Interview: Stardock To Develop New RPG, Resume Society Production

Independent developer and publisher Stardock is nearly doubling its staff, and CEO Brad Wardell tells Gamasutra the expansion will allow the company to develop a new RPG title -- an
Independent developer and publisher Stardock is nearly doubling its staff -- and CEO Brad Wardell tells Gamasutra the expansion will allow the company to develop a new RPG title as well as restart development on its dormant RTS/MMO hybrid Society. Part of the plan includes a new 53-person development team, which is to begin work on a new, as yet unannounced, roleplaying game. Stardock's current main team, responsible for the Galactic Civilizations series as well as the upcoming Elemental: War of Magic, will refocus on Society as soon as it wraps up development on Elemental early next year. Wardell declined to elaborate on the untitled RPG, given its current unscheduled -- likely far-off -- release period. But in an interview with Gamasutra last year, Wardell alluded to plans for a new development team and referenced BioWare as a touchstone. "We'd like to do a roleplaying game," he said at the time, mentioning BioWare's Baldur's Gate II and Knights of the Old Republic, saying a Stardock game might well feature "the same style of isometric gameplay -- not first-person -- where I have a party that I'm interacting with. I think there are a lot of people who want that." Michigan's governor, Jennifer Granholm, made special note of Stardock in her State of the State address last night, pointing to the company as one of Michigan's bright spots in an economic downturn. Wardell says it was the state's aggressive incentive package that convinced Stardock to boost its local presence, with an expected 53 staffers to add to its existing 60. "Before the state of Michigan got involved with us, we were originally planning to set up a studio somewhere else -- San Francisco or Seattle," Wardell tells Gamasutra. "In [those cities], there are more game developers than in Michigan. But when the state heard we were considering moving, they came in and said they were going to help." In addition to the considerable tax benefits offered, Michigan promised a significant upgrade of the communications infrastructure available to the studio, which Wardell says is currently deficient compared to what is available to tech firms in other states. "Because we're in Michigan, the communications infrastructure has lagged so far," he explains. "We have to upload things from our office, and we're using Comcast -- which is fine if you're at home, but it's slow for what we need. That's the kind of thing we're up against. It affects our business." That limitation was one reason development on Society halted. "This is ridiculous," Wardell recalled thinking. "How could we make an MMO with this kind of online infrastructure?" The CEO was quick to add that those infrastructure issues have never affected users; they have only been inconvenient for Stardock itself. "Our actual data centers are state of the art and located all over the world," he stresses. But while the company has grand plans to boost its internal development, it wants to keep its third-party publishing operation focused on one game at a time, because of how closely it works with its development partners. "As Gas Powered Games and Ironclad can tell you, we get very involved in the games," Wardell says. Currently, the publishing group is finishing its work on Gas Powered Games' Demigod. "[That team] is evaluating some other publishing projects right now," he adds. "We get a lot of submissions, so it's a matter of picking the right ones, and it has to time with out own publishing schedule. We'd love to have published Gas Powered's Supreme Commander 2, for example, but we couldn't give both Demigod and Supreme Commander 2 the attention they deserve at the same time." Still, Stardock is in ongoing talks with both Gas Powered and Ironclad Games, of Sins of a Solar Empire fame, both of which remain potential future collaborators. "We have really good relations with both of them," says Wardell, "but I can't comment right now about anything specific."

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