Developer Retrospective: Stardock

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posted 3/13/2012 by Charles Husemann
other articles by Charles Husemann
Platforms: Multiple
A retrospective is an agile development term for a team meeting at the end of a development cycle where the team determines what things were done well, what things could have been better, and what things they were going to try to do better in the next cycle. It's a great way for teams to celebrate what they did correctly and identify the things that they need to improve on.

Given the state of flux that the video game industry is in right now I thought it would be an interesting idea to do several small retrospective with folks from around the industry with the end goal is to develop a holistic view of the state of the video game.

The format is fairly simple. We've asked each company the same four questions about what they did great last year, what they could have done better, and what they plan to do in the coming year. We then asked them how they thought the entire industry answered those questions. To keep things interesting we also asked a few company specific questions too.

We'll be running a retrospective each day for the next few weeks. We've got a nice variety of opinions ranging from game developers to publishers to hardware manufactures and everyone in between. This is one of the more ambitious projects we've ever done and we think you'll enjoy seeing the wide spectrum of opinions on the industry.

Up first is Stardock. When I first started to come up with the idea for this project Stardock was the first company I thought of as they have gone through a major transition in the last year, and they are always honest and open with their community. This interview was done with Derek Paxton, the Vice President of Digital Entertainment at Stardock

2011 was a year of flux for Stardock, looking back at the last year what were the things that Stardock did right? What things could you have?
2011 was dominated by the sale of Impulse. This allowed us to re-evaluate Stardock’s focus and direction. I (Derek Paxton) was promoted to the VP if Digital Entertainment, Jamie McGuffie was hired as the VP of Business Development. Jon Shafer, the lead designer of Civilization V, was hired as a producer and lead designer. In 2011 Stardock offered its games on Steam for the first time, which has opened them up to new customers and allowed customers to get the games they want however they prefer to buy them.

As for things we could have done better, you always want projects to go faster, to have less road blocks. We have had a position open for a lead developer on our games team that I would have liked to have filled in 2011 and is still open.


What do you think went well for the game industry in 2011? What do you think the industry could have done better in 2011?
Indie games continue to amaze me. Minecraft is a great example of everything that is right about indie games and I’m thrilled to see companies having success without huge budgets and gamers getting access to games that aren’t being made by the AAA studios (though I also want those).

At a personal level I am sad to see that modding is becoming less of a focus. We have really benefited from the ideas and contributions of modders in the Stardock community. As a game designer we often have to pick one option, we pick the option that appeals to us and to most of our players. But there are segments that enjoy different options, and modding allows them to have those choices. With the focus on post-sale revenue and DLC to provide those options I fear that less companies will include real modding tools.

Looking ahead, what are you most excited about from Stardock in 2012? What’s the one thing you’re planning on doing now that you weren’t doing in 2011?
Releasing games! With Elemental: Fallen Enchantress and Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion both coming out this year we are excited to allow the public to play the games we have been working so hard on.


What are you looking forward to most in 2012 from an industry standpoint? What should the industry do better in 2012?
I like to see new and improved tools that allow game designers from large studios to a group of friends working in their basement turn out games that people everywhere can enjoy. More customers buying games online means that indie developers can compete against games with much larger budgets without a fight for shelf space or retail contracts.

I’m hoping we improve on games that tie into a real economy, be it in paying real money for additional actions or buying special gear for your characters. It is a slippery slope. I think there are cases where it works well, but the game design shouldn’t be handicapped by upsell opportunities. This is a large market of potential gamers out there, and I worry that we turn them off of gaming when they start playing casual games and either stop when they don’t want to pay for better game content, or get burnt out after paying for micro-transactions.

Is the separation from Impulse now complete? We've seen a few Stardock games make their way over to Steam, are you seeing the same or better success with Steam? Any chance you'll ever consider using Steamworks now?
The separation is complete. We are still fond of Impulse and many of the people working on it transferred from Stardock and are our friends. We wish it the best as it continues to grow and improve. Steam has been a great opportunity for us, it allows our customers to play our games through whatever distribution channel they prefer. Valve has been great to work with and Sins of a Solar Empire: Trinity, Galactic Civilizations II: Ultimate Edition and Demigod have done very well.

As for Steamworks, we will consider any tools that make our games better or improve the players experience.
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