Brad Wardell's Blog


At long last, Reiche and Ford state what they think they own.

Published on Thursday, January 3, 2019 By Brad Wardell In Star Control Journals

This past week, Activision executives, Paul Reiche III and Fred Ford sent DMCA notices to Steam and GOG demanding the removal of Star Control: Origins on the grounds that Star Control: Origins violates unspecified copyrights of theirs.

Finally, after many months of requesting from them what, specifically, in our game that they they believe they own they finally posted a table outlining their justification for taking down our game.

For those not familiar with copyright, here is a really simple outline of what copyright covers and doesn't cover.

The table is right from their website.  Our comments are next to it.

Next time you play a game, any game, consider how many ideas in it appeared in other games.  For the record, Star Control: Origins is not a clone of Star Control II.  For obviously reasons, it's a 25 year old game and as we have stated countless times, it wasn't commercially viable to continue that story.  We were interested in licensing the ships from Star Control II to include in Fleet Battles but they declined to so we didn't include them.   But even if it were a "Clone" of the gameplay of Star Control II, that doesn't fall under copyright protection. See here for more information on that.

So at long last, the meat of their complaint.  They think they own the ideas listed.  

 

UPDATE: No, we did not make up this chart.  You can find their chart here.  These are their claims and words. We have not edited their claims.

 

As a reminder, this table was made by Reiche and Ford.  Not us.  We aren't putting words in their mouths here.  This is what they actually believe.  This is their justification for filing a DMCA to take down a shipping game.

As for their argument that game ideas count as expressions and can be copyrighted, the copyright office already admonished them for this erroneous misinterpretation.

 

 

Paul Reiche and Fred Ford issue DMCA take down

Published on Monday, December 31, 2018 By Brad Wardell In Star Control Journals

We have received news today that Paul Reiche III and Fred Ford, contractors on the classic DOS game, Star Control 2 for Accolade and widely credited as being the "creators" of Star Control II have issued a DMCA take down notices to Valve and GOG to take down Star Control: Origins.

(this is the one sent to GOG)

As some of you may know, there is a legal dispute between Stardock and Reiche and Ford regarding the trademarks and copyrights pertaining to Star Control.  Stardock owns the copyright to Star Control 3 and the trademark to Star Control overall.  Reiche and Ford claim to own the copyright to Star Control 2 (though it's not clear what within it they own outside source code).

You can read the history here:
https://www.stardock.com/games/starcontrol/article/487690/qa-regarding-star-control-and-paul-and-fred

Unfortunately, rather than relying on the legal system to resolve this, they have chosen to bypass it by issuing vague DMCA take-down notices to Steam and GOG (who, btw, Reiche and Ford are suing using GoFundMe money).

Steam and GOG both have a policy of taking down content that receive DMCA notices regardless of the merits of the claims. 

To my knowledge, never in the history of our industry has anyone attempted to use the DMCA system to take down a shipping game before. For example, when PubG sued Fortnite for copyright infringement, they didn't try to take Fortnite down with a DMCA notice.

For those not familiar with copyright law, you CANNOT copyright ideas, individual or short phrases, concepts, mechanics, game designs, etc. 

Star Control: Origins does not contain any copyrighted work of Reiche or Ford. We spent 5 years working on it making it our own game. It very much plays like you would expect a Star Control game. But that has nothing to do with copyright. 

We have assurances from GOG and Valve that already purchased games will continue to work.

Unfortunately, without the income from Star Control: Origins, Stardock will have to lay off some of the men and women who are assigned to the game.

We will do our very best to continue to support the game and hopefully Star Control: Origins will return as soon as possible.

Game Developer Economics of 2019

Published on Friday, December 28, 2018 By Brad Wardell In Game Development Journals

If you're a game developer, 2019 is the year you adapt or die.

The market has changed. This Steam release chart makes it obvious:

Image result for graph steam game releases by year

2018's numbers aren't available yet but given that the flood gates are now open, you can imagine what that looks like.  Like every other industry that has reduced the barrier to entry, the game industry is filling up with titles.  This is (mostly) good for gamers but presents new challenges for game developers.

