I am writing this in the "Suggestions" forum as I believe it is primarily something the devs need to read and it does not need the visibility of the general discussion forum. This is an open letter to the developers:
Many months ago I frequented the BoS forums. I eagerly ancipated the release of the game. To show my support, I even pre-ordered the game for $100 USD. I was excited by what I saw--beautiful graphics, a hardcore simulation, and the potential for a really amazing multiplayer community to form around the only decent combat flight sim to be developed in the past 5 years.
As a zealous advocate for simulation games I have always had a special place in my heart for flight sims. Flight sims are a big part of the reason for my biggest passion and life's work: aviation. As a real life pilot, I have always enjoyed combat flight sims more than any other sim genre. I religiously played the original IL-2 Sturmovik and also got very deep into Falcon 4.0 as well the DCS products. I say all of the above so you understand my hopes and level of interest in the genre and in this game in particular.
Sadly, expectations have not met with reality. This happens from time to time in games development and I understand that sometimes promises cannot become reality when they are made years before the actual product is finished. I had faith that the developers would work hard to fix any issues that existed during the alpha and beta and that by release time the game would be polished and more acceptable. In fact, I think that most of the developers are still working hard to this day to produce the best product they can.
However, I am watching my dreams (and the dreams of many of my fellow sim pilots) slowly die. Not because IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad is a bad simulation--it is not. Not because the game is in some way irreparably broken--it is not. But rather because the potential community around this game is disintegrating. The glue that holds our dreams together is a strong, thriving community who can help support the game and lend their time, talents, and money to keeping the game fresh and growing for years to come.
Why is the potential community disintegrating if the game isn't that bad? As you might guess from the title, I think it is primarily a public perception problem. I would like to point out a thread I recently read on reddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/pcmasterrace/comments/2q7gsv/seriously_who_voted_for_more_discount_on_a_1_game/
The original post is from a reddit user posing the question to other users as to why IL-2: BoS was not selected for the latest Steam community choice vote to go on sale for a heavy discount (the game would've been 50% off of $60; a very heavy discount that should've been quite enticing). This piques my interest for a very important reason: Steam has been the go-to platform for PC game sales in recent years. It has millions of users and any game lucky enough to make it to the top sales position on any given day usually sees a huge swell of support and players. A notable example would be ArmA 2, which suddenly ended up topping the sales charts on Steam thanks to the DayZ mod and went on to become extremely popular with ArmA 3 owing a lot of its success to it's predecessor. Any game that makes an appearance on Steam's front page can expect thousands of sales at a minimum. Only 1 in 1,000 users on Steam need to be interested in order for these sales figures to occur. There is no need for serious market penetration or advertisement. In other words, just being popular on Steam is it's own kind of marketing.
Now why is it that IL-2 wasn't voted in? I have a couple of theories. The first is the games store page. As most people are not familiar with flight simulators (especially those currently in production) they likely relied on the store page for their information. Unfortunately, the store page currently shows IL-2: BoS's reviews as "Mixed" (a Steam death sentence from everything I've seen). But the real question is why? Are the mixed reviews the cause of the game's poor performance or merely a symptom? Shouldn't IL-2 have received the same front page popularity boost as many of the other well-crafted titles on Steam?
Having read nearly all of the 180+ reviews on Steam and having also seen the replies to the reddit thread linked above I have come to a depressing conclusion: IL-2: Battle of Stalingrad and in particular the 1CGS developers now have a poor public image from the perspective of the average, marginally-involved potential customer base. Customers are not confident that they will be heard or respected as part of the community. I my own estimation if 1CGS cannot correct this perception problem this game will surely perish.
Some specific complaints for the developers to consider:
1. Reaction to criticism. The internet is a harsh place. Anonymity gives people the ability to say whatever they want free of any serious repercussion. The developers and their surrogates (moderators, community managers) need to have a thick skin. Stifling criticism you don't like only creates more animosity. The average internet user is nothing but indignant if his freedom of expression is infringed. You can expect any person who's thread is locked, post deleted, or account banned to be another customer lost. Don't underestimate the power of these individuals to go tell their friends (as well as post in other places) about their treatment. In addition, carefully read the intelligently written criticisms and look at them from the other person's perspective. Don't assume ill will just because they are critical. Many of your players are critical because they want to see this game succeed.
2. Reaction to suggestions. Not all community suggestions are good. As developers it is your responsibility to use your superior knowledge about game development to judge what input is valid and what input will actually hurt the game. Use logic and reasoning. Try to understand the history of what made previous titles successful. As Newton said, "If I have seen further it is by standing on ye shoulders of Giants." However, you must always approach all suggestions in a benevolent way. Do not stifle or overly criticize. Allow people to vent their frustrations even if you know their opinion is not helpful. I like to keep in mind this quote:
"10 years from now people will look back at Valve and see a company who genuinely cared about the games and the people who play games. We did not cut corners and yeah may never have shipped on time, but at least lived up to its responsibilities to moving things forward." -Gabe Newell, 2004
3. Specific public relations releases. It is important to carefully word any release of information, response to criticism, or public relations campaign. People will misappropriate ANY quote they can for devious purposes and will spread around even the slightest mistake in an attempt to smear people they don't like. Don't believe a moment that the competition won't use false flags and astroturf users to campaign against you. Be forthright, honest, positive and faithful to the community in all your dealings and you will refute, through your actions, these negative information campaigns. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to be friendly and charismatic in dealing with the community (but not to the point of faking it, no one likes a facade).
I know that what I have written may sound condescending, simplistic, or obvious, but I have presented it all in good faith. I want to see IL-2: Battle of Stalingrad succeed in the long term. I present these points because they are things I have seen firsthand and these ideas have been corroborated with others experiences as well. I wish the developers all of the strength, willpower, and luck to make IL-2: BoS a game that everyone wants to play.