It was going faster…and faster…and faster…
Stardock, a company that by mid 2010 only had a total of around 60 employees ran Impulse, had multiple games in the pipeline, was the leading licensor to OEMs of desktop enhancements (We made the DellDock for Dell and then HP asked us to make a competitor to the DellDock which we delivered in the form of Fences for HP and then licensed MyColors to both of them as well as to many others) along with many other projects in the pipeline.
How did we do it? The answer, we stretched ourselves extremely thin. We had a really well oiled development machine and our key people were no longer dedicated to anything in particular but rather oversaw several projects.
Because our turn-over rate is basically zilch, our people had/have become extremely good. If you’ve ever read the The Tipping Point, then you can picture the level of productivity we get in our areas of expertise.
By Summer of 2010, I was ostensibly the designer and AI coder for Elemental: War of Magic and had just taken over the job of producer when the game’s producer needed to take time off for the birth of their daughter. On top of that, some unforeseen issues arose in marketing so that the last month of the game’s development found me taking over all the marketing work as well. The result, was a the release of War of Magic which was a wake up call to us.
After that game, we took a look how how we were running the company. The company’s phenomenal output had made the company very profitable but nothing was getting the kind of personalized attention it used to get. It was a moment to rethink what we wanted to do with ourselves.
So, we sold Impulse to GameStop, brought the game developers who were on Impulse back to the games unit and had them take over Elemental. We were fortunate to be able to bring on board Derek Paxton to run the games unit (he’s now Vice President of Stardock Entertainment). We brought Jon Shafer in to design/lead one project and hired Chris Bray (formerly of Red Storm Entertainment) to lead Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion.
In addition, retail ceased to be a consideration for release dates. Only quality. When the game was deemed unequivocally excellent, only then would we start thinking of release dates. Then, we would use the additional time to polish polish polish.
Mind you, we always have tried to make sure our games were excellent. The difference, however, was that they had specific release dates because we had to sign contracts with retailers many months in advance. So, for instance, we knew Galactic Civilizations II would come out in February 2006 -- a full year before it was done. We just managed our project in such a way to have enough time to make it as good as we could make it in that time frame.
But with Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion, the concept of a set release date was tossed out. instead, only when the game was deemed by the team to be “awesome” would we evaluate it and come up with a release date. How this works out, from a profitability stand-point remains to be seen.
We’ve never released anything nearly as polished as Rebellion. Since Stardock and Ironclad developed Rebellion as a unified team (gotta love the Internet and VPNs), the undefined release dates meant a lot of flexibility in making sure both teams had time to do what they thought was needed. We’re really pleased with the results.