Open Letter to Bethesda Softworks
November 18, 2001
by the MADia team
Many people have recently asked us to give our explanation to the present unfavorable state of affairs around the Echelon patch. Not only journalists, but also numerous gamers have sent us hundreds of messages, asking why we do not release the long-expected patch to the game. Gamers' complaints and rebukes have been especially painful to us, as we understand that they have also suffered from the conflict. Still, we long kept silence in hopes to resolve the conflict amicably. But now the time has come to tell all the truth, as it is impossible and useless to keep silence any longer. All this is terribly disappointing to us, the authors of the game. Still we believe that our game not only brought troubles to those who bought it...We believe that many people enjoyed playing it.
When - 4 years ago - we started developing the game, none of us had had an experience of making a full game of this size from the beginning to the end. We could not even imagine then how many difficulties we would be confronted with, and how long the way to the master would turn out to be. The development of Echelon took three years and a half of arduous toil in a small office with no sanitation (cockroaches, the spill tank that never worked, etc). We constantly had no money (we could afford only food then). We had to work on completely outdated computers and with only one 19200 modem for all.
As we had no experience, we often made mistakes and had to begin from the very beginning again and again. While we were developing the game, the technologies, which are the most important for the gaming industry, dramatically changed three times; and three times we had to re-make almost everything in the game. At times we gave ourselves up to total despair, and thought of closing the project-And anyway, we believed that one day we would finish the game, and we braced ourselves and got back to work.
In two years, our Russian publisher Buka signed the publishing agreement with the well-known American publisher Bethesda Softworks. According to the contract, Bethesda was to pay 250000USD in advance (this sum was divided into 5 parts, each of which was to be paid on our finishing a certain stage of development) and to carry out a good advertising campaign in the USA and Canada. The royalty, which Bethesda was to pay us were really small (7%), and we knew that Bethesda had not published any successful products in the last couple of years. But still, we believed that Bethesda would sell the game well in North America (which is one of the world largest and the most important territory for the gaming industry).
We really delayed the release of the game. It would be silly to hold it back now, as everybody knows it, and besides we have just given you the reasons of the delays. We agreed to pay all penalties specified in the contract. Moreover, Bethesda had the right to terminate the agreement at any stage of development, but they did not. They even paid two of the five 50000 USD payments they had to pay according to the agreement. Therefore, we finally completed Echelon, and Buka sent the American master CD to Bethesda. It was perhaps the only mistake, which our Russian publisher mad, but it was A RELLY BIG MISTAKE. The point is that Buka sent the master even in spite of the fact that by that moment they had not yet received the payment , which Bethesda had been to make on the receiving of the beta of Echelon, and even in spite of the fact that though the American release date had already been announced then, there was not advertising campaign at all. Still we believed that the game would be successful and many people would enjoy playing it.
Echelon is our first project. We devoted three years of our lives to it, and tried very hard to make a good game. And it is natural that after the release, we did not loose interest to Echelon. Our interest even increased. We must admit that however had we tried, we were unable to fix all the bugs in the game (though they all were found after the master was sent to Bethesda) and to complete everything we had designed, because of the lack of time at the final stage of the development. Still we believed that we had created a REALLY GOOD game, a game, which many people would like and enjoy playing.
By now we have fixed a number of bugs in the game and made a few major additions to fulfill all wishes, which people who bought the game made. However, after days of permanent argument and thinking we decided not to release the patch for the American version of the game. Why? Because: We worked for three years and really expected our work to bring us some profit. We did not expect to gain millions. We sinply hoped that when we would finish the game, we would be able to at least make some presents to our friends and relatives, who helped us greatly all the time we developed the game, hoped to be able to take trips to some places with our girlfriends, goddamn, we simply hoped to be able to afford a good dentist! We also hoped that we would gain some start-up capital, which will enable us to begin a new project without getting into new debts.
None of which has happened. Why? Because: For half a year now Bethesda has been delaying the 150000USD, which they ARE TO pay according to the contract, and moreover, it even refuse to give us the reason why. We have not been paid even for the beta. According to the contract, Bethesda should send us quarterly sales reports. Bethesda started to sale the game in May. By now Bethesda has sent us only the 2nd quarter 2001 report, which gave really ridiculous figures.The 2nd quarter 2001 report we have not received. The huge ad campaign, which Bethesda promised to carry out, it has not carried out (there were a few articles in some magazines....and that was it), and everybody understand how important advertising is for a game to be a success. But still, from some source we know that by now Bethesda has sold about 50000 boxes of Echelon in North America, which means that Bethesda has already made over a million on the game. We were simply shocked by such a way of doing business, and thought it would be humiliating to continue fulfilling the requirements of such a dishonest and treacherous "partner", and to continue supporting "the partner" with new patches and add-ons. But still we believe that the Bethesda case is not typical of the American market, and soon we will be able to find a new American publisher for long and effective cooperation.
In hopes of resolving the conflict amicably, long we kept silence, and quite a number of American players of Echelon got angry with us for that. And we must admit, peoples' anger was JUST. Because the gamers could not understand, why THEY have to suffer from this conflict. Buka also had to keep silence, and still keeps it, because it IS to keep silence according to the terms of its agreement with Bethesda. And we must point to the fact that it HAS NEVER breached this agreement , though Buka's reputation is greatly suffering from it. But it is useless and just impossible for us to keep silence any longer. The things that happen to Echelon - the game was left unfinished, it is impossible to release patches, angry messages on Bethesda's forum - every single thing of it is causing us - the creators of the game - great pain. And that is why we wrote, what you have just read.
Still we believe that our game is not thus bad, we believe that many people liked it, and we believe that this is not the end of its life.