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Star Citizen and Crowdfunding: An Interview with Chris Roberts Part 1

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Star Citizen, the ambitious space sim from Wing Commander creator Chris Roberts, is undoubtedly a behemoth in the world of crowdfunded games. Roberts began his funding campaign in October 2012, and on November, 12, 2012, two days before it was set to end, Star Citizen set the record for the most funded game of all time by drawing in over 4.2 million dollars.

"You've earned this star system, and a lot more," read Cloud Imperium's official statement. "Let's go for $4.5!" Little did Roberts and his team know that in less than two years, backers would give them the extra $300,000 and a whole lot more.

Today, Star Citizen is approaching the 50 million dollar mark with no sign of slowing down. Currently, it's bringing in around 2 million dollars a month from its ongoing campaign on Cloud Imperium's website.

Roberts at GDC 2012
Roberts at GDC 2012

Roberts' success inspired David Braben, creator of the competing space-sim series Elite, to open his own campaign for Elite 4, aka Elite: Dangerous, in November, 2012. That campaign also continues, but with just over 5 million dollars in pledges, Braben and company are far behind Cloud Imperium and Star Citizen.

Star Citizen's monetary magnetism is impressive, but it raises a lot of questions. Where is all of this money going? Will Star Citizen ever be "released," or will it suffer from constant growth in scale and depth (read: feature creep) and remain in an indefinite development cycle? I had a chance to catch up with Roberts and pick his brain on the matter, but the discussion ultimately went beyond Star Citizen. What follows is the first installment of a two-part series based on that interview, where Roberts and I discuss Star Citizen's success, the impact it has had on the game's development, and the business of games at large.

The last time I saw you was at Gamescom, when Star Citizen was just a few ships in a hangar, but the dogfighting module that's available now is a big step forward in terms of delivering actual gameplay to your backers. Still, the full game is a ways off. Are you concerned that, as the funding grows, Star Citizen may fall victim to feature creep and remain in development indefinitely?

The thing is, I know people get worried--"oh feature creep" and "you keep adding these features"--but you know, we're building an online game, and that hangar is on people's machines, the dogfighting module is on people's machines. We patch it all the time, so feature creep doesn't really apply in those setups, because normally what will happen with feature creep is "Oh I want to play this extra feature," and it would always push back when you would roll out the game, because you'd always have to rely on a disc. Whereas now, it's like, we really like this feature, but it doesn't mean that you aren't pushing out the game without this feature, and then just patching it with that feature later on. That's the kind of approach we're taking.

So the extra level of funding is pretty great, because it's allowing me to ramp up a bunch of stuff much sooner than I normally would have been able to. I'll be able to deliver more features sooner in the cycle. Because originally, when I wanted to do this, I always wanted to make what Star Citizen is with all of these features...but I was being realistic about it. "We're not going to have funding to do this. No publisher's going to give us funding to do this," I thought. "I'll raise some money from crowdfunding to show how much people want it, and then I get investors to finish off the funding, and that's going to get me to this sort of more bare-bones state."

The first piece of Star Citizen was released last year, allowing backers to interact with a highly detailed starship.
The first piece of Star Citizen was released last year, allowing backers to interact with a highly detailed starship.

Think of it sort of like DayZ, the alpha, where it's out there and it doesn't have all of the features, but you're bringing money in, and you're using that money to make the game better, right? Which is also what I think Minecraft did, although to a much different level. And so that was kind of my plan.

I think everyone sort of responded to the game visually. We still do close to 2 million dollars a month, and we haven't been actively promoting or selling anything. So when we were actually saying "Here's the ship you can buy," we did well. I mean, last November, we did almost 8 million dollars in just the month alone. We're not even a live game. All of that extra money and funding goes to ensure that it really can be a full-blown AAA experience.

I'm pretty sure by the time the game is finished...I don't know how much the Old Republic budget was, but we'll probably be up there. Some people say it was 400 or 500 million, and who knows how much of that was marketing. We won't be up there, but I definitely think that we'll be, by the time the game is finished, we'll be at the 80, 90, or 100 million dollar range of funding, and most of it will be all for the game. I mean, what I sort of feel is that all of the prerelease funding is saying how much you can put into the game and content up front, and post-release, hopefully we can make enough money to support the servers and additional content.

