At first glance, Plymouth, Mich.-based Stardock's new Impulse digital distribution and community platform has a lot in common with Valve Software's Steam service.

Both are client-based. Both offer community features. Both offer digital downloads and content management.

But the differences may end there. Besides, Stardock chief Brad Wardell isn't positioning Impulse, launching today, as a "Steam-killer."

"You would have to pry Steam out of my cold, dead hands," said Wardell, professing his love for the service. "I'm personally a Steam user. I don't see Impulse replacing Steam anytime soon. ... We don't see ourselves as in direct competition with Steam."

While Impulse will offer games from leading third-party game publishers, the service does target a slightly different audience than other digital distribution platforms, because Stardock isn't just a purveyor of PC games.

The company also develops non-gaming software such as WindowBlinds, SkinStudio, DeskScapes and more. These will be made available alongside games on Impulse.

Stardock's new service will also offer third-party non-game apps such as the complete line of Corel software (Corel Draw, Word Perfect, WinZip, etc.) and AVG.

"Non-game software has been left out of this whole digital distribution dance. Things like Steam and Direct2Drive have focused on the games, but they've forgotten about the other 90 percent of the market, the non-games."

But to us and our readers, it's the games that matter. And according to Wardell, publisher support for Impulse will be in line with Steam and Direct2Drive within 12 months.

So far, Epic Games and THQ are definitely on board with Impulse. Activision is holding out on such deals until the completion of its merger with Vivendi, according to Wardell, and Ubisoft is taking a "wait and see" approach.

"Most of the major game publishers will be signed by Tuesday or by Christmas. It just depends on their legal review," he said.

Digital distribution is a growing business for Stardock. Wardell said that Stardock's most recent release, Sins of a Solar Empire, has sold around 300,000 units so far, half of which consumers bought via digital distribution.

"Over time, our business is getting more and more in favor of digital distribution," he added.

Wardell said that developers who bring their games to Impulse will get 70 percent of revenues, and they can set their own prices.

Wardell stresses that Impulse is not just a means of distribution. At launch, it will offer several community features, including personal blogs, a friends list (which will eventually be compatible with Facebook), chat and driver support.

Stardock is already planning for phase two of its Impulse launch with updates slated for August. The update will add achievements, multiplayer matchmaking and universal rankings for players.
via nextgenbiz