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Stardock CEO Wardell On Impulse Phase 3, Competing With Steam

Stardock has launched the "third phase" of its Impulse distribution service, including new authentication tech -- CEO Brad Wardell tells Gamasutra about competing with Steam for PC gamer dollars.
Developer and publisher Stardock has launched "Phase 3" of its Impulse digital distribution service for PC, adding additional community features, a new game authentication system, and other updates. The company also announced that Activision has signed on as an Impulse partner, and will be releasing select titles through the service soon. Game Object Obfuscation, or GOO, aims to provide a simple, portable way to manage a game's license. It ties the game's serial code directly to a user's email address, rather than to a specific computer or distribution service account -- meaning it can be packed into games sold not just through Impulse but through retail or other services. More unusually, it can also allow gamers to legally relinquish their ownership of a game license and transfer it to another user, thus creating the potential for sanctioned used PC game sales with publishers getting a cut, an avenue not served by major retailers. Speaking during a Gamasutra interview in advance of the service's release, Stardock CEO Brad Wardell said GOO is largely about creating a more inviting PC gaming environment. "We're lowering the risk of purchasing a game," he said. "Right now, if I pay $50 for a PC game and play it for a few weeks, I'm out $50. As a result of that, people don't tend to buy as many PC games, because they have to be really, really sure they're going to like it. On a console, you don't have nearly that issue because you can trade games back and forth with your friends." "Everyone's always talking about how the PCs 'died,'" he added. "Well, it's not dying, but being a PC gamer has some disadvantages, and what we're trying to do is rectify those disadvantages." Stardock says strategy-oriented publisher Paradox Interactive, which already supports Impulse, will be among the first to integrate GOO into its games. Also launching is the full Impulse Reactor online platform, with new multiplayer matchmaking features, achievement support, community and friends management, an in-game overlay, and player rankings. Developers can integrate Impulse Reactor features into their titles without requiring players to have the Impulse client installed on their PCs. Gas Powered Games' action RPG/RTS Demigod, which releases next week, will serve as an early showcase for the Reactor capabilities. Finally, Impulse Anywhere provides a web interface for users to download a title from Impulse, take that file, and install it on another computer -- for example, if the latter machine is not connected to the internet. Although Stardock has been invested in digital distribution since the early 2000s, Impulse itself has only existed since June 2008. Since that time, the service's feature list has increased rapidly in an attempt to compete with Valve's Steam and others like Direct2Drive, GamersGate, and potentially Games for Windows Live. Wardell also told Gamasutra he estimates Steam's PC download market share to be 90 percent -- but stressed the importance of competition, suggesting that the presence of multiple companies battling for consumers' dollars is leading to a "rejuvenation of the PC market." He pointed to a specific case of tit-for-tat that ended up benefiting consumers broadly: "We started doing Impulse weekend sales where we mark things down 70 percent. All of a sudden, Steam starts having weekend sales." "Well, who's the winner in that discussion?" he pointed out. "And not just gamers, but publishers, because they can leverage us versus Steam, or Steam versus Games for Windows Live, and they can get all kinds of cool services. Imagine how it would be if there was no competition."

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