Flash of Steel header image 2

Making History Makes Things Clear

September 27th, 2010 by Troy Goodfellow · 7 Comments · Industry, WW2

“Did you think the launch was disaster?”
“It was a disaster.”

Earlier this month I spoke to Dave McCool and Chris Parsons from Muzzy Lane about the state of Making History 2. They reached out to me and wanted to acknowledge what went wrong, what went right and how they plan to fix things. Making History 2 was released to a raft of negative reviews in in the spring, though I had some high hopes based on what I saw at PAX East. (I shot this great interview with them there, but the sound was all wonky.)

Muzzy Lane was very upfront about the problems they encountered, what they did wrong and how they are fixing things for users.

On the UI:

“The game UI is similar to MH 1, but every level got an order of magnitude more complex. People would end up doing all their orders from the city menu. We want you to be able to play off the map.”

On the documentation:

“Because of the way we were rapidly changing the UI, it made the documentation obsolete. It shipped very underdocumented for a game of this complexity.”

On their community:

“July was a tough month. We had a lot of people supporting us and a lot of people shredding us. And most people defending us were doing it on faith. That changed in August after we did 15 patches. A lot of people just gave up, but we still have a good core. Now the forum arguments are gameplay discussions.”

On the the business pressures:

“For us the issue was commitments we made to the retail chain down the line. We didn’t need the money now. MH1 was 70/30 sales in favor of retail space over digital and that flipped. If we knew that then, we would have let the retail space go.”

On their profile:

“We would rather have high profile and high negatives than a low profile and low negatives. The shame is you only get one chance at a review.”

Muzzy freely acknowledges that things did not go as planned. They have offered refunds to anyone who wants one, but say that some people back down on the request and just say that they want the game they had always wanted in the first place. They have updated the game and the documentation and the UI constantly since release, and were shooting for a multiplayer relaunch after PAX Prime. You can check on the state of the game here.

This has been a year of strategy games needing or getting major updates. AI War, Elemental, Supreme Commander 2 and, very likely, Civilization 5. Some of these games were very good and just needed fine tuning or AI fixes, some were broken. Making History 2 fit into that latter group, by Muzzy Lane’s own admission.

I played very little MH2, but I think given their frankness I should give it a shot. And if any in the community have comments on Muzzy’s progress and approach, feel free to fill the comments.


7 Comments so far ↓

  • Punning Pundit

    I do love the idea that a developer can come down and say “We fucked up, and here’s why/how”. Sadly, it doesn’t seem like those lessons are reaching from developers who have made mistakes to ones who haven’t (yet) made those mistakes. Else I should think we’d see business practices be a bit different…

  • Mauricio

    “The shame is you only get one chance at a review.”

    This is hugely important. You generally can’t recover from a bad launch. Prospective customers will look at reviews (typically written at launch), see the bad scores, and move on to something else. You can patch it all you want after the fact, but that doesn’t really change what prospective customers see.

    Speaking about Elemental and Making History 2, we are not talking mediocre 70-75% average reviews here. These two games have around 50% review averages. The kiss of death for a game.

    Stardock and Muzzy Lane basically have to release and get reviews for new editions (Elemental “1.5” and Making History “2.5”) in order to have any hope of getting back some of the sales they have lost.

    While I applaud them for being honest and making an effort to set things right, they still come across as being quite amateur. (Stardock in the TMA podcast, and Muzzy Lane here.) These are supposedly professional, experienced game developers. Why did they mess up so badly?

  • Troy


    I think part of the problem with both Muzzy and Stardock is that they are not games developers per se. Muzzy makes Serious Games and middleware stuff, Stardock has an entire business line of accessories, apps and software.

    This means that some things get pushed aside, there are conflicting priorities, the QA team (at Stardock at least) is not necessarily game literate…I think that devs with this sort of divided mindset have problems walking in no matter how committed they are to their product.

  • Mauricio

    Quite true, Troy. However, they have shipped some games in the past with better results than this, so we know they can do it. (The same could be said for M. Night Shyamalan’s movies.) Perhaps the priorities changed this time around.

    These guys also have the benefit of not having a big publisher to force them to ship early. On the other hand, they don’t have access to the QA resources of a big publisher.

  • Ian C

    I see an odd kind of entropy plaguing the games industry. Too many games seem half-finished on release. Why?

    It seems no matter how consistently trustworthy or respected a company is, I feel that every game for some time now is beset with this same set of issues, Hearts Of Iron 3, Elemental and Civilization 5 being good examples.

    Since more companies and publishers have grown from ‘cottage businesses’ over the past decade, (particularly those home grown strategy games developers) that perhaps the pressure is that they have to keep churning forth products, but software by its nature cannot be produced with a conveyor-belt production ethos since the integrity of these titles will suffer. At least Muzzy Lane and Stardock are not solely reliant on revenue from games alone so for them, this may not be the issue.

    Downloadable Content (DLC) is one sensible means of generating regular income from a viably quick turnaround in regards to taking it from the design/programming stages to release, but skimping on production values and quality assurance in order to satisfy a deadline with a Main Title will mean that the game will suffer. Once or twice and it’s nasty, but with a notable number of recent releases all falling foul of this half-baked problem?
    Not angering your customer base is a cardinal rule of commerce, but the software sector does it with aplomb since refunds are not a usual part of the sales experience and any unhappy customers can be easily banned from their official forums.

    Muzzy Lane cares. Fifteen patches in three months say they do.
    Company staff offering refunds says they do. We don’t see this transparency and magnanimity with other companies. If other companies followed their example, the gaming world would be a happier place.

  • Fernando A. Prado

    If they had release the game one month later, they would surely get better reviews. But it was the community feedback that allowed them to point and fix most of the problems.

    Anyway, they are right in the way they compromise with their product and their fans. I wish other companies where like this…

  • Sliv

    The biggest problem is that most reviewers write puff pieces about flawed or broken games and don’t write reviews reflecting the flaws. See Hearts of Iron III, for a start. If original reviews reflect bonhomie toward the production or a cursory review of a pre-release product, gamers suffer. HoI III is a real fiasco (forget friggin’ Muzzy Lane, sheesh) and you will not find original writing reflecting what a bad product Paradox produced.