The Pareto Principle

There are certain mathematical models that become relevant once you are dealing with numbers this high.  The most obvious being the Pareto principle.

In games, it works basically like this:  The square root of the total competition will earn 80% of the income of a given competitive field.

Let's assume that by end of 2018 there are around 30,000 titles on Steam.  

Roughly speaking, that means that in 2018 the top 180 or so will make 80% of the revenue and the remaining 29,800 will share in the remainder of the 20%.  As others have noted, Steam's revenue has not been increasing at anywhere near that rate.

In 2017, Steam generated around $4.3 billion versus $3.5 billion in 2016.  Or put another way: In 2016 there were 10,000 titles on Steam and in 2017 there were around 18,000 titles on Steam.

This works out to the bottom 9,900 titles on Steam in 2016 sharing $700 million.  Or $70,000 for the average for 2016.

But for 2017, while revenue went up to $4.3 billion, the number of titles went up to around 18,000.  Which, using the Pareto principle means that that while the 17,800 shared 20% of that amount . Or $48,314 for the average of 2017.

For 2018, let's say the revenue increased by the same rate as it did previously.  I don't think this will be the case because of the trend of a few major titles of last year coming out on their own custom platforms.  Indeed, if you look at the Steam top sellers for 2018, only three of them were released in 2018.   

So for the sake of argument, let's say that total revenue increased to $5 billion last year.  That's an impressive increase in total revenue right?

However, while the top 180 or so games will make 80% of that revenue, the bottom 28,800 or so will share in on the remaining $1 billion. Or $34,722 for the average of 2018.

The Pareto principle is a pretty universal axiom used in many industries.  It is, what it is.   It is a trend that has already occurred in the music and video industries.  As the technology and logistics to produce content allow more competition, not only do prices come down but the per product revenue comes down as well regardless of the price.   That means developers can't solve this problem by lowering their price.  The top 100 or so will always generate around half the total revenue with the top 200 generate around 80% and the rest just will get largely lost in the shuffle.

Discoverability is not the main problem

No matter how perfect Amazon, Steam, GOG, Humble or anyone else makes their discoverability algorithm, it won't change the axiom that that the very top games will generate nearly all the revenue.  Discoverability helps to be sure. But it helps at a linear rate of return rather than the exponential rate of the Pareto distribution.

It's easy for a game developer to blame the platform holder.  But it's no more Steam's fault that lots of new titles are being submitted than it is Amazon's fault that lots of new digital books are being released.  It's not like there were 10,000 games being made per year in 2012 that were being censored.  It's just that the rise of inexpensive high end computers for development combined with the amazing tools available to developers has resulted in an explosion of new titles.

So what do you, the developer, do?

There are a number of well tested paths to address this.  One of the reasons capitalism works is that it organically generates lots of competitive segments so that the Pareto principle gets split into lots of mini-competitions.  For example, Paradox has done well with the "grand strategy game" segment.   Being the leader in your niche can translate into a better chance of getting a much, much bigger piece of the pie.

Ultimately, however, it means that we will see a major stratification of game development this year.   If you're a major publisher, there is no point in investing in a title that won't be in that top 100.   

For Stardock, which has historically worked in the mid-market segment, it means reviewing our own strategy.  As a company, we have enough engineers to make a single AAA game but have operated with multiple teams going at once to make mid-market games (Galactic Civilizations, Star Control, Ashes of the Singularity).  But as you can imagine, we have seen each game's revenue affected as you would expect.

What is Stardock doing?

Stardock, being an independent developer, has always been able to work on whatever it wants to since it self-funds.  This, however, is also a doubled edged sword because it also has meant it errs a bit on the side of caution and thus has not tried to be the "leader" of a given niche but rather the leader of a niche within that niche.  I.e. better to spend $3 million to make $15 million in a niche (but also be  able to recover if the game fails) than to risk $9 million.     