As of this summer, backers can finally take off into outer space and battle other commanders with the release of the dogfighting module.
As of this summer, backers can finally take off into outer space and battle other commanders with the release of the dogfighting module.

Do you see a finish line for the development of Star Citizen?

No I don't. It's like something like World of Warcraft or EVE Online. It's an ongoing thing. If you look at EVE right now compared to what it was when it came out, it was totally different. So what my view is: we get the game out and then hopefully we have a lot of people that like it, and it's doing well, and we're making money, and we're just using the money to add content or add features. To me it's like an ever-evolving game. Maybe at one point it will have every feature, but there's a lot of other things that I'd like to see in it, and it'll take some more money and time.

What are some of your dream features?

There's definitely some features that we'd like to do, and we know we aren't doing up front. Sort of, more procedural generation; you can have a planet, and flesh it out, and fly out to space and fly over the planet.

Like No Man's Sky?

To do that at the level of fidelity that I want isn't trivial. Making cities that are livable at that level, that fit into our fiction, you couldn't do that with four people, and I doubt we could do that with anything that we've got going right now, but I think there's definitely some tools that could be built that would sort of help do some of that. I always feel that [with] all of those procedural tools, it's not 100 percent hands-off, right? The artists build building blocks, and then the procedural generator puts the blocks together in different ways, different configurations, and it feels different. So, to do it at the fidelity we do would just take time. It needs to feel like a real planet. That's kind of the challenge on the procedural generation stuff, but it would be nice because it would enable us to have a greater variety of places to visit and explore.

No Man's Sky from Hello Games is an ambitious project, but Roberts sees even greater things ahead for his own planet-to-space sim.
No Man's Sky from Hello Games is an ambitious project, but Roberts sees even greater things ahead for his own planet-to-space sim.

Would you be happy working on Star Citizen for the rest of your professional career?

One that lasts a long time, I hope! For me, Star Citizen is not like a two- or three-year project; it's like a 10-year project. So I'm hoping that I get the game out with the full persistent universe and people like it enough that it becomes successful, and that I have years after that to build and flesh out the universe more.

There's a whole bunch of stuff that we want to do once the persistent universe is there, in terms of player-generated content and what we're doing in terms of manipulation of the universe, the galaxy, and the storytelling within that. We've got a whole plan where different locations will grow over time. As they expand, they have more business. You'll go back down, you'll see something grow from a small pod into a small city, and then an even bigger city, and then a metropolis. So that's not going to happen day one. That's going to happen over years of game playing. We're building the systems to allow us to have that so different planets and star systems will expand and contract based on what's happening in the universe and the economy. I want to see some of that where it's player influenced, which I think could be really kind of cool. EVE I guess kind of does that, but I want it to be more tactile. I think it would make a difference if the last time you went down to a planet, it was a barren colony, and now it's got three skyscrapers and a bustling market and stuff like that.

If the funding keeps growing at the current rate, and you're successful in achieving your goals, do you think that you're going to attract more outside talent? Would you be willing to work with competitors that have a similar passion, like Sid Meier, or is your direction so personal that it's like your baby? If you two could meld your strengths, could your own goals be achieved sooner?

Star Citizen is so big that I think that I would be foolish to believe that I can control every single aspect of it. I want to be sort of the person in charge of the overall feel and vision of it, but you know, I got my brother back from working on the Lego games. He's handling a large part of it, because I can't do everything myself. What I need is people that I know that have done this before that I trust and that I like their sensibilities. I guess the short answer is that yes, I would be completely open to working with people. Sid Meier would be great, but I'm sure he likes to make his own games.

EVE Online from CCP Games has politics, an economy, and a world that's been crafted by its players for the past 11 years. It's a functional analog to what Roberts wants to see in Star Citizen, but his vision goes beyond the admittedly impressive scale of EVE.
EVE Online from CCP Games has politics, an economy, and a world that's been crafted by its players for the past 11 years. It's a functional analog to what Roberts wants to see in Star Citizen, but his vision goes beyond the admittedly impressive scale of EVE.

