way, folks who picked up the first Elemental will no doubt appreciate Wardell and Stardock's commitment to their fans with the free offering.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.