Brad Wardell's views about technology, politics, religion, world affairs, and all sorts of politically incorrect topics. is launched
Published on July 20, 2004 By Draginol In PC Gaming

And so it begins...

People have long talked about the day when we would just be able to buy a retail-level game and be able to download it right then and there.  And for the past two years, Stardock has allowed its customers to purchase and download Stardock's retail titles via  But the challenge was how to expand those titles beyond the Stardock titles?  How to convince independent developers and publishers to put their titles for available on-line -- especially since revenue, at the start, will be relatively small.

There is still a real concern in the PC game industry over piracy.  I've written before that I believe piracy is overstated. And that was on new titles.  On electronic distribution, your target audience has plenty of opportunity to pirate long before they've logged onto your service.  So our view has been to try to make it as easy and convenient as possible for them to legally purchase the games.

And hence, we now have!

We've got a pretty good line-up of games to start with:

  • Galactic Civilizations
  • Galactic Civilizations: Altarian Prophecy
  • The Political Machine
  • The Corporate Machine
  • Celtic Kings
  • O.R.B.
  • Disciples II: Ultimate Edition
  • And a couple of smaller games.

If you were to buy these games on their own, even at "bargain bin" prices you would still be paying around $150 whereas a subscription is only $89. But these aren't the only games you'd get. also gives you access to all the games we add for an entire year.  And we will be adding 4 more retail games to the mix by end of the year (one per month) so assuming each of those games is worth say only $20 (list price on them is higher than that but for the sake of argument we're going to say that someone went bargain bin hunting) you'd be up over $200 easily.

That said,'s point isn't "get games cheap".  The fact that it's a good deal is just side-effect of the lower overhead involved in electronic distribution.  We think the real point of is "get games conveniently".  You can purchase just a single game or buy a subscription to the whole thing. It's up to you. Then just press a button and voila.

We think there are 5 major advantages to's system over other electronic distribution concepts emerging:

1) No copy protection, no wrappers, no digital rights management, no nonsense.   This has been the biggest challenge we've had thus far in getting new content onto it.  We've been able to convince a number of publishers so far and we think this will grow as its success becomes apparent.  Our view is simple: Warez people are generally going after "0 day warez".  Other than Stardock titles which are on there from the start, our strategy with the top publishers is to try to bring new life to games that are at the end of their retail lifespan (which is typically 6 months).  The demand for pirating those games just isn't there. So why hassle paying customers with limitations and copy protection? Let them download the game and use it however they want. If they get a new machine, let them put it on there. If they want to put it on their laptop to play on a trip, no problem.

2) No renting, you're buying games.  While most of the emerging electronic distribution models are talking about having hundreds of games, they also want to charge $15 per month.  The problem with that is that a person can only play one game at a time.  So even if your selection is 5,000 games (which none of them are) what good is that? At the end of the day, you're still paying $15 per month per game.  And if you stop paying, the game is gone.  With, it's yours. Forever.  You lose your game due to a hard drive crash in 2006? No problem. Just redownload it from

3) Smart Downloading.  On paper, downloading games sounds like a great idea.  Then the idea hits the real world - games are huge nowadays.  Only has smart downloading.  We've broken up the games into pieces.  We've figured out how many megabytes you really need to play the game and made that a module.  So for example, in Galactic Civilizations, you only have to download something like 50 megabytes in order start playing.  The other 500 megabytes you can get later.  We've applied this to the other games as well.  Lots of games are perfectly playable with only a hundred or so megabytes with the other gigabyte of movies, music, etc. being optionally downloaded later.  This lets dial-up users participate and makes the whole thing more approachable.

4) Experience.  We've been doing electronic distribution for half a decade now.  We know how to do it. We have the infrastructure in place.  Not just bandwidth (one cable modem user last night was talking about their 400K per second download speeds from but account management, secure transactions, community features. Etc.  These things all come together in hundreds of small but important ways.  It probably doesn't hurt that we're game developers as well of award-winning games.  We could have had a lot more games on if we just let any retail title submitted be put on.  But we're trying to focus on titles we think our users will like. That doesn't mean big games only (we added BaseGolf for instance which is a small fun little game). But the quality has got to be there. But it's experience as gamers ourselves that lets us recognize that many users would not be trilled about having to download some gigabyte sized game over the course of a couple of days only to have to delete it at the end of the month or continually pay fees. Someone who's downloaded a gigabyte game they've paid for is going to expect to have it as long as they want without recurring fees.

5) Unique content.  Because Stardock's games show up on starting in beta, our users can help mold the games from the start rather than the typical scenario where the game comes out and users have to rally the developer for a "patch" to make the game better.  The benefits are pretty obvious -- look how well Galactic Civilizations turned out.  It was beta testers who came up with ideas such as the star bases and interstellar resources. 