The most obvious example of Stardock's traditional strategy is Galactic Civilizations III. For $3 million invested in generated around $15 million in revenue.  But that's nothing compared to Stellaris. Despite being released in 2016 it was the 14th top seller on Steam last year and owns the space strategy genre right now.  

When Galactic Civilizations III was being designed in 2012, there were only 1,500 titles on Steam.  The risk of making our budget back was very low. 

But as we enter 2019, it's a very different world.  Spending $3 million knowing you won't be in the top 200 is now a very risky strategy for an independent developer.  As other developers have noted, your options are to spend trivial amounts to play the slot machine of indie success or go for the top 200 which means a much bigger risk for an independent studio since one failure could bring down the whole company.

So there are a few things we're thinking of:

  1. Helping Indies.  Like I said, discoverability won't cause the third best fantasy strategy game to suddenly become the top seller, but it can make it can double or triple the game's revenue easily over what it might have done.  So this is one area we are looking at is helping promising indies succeed.
  2. Promising Niches.  Stardock is the main user of Oxide's Nitrous engine which allows for emergent game designs.  Since it's core-neutral (i.e. the more CPU cores you throw at it, the more it can do) we can make either new types of games or we can do niche games with a fidelity or gameplay that wasn't previously possible.  The challenge here is that as we saw with Ashes of the Singularity, a game with a $2 million budget (but has sold almost 800,000 copies) is that many people didn't have 4 CPU cores in 2016.  And for Nitrous to really show its advantages, you really need 8 to 16 CPU cores which the market just isn't ready for yet so we still have to design around 4 CPU cores which limits our advantage.
  3. Embrace our existing niches.  With Star Control: Origins, we attempted to go wider.  And while the game has done fairly well on PC, its budget was predicated on porting it to consoles which is underway.   But rather than going wide with future games, another path is target future games at tighter segments.  So for instance, a Star Control II might be a more hard-core RPG.  Sins of a Solar Empire has been so successful because it dared to be a multi-hour long RTS.  An Ashes of the Singularity II might focus on that kind of depth (i.e. multi-hour games) based on a much richer economic and diplomatic system rather than being a kind of simplified Total Annihilation game.

Regardless of what Stardock does, the game industry as a whole will have to adapt to this model and developers who don't will disappear.

 

Ten Galactic Civilizations III changes coming in early 2019

Published on Friday, December 28, 2018 By Brad Wardell In Galactic Civilizations III

If you guys thought that GalCiv III: Crusade was...ahem...a "game changer" you're going to (we hope) really like what we have planned for the Winter 2019 expansion we're working on.  We'll be announcing it relatively soon so I won't spoil it here.

Here, however, are our general objectives we want to accomplish:

  1. Fewer clicks with the UI to get things done.
  2. Making really big maps more enjoyable to play on.  It's one of our strongest features and they're annoying (IMO).
  3. Bringing back beloved alien species.
  4. Pacing.   There is a lot of...emptiness between turns 25 to 75 which is a turn off for many new players and really needs to be addressed.
  5. Multiplayer.  While few people play it multiplayer,  we think some of our other changes will make the game a lot more skill based.
  6. AI.   If you got 3.2 you probably noticed a substantial AI improvement.  But we have other improvements in the works.  I really want to write up a full on doc on the challenges of AI. Nearly every suggestion we get from players on AI is something the AI already does.  The AI does "all the things" but because it doesn't "cheat" (contrary to what some people say) it does not always have the information that players think it has and makes poor choices.
  7. More strategic choices.  What I mean by this is that there are certain strategies that are just plain "better" for winning.  Rather than nerfing those paths, we are implementing new, equally powerful paths towards success.  This is harder than it may sound because we have to code the AI to effectively use these paths.
  8. Tech tree overhaul.  This will only be in the expansion because if it were put into the base game a lot of people would get upset I suspect.  There are a lot of new techs but most of the "specialist" techs are being removed.  Why? They're just not very interesting.  A 10% bump in something is enough enough to justify the clickity click click of the tech.  Every tech should have meat to it.   
  9. Visual pass.  We have a lot of good graphics in GalCiv III.  And we have some terrible, terrible graphics.  Our procedurally generated planets might have looked good in 2012 when they were being developed but...oye.  They hurt my eyes.
  10. Fleet battle viewer updates.  First, we are hiring game developers.  Send us your resume.  We have a lot of projects at Stardock and a lot of the time, we can't put engineers on something simply because there are no people free.  The fleet battles area of the game is something we really do want to improve but we can't because of lack of developers free to work on it.

