August 23, 2011
IL-2 Sturmovik: Reflections on the Past
and Questions for the Future
Opinion by Tom "WKLINK"
It is amazing how ten years change things.
I started writing this opinion piece covering Ubisoft and 1C’s roll out (if you want to call it that) of the new IL-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs of Dover quite a while back. As most of us already know the development and release of the follow up to Oleg Maddox’s masterpiece has had a lot of problems.
In some respects, Cliffs of Dover reminds me of a title released by a company that was bought (ironically) by Ubisoft; SSI’s Luftwaffe Commander. Luftwaffe Commander was a game that really was intriguing in its concept and horribly flawed in its execution. The company that released it had a pedigree in wargames and simulations that was second to none. In the end, the fiasco that resulted from the bugs and mistakes in the game ultimately overshadowed what could have been a groundbreaking simulation.
I’m not going to get into a set piece-by-piece review of IL-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs of Dover. Most of the issues with the game are pretty well known and it is not my intent to review the game. But there have been complaints. The graphics, while, at least to me, are very good and generally realistic looking still have some glitches and bugs that should never have been released. The flight models are decent but several components are bugged and features that should be part of the game are not present. The promised campaign is less than thrilling, the online component is a mess and in general this game fails dramatically in the quality control area.
What really makes the whole thing irritating to me is the fact that the run up to release, and then the initial release was a comedy of errors. What has resulted is that the perception of what this game is has actually overshadowed the genuine good and bad aspects of the game. It is too bad because Cliffs of Dover is not a bad game. No, it isn’t perfect but it probably would have been considered a decent title if it didn’t have the IL-2 Sturmovik name associated with it.
Okay, let’s go over what Ubisoft and 1C have done to botch this game. It reads like a laundry list of screw-up’s. Here is a list of what I thought the teams did to screw up this release. Call this "Tom’s guide to blowing the release of a highly anticipated title".
- Give very little real information about what is actually in the game. Nothing says "Our game is in trouble" like refusing to actually say what will be in the game. Campaign structure? Don’t elaborate on it. Flight models? Be very general. Screenshots and movies? Make them as amateurish as possible. Make sure that FSAA isn’t enabled and then make excuses that you have crappy computer equipment and can’t make a better video.
- Give minimal interaction with the media. Grant interviews but be very non specific on what actually will be in the game. Don’t send out preview copies or really much of anything for the media. Keep your answers to questions as vague as possible. That way you won’t be held to anything later on.
- Fail to put out a demo. In all honesty, this is something that video game developers have been doing more and more so I probably shouldn’t rip on Ubisoft or 1C for this. But still, on top of everything else….
- Release the title in Europe a full four months before the US release. Brilliant. Now everyone in the US has the opportunity to hear months and months of bitching and complaining about the game but doesn’t have the opportunity to try the game for themselves, unless they buy the European version (which I did).
- Don’t send out press review copies. Nothing sets a negative feeling toward reviewing a game like telling the gaming press that they can have a copy of the game four months after the original release.
- When you finally do release the title in the U.S., make sure that it is of a version that was already released in Europe about, oh say a month ago. Nothing tells your American customers more than throwing out a version of the game that everyone else has been playing for a month. Yep, smart.
- Promise that everything will be fixed and that the game will be great. I know that the team in the past has done a good job trying to update the original IL-2 game, but this game has so many things to update and without good cash flow I don’t know if it will be done.
What is even more amazing about this fiasco is that Ubisoft and 1C have a very good history of releasing simulations. The first IL-2 was a masterstroke of marketing. Almost everything that Ubi has done wrong with this game they did right with the original game. The interest in IL-2 was almost rabid months before the release of the actual game. The demo was a masterstroke. It still ranks as one of the best game demos ever released and created a community of thousands that absolutely needed to buy the release copy.
Look, I know times have changed. Flight simulations are not the big money bringers like they were even during IL-2’s time. Computer games are generally passé these days and when a ridiculous fake PS3 shooter can bring fifty times the profits for a fraction of the developmental time it is easy to understand why companies devote their efforts to develop and release these titles.
Knowing that means that companies like 1C simply can’t afford to release buggy, messed up products like CoD. I understand the pressure that Ubisoft probably put to bear on the company to release the game but ultimately what has happened is that one of the most anticipated games of the 2010s is now something more of a major disappointment. Since the market is so small for flight simulations these days there simply is a much smaller margin for error.
If 1C wants to continue to produce simulations that the majority of people in Europe and the US will want to buy they are going to have to change their business practice concerning the release of games like CoD. Big publishing houses are simply getting away from any kind of simulation and their tolerance of any delay will continue to decrease as the market for flight simulations, or any simulation for that matter, continues to contract.
One company that has really done a good job with marketing simulations is Eagle, especially with their DCS: A-10C Warthog simulation. One of the more brilliant things they did was make the beta version available with pre-ordering of the title. This allowed people to access the game early and involve themselves in the beta testing. Not only did they get a large group of people to beta test the game for potential hardware issues, but they also deflected potential complaints and bad feelings by allowing the game to evolve during that period. In the end, the public got an outstanding game and the company got the chance to get the game released in a decent condition.
Look, I do not think 1C, Ilya, or Oleg wanted to release CoD in a relatively messed up state. I do believe that the team will try their best to fix this game. If IL-2 has shown me anything it has shown that the 1C team is a team of flight simulation enthusiasts that really love the genre. Knowing that; I am willing to give the team the chance to bring this title up to the standard that the first title was.
I just hope that the team can do it. There are some good aspects of the game present and in its current state the game actually isn’t too terribly bad. The problem is that the team set the bar extremely high with IL-2 originally. Adding IL-2 to the title associates Cliffs of Dover to the original and means the standard had to be higher. I personally didn’t like the idea of putting IL-2 into the name on the game for this very reason. But it was done and the company has decided to tie their future to the past.
Hopefully that doesn’t back fire on them.
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