The level of ambition that I think you're speaking about is, essentially, "the sky's the limit."

I think that's why so many people are excited for and have backed Star Citizen, because it is the ambition of the vision, right? You know, Elite Dangerous looks great, right, and they're out there, but they're not even close to the level that we are, partly because we've put this vision out there, and everyone says "That's f****** crazy, but you know, I would love to see it happen." And I think people are signing up for that.

From my standpoint, I think it's achievable. I don't think it's going to be very easy, and I don't think it's achievable in a very short amount of time, but I definitely think it is achievable, especially when we're in the situation we have now where we don't have the same constraints as the past.

If I was going about this within the more traditional structure with a traditional publisher, there's all sorts of things, like, "Well, we're not sure about going completely digital. We need our PS4 and Xbox versions, and we need you in this release window, because this is when we're going to sell the most, and we've done the deal with Walmart." So there's all these things that sort of start to box you in that usually force you to compromise some of the ambition.

Peter Molyneux knows what it's like to have ambitious ideas crumble under the weight of a large publisher, but both he and Roberts have managed to slip out from under the traditional structure of funding and development to begin anew on their own terms.
Peter Molyneux knows what it's like to have ambitious ideas crumble under the weight of a large publisher, but both he and Roberts have managed to slip out from under the traditional structure of funding and development to begin anew on their own terms.

I think Peter Molyneux gets a bit of a bad rap sometimes because he definitely has his big-picture stuff. Definitely what was happening, especially in the Microsoft days, he's out there saying "Let's all do this," and then at the end of the day, it was Microsoft going "We need to ship something for this Christmas. We have to have a Fable." So the product managers are in there going "Cut, cut, cut," and so Peter was all excited about some features that would be super cool, but they weren't ready for prime time at the moment, so they didn't make it. I definitely felt that with Freelancer, at the end. It had a bunch of stuff that we want in [Star Citizen] that was cut out because we had to get it out the door. It reduced its level of ambition. So I feel like in this setup, I don't have that problem, and I don't have that same issue of "you've got to put it on a disc and get it out there." Yeah, there's the big ambition, but we have the hangar app and the dogfighting app, and we know that more stuff is coming down the road.

I think you're really signing up for this universe. Over time, the dream will become a reality, and I think that's exciting for people. People like being part of the process. The excitement and the passion, it's really invigorating. It also helps to inform the game to some extent. When you start to talk to people, you get a feel for what is important and what isn't, and sometimes, when you're talking to people, you think, "That would be cool, and I can do it fairly easily." So, it's a lot of the stuff that, normally in the old way of doing games, you wouldn't know until the game was already out on store shelves. Maybe you would be able to fold some of that into your sequel or something. I sort of feel like this process allows you to get a lot of that in much earlier and affect the initial release; that will hopefully make it a lot stronger.

Stay tuned early next week for the second half of my interview with Chris Roberts, including his continued evaluation of contemporary game development, his thoughts on Titanfall's emergence from Call of Duty, Oculus landing at Facebook, crowdfunding, and more.

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com
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    doc-brown

    Peter Brown

    Peter is a Senior Editor at GameSpot who's passionate about gaming hardware and game preservation.
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    Avatar image for focuspuller
    focuspuller

    "I think everyone sort of responded to the game visually. We still do close to 2 million dollars a month, and we haven't been actively promoting or selling anything."

    This is false.

    Often the website will sell a new or "rare" ship, that usually happens every month or other month and you will notice that a lot of those spikes in sale happen then, most of the time. Most of the people that buy those are people that already have packages so the current business model is to sell more to those who have already spent money and get them to keep spending.

    For the record, I am a backer myself.

    Avatar image for Veenox
    Veenox

    As long as I don't see this game go Live, it's just an Urban Legend to me.

    Avatar image for daikkenaurora12
    daikkenaurora12

    50 mil is a lot. Hope the game does well.