Let me know what you think!

Happy New Year!

Fences V4 Wishlist

Published on Tuesday, December 4, 2018 By Brad Wardell In Fences

As we work on the next version of Fences, we are interested in getting your feedback on what you'd like to see.

We are particularly interested in features that will make Fences more useful in your work and enterprise environment.  

Please comment below with any ideas and suggestions you might have.

Thanks!

Game Development jobs at Stardock

Published on Tuesday, November 27, 2018 By Brad Wardell In Stardockians

Are you a software developer interested in working in the game industry? Are you a talented artist with a great eye for making games with a distinctive look and feel? If so, make sure you check out some of the positions available at Stardock

Stardock has been around 25 years with the average employee having worked here for over 5 years.  It's an environment that encourages innovation, career growth and is just plain a fun place to work.

Today's highlighted position: Game Developer

Stardock is trying to fill up engineering spots at its Plymouth Michigan studio.  The position would involve working on cutting edge games as well as helping us bring our games to other platforms.  

Primary Responsibilities Include:
  • Write gameplay code and UI code.
  • Scripting and helping create quests and campaigns.
  • Improving engineering skills.
Education and/or Experience Desired:
  • Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science, Engineering, Mathematics or equivalent work experience.
  • A passion for gaming and game design.
  • Self-motivated, likes to identify and solve problems.
  • Strong C++ background.

If you're enthusiastic about the position and would like to tell us about it, please submit your resume and cover letter to jobs@stardock.com, with "Game Developer" in the subject line.

 

6 Errors of the Tech Entrepreneur

Published on Tuesday, November 27, 2018 By Brad Wardell In Personal Computing

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Stardock!  As the founder, President, and CEO of the company starting from the time I was a college student, I've made a ton of mistakes that you can learn from. Below is a list of both small and large errors I have made over the years.

#1 Computer Hardware becomes worthless

It is really difficult to admit that a perfectly good monitor, keyboard, mouse - or even PC - eventually becomes worthless.  Over the years, I tried to find increasingly ridiculous uses for old hardware simply because I couldn't stand the wastage. If you have a company of more than 100 people for enough time, you can imagine how much old hardware stacks up. 

Sure, you can donate some of it, or try putting pieces on eBay, but for the most part, you will spend far more time than it's worth trying to find a purpose for it once it is ready to be put out to pasture.

#2 There is no perfect office setup

We have spent countless thousands of dollars over the years on "Office Systems".  These are desks, cube walls, and all kinds of other things that are designed to create an efficient, yet comfortable, environment for your colleagues.  There are some great articles out there with many different ideas. However, you will find that these ideas come and go based on how fast technology is moving.  

Incidentally, once used, these office systems are worthless from a resale value.  When times change, just bite the bullet and be prepared to invest in a new "system".

#3 It is better to own a piece of a valuable thing than all of a worthless thing

In my younger days, I frequently made the mistake that I see countless entrepreneurs still making. It isn't the percentage you own of something that matters - it is the value of what you own that does. 

One of my favorite stories is the story behind Impulse.  Stardock was the first company to engage in what we now call digital distribution. Defined as being able to purchase, download, and install a piece of content (a game, a piece of software) from an integrated app store, Stardock in 1998 was way ahead of its time.  The very first game that was released at retail and digitally was Galactic Civilizations in 2003. 

Seems smart so far, right?

