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Stardock might be abandoning retail. Should you?
Stardock might be abandoning retail. Should you?
July 25, 2012 | By Tom Curtis

July 25, 2012 | By Tom Curtis
More: Console/PC, Indie, Business/Marketing

Independent developer Stardock says it might be done with retail altogether, as sales for the online-exclusive Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion have shown the studio that it doesn't need products on store shelves to find success.

With Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion, Stardock decided to skip retail for the first time, and the experiment seems to have paid off. The studio reported on its official blog that the game has sold more than 100,000 units since its launch in mid-June, and in just 30 days, the game had surpassed the first-month retail sales of its predecessor, Sins of a Solar Empire.

Stardock is selling its new game via Steam, GameStop's digital platform, as well as its own website, and the studio's found that these channels have proven themselves just as effective as traditional retail stores.

"When we combine our direct sales of Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion with the sales from GameStop, we see unit sales similar to what we've seen previously when at retail. This contradicts our projection that sales via Steam would share the overall digital pie we'd previously seen," said Stardock president and CEO Brad Wardell. "Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion on Steam didn't cannibalize its GameStop or direct sales."

Given the game's success, Stardock has decided to abandon retail for two of its upcoming games: The Political Machine 2012 and Elemental: Fallen Enchantress. Instead, these titles will debut via Steam, GameStop's digital platform, and other online distributors. At the moment, the studio is re-evaluating its overall strategy, and hasn't decided how it'll handle the launch of any other future games.

But by moving away from retail, Wardell says Stardock no longer needs to announce hard release dates months in advance, and can instead work on its products until it deems them ready for release.

Without these launch dates looming overhead, Stardock says independent developers can ensure that their products are finished and ready for the masses. And from what it's seen so far, losing retail doesn't seem like such a hard sacrifice.

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Matt Cratty
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So you sold one successful game that was already firmly established.

There's no data here. How many sales did you lose? Did you actually get more sales? Maybe they have brilliant, clear data on this. Maybe one of the marketing VPs just popped off to the media.

Anyone that would read this and be convinced that all digital is the obvious way to go without a ton of data and SCIENTIFIC studies (instead of the bullcrap correlations people rail on about in this industry), is probably a game-industry executive.

Note: I do accept and believe that digital should be part of your distribution solution to cover your bases. I am DEFINITELY not anti-digital. I guess I'm just a grump that's just read one too many stories devoid of any useful context or actionable data. And yes, I get it that you have to pay for that data, flawed as it is.

Don Moar
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This is a news article written by a reporter not a technical paper written by an artist, designer, or engineer. The purpose of this article appears to be to report on the actions of one publisher / developer not to convince you that retail is dead; certainly neither Tom (the author of the article) nor Brad (the CEO of Stardock) said such a thing.

There's a little more information on the company's official blog (linked in the original article) such as that the title was the fastest selling title in the company's history, the Steam sales alone for this game were more than sell-through of all physical retailers for the original game in the same period, and that going digital-only allows the company to avoid the 6 or so month lead time retailers require.

I don't think anyone (even game industry execs) would conclude from this that their organizations should go digital-only.

Overall, I think this is an interesting bit of information about a company I've been very impressed with over the years.

Jeremy Reaban
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Is this really a shock? I mean, they started their own digital distribution service (which they sold to Gamestop) and had a side business doing windows add-ons that was DD only.