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Why you should always follow your guts against the odds – The brand story of online horse game Star Stable

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Unless you have a little kid with an interest in horseriding games, you may have not heard of Star Stable before. It was our case when we were approached by Star Stable with a much interesting story indeed.

Before Star Stable arrived in 2011, no one could predict it would become the gigantic gaming platform it is now. Star Stable can be described as World of Horsecraft, perhaps, or some other MMO (Massive Multiplayer Online game) with huge resonance in a very specific segment of players. In this case, female gamers.

Star Stable Online is "a horse game online full of adventures." Simple as that. And yet behind such a simple statement hides a gigantic global community, one with literally millions of players worldwide (it reached over six millions six years ago, in 2015) and a harbour for kids to have some fun in all safety. 

What exactly is Star Stable, and how did it manage to rise against all odds, challenging everything that the industry believed back in 2011? We got back to the team at Star Stable themselves to hear their wonderful brand story and have that put in writing below.

This is the story of how a gang of developers managed to make a World of Warcraft with horses – and reached enormous success in the process, by simply operating in a very well confined niche.

Against the odds

Before Star Stable arrived in 2011, there was little that foreshadowed it would anchor a powerful multimedia platform for female gamers and game developers.

The story starts with a gang of developers, storytellers and investors stubbornly clinging to their dream of launching an MMO (massively multiplayer online game) with horses. The hugely successful game World of Warcraft was their model and, had it not been for the legal rights issue, Star Stable could have become World of Horsecraft. Such was the scale of their ambition.

The game they dreamed of producing would have been a creative and technical challenge that reinvented the horse game in an exciting new way. It would also have been hugely expensive, requiring an army of developers. 

Additionally, the winds of change were blowing in the games industry. The launch of Apple's iPhone in 2007 created a new, fast-growing digital platform: mobile gaming. This gave rise to global superhits like Angry Birds and opened the eyes of the industry to a faster and easier way to reach more players than ever. 

A traditional computer-based MMO for girls was not a hot prospect. In fact, it went against everything the industry believed. 

Marcus Thorell, one of the founding team members of Star Stable, experienced this first-hand at an event for game developers in San Francisco: “I was sitting there in the audience listening to them very clearly saying, ‘If you make a game, never make an MMO game. Never.’ I thought, check, we’re doing that. ‘And if you’re crazy enough to make an MMO game,’ they said, ‘don’t do a subscription-based product.’ Check, that’s what we’re planning. ‘And don’t make the MMO for girls because there are no girl gamers.’ Okay, check. ‘And whatever you do, don’t do kid’s games.’ Check!”

As is often the case with successful brands, the founders listened to prevailing opinion - and followed their gut instead. 

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Players take the reins 

Despite all the well-meaning but discouraging advice, the team held onto their dream of a full-scale MMO for adventure-loving girls, taking courage from a discovery that almost all the seasoned experts had missed. 

Before Star Stable, they’d already created a handful of horse-themed games. One of these was a four-episode series called Starshine Legacy. That game, and the four stand-alone Star Rider titles that followed, had an unexpected effect on players. 

Players loved the games and an online community grew around them. 

“Video after video appeared on YouTube. All were recorded by girls with in-game cameras. They filmed themselves riding around and putting it to music. The number grew and grew, and soon there were millions of videos with millions of views. It was completely crazy. And we had not done anything. It just happened!” says Johan Edfeldt, one of the founders and Star Stable Online Entertainment's first CEO.

This confirmed for the team that there was a huge appetite amongst girls for exciting, quest-filled, adventure-packed games in narrative-driven game worlds. 

“We realized that we had found something that everyone else had missed,” Star Stable Entertainment’s current CEO Johan Sjöberg explains. “There was a large group of girls and young women who longed for full-scale online gaming. The gaming world had ignored them. From then on, it was the players and their needs and dreams that decided what we’d do." 

A unique offer 

The firm belief that there was a large, unmet appetite for ambitious games aimed at girls was proven beyond doubt when Star Stable Online premiered in 2011. Despite a low-key release (by industry standards at the time), the game grew rapidly, exceeding the optimistic expectations the team had set out.

After just over two years, the game surpassed 100,000 players, and the interest was global. And it just kept growing. 

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Females in focus

Early on, Star Stable Entertainment chose a clear focus on creating a gaming world made for and by girls. This meant that all the available avatars in the game were girls, which has aroused criticism over the years. But it’s a decision the company stood by, as Taina explains:

“The main storyline of Star Stable is about sisterhood and the unique, amazing stories that can be told from that perspective. There are so many cool games out there with male main characters for players to explore, so we're proud that our game is one with incredible female main characters that allow our players to discover relatable role models."

This unique position attracted millions of girls from all over the world to Star Stable Online. Together, they now form one of the gaming world's strongest and most cohesive communities with 1.4 active users logging into Star Stable Online and supporting apps to socialise and create every day.

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Real change in the real world

Something even more powerful happened as a by-product of the company's decision to stick to its guns. It was quickly realised that not only was there a great longing among girls and young women for games that took them seriously, but many also wanted to pursue a career in the gaming industry. However, they found themselves on the periphery of an industry heavily dominated by men.

"For me, Star Stable became a game that opened doors that me and many other young women thought were closed," says Stacy Place, who started as a Community Manager at Star Stable Entertainment in 2015. Today, she is Star Stable Online's Game Director. “The game has had enormous significance in my life and it's changed the game plan in the industry.” 

At Star Stable Entertainment,  54% of a team of more than 200 employees are women. That's compared to an average of 22% in the rest of the industry. The unique opportunity to work with a game for girls by young women has attracted employees from all over the world to the company.

An expanding creative universe

In 2018, a completely new chapter opened. That spring, we launched the first Soul Riders book by author Helena Dahlgren in collaboration with the book publisher Bonnier Carlsen. The book Soul Riders - Jorvik Calling went on to become an award-winning trilogy, selling around the world in 11 languages and is currently one of six finalists in the Kids’ Book Choice Awards in the Best Fantasy World Builder category (ages 12-18), alongside world-renowned authors like Suzanne Collins (Hunger Games) and Cassandra Clare (Mortal Instruments).

The brand continued to grow even wider as Star Stable Music launched the same year, signing artists who are now streaming on all leading platforms. These artists are linked to characters in the game, but the music is created and performed by real artists in diverse genres, like folk, pop, and punk. Star Stable Music has now debuted more than 40 singles and earned more than 10 million streams. 

Earlier this year, the animated miniseries Mistfall launched voices known from both Jorvik and Hollywood. Written by Canadian Emmy-winning author Alice Prodanou, the series garnered 12 million views on Star Stable’s YouTube channel in a matter of months.

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The next ten years

Star Stable began with a vision - a full-scale MMO with females in focus. It was an impossible dream that became a reality through commitment, hard work, and a firm belief that girls deserve quality games. 

It opened doors for women in a male-dominated profession. 

It built friendships and became the springboard for girls around the world to connect  and feel good about themselves. 

And it created a deeply connected community of players bonded to a world that listens to their dreams and real lives.

If the first ten years were a success against all the odds, the goal for Star Stable for the coming decade is to use creativity to foster inclusivity and nurture everyone’s ability to contribute to a world full of positivity, imagination, and adventure.

"I have no idea where we will be in ten years’ time,” Johan Sjöberg admits, “but some of those people who will decide have only just started playing Star Stable, discovered our music or opened our books. What I do know is that the journey will take place in close dialogue and cooperation with our large audience. It was by listening and being curious about them and following our gut that we managed to find a unique position and, in the long run, change the gaming world. Our promise is that holding the same values close will guide us into a magical future."

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