During this period, we had numerous requests to invest in us, but I said no because I didn't want to give up stock to "strangers" (this is one of those issues of having grown up poor; I was very unsophisticated in business early on). 

Using our own profits, we built up what became Impulse. Despite it having a multi-year lead in both technology and market availability, it ultimately was eclipsed by Steam, which had vastly more capital available to it (and more importantly, Half-Life II).  Ultimately, we sold Impulse to GameStop, which did bring a tremendous return on our investment, but still nothing compared to what it could have been had I been more sophisticated when it mattered.

Capital is king.

#4 It's a business, not a cause

Most Entrepreneurs I've met are driven by something.  In my case, I was animated by a desire to see IBM's OS/2 succeed.  Stardock nearly went bankrupt in the 1990's because, despite knowing that Windows was going to obliterate OS/2 in the long-run, I was emotionally invested in OS/2.  Luckily, we survived this folly, but only barely.  Despite Windows NT 4.0 coming out in 1996, Stardock didn't migrate to Windows until three years after, which is an eternity in the technology industry.

#5 Attitude matters more than talent

I have made many bad hiring decisions over the years.  To the point that I rarely, if ever, get involved in hiring.  As CEO, my job is to find and recruit people more talented than I am (which admittedly is a low bar...), but that isn't the same thing as hiring them. If we define talent as "intelligence x conscientiousness x experience," then we will define "attitude" as their ability to act as a force multiplier on the organization. 

People who know me will tell you that I have a distinct lack of insight into people's character.  That is, I tend to like everyone I meet and if they are talented, I tend to fixate on that. This is why in the past decade or so, after the recruiting process, I largely step aside to let people with greater empathy and insight evaluate the potential new colleague.

However, no matter how talented a person is, if they are toxic to your organization, they can actually reduce your company's overall productivity. If you have a hard time judging the attitude of someone, get a good HR manager who can.  Your job as an entrepreneur is to identify talent and recruit them. But it is not a requirement that you are able to determine if they're a good fit. 

#6 Know when to let go

I literally grew up in a dying steel town.  Seeing the parents of friends lose their jobs in Detroit during the 1970's and 1980's had a significant impact on my attitude toward laying people off.  This attitude nearly ruined Stardock when we moved from OS/2 to Windows because we had to let a lot of people go in order to make that transition, and I was just not prepared to do that. 

Rather than laying off a few people early on, I ended up being forced to lay off a lot more people later on instead in order to migrate the company from OS/2 to Windows. If I had simply made the hard decision early rather than waiting, I could have saved several jobs (and several friendships).

If you ask someone in banking who has dealt with "work out," the #1 cause of businesses failing is not being able to downsize employees.  The companies will cut all kinds of pointless things ("Let's get rid of air conditioning!") to save pennies when the the right call is really to let someone go.

In the technology industry, layoffs are particularly aggressive because of its rapid evolution.  Let me give you a really obvious example.  For much of my career, I had an "Executive Planner".  This was a person whose job was largely to keep me on schedule.  I remember when Soren and I were starting up Mohawk and on my first visit with him I brought my Planner with me.  She was very organized, very professional, and personable. But now, just 5 years later, it would be ludicrous to bring on a human being to do what my iPhone or Surface can do far better.

Lots of permanent jobs have gone away as we have specialized or automated ourselves.  Only you can decide where to draw the line on keeping people who have been with you many years, but whose jobs are no longer make sense in your business, or having to make a painful cut. But knowing where to draw the line might mean the difference between success or failure for your business.

Galactic Civilizations III AAR: The Heroes of Star Control: Origins test game

Published on Sunday, November 11, 2018 By Brad Wardell In GalCiv III Dev Journals

As the Tywom like to say, HELLO, BEST FRIENDS!

Just playing the start of a new GalCiv III v3.1 game with the Star Control DLC added.  Let's take a look at what we can expect.

The Setup

Players have been asking for a way to customize the colors further than what was possible before and now they can do it.  So if you're into ship designing, you're in for a real treat!