    Avatar image for aliafterhour
    aliafterhour

    << LINK REMOVED >> Bought access to the hanger and arena commander, it´s not much but it blew my mind

    Avatar image for notoje
    notoje

    let us make small POLL on SC and ED


    here is the link


    << LINK REMOVED >>


    share thx ;)

    Avatar image for theotherjeff
    TheOtherJeff

    << LINK REMOVED >> That's a pretty one sided poll

    Avatar image for suppaphly42
    SuppaPHly42

    << LINK REMOVED >> dude did you back the game

    Avatar image for theotherjeff
    TheOtherJeff

    << LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> According to the various different accounts he uses to comment (Manzes, tommen_stark, several others) he did indeed back the game, then got angry they delayed so asked for a refund which he got, BUT he apparently had backed under multiple accounts and didn't ask for refunds for all the accounts only 1 (as far as I know)

    This information is based on previous conversations I've had with him, after saying how he'd got a refund, he made some comments about the installer for AC, when I asked him about it he said he'd backed several times and still had active backer accounts.

    Going to be interesting seeing his response to this post.

    Avatar image for suppaphly42
    SuppaPHly42

    << LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> also your are telling me there is a guy on here with multiple ( online ) personality disorder ( which would be much cooler if they exhibited different points of view and what not) and is waging a war against this game because it was late on some things it said it would have by now.

    oh this is great i feel as though we are on a reality tv show now hehehehe

    Avatar image for tommen_stark
    Tommen_Stark

    @suppaphly42 @theotherjeff @ponymilar A typical week of the Chris Roberts fans inside the CIG Community... check on youtube: "aDSKsuz9Hcs"

    Avatar image for suppaphly42
    SuppaPHly42

    << LINK REMOVED >> that was awesome. i will k1ll for the cause * pulls out gun * * points gun at << LINK REMOVED >>pulls trigger * you for the cause, you for the cause, you for the cause,

    Avatar image for theotherjeff
    TheOtherJeff

    << LINK REMOVED >> : To answer your first question; Unfortunately yes, he used to claim to be all about educating people who hadn't backed and would have a wall'O'text with a couple of valid points and alot of false assumptions and got very defensive if you called him out on them. After a while he dropped the consumer advocate and just rambles now.
    Most common aliases are Tommen_stark, Manzes, Ponymilar and Tafuo although there are a few more. He's gotten a little wiser and seems to have stopped copy'n'pasting rants across different new articles.

    Avatar image for suppaphly42
    SuppaPHly42

    << LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> well i just 187ed << LINK REMOVED >> (for the cause) so we won't have to worry about that one anymore XD

    Avatar image for mohoc2000
    mohoc2000

    @theotherjeff @suppaphly42

    Not really. He is even copy/pasting stuff across accounts in this one article.

    Avatar image for suppaphly42
    SuppaPHly42

    @theotherjeff @suppaphly42 @ponymilar yes that is a dilly of a pickle. there is an air if hypocrisy to it eh? this could by interesting.

    Avatar image for askanison40
    askanison40

    @PeterBrown - I really must give you Kudos. This is one of the better articles/interviews I've seen/read out there about Star Citizen. So thank you for having some journalistic integrity (something greatly missing from so-called gaming news media sites these days) and asking hard but fair questions. No one is above reproach. Not even the mighty Chris Roberts, but I feel like the money questions have been asked over and over that at some point I think it just becomes people wanting to argue about something (I mean it's not like his answers have changed to the multiple-repeat questions he's being asked) instead of taking his word for it. Can't wait for part 2.

    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Even though C.I.G. is a new company, Chris Roberts and everybody working with him is not new to making games. That and Chris has proven himself a competent game developer more than once (Wing Commander, Freelancer, Starlancer, & Privateer anyone?).


    No Man's Sky shows a couple of little videos and everybody goes ape-s%$t over it, while Star Citizen in it's COMPLETE transparency (there isn't one aspect of the game that one can't find information about), is still getting the asinine "...it's a sham...", or the "...he's a money grabber..." comments and entire vitriolic articles directed at it.

