We can all throw stones at how well - or not well - the game was developed.
Like it or not, I can cite a number of examples of "poor" game testing on strategies that just didn't work for many games that were very successful when first released. Civ II, Alpha Centari, Age of Empires, and Total War - all had flaws that the beta testers "should have" caught.
There is a difference between quirks and bugs which crop up after release which the testers didn't see, and bugs which make the game unplayable.
Take for example the tax income from planets. Pirate factions could not get taxes from planets which they controlled - by invasion or construction of the final (?) facility. That's a game breaker.
Or take the lack of prioritization for freighters, which were happily whizzing across the galaxy to pick up some steel, but ignored the planet with a smuggling contract they were next to. That's a game-breaker for a smuggler pirate and painful to any pirate type.
Or take defence contract missions - a "bread and butter" mission for a marauder pirate. A single speed 50 escort whizzing in and dropping a single raider on the planet was enough to blow the whole contract... and it happened easily and often enough that one had to babysit the ships protecting the planet for the entire duration of the "protection" - making completion exceedingly difficult and time-consuming (read: micromanage and not fun for the player).
Or the raiding, where you'd end up destroying any of your own facilities on a planet if you raided it. Game-breaker again.
I don't remember SMAC or any of the other games you listed having bugs that severe which made the game unplayable (above as a pirate faction) on release. Nothing so sever, and nothing that would have been blatantly visible to any beta tester trying the different pirate types.
I absolutely stand by my statement that Shadows v1.9.0 release was unplayable. Far too many game-breaking bugs which should have been caught in beta, if not alpha. Does that mean that the beta testers are to blame? Not really. If the defects were as numerous as Darkspire suggested, then they needed far more testers in the beta - which I contend they did not have nearly enough of. The simplest and cheapest solution would be to expand the beta tester roll, but for some reason Matrix decided not to.
And as soon as the product hits the real world market, most of the times flaws are immediately discovered that - yes - should have been discovered in testing.
Are you seriously taking the position that none of the testers could have been reasonably expected to take over a planet as a pirate faction and check their tax income? Seriously? And that's only the tip of the iceberg.
I don't expect a "perfect" release. I just expect a "reasonable" release. Shadows fell below "reasonable".
Until two to three weeks after the game was released and a few people showed how "this weak race" dominated and had to be banned from multi-player. Did it mean the testers should have caught it? Sure, but they didn't and the rest of the game was excellent and went on do extremely well.
Game balance and removing exploits is always a tricky business. I did not expect Shadows to be free of exploits or have all races perfectly balanced. I did however, expect the game to be possible to complete as any faction (difficulty of doing so aside).
And no amount of testing will uncover all of them before you release it.
Again, I don't think anyone here is suggesting that DW should have been defect-free on release. What the complaint is - or mine at least - is that it should be possible to complete the game as any faction/race type. I believe the few defects noted above show clearly enough that such ability to complete the game was not possible.
“That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.” ― Christopher Hitchens