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Stardock Corporation
IndustryComputer software
FoundedLivonia, Michigan (1991)
HeadquartersPlymouth, Michigan, United States (June 18, 2005)
Key people
Brad Wardell, CEO
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 Microsoft 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 the Galactic Civilizations series, Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion, Elemental: Fallen Enchantress, and Ashes of the Singularity.

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 their Object Desktop windows desktop suite. They are based in Plymouth, Michigan.


Stardock was founded by college student Brad Wardell and named after a major city in Raymond E. Feist's Riftwar Cycle. Stardock began as a custom PC maker and expanded into making software.

OS/2 era (1993–2001)[edit]

Stardock's initial product was a computer game for OS/2 called Galactic Civilizations. Stardock did not receive the majority of royalties from the initial sales of Galactic Civilizations due to publisher bankruptcy in addition to taking on many of the publisher's responsibilities, 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.[2]

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 following five years. The release of Windows XP stimulated 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 (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.[3] 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.[citation needed]

In 2010 Q3, Stardock was forced into layoffs due to the unexpectedly poor launch of Elemental: War of Magic.[4] In response to the disappointment of Elemental: War of Magic, Stardock committed to giving the second game of the series, Elemental: Fallen Enchantress to early adopters of War of Magic.[5]

In 2012, Stardock successfully launched Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion to positive reviews.[6] This version was co-developed by Stardock and development partner Ironclad Games.

In July 2013, Stardock bought the Star Control franchise from the Atari, SA bankruptcy proceedings and has plans to reboot the franchise.[7]

Desktop enhancements and utilities[edit]

Stardock's Object Desktop is a set of PC 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. Components of Object Desktop include WindowBlinds, IconPackager, DeskScapes, DesktopX, Fences and WindowFX, as well as utilities such as Multiplicity and SpaceMonger designed to increase productivity and stability on Windows.

Stardock also sells ObjectDock, which provides similar functionality to the dock found in Mac OS X, but with additional capabilities.

In 2012, Stardock added Start8 to Object Desktop, which adds a Start button and Start menu to Windows 8, whose lack of a traditional Start menu in favor of a Start screen received polarizing reception.[8] A similar program, Start10, was created in 2015 to add a Start menu to Windows 10 that looks similar to Windows 7's Start Menu.[9] Start10 was then followed by Start11, which aims to bring back Start menu and task bar functionality removed in Windows 11.[10]


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.


Stardock began operating as a game developer with their first title, Galactic Civilizations for the OS/2 platform in 1994.[11] Stardock also published Stellar Frontier in 1995, a multiplayer space strategy/shooter game made by Doug Hendrix.

Stardock found success developing online software subscription services such as Object Desktop for the PC, which allowed them to slowly grow a separate game division. After the release of The Corporate Machine and Lightweight Ninja,[12] Stardock remade Galactic Civilizations for the PC.[11] A successful sequel was self-published by Stardock,[13] allowing them to grow their publishing business for third-party games, including titles such as Sins of a Solar Empire,[14] Demigod,[15] and Ashes of the Singularity.[16]

List of Stardock game titles
Game title Developer Publisher Release date
Galactic Civilizations (OS/2) Stardock Advanced Idea Machines Fall 1994
Stellar Frontier Doug Hendrix Stardock 1995
The Corporate Machine Stardock Take-Two Interactive July 14, 2001
Lightweight Ninja Stardock Black Tooth August 6, 2001
Galactic Civilizations (PC) Stardock Strategy First March 26, 2003
The Political Machine Stardock Ubisoft August 12, 2004
Galactic Civilizations II Stardock Stardock February 21, 2006
Sins of a Solar Empire Ironclad Games Stardock February 4, 2008
The Political Machine 2008 Stardock Ubisoft June 24, 2008
Demigod Gas Powered Games Stardock April 14, 2009
Elemental: War of Magic Stardock Stardock August 24, 2010
The Political Machine 2012 Stardock Stardock July 31, 2012
Elemental: Fallen Enchantress Stardock Stardock October 23, 2012
Dead Man's Draw Stardock Stardock February 6, 2014
Galactic Civilizations III Stardock Stardock May 14, 2015
Sorcerer King Stardock Stardock June 16, 2015
The Political Machine 2016 Stardock Stardock February 4, 2016
Ashes of the Singularity Oxide Games Stardock March 31, 2016
Offworld Trading Company Mohawk Games Stardock April 28, 2016
Star Control: Origins Stardock Stardock September 20, 2018
Siege of Centauri Stardock Stardock September 12, 2019
The Political Machine 2020 Stardock Stardock March 3, 2020
Galactic Civilizations IV Stardock Stardock April 26, 2022