    One last thing - Chris Roberts and David Braben are very good friends and they both backed each other's projects and continue to do so. When Chris states that Star Citizen will be different in its scope, he's stating fact, not slinging mud. From talking to him personally (something else I love about the guy - he's approachable) in Boston earlier this year, he absolutely LOVESElite: Dangerous(who wouldn't? It's a awesome game). But they are VERY different games. That's just the truth of the matter. That doesn't mean one's "better" than the other. That's all subjective anyway right? But realistically speaking, Star CitizenIS a bigger in scope game than Elite: Dangerous. When did stating the truth become a slight?

    Avatar image for askanison40
    askanison40

    << LINK REMOVED >> - LIKE I SAID and WHAT I SAID, "...there isn't ONE aspect of the game that one can't find information about..." still stands. This early in development, you aren't going to get specifics because plans change. That's (to use your words) pretty BASIC game development procedure. But for argument-sake and to prove that showing you what you want won't stop people like you from wanting to complain and argue about SOMETHING or ANYTHING, here you go:

    PIPELINE: << LINK REMOVED >>

    Not only that, one can ask ANY C.I.G. developer ANY question they want to and you WILL get an answer. So you have been TOLD and you have been SHOWN. Next?

    Chris Roberts and David Braben-

    Thanks for taking what I said COMPLETELY out of context. You haters do that a lot I've noticed. Them not being business associates doesn't mean they don't and can't respect each other and each other's work. Maybe the small little world you live in that's how people treat each other. Don't know nor do I care. I do know that they see each other and talk to each other on a regular basis so of course they are going to talk about their respective projects. Competition can be friendly. Just because they're competing doesn't mean they hate each other. Again - small minds and all that. Next?


    OF COURSE the scope of Star Citizen is partially still in the dream-phase. It's still in development. duhhhh.. I swear this internet-age causes IQs to drop drastically. That doesn't change the FACT that it does and will have a bigger scope. No amount of playing semantics on your part will change that simple FACT. The FACT that Elite: Dangerous is practically in a releasable state further proves this point. Whewww.... some people... Ok, Next?


    Between you and Chris Roberts, me thinks you're the one who's confused. He's making Star Citizen for both Space Sim Fans and Hardware Upgraders. Since you need EVERYTHING spelled out for you, it's like this - Every (yes,I'm generalizing here so calm down) PC Space-Sim fan is a hardware upgrader, but not every hardware upgrader is a PC Space-Sim fan. It's quite simple really. And NO ONE is over-hyping the game with fake numbers. Seriously dude? The game speaks for itself. And I'm sorry (really I'm not) but over $48 million in DONATOR-only funds means there's a lot more than a "few" fans as you put it.


    So now that your VERY INCORRECT postulating has been dealt with, what will your new arguments be? Because we both know that when someone (like you) who just wants to argue, NO AMOUNT of presenting you/them with the TRUTH and FACTS will change your/their mind. But it's always fun showing someone how wrong they are. You take care now.

    Avatar image for askanison40
    askanison40

    << LINK REMOVED >> Indeed

    Avatar image for suppaphly42
    SuppaPHly42

    << LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> its like talking to a person with strong political beliefs or religious ones you can't win. i give you props for the effort but that was an exercise in futility.

    so here is what you do when SC becomes the greatest space sim every you remember all the nay sayers and span the sh*t out of them with "in your face" like comments

    Avatar image for suppaphly42
    SuppaPHly42

    @ponymilar not just them but you as well. do you see some people will wait and all good things come to those that wait and some people cry the end is nigh as if they can't wait for it and want everyone to think that too if only to not sound crazy ( consensus thinking after all)

    EDIT now that is some Bull SH*t now no one will know why i said that

    Avatar image for askanison40
    askanison40

    << LINK REMOVED >> - When he said 3 years in development, I knew then That I was dealing with a special person and I decided not to support his habit anymore. It's a known FACT (he's allergic to those) that active development started in October of 2012. Now I'm not a math genius or anything, but that's just 1 year, 9 months of development. Maybe they calculate numbers differently where he's from. Who knows.

