The growing pains of Stardock Central
Well this weekend we've been taking a beating on the net over
Stardock Central. And by we, I mean me as I'm the one who hangs out on the
Stardock Central is awesome technology but has the same kind of
issues that the early "multi-mission" military aircraft had.
Back in the late 60s, the Air force fell in love with the idea
of jet aircraft that could perform multiple roles. Interceptor, air
superiority, tactical bombing, strategy bombing, etc.
And for 2 decades, the Air force took a beating from this
decision. Even today they still do. Stardock Central, because of the
immense cost to develop it, has to be a multi-role technology. And what might
that technology be? What is the actual purpose of Stardock Central?
Stardock Central accomplishes the following goals:
1) It makes it much easier for users to obtain updates to our
2) It decreases the size of downloads by only sending exactly
what the user needs (no one size fits all "patches"). This helps customers and
lowers our bandwidth bill significantly (Stardock spent nearly $150,000 last
year on bandwidth).
3) It makes it easier for us to carry out our RD&D software
philosophy (rapid development & deployment). When a development team finishes an
update, they copy their finished files to a network drive. This network drive is
the mirror for Stardock Central. Those files go right to customers. For
those who don't like Stardock Central, we still allow users to download the
traditional "patch". But that patch has to go through the installer team. The
installer team pulls from the same network drive Stardock Central does it.
Except that where Stardock Central is a software program, the installer team are
people who take the files and then create an installer script using WISE and put
it together for a download. Which means that it takes longer.
The beauty of RD&D is that the moment it's done with QA, it just
gets copied onto a network drive and our users automatically get it.
4) It makes it easier for users to get technical support and for
us to provide it. SDC has the support forums, documentation, news, etc. all
built in. And the interface to the forums isn't some crummy web interface, it
actually works like a news reader directly to the database so it's very fast.
5) Cross promotion. We can let our customers know about other
programs we make.
But as you can imagine, creating the backend for this kind of
thing was an immense 2 year task. Under the covers it has to handle over 600,000
Stardock.net accounts which have varying numbers of products. It has to handle
customers who might have purchased directly from us or from a retailer in
Finland and treat them equally internally and UI-wise.
So because of the cost, it has to be used on all our products.
Which has been a real problem UI-wise.
A person who bought Galactic Civilizations at the store just
wants to get an update to the game. Creating an account is not a big deal these
days. But then they get into Stardock Central and the sheer myriad of features
can be overwhelming. What's Object Desktop? Where's the update to GalCiv?
A lot of suggestions were posted on-line and we've adopted some
of them. We changed the Drengin.net tab to say "Games". We changed
"support" to "Documentation" (so that users know they need to click on software
and not "support" to get updates). We changed the "Stardock software tab"
to "Misc" (since it's all Stardock software).
In the coming weeks we're hoping to find a way for it to just
scan what you have and let you know which programs you have installed that need
updating so that users don't have to hunt Stardock Central for updates.