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[17] and indeed, the service now includes content from a variety of publishers. The platform was sold to GameStop in May 2011.[18][19]

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.[20]


ThinkDesk was a productivity application subscription service, launched by Stardock on 14 April 2005 as a utility counterpart to their Object Desktop and services.[21] Subscriptions were for one year, after which users could choose to renew or keep the software that they have, including all released upgrades to that date. The service never came out of beta and was discontinued in March 2009.[22]

ThinkDesk components were typically downloaded using Impulse, although if purchased separately they could also be downloaded as executable installers. They included:


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]
  • In 2018, Stardock sued the Paul Reiche and Fred Ford in Stardock Systems, Inc. v. Reiche, for trademark infringement.[24] Reiche and Ford countersued for copyright infringement from Stardock continuing to sell Star Control I and II on Steam and GOG.[25] Litigation ended in June 2019 when both sides reached a settlement in which Reiche and Ford agreed not use Star Control in relation to new titles and Stardock agreeing not to use an enumerated list of alien names from Star Control 1 and 2 in future games. An unusual aspect of the resolution involved the parties negotiating directly without lawyers and exchanging honey for mead.[26]


  1. ^ Dustin Walsh (2010-03-14), "Super-secure IT center becomes economic-development tool", Crain's Detroit Business, retrieved 2010-03-30
  2. ^ "Stardock's Wardell Talks GalCiv, Indie Power". Retrieved 2008-06-17.
  3. ^ "Gamasutra 'Postmortem' April 5, 2006". 2006-04-05. Retrieved 2012-02-14.
  4. ^ Brad Wardell (posting as Frogboy) (3 September 2010). "Any truth to the rumor on shacknews?". Stardock Forums. Retrieved 4 September 2010.
  5. ^ Gallegos, Anthony. "Righting a Wrong -- Elemental: Fallen Enchantress". IGN.
  6. ^ "GameSpy: Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion Review - Page 1". Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  7. ^ "Stardock acquires Star Control rights in fire sale, plans reboot". 2013-07-24. Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  8. ^ Keizer, Gregg (2012-09-27). "$5 buys a Start button, Start screen bypass for Windows 8". Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  9. ^ "Stardock Releases Start10 For Windows 10". Geek Inspector. 2015-08-14.
  10. ^ "Tested: Start11 solves Windows 11's worst Start menu and taskbar sins". PCWorld. Retrieved 2022-08-01.
  11. ^ a b WardellBloggerMay 07, Brad; 2003 (2003-05-07). "Postmortem: Stardock's Galactic Civilizations". Game Developer. Retrieved 2022-05-27.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  12. ^ "Lightweight Ninja goes gold". GameSpot. Retrieved 2022-05-27.
  13. ^ "Top Selling PC Games April 2006". Retrieved May 10, 2020.
  14. ^ "Postmortem: Ironclad/Stardock's Sins of a Solar Empire". Retrieved May 10, 2020.
  15. ^ "Demigod Review". Giant Bomb. Retrieved 2022-05-27.
  16. ^ "Ashes of the Singularity Review". GameSpot. Retrieved 2022-05-27.
  17. ^ "Stardock Impulse Details". Gamers With Jobs. Retrieved May 10, 2020.
  18. ^ "GameStop Announces Acquisition of Spawn Labs and Agreement to Acquire Impulse, Inc". GameStop. 2011-03-31. Retrieved 2011-05-02.
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ Adam Smith (2011-11-17). "After Impulse Sale, Stardock Comes To Steam". Rock Paper Shotgun. Retrieved 2011-12-08.
  21. ^ Stardock Announces ThinkDesk, Stardock, 2005-04-14, retrieved 2010-02-10
  22. ^ Aaron Klenke (2009-03-12), ThinkDesk Utility Suite Discontinued, Stardock, retrieved 2010-02-10
  23. ^ "Keepsafe". Stardock.
  24. ^ Courtlistener. "Stardock vs. Reiche and Ford" (PDF).
  25. ^ "Star Control creators push back against Stardock with countersuit". PCGamesN. Retrieved 2021-02-28.
  26. ^ "Stardock and Star Control creators settle lawsuits—with mead and honey [Updated]". 2019-06-12.

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