First of all, thanks Brad for this opportunity to express the opinion about current state of GalCiv3 in the format, which I find most relevant (y)!
So, let me start with the statement that I definitely find GalCiv3 polished in it's current state. What do I mean by that:
1. It doesn't have bugs, which annoy me enough to mention them...
2. GC3 Crusade stream lined the gameplay and made some important interface changes, which made the game experience "smooth" and more well paced IMHO.
3. It (especially with Crusade addition) has nice feature set, which feels like it's got necessary meat on it, which was kind of lacking before Crusade came out...
That said, I think there is one major issue with GC3 - and it is common for some of the other Stardock games as well: it is that it is too much of the "sandbox". What I mean by that is: there is a nice set of features in GC3, but many of these features live life of their own. There was in the beginning (and still is despite all efforts IMHO) disconnect between different functions of the game.
I.e. the ideological traits system - when the game was first released, it felt that that system lives the life on its own. It was giving certain bonuses to the factions, but apart of that it was not connected much to diplomatic, science, economy or any other system in the game. Yes, you were trying with different expansions and patches to bring it closer to other systems, particular diplomacy, but
a) the potential of ideology still feels as not being realised in full
b) it took quite a bit of time to get where we are at, and there is still a way to go
So, why it feels that the systems (diplomacy, economy, ideology, politics) are not quite shining to their full potential?
Because as I said above, the game was designed with the following in mind:
to have many basic features, which later could be brought together and made work together to full extent by expansions. That approach is opposite to what endless space 2 seems to be doing - where they are trying to do relatively small amount of functions, but make them deeper and working together very well..
The problem for GC3 I think is that once you have that big variety of different functions, it is very difficult to make them work together later. As some of them have to be completely modified in order to do so. And that's partly where the time and money go to with no real benefit for the company. Because it means quite a bit of re-working something, which already exists. Or you have to make decision not to touch some of the functions - and it means that they always will feel underdeveloped and ultimately frustrating as there is a bare skeleton for many of the things there, but it doesn't provide the real coherent experience.
So, I think that in order to minimise the rework and save money and time for the meaningful development work, it is an absolute must for 4X developers now to have complete, very well speced and transparent design before they actual even start developing anything. Design, which will link all of the parts of the game together and then probably the paper prototype or something, which would allow them to see, which features of the game would be fun and which ones are pulling it back...
This is the biggest issue I have with Stardock games, such as FELH or GC3, they have great set of the features, but the coherent, integral experience of the game often is not quite there. The features feel disconnected and in many cases underdeveloped. I would argue, that if you (and of course it is just my opinion) put your money in too (much stronger!!) game design, then you will find that great games you have now, will become truly classic. AND you won't spend that much more money on development, because you won't be spending it on re-writing, re-combining features, but can instead always concentrating on expanding and broadening the game. Which you already an expert and market leader at!
Thanks again, but really - this is such a great opportunity to tell you about the pains and joys buying from your company .