is a software
founded in 1991
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 their computer programs
that allow a user to modify or extend a graphical user interface
as well as their computer games
, particularly strategy games
such as Galactic Civilizations
, Sins of a Solar Empire
, and Demigod
Stardock created and maintains WinCustomize, a GUI customization community. Many of the skins and themes featured on its site are for software that is part of Object Desktop, their main subscription service. Stardock also runs TotalGaming.net, an online content delivery system for downloadable personal computer games, and ThinkDesk, a productivity application service. They are based in Plymouth, Michigan.
Most of the products below are tied together with Stardock Central
, a program allowing download of the components of Stardock's subscription services, whether bought as part of a subscription or separately. Some are only available for Windows 2000
and/or Windows XP
. Stardock was one of the first companies to distribute its software via a digital distribution program. The first one was called Component Manager. This was later replaced by Stardock Central
. Stardock is currently working on a third-generation digital distribution platform called Impulse
Stardock's best known product for PC users is called 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
, and several other programs. In 2008, Stardock released Object Desktop with two editions, the traditional standard edition and a new "Ultimate" edition. The standard edition includes the core components. The ultimate edition adds many additional programs designed for "power users" such as TweakVista
, Keyboard Launchpad
, and so forth.
Indie Game Developer
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
. Stardock's game development team is currently working on a turn-based fantasy strategy game due out in 2010.
In 2006, following the commercial success of their first self-publishing
effort, Galactic Civilizations II, Stardock began publishing titles 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 result was an average score of 88 on Metacritic and another top seller at retail.
The second third-party game Stardock will publish is called Demigod from developer Gas Powered Games. It is set to be released in 2009.
Having developed Stardock Central
to digitally distribute its own PC titles, the company launched a service called Drengin.net in Summer of 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.
In 2008, Stardock announced its third-generation digital distribution platform called Impulse. Stardock's stated intention is for Impulse to include not just independent third-party games but also major publisher titles as well.
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 of skins, themes, icons, wallpapers, etc.
Stardock also develops its own line of utilities
, and various other programs designed to increase productivity and stability on Windows. Its most popular utility is called ObjectDock
which is a program that is similar in the dock found in Mac OS X except 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:
- 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 is 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. Brad Wardell estimates that the death of OS/2 set the company back by about 3 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. 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. 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 generally unsatisifed 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 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.