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Postmortem: Stardock's Galactic Civilizations
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Postmortem: Stardock's Galactic Civilizations

May 7, 2003 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

Our company, Stardock, was founded in 1993. We had our first real hit in 1994 with the release of Galactic Civilizations for OS/2, a space-based strategy game set near the dawn of the 23rd century. The game developed a cult following when we first released it, and most people who had heard of the game knew of its reputation for good AI. (Coincidentally, the third issue of Game Developer magazine featured an article I wrote about the game's multithreaded AI).

For years I'd wanted to go back and redo Galactic Civilizations with a significant budget. The original OS/2 version had been developed largely in my dorm room at Western Michigan University. Since then, Stardock has developed into a real company. A pretty impressive game development team had been formed during the development of Entrepreneur, LightWeight Ninja and The Corporate Machine. While those games were relatively small releases, they enabled us to accumulate talent and experience that we could apply towards a remake of Galactic Civilizations. Essentially, the Galactic Civilizations team was a combination of the teams that developed LightWeight Ninja and The Corporate Machine.

In the Fall of 2001, we began working on Galactic Civilizations. The core team included three developers and two graphics designers. We were also able to occasionally "borrow" a few developers from the Object Desktop team -- a Windows utility that our company also develops.

Building A Virtual Community

One early development decision we made was to leverage Stardock's information technology strengths. You see, even though Stardock started its commercial existence as a game developer, we are best known for Object Desktop (, a suite of desktop enhancements. To support this product, we run a site called (, a site for downloading Windows skins, themes and icons. To create WinCustomize, we had to develop an immense infrastructure to handle hundreds of thousands of user accounts, tracking of what they had submitted, their statistics, access levels, and so forth. Each day the site receives tens of thousands of unique visitors who can individually manage their skins and themes and compare their popularity to the other thousands of users who are doing the same thing.

Early User Interface concept.

In short, one of Stardock's biggest advantages that it could bring to Galactic Civilizations was the company's ability to build and manage large virtual communities. If we could find a way to bring this to Galactic Civilizations, we could make up for our lack of mainstream awareness with a rewarding gaming community for strategy gamers. This is where Stardock Central came into play ( Stardock Central, which ships with Galactic Civilizations, integrates into our company's customer database and can see which products a the user has access to and allows them to download updates. We developed this system because we update our software products very often (multiple times per week), and we needed a tool to get these updates to users seamlessly.

The Word-of-Mouth Strategy

In the game industry, you sell lots of copies of your game in one of two ways. The first way is used by the "big guys": get millions of copies of your game on every retail shelf in the first 30 days. Within 90 days, those titles are often gone. We at Stardock knew that we didn't have the kind of clout to go that route, so we took the other path. We recognized that as a smaller developer, we would likely get little pre-release coverage. But we felt that if we created a virtual community and provided extensive free updates to the game after release, we could make up for the marketing deficiency with strong word-of-mouth marketing from players. This could help the game stay on store shelves longer, which in turn would increase overall sales at retail.

Early concept of the Altarians

Since its release, Galactic Civilizations has received favorable reviews, but only has 1/12th the buy-in of a similar space strategy game that was released in the previous month. So our challenge is to keep the game "fresh and new" for as long as we can so that the game remains at retail as long as possible.

Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

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