    Avatar image for mohoc2000
    mohoc2000

    << LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> He is adding the 1 year it took CGBot to build the trailer prototype.

    Avatar image for tommen_stark
    Tommen_Stark

    << LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> Oh! The guy is unable to read and comprehend what the CEO of the Company said... or he is simply confirming that the CEO of the company lied.... I don't know what is worst... been a uninformed fanboy, or a fanboy helping to prove that his idol lied.

    Avatar image for mohoc2000
    mohoc2000

    @askanison40 @suppaphly42

    In October 2012 there were 4 people working for CIG.


    Chris Roberts
    Ben Lesnik
    Sandi Gardner
    Ortwin Freyermuth

    Since then they have expanded to 250+ people. That takes time and doesn't happen overnight.

    Avatar image for suppaphly42
    SuppaPHly42

    << LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> i'm going to assume that is a no then. if that is true then why all the hate and nay say. are you trying to get the game caned and all the devs arrested well this is not the place to do that.

    are you trying to get people to stop believing in kickstarter or that a really great game is coming with nothing more then specious reasoning, as you can't know what is going on you can only guess, now i'll admit the timelines are not as they said they would be but there are mitigating circumstances that answer for most of them like the scope of the game got 25X larger then expected give or take.

    so other then getting you jollies off ranting here what do you get out of this other then making an anonymous fool out of yourself as of right now. if down the road CR and his team go to jail for a big scam and you were right you can rub it in our faces but until then you come of as rather foolish.

    Avatar image for mohoc2000
    mohoc2000

    @tommen_stark @ponymilar @mestremun

    Do you keep these rants in a text file to be reused on every Star Citizen Article? You are making the mistake of copy/pasting stuff from your multiple accounts.

    PS: I already PM'd the mod team.

    Avatar image for suppaphly42
    SuppaPHly42

    << LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> i know eh. it seems to be a crusade or something

    Avatar image for suppaphly42
    SuppaPHly42

    << LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> i ask again did you back the game

    Avatar image for askanison40
    askanison40

    << LINK REMOVED >> You're preaching to the choir. I completely agree with you.

    Avatar image for askanison40
    askanison40

    << LINK REMOVED >> - Hahahahaha... I'll have to remember that.

    Avatar image for amdreallyfast
    amdreallyfast

    One question I didn't see in here was, "What are some of the big projects going on now?"

    I would have liked to see that. I know that software development goes through lots of iterative cycles, then add lots of art on top that, and things take time. Like a rubik's cube, software and art do not progress predictably and linearly and often do not resemble anything like the final product until the feature nears first iteration completion.

    So what projects are they working on now? Controller trimming? Player economies? Network optimization? New ship, environment, and mission design? Maybe part of the game engine needs a refactor and is going through unit and black box testing? All of the above?

    Avatar image for mohoc2000
    mohoc2000

    << LINK REMOVED >>

    Here is the monthly report that they post. It has a nice overview of things that were worked on in May. The next report comes out the first week of August.

    << LINK REMOVED >>

    Avatar image for tommen_stark
    Tommen_Stark

    << LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> A marketing overview of the things... I wonder what a serious investor or publisher would think about this "nice overview", hehehehehhe.

    Avatar image for mohoc2000
    mohoc2000

    @tommen_stark @mohoc2000 @amdreallyfast

    What would make you happy?

    Read only access to all their PCs?
    Web Cams in every corner of every office and their bathrooms?

    Avatar image for suppaphly42
    SuppaPHly42

    << LINK REMOVED >> you talk about people being "kid" yet you have descended down a Helter Skelter of multiple ( online ) personality disorder to the point you think we are indoctrinated by a cult

    it doesn't get more kid then that

    Avatar image for mohoc2000
    mohoc2000

    << LINK REMOVED >>

    You are the one acting like a 4 year old throwing a one year temper-tantrum.
    You complain incessantly about the lack of information about the progress the game is making. Then, when they tell us what is being worked on, and how it is coming along, you whine that it is all lies.

    Now, again, what do you want?

    Avatar image for askanison40
    askanison40

    << LINK REMOVED >> We'll possibly see that in part 2 of the interview.