In the game industry if a game ships badly and doesn’t sell in the first two weeks, it’s all over. The only game that has ever recovered from a bad release that I know of is Anarchy Online and that was only because it came out early enough when massively multiplayer games were still novel. But that is the exception, not the rule. How many games have you played that sucked, and you tried them again a year later just to see if a patch made them better?
Giving a bad impression in the middleware market is not quite such a death-sentence, because people expect middleware to improve and change over time. However, a bugged release is still going to cause you pain for a long time.
Negative posts that are no longer true
When I search for “RakNet vs. X” where X is one of my competitors, I sometimes see posts “RakNet is good, but X does this better.” Three years ago when the post was written, that was true, but people reading up on RakNet wouldn’t know things have changed since then. Even my Gamedev review is based on like 1.0 of RakNet. It’s positive (thank god!) but it’s totally inapplicable to the current release. Imagine if it had been negative, all things currently equal?
The original reason I wrote RakNet was because I was disenchanted with HawkNL. I respect what the author has done, but I essentially put him out of business if the forum is anything to go by. Usually I won’t link to my competitors so I don’t improve their Google rank, but HawkNL is so long gone I don’t even care. Arguably, I even put Microsoft’s DirectPlay out of business, as they shut down a few years after RakNet was created as well. Mabye not THE reason, but perhaps the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Old releases scattered around
Sometimes people take it upon themselves to write wrappers for RakNet, or mirror it. If the wrapper is just for a release that lacks features, that is OK. But if the release has bugs, then so does the wrapper, and unlike your own releases, the wrapper is out of your control and keeps on giving you a bad name.
Disgruntled users that won’t come back anytime soon
The first graphics library I ever used, before I even graduated college, was Power Render. The documentation, support, and distribution wasn’t very good, and I paid like $250 for it, which was a LOT of money for me at the time. I’m sure it’s much better now after 8 years or so. But even now, if I’m going to look for a graphics library, Power Render is going to be last on the list because I don’t know if I like the other libraries or not, but I know I once had a bad experience with Power Render. If Power Render has just lacked features and otherwise worked, I would have missed those features, but wouldn’t have been mad or felt like I wasted money.
My biggest mistake ever regarding bad releases was when adding flow control. Flow control is tremendously hard to get working right, unless you’ve done it before it’s hard to understand just how difficult and error prone it is. Bad flow control causes lag and spikes, and because this issue was so hard to get working right under every internet condition, every type of game, every operating system for about 2 years I got occasional complaints about these kinds of issues. In my opinion this is the reason I have any low-cost competitors at all. Disgruntled users that had bad flow control under some case that went to my 3rd place competitor (which doesn’t have flow control, and is otherwise 4 years behind me in development) and had their issues fixed. It’s better not to have a feature at all than one that doesn’t work right in all cases and is well-tested.
So the key point is, be very careful about testing, and don’t release with bugs.