Stardock: Impulse 'was consuming the rest of the company'

By Alice O'Connor, Mar 22, 2012 1:00pm PDT

The so-called "dumbification" of video games, Windows 8, and the sale of digital distributor Impulse to retail monster GameStop are among the topics PC developer and publisher Stardock has covered in its latest annual Customer Report. A Stardock tradition, it's written by its notoriously outspoken CEO and president Brad Wardell.

Wardell gives three reasons why Stardock sold Impulse: "It was consuming the rest of the company"; the developers wanted to release Stardock games on Steam and other platforms; and it was "not compatible with Stardock's internal culture."

"Impulse's success came at a cost. High talent software developers are precious and Stardock found itself having to transfer its best developers from both the software and games unit to Impulse in order to ensure that the platform could scale and compete in the market," he explains.

"While Impulse was able to benefit from Stardock's top development talent, the effects on the rest of the company were patently obvious. Object Desktop, Stardock's flagship software product, languished and the Elemental: War of Magic project suffered greatly as well."

The launch of fantasy strategy game Elemental in August 2010 was massively botched, and Stardock had to lay off staff because of its poor performance. It tried to get back on track by hiring lead Civilization V designer Jon Shafer and famed Civ modder Derek 'Kael' Paxton, and saved a little face by offering Elemental's first two expansion packs free to early adopters.

Wardell notes that GameStop was better for Impulse in ways, using its clout to get the rights to games that Impulse "had struggled to obtain." He also says, "getting one of the major retailers refocused on the PC market would provide long-term benefits both to us and our fellow PC game development studios."

The report goes into progress on the next Elemental game, Fallen Enchantress. Derek Paxton made the decision to start fresh, using War of Magic code and assets where appropriate rather than building FE around WoM.

Wardell says there's "at least half a year of development left," noting beta feedback has been "very positive" and saying he hopes it'll be "the marquee turn-based strategy game of its time period."

Ironclad's space strategy series Sins of a Solar Empire, which Stardock published, is also a big franchise for the company. Wardell claims that the "dumbification" of video games has created a gap in the market for players "interested in a complex game experience but also want high production standards," who are supposedly males aged 25 to 55.

He notes that some might say the new generation of gamers have grown up on "games that hand hold the player through a well-developed story" and have no interest in "'discovering' the nuances of game play over many hours." However, Wardell is confident that interests will mature as the players do.

Wardell also lays into Microsoft's new operating system, Windows 8, claiming that it "will be considered a general failure" if it doesn't fix a few user interface issues: being unable to run entirely as a regular desktop without Metro; having no "realistic" way to organise Metro programs; and relying users to mouse-over elements to find out what they are.

Of course, Stardock will have quite strong opinions in this frield, as it makes a vast array of programs tweaking the Windows interface. Still, Wardell is concerned that Windows 8 might be so offputting that people simply won't switch, and there'll be no market to sell its tools to.

There's also a small tease that Stardock will expand into "other platforms," saying it'll make some announcements "later this year."

Check out the full report, if you fancy, for Stardock's customer satisfaction survey and more.

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