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Stardock Corporation
C Corporation
Industry Computer software
Founded Livonia, Michigan (1991)
Headquarters Plymouth, Michigan, United States (June 18, 2005)
Key people
Brad Wardell, CEO
Products Elemental: Fallen Enchantress
Elemental: War of Magic
Sins of a Solar Empire
Object Desktop
Galactic Civilizations
Galactic Civilizations II
Star Control
Revenue $15 million (2009)[1]
Number of employees
50+ (May 2012)
Stardock Headquarters building

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.[citation needed] 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 developed the Impulse content delivery system before its sale to GameStop. 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, USA.

PC software[edit]

Stardock's best known[citation needed] 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, Fences, WindowFX and others.

In 2012, Stardock added a new program Start8 to Object Desktop. Start8 adds a Start button and Start menu to Windows 8.[2]

In 2015, Stardock added a new program Start10 to Object Desktop. Start10 adds a Start menu to Windows 10 that looks similar to Windows 7's Start Menu.[3]


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 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 for the Microsoft Windows operating systems.

Game development[edit]

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.[4] In August 2010, Stardock released Elemental: War of Magic, a fantasy 4X turn-based strategy game.

Game publishing[edit]

In 2006, following the commercial success of their first self-published game, Galactic Civilizations II,[5] Stardock began publishing games developed by third parties.

Stardock published Stellar Frontier, a multiplayer space strategy/shooter game made by Doug Hendrix in 1995. Stardock closed the master server on August 4, 2006, ceasing official support for multiplayer mode but released the source code in 2008 under a shared source license.[6][7] As result, the game's community took over the support of the game and improved the game, fixed the bugs and security holes with own-made patches.[8]

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.[9] The game has an average score of 88 on Metacritic and is a top seller at retail.[10]

The second third-party game Stardock published is Demigod, from developer Gas Powered Games. It was released in 2009.

Digital distribution[edit]

Having developed Stardock Central to digitally distribute its own PC titles, the company launched a service called 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 in which users could purchase games individually or pay an upfront fee for tokens which allowed them to purchase games at a discount. targeted independent game developers rather than the larger publishers. In late 2008, new token purchases were discontinued.

In 2008, Stardock announced its third-generation digital distribution platform, Impulse. Stardock's intention was for Impulse to include independent third-party games and major publisher titles[11] and indeed, the service now includes content from a variety of publishers. The platform was sold to GameStop in May 2011.[12][13]

After the sale of Impulse to GameStop and the lack of success in major sales, Stardock's titles have started to appear on rival digital distribution services such as Steam[14]

Business partnerships[edit]

Stardock's dominance of Windows desktop enhancement technology[15] has led to many companies licensing its technology to improve the "Windows experience".

Notable customers have included:


Founded by college student Brad Wardell and named after Raymond E. Feist's Riftwar Saga, Stardock began as a custom PC maker but quickly expanded into making software.

OS/2 era (1993–2001)[edit]

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,[citation needed] 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.[18]

Windows era (1998–present)[edit]

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 favorites 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.[19] 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.

In 2010 Q3, Stardock was forced into layoffs due to the unexpectedly poor launch of Elemental: War of Magic.[20] In response to the disappointment to Elemental: War of Magic, Stardock committed to giving the second game of the series, Elemental: Fallen Enchantress to early adopters of War of Magic.[21]

In 2012 Q2, Stardock successfully launched Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion to positive reviews.[22] This version was co-developed by Stardock and development partner Ironclad Games.

In 2012 Q4, Stardock launched Elemental: Fallen Enchantress.

In July, 2013, Stardock bought the Star Control franchise from the Atari bankruptcy proceedings and has plans to reboot the franchise.[23]

On the 14th of August 2014 Stardock launched the third installment of Galactic Civilizations as an Early Access title on both Steam as well as their own site. Expected 'live' release date is April 2015.[24]

In October, 2014, Stardock CEO Brad Wardell confirmed via Twitter that the company would never have a public stock offering.[25]


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.[citation needed]
  • 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, 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.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Dustin Walsh (2010-03-14), "Super-secure IT center becomes economic-development tool", Crain's Detroit Business, retrieved 2010-03-30 
  2. ^
  3. ^ "Stardock Releases Start10 For Windows 10". Geek Inspector. 
  4. ^ "GameRankings top meta scores". 
  5. ^ "Top Selling PC Games April 2006". 
  6. ^ stellar_frontier_source_eula.txt STARDOCK SHARED SOURCE STELLAR FRONTIER LICENSE (mirror)
  7. ^ "Stellar Frontier Source Code - Released". 2008-11-18. Archived from the original on 2009-12-31. Retrieved 2013-10-13. As of Tuesday, November 18, 2008, the Stellar Frontier source code has officially been released by Stardock Corporation. End-User License Agreement was updated June 19th 2010. 
  8. ^ Stellar Frontier Development Log on
  9. ^ "Gamasutra Sins of a Solar Empire post-mortem.". 
  10. ^ "The Sun Rises for Sins of a Solar Empire". 
  11. ^ "Impulse Details at Gamers with Jobs". 
  12. ^ "GameStop Announces Acquisition of Spawn Labs and Agreement to Acquire Impulse, Inc.". GameStop. 2011-03-31. Retrieved 2011-05-02. 
  13. ^ Christopher Grant (2011-03-31). "GameStop indulges in some Impulse buying ... no seriously, it bought Impulse (and Spawn Labs)". Joystiq. AOL. Retrieved 2011-05-02. 
  14. ^ Adam Smith (2011-11-17). "After Impulse Sale, Stardock Comes To Steam". Rock Paper Shotgun. Retrieved 2011-12-08. 
  15. ^ "CNET Top Desktop Enhancement Programs". 
  16. ^ "Microsoft Case Study: Home". Retrieved 2012-02-14. 
  17. ^ [1] archived in the webarchive
  18. ^ "Stardock's Wardell Talks GalCiv, Indie Power". Retrieved 2008-06-17. 
  19. ^ "Gamasutra 'Postmortem' April 5, 2006". 2006-04-05. Retrieved 2012-02-14. 
  20. ^ Brad Wardell (posting as Frogboy) (3 September 2010). "Any truth to the rumor on shacknews?". Stardock Forums. Retrieved 4 September 2010. 
  21. ^ Gallegos, Anthony. "Righting a Wrong -- Elemental: Fallen Enchantress". IGN. 
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^

External links[edit]