Stardock Corporation is a software development company founded in 1991 and incorporated in 1993 as Stardock Systems. Stardock initially developed for the OS/2 platform, but was forced to switch to Windows due to the collapse of the OS/2 software market between 1997 and 1998. The company is best known for computer programs that allow a user to modify or extend a graphical user interface as well as personal computer games, particularly strategy games such as Galactic Civilizations, Galactic Civilizations II, Sins of a Solar Empire and Elemental: War of Magic.
Stardock created and maintains WinCustomize, a graphical user interface customization community, and the Impulse content delivery system. Many of the skins and themes featured on its site are for software that is part of Object Desktop, their main subscription service. They are based in Plymouth, Michigan.
Stardock was one of the first companies to distribute its software via a free digital distribution program. The first one was called Component Manager. This was later replaced by Stardock Central. In 2008, Stardock released a third-generation digital distribution platform called Impulse, which allows streamlined patching and the ability to download purchased games to another computer owned by the user for free. Stardock Central has been phased out, and new patches are now only available through Impulse. Stardock has agreed to publish some games containing certain less intrusive versions of SecuROM on Impulse.
Stardock's best known product for PC users is Object Desktop. It is a set of desktop enhancement utilities designed to enable users to control the way their operating system looks, feels and functions. Originally developed for OS/2, the company released a version of it for Windows in 1999. The core components of Object Desktop include WindowBlinds, IconPackager, DeskScapes, DesktopX and others. In 2008, Stardock released Object Desktop in two editions, the traditional standard edition and a new "Ultimate" edition. The standard edition includes the core components. The ultimate edition adds additional programs designed for "power users", such as TweakVista, Keyboard Launchpad and ObjectBar.
Stardock has an in-house game developer that has created PC games including The Corporate Machine, Galactic Civilizations, Galactic Civilizations II, Galactic Civilizations II: Dark Avatar, Galactic Civilizations II: Twilight of the Arnor and The Political Machine. The Dark Avatar expansion pack is the highest-rated expansion pack for a PC game on GameRankings. In August 2010, Stardock released Elemental: War of Magic, a fantasy 4X turn-based strategy game.
In 2006, following the commercial success of their first self-published game, Galactic Civilizations II, Stardock began publishing games developed by third-parties.
The first third-party game Stardock published was Sins of a Solar Empire. The publishing arrangement worked out between Stardock and Ironclad Games was unusual in that the two companies integrated their teams at every level. The game has an average score of 88 on Metacritic and is a top seller at retail.
The second third-party game Stardock published is Demigod, from developer Gas Powered Games. It was released in 2009.
Having developed Stardock Central to digitally distribute its own PC titles, the company launched a service called Drengin.net in summer 2003. The original idea was that users would pay a yearly subscription fee and receive new titles as they became available. Initially, Stardock's own titles along with titles from Strategy First were available. A year later, Stardock replaced the subscription model with a new system called TotalGaming.net in which users could purchase games individually or pay an upfront fee for tokens which allowed them to purchase games at a discount. TotalGaming.net targeted independent game developers rather than the larger publishers. As of late 2008, new token purchases have been discontinued as totalgaming transitions to Impulse, although current token owners can still use them to purchase games.
In 2008, Stardock announced its third-generation digital distribution platform called Impulse. Stardock's intention was for Impulse to include independent third-party games and major publisher titles and indeed, the service now includes content from a variety of publishers.
Stardock owns and operates a number of community-centric websites, the most popular of which is WinCustomize. WinCustomize is best known for providing a library of downloadable content, such as skins, themes, icons and wallpapers.
Stardock develops a line of utilities including Multiplicity, KeepSafe and others, designed to increase productivity and stability on Windows. Its most popular utility, ObjectDock, provides similar functionality to the dock found in Mac OS X but with additional capabilities. The "Plus" version of ObjectDock includes tabbed categories.
Stardock's dominance of Windows desktop enhancement technology has led to many companies licensing its technology to improve the "Windows experience".
Notable customers have included:
- HP, who distributes Stardock Fences Pro and MyColors on their HP ENVY line of laptops
- Dell, whose new Windows experience initiative leverages Stardock's dock technology
- Microsoft, who contracted Stardock to provide the default animated wallpapers for Windows Vista Ultimate
- Alienware, which distribute PCs with Theme Manager OEM (branded AlienGUIse)
- ATI, which use DirectSkin for their CATALYST Control Center
- The University of Michigan and Florida State University, two MyColors participants
- The NBA, also a MyColors participant
Founded by college student Brad Wardell, Stardock began as a custom PC maker but quickly expanded into making software.
OS/2 era (1993–2001)
Stardock's initial software product was a computer game for OS/2 called Galactic Civilizations. Stardock never actually received any royalties from the initial sales of Galactic Civilizations due to publisher fraud, but the market had been created for subsequent addon packs including the Shipyards expansion, and Stardock later sold a significant number of licenses to IBM for part of its Family FunPak (under the name Star Emperor). Stardock went on to create OS/2 Essentials, and its successor, Object Desktop, which provided the company with a large base of users.