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Here is my super tame but very custom color scheme.

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  Just starting up my game here with my custom civilization "Little Tiny Frogs".

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I soon meet the Tywom, but without a universal translator, there's know way to know what they're saying yet.

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The Mu'Kay are very much into "federation" building.   Keep an eye on them.

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The cute but dangerous Mowlings are in.  As cuddly as they are, they start with the most powerful starting-unit in the game: Jeff.  Luckily, they are peaceful.

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The United Planets.  This is where you can see how the art style of the Star Control aliens got tweaked a bit to fit in better with the GalCiv style.

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It doesn't take long for the the ever aggressive Drengin and Yor and Krynn to begin going to war.  Just keep in mind that in Galactic Civilizations, the civilizations try to act rationally and towards their unique traits.  That means: If you add the heroes from Star Control into your game, you will want to mix them up with some baddies.

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The Mowlings are not shy about asking for help if they need it.

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My spies give me a lookout on the Tywom home world.  Take a close look at their citizens!

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Meanwhile, the new ship parts (which are animated) allow the Mu'Kay ships to get a pretty distinctive style.

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Speaking of cool ship styles.  The Mowlings may have the best ship design I've seen in the game yet.  They're relatable yet still somewhat alien.

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As I stop for the day, my observers spot two fleets of Mu'Kay ships heading towards Drengi.  Don't underestimate the Mu'Kay!

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The end of the Drengin Empire...

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I think you guys are going to like this.  The changes in v3.1 that are also being released should make this a pretty special update.

Sneak Preview: Galactic Civilizations III - Heroes of Star Control: Origins

Published on Wednesday, November 7, 2018 By Brad Wardell In GalCiv III Dev Journals

This upcoming Monday, Stardock will be releasing a new DLC for its massive space strategy game, Galactic Civilizations III.

The new DLC, Heroes of Star Control: Origins, will introduce 4 new major civilizations to play as complete with their own ship styles, parts, new traits, diplomatic behaviors, and AI for $5.99. 

It'll be available to purchase on Steam, GOG, and of course GalCiv3.com, starting Monday afternoon EST, November 12.

About Galactic Civilizations

Galactic Civilizations is 4X strategy game set in the 23rd century. Having recently acquired faster-than-light travel, players are now in a race to explore and expand their civilization into the galaxy where they will research new technology, build up their planets, fight wars, negotiate treaties, trade goods and determine the destiny of the future of their people. Learn more at www.galciv3.com.

About Star Control: Origins

Star Control is an action adventure game putting the player in command of Earth's most advanced starship with the mission to save Earth.  It is a reboot of the classic Star Control franchise from the 1990s that introduces new species, new challenges and a rich deep universe to explore.  Star Control: Origins was just released and is available at www.starcontrol.com.

Screenshots:

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Star Control: Road Map 2018

Published on Tuesday, November 6, 2018 By Brad Wardell In Star Control

Star Control: Origins is just the beginning of our journey.  This post will give you tentative schedule of what we have in the works going forward:

Fall 2018:

Season Pass: <to be announced>.  Series of new adventures that will begin rolling out this Fall. 

Episode 1: Aftermath.

Version 1.2.  Lots of usability tweaks, some new quests, performance and more.

Version 1.3.  More usability improvements, additional quests, more modding features, Vulkan support (possibly).

Winter 2018:

Version 1.4.  Additional new features, UI updates, new components, new ships. Network update.

Episode 2: The Lexites

Spring 2019:

Version 1.5. Lore based quests (doesn't require you to replay).

Episode 3: The Syndicate

Episode 4: <TBD>

Broadly speaking, our goal is to begin integrating more of the lore into the game so that players get a better idea of things that are coming in the future such as much bigger ships, landing parties, water worlds, helping colonies, helping friends and hurting enemies on a bit more strategic level (not as a strategy game, you are captain of one ship but you can make a difference).

It's a big, big universe out there.  And we are excited to keep sharing more and more of it with you!

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