While I agree with a lot of what the OP says, unfortunately I can already tell you Brad won't agree with any of it. According to him the community Always says a game ISN'T ready, and Stardock always says a game IS ready. In Elemental's case Stardock got kinda screwed over with the release windows available to them. They didn't launch early because they needed the money. They released early because they had other deals in the works and pushing the release back until Feb of next year would have cost them a lot on those other deals they already had worked out (making boxes, printing disks, etc etc).
Brad's NEVER going to agree with the community when they say something isn't ready. As a developer he see's Impulse as the ultimate "Fix anything Later" tool and that's a very BAD view to have. While it's true Impulse is great for delivering updates, it's VERY VERY BAD for business when you have the view that "We can patch in fixes at a later date", because by then it's too late to fix the damage that's been done in the eyes of the gaming public. While the game can always be fixed and patched later, winning over the mind and opinion of someone who thinks the game sucks because they already tried it once and didn't like it is often something that CAN'T be fixed later. Once a gamer tries something and doesn't like it they almost NEVER go back and try it again later. I know that is a FACT from having over 20 years experience as a gamer myself and also having quite a few years of experience working in the industry its-self.
In Elemental's case Stardock really should have bit the bullet and pushed it back until Feb until all these bugs and balance issues were squashed. I honestly don't think any pre-planning was done at all in regards to balance and that can pretty much be proven by seeing Brad's views as a game developer. Brad is concerned with getting engine mechanics working properly, he doesn't care how much damage a Fireball does or how much Strength a Demon has because to him that is seen as "content fluff" that can be tweaked later if needed. While that may be true from a Developer Viewpoint, that is decidedly NOT TRUE from a Gamer's Viewpoint. From a Gamer's perspective that "content fluff" IS THE GAME. If it's not balanced and fun then the game will bomb, plain and simple, and he just doesn't see that and most likely never will (thanks Impulse...). This is WHY digital delivery systems aren't good for gaming. They give developers TOO MUCH LEEWAY when it comes to patching up a broken game and this is what allows so many developers get away with putting out a crap game thinking they can fix it later after they rake in the money. Stardock doesn't need to "rake in the money" to keep a game going or in development because they make their money from Windows Applications and Customization. Not to mention Brad could always dig into some of those millionaire bucks if he needed to too keep the game in development until it's Actually Ready.
Maybe now with the damage that's been done to Stardock's reputation he will finally see that when the community says something isn't ready....maybe it's actually NOT READY *GASP*
Having said that, I STILL think Elemental is a AWESOME and FUN game. I'm very glad I have it now and didn't have to wait until Feb 2011 to get my hands on it. Next time though Stardock needs to have all that "Content Fluff" hammered out on paper in the Design Phase While the Engine is being made. That's the way EVERY company I've ever worked for has done things in the past. Game content is NOT FLUFF that can be balanced and tweaked later. It HAS TO BE DONE BEFORE LAUNCH. Or things like this happen and people lose faith in Stardock's ability to make a fun and balanced game-play experience.
With Brad's latest post, I think he's learned that's not always the case. Yes, I do agree with you that they were screwed on the release timing. That said, I think if given the choice between rushing and delaying, you always choose the delay. Now if I was seventy and had six months to live, I'd be pissed . The boxes could have sat in a warehouse, the disks didn't need to be pressed until three weeks prior- so that's a non-issue also. A rushed game is forever rushed, a great game later is still great. A game that is rushed but becomes great- those get mixed legacies. Ultimately though, "it is what it is", and Stardock is going to do a damn good job of making some damn good lemonade out of lemons. That's the benefit of Stardock's support- and why is it a good business practice- imagine if some other company had put a game like Elemental out at launch in this state, without the reputation Stardock has for improving things post-release. There would be rioting in their forums- nothing like this. You see the rioting on other sites that aren't familiar with Stardock. In the age of the Steam Defense Force, Stardock isn't that well known due to their games not being on Steam. This is another reason why I'm upset some- Elemental's flawed launch hurts Impulse, which I prefer to Steam, even more now after seeing how Impulse integrates into Elemental.
I don't think the criticism of Impulse is fair. From what I have seen, the integration of Impulse into Elemental, and the things that are being done, is really, REALLY well done. It may actually be the strongest part of the game so far- though more mod content is needed, not just maps. You're right that the state of PC gaming has changed- while DD is great, it does have some side effects- and the "fix it later" mentality is one of those.
I'll say this- I am confident that (assuming GalCiv 3 is next, which it should be now if it wasn't planned that way- GalCiv is the flagship franchise of Stardock, and a good Galciv will undo all reputation damage if done right at launch) GC3 will not repeat the mistakes of the past. Stardock learns from their mistakes.