The million-dollar question (literally) is whether PC gaming is ready for all this. Retail sales of PC games have declined in the past year as more and more gamers move to on-line games. Are those same on-line gamers ready to purchase games on-line? Only time will tell.

Let me know what you think. Visit to see what it's all about.

on Jul 20, 2004
I'm absolutely thrilled that a service like this is FINALLY available. Between what you're doing here and Valve's plans to release HL2 via Steam, I think we may be on the brink of a completely new mainstream distribution method, one that saves me the hassle of tracking down a store that has a game in stock or the frustration of losing a CD key or a CD. Gamers already order games online from retailers, I think this is simply the next logical step.

Stardock is one of a small handful of developers that I trust and wish to support. I'll likely be picking up a subscription after my next paycheck.

on Jul 20, 2004
Please, Please make download of sound files optional. Being deaf, I find having to deal with hundreds of MB worth of sound files on hard drive just so I can play games is just plain annoying. Those movies? Please add captioning ability, I find storyline games without that really boring, and worse ones says something I must do to win, I miss that and theres nothing to tell me what to do in game.

Make sure the games don't REQUIRE a sound card to play. I don't want to buy a $60 sound card in order to not hear it, and money better spent on bills and whatever.
on Jul 20, 2004
Sound/Music are in seperate modules.
on Jul 20, 2004
This sounds cool. Although, I think it means I will have to give up on doing anything constructive this summer.
on Jul 20, 2004
Is TotalGaming a separate beast from Drengin.Net or the next generation? What happens to us Drengin users?
on Jul 20, 2004
fugmulch, it's the next generation. Your account gets converted to I'm definitely going to be renewing mine when it expires in February, this stuff is great.
on Jul 20, 2004
Disciples II: Ultimate Edition - 1.09 GB = "Smart Downloading"? I love the totalgaming \.net concept and I'll renew my Drengin.Net to keep the games flowing . . . . but if 1 GB is bite size for you Brad, I need your connection!

I was happy with for The Political Machine and Lightweight Ninja once in a while. I primarily subscribed because I believed in Stardock and wanted to give support. BaseGolf and Celtic Kings are just bonuses that I can't stop playing now!

Keep up the great work!.
on Jul 21, 2004
Oops with all the ranting, I forgot to add that I really like the concept, especially that you added that sounds are a separate download that I can skip.
on Jul 21, 2004
Cool, always liked the DrenginNet name, but also always thought it had limited marketability outside of the Stardock core customers.

Smart download is huge.

on Jul 21, 2004
I feel that a bigger problem is there is no company promoting the pc platform. What do consoles have that pcs don't?

1. A parent company to wine and din developers & publishers to work on their platform
2. A company not only planning what games are supporting the current platform but the next generation platform as well
3. A uniform packaging and branding effort to get the word out that cool games are available here

PS: I loved the line "The position of royalty eating parasite has already been taken."
on Jul 21, 2004
I remember reading positive reviews of GalCiv and being unable to find the game in stores, it annoyed me to no end until I finally found it at a GameStop a month or so later.

Once I did get the game, I learned about and realized what an idiot I was for not pursuing online purchase right off the bat.

I found how easily I could get the client any time I wished since I now owned the rights to it. I went off to college leaving my GalCiv disk at home, and when I got the urge to play it a few months later, I didn't have to curses myself for forgetting it, or waste time and fuel driving home, I just installed Drengin and was back in business. And with new free add-ons and patches on top of that.

Since then, I've been greatly impressed with Stardock and Drengin, and definitely intend to check out, especially since Disciples, ORB, and Celtic Kings are all games I meant to check out a long time ago, but I was too lazy to try to find them at game stores while dealing with silly things like "business hours."
on Jul 22, 2004
Okay Brad, I have a quick question for you that you are welcome to tell me is none of my business. About how many folks have (ever or currently, whichever) subscribed to or purchased the network edition of Object Desktop? The reason I ask is as follows.

I frequently post on the forums over at The Adrenaline Vault and I actually posted a forum topic on this article because frankly I think the idea is brilliant. We are also often graced by the presence of the Supreme Commander himself (aka Derek Smart). And he thinks this is going to fail big time. His main reason? Not enough people have opted for this in the past (he cites your need to use Strategy First to publish Galactic Civilizations) to make it viable. So I was just curious how these two subscription services have done for you guys in the past.

Definately planning on subscribing, just need to finish this insane year of medical school so I actually have the time.
on Jul 22, 2004
Oops, sorry, the link to the topic here: