Stonehearth, Radiant Entertainment's ant farm-esque city builder, was successfully Kickstarted in May 2013. It raised $751,920, more than six times its goal of $120,000. After a string of alpha builds, it launched on Steam Early Access in June 2015, and while it's seen countless updates since, it is still missing several features mentioned in its Kickstarter stretch goals. Radiant Entertainment announced today that development on Stonehearth will end this month, and that several stretch goal features will not be added.
"At the end of July, we will exit Stonehearth from Steam Early Access with our 1.0 release," Radiant said in a Steam blog post. "Following that release, most of the team will move on to other projects, though we’ll provide support, modding guidance, and bug fixes through the end of the year."
The studio acknowledged that not everything has been added, but says it's happy with where Stonehearth will be once the July update launches. "Though it’s true that Stonehearth doesn’t contain everything we dreamed about—the decisions we made on what to prioritize inevitably led to some systems not being as robust as we’d have liked—we feel that the game is ready for a larger audience to enjoy," Radiant said.
"Though it’s true that we can imagine an infinite number of additions to Stonehearth, we as a team realized that we could not commit to indefinite development, and so found a point at which we felt we could reasonably call the game complete," the studio added. "It’s not abandoned—it’s finished!"
Radiant also stressed that publisher Riot Games, which acquired Radiant in 2016, is not "killing" Stonehearth. "Though it’s certainly true that some of the external pressures on the individuals on the team come from opportunities posed by other Riot projects, and though Stonehearth is not a priority from Riot’s overall strategic perspective and therefore cannot be funded by Riot indefinitely, Riot leadership has always emphasized player focus as the company’s core mission, and therefore, wanted us to conclude the game in a way that did right by as many of you as possible," the studio said.
Stonehearth will officially launch at the end of July, and in August "the majority of the team" will move on from the game. However, three developers will stick around "to work on bugs and performance and mod support" until December 2018. The team will then cap off the year with a 1.1 release "containing whatever bug fixes and aforementioned features that did not make it into 1.0". However, the studio clarified that not all missing features will be added.
The following features are scheduled to release in either the 1.0 or 1.1 updates: the Rabbit Clan faction, the glacier biome, the Northern Alliance (Stonehearth's third playable kingdom), the Geomancer class, cycling seasons, and Mac support.
That being said, many features from Stonehearth's Kickstarter stretch goals have been cut from Stonehearth entirely. Radiant explained the decision behind each cut feature in its post:
Linux port: "We have, however, chosen not to pursue the Linux port. We do know that it is possible to make a Wine wrapper that will enable the game to work on Linux, but if this solution does not work for you, and it is the only means by which you can play the game, please reach out to us through Kickstarter and we’ll see what we can do to make amends." (Note: Wine is essentially a software which translates Windows programs on the fly for Linux systems.)
Pirate, Ninja and Politician enemy classes: "After some discussion, we decided that this feature doesn’t really fit with the thematics of Stonehearth, so we have dropped plans to implement it."
Animal Trainer Hearthling class: "A prototype exists, but we were never able to make it satisfying from a gameplay perspective. Cut from the game."
Magma Smith Hearthling class: "We have investigated this, but whenever we think of something they would do, it seems to work better as part of the blacksmith or geomancer. Cut from the game."
PvP: "PvP is simply not part of our vision for the game, its tone, and the experience you would get from playing with other people. This feature is therefore cut. We have made sure, however, that PvP can be modded in if someone wants it bad enough, and at least one PvP mod is available from Steam Workshop right now." (Note: the only PvP mod I could find on Stonehearth's Steam Workshop is Hostile Hearthlings from modder WittyHorse.)
Fire Elemental enemy class: "Fire elementals burninating the countryside proved to be more heat than we could handle, so those were cut from the game." (Note: Ents and Stoneling elementals are already in Stonehearth.)
Alternate Planes biomes: "This was not really a clearly defined feature, and we could add something to tick the box, but we did some experimentation, and didn’t think any of the outcomes did it justice, so we’ve cut this feature."
Dwarf Hearthling class: "Cut from the game. Sorry about this one; we were daunted by the amount of work required to significantly reimagine gameplay for subterranean dwellers."
Radiant says that because "the game is a bit smaller than we originally intended it to be," Stonehearth's price will be lowered from $25 to $20 at the end of July. Additionally, in a reply on a Kickstarter update, the studio said it is "working on a mechanism" to refund Kickstarter backers who are unsatisfied with the final state of the game. The studio advises concerned backers to send a Kickstarter message "and we'll try to get to them when we have a system in place."
In the same reply, Radiant said it will consider releasing Stonehearth's source code, effectively putting its future in the community's hands a la Mojang's newly renamed and re-released Scrolls, "if there's enough interest."
In its farewell post, Radiant described three "major mistakes" it made while developing Stonehearth. Firstly, the studio said, it underestimated how difficult it would be to make an ambitious sandbox game with a small team. Secondly, at times it allowed "technical things" to overshadow game systems, "which leads to a campaign and core loop that feel at times, uneven and clunky." Thirdly, it created and used its own game engine rather than an existing engine, which piled on yet more technical issues.
"By the time we noticed these were major issues, we were so deeply invested that fixing any of them would have taken a rewrite and maybe years to address, and so we built the best thing we could out of what we had," Radiant said. "So one overall conclusion to all of this is that this was our first game, we were really naive *and* really ambitious, and as a result, the final game was flawed in proportion to our ambition."
Stonehearth's fate is regrettable, and a reminder of the risks of crowdfunding. When you back a game on Kickstarter, you're not buying a copy of the game described. You're supporting the idea on offer, and those ideas don't always come to fruition in their entirety. That said, Stonehearth is a far cry from the broken and dishonest Kickstarter cash-grabs we've seen in the past. Many of its missing features will be added in upcoming updates, and Radiant will not only lower the price of the game to compensate for the cut features, but also offer refunds to Kickstarter backers. Fans have a right to be upset about the missing content, but Radiant has done more than many studios have to patch things up.