At about this time, IBM decided to abandon OS/2. However, they did not make this decision public, and Stardock continued to develop applications software and games for the platform, including Avarice and Entrepreneur. With the advent of Windows NT 4, Stardock found that their core user base was slipping away, and was forced to reinvent itself as a Windows developer, but not before it lost most of its money and staff. A key revealing point was the failure of its game Trials of Battle, a 3D hovercraft fighting game, which Stardock expected to sell a million copies and instead sold in the hundreds. Brad Wardell estimates that the death of OS/2 set the company back by about three years.
Windows era (1998–present)
The newer, smaller Stardock was heavily reliant on the goodwill of its previous customers, who essentially purchased Windows subscriptions for Object Desktop in anticipation of the products it would consist of. Having put together a basic package (including some old favourites from the OS/2 era) Stardock began to bring in external developers to create original products.
Stardock's first major Windows success was with WindowBlinds, an application originated by a partnership with developer Neil Banfield. There turned out to be a large market for skinnable products, and Stardock prospered, growing significantly in the next five years. Although it is not true that Stardock was responsible for the msstyle skinning engine in Windows XP, the release of this operating system did stimulate sales in Stardock products, and despite growing competition proportional to the market the company remains in a strong position.
In 2001, they added a widget creation and desktop modification tool, DesktopX, based on Alberto Riccio's VDE. This has not had such a wide uptake as other products; some believe this is because it is harder to use and to create for, others because users do not understand the functionality that it offers. DesktopX competes with Konfabulator and Kapsules in the widget arena. In 2003, Stardock became a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner with their "Designed for Windows" certification of WindowBlinds.
Stardock's success in the Windows game market has been mixed. At first, its titles on Windows were published by third parties: The Corporate Machine (Take 2), Galactic Civilizations (Strategy First), and The Political Machine 2004 (Ubisoft). While all three titles sold well at retail, Stardock was unsatisfied with the amount of revenue Windows games developers received. In the case of Galactic Civilizations, publisher Strategy First filed for bankruptcy without paying most of the royalties it owed. This ultimately led to Stardock self-publishing its future titles. Because of the success of its desktop applications, Stardock has been able to self-fund its own PC games and aid third party developers with their games as well.
Stardock has been involved in litigation in relation to their business:
- In 1998, they were sued by Entrepreneur Magazine for use of the trademark name "Entrepreneur" for one of their games. Stardock claimed that their use of this word was not related to the magazine's business, but did not have the money to fight the case—the name was changed to Business Tycoon; a later version was rebranded as The Corporate Machine.
- In December 2003, TGTSoft sued Stardock and Brad Wardell for declarative relief, claiming that they should be able to use the IconPackager .iptheme file format without charge. Many open source programs do read and write proprietary file formats without paying royalties—for example, OpenOffice.org reads and writes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and other Microsoft Office files. However, Stardock maintained that they should be entitled to royalties or a license fee on such software, particularly as TGTSoft was charging money for their products and because it was considered likely that their users would use the WinCustomize libraries, which are run with help (monetary and otherwise) from Stardock. The case was eventually settled out of court, with TGTSoft licensing the format for use with their products.
- Dustin Walsh (2010-03-14), "Super-secure IT center becomes economic-development tool", Crain's Detroit Business, http://www.crainsdetroit.com/article/20100314/C02/303149981, retrieved 2010-03-30
- "GameRankings top meta scores". http://www.gamerankings.com.
- "Top Selling PC Games April 2006". http://www.gamespot.com/pc/strategy/galacticcivilizations2/news.html?sid=6148856&mode=all.
- "Gamasutra Sins of a Solar Empire post-mortem.". http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/3638/postmortem_ironcladstardocks_.php.
- "The Sun Rises for Sins of a Solar Empire". http://www.gamedaily.com/games/sins-of-a-solar-empire/pc/game-features/chart-toppers-the-sun-rises-for-sins-of-a-solar-empire/.
- "Impulse Details at Gamers with Jobs". http://www.gamerswithjobs.com/node/38570.
- "CNET Top Desktop Enhancement Programs". http://www.download.com/3101-2019-0-1.html?tag=pop.software.
- Stardock's Wardell Talks GalCiv, Indie Power. Retrieved on 2008-06-17
- http://www.gamasutra.com/features/20060405/wardell_01.shtml Gamasutra 'Postmortem' April 5, 2006
- Brad Wardell (posting as Frogboy) (3 September 2010). Any truth to the rumor on shacknews?. Stardock Forums. Retrieved on 4 September 2010
- Official website
- IRC server (main channel: #stardock)
- 10 years of Stardock/Stardock's 10-year anniversary
- Stardock's OS/2 history
- OS/2 product timeline
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