Roberts On Escaping Outside Pressure, & What Could Have Been
Last night, the crowd-funding effort for upcoming space sim Star Citizen hit the $20,000,000 milestone, further smashing all records for crowd-funded projects, but it turns out that regardless of the success of the crowd funding campaign and generosity of the community, Star Citizen was always designed to be a game with the scope we see today.
Speaking to Dealspwn at this year’s Gamescom, Chris Roberts explained that while the community have helped to ensure the game’s freedom from private investors and publishers, it was always going to be a triple-A game in terms of its budget. Hit the jump to see what Roberts had to say, and to learn about the “What If” scenario that will never have to be.
The question I put to Chris was this – how have the team at Cloud Imperium Games managed to adapt to the growing stretch goals, seeing it is now a much bigger project than it would have been had they only secured the minimum $2 Million the game was originally asking for? His response was highly detailed and refreshingly honest.
“We’re a little different to some of the crowd-funded [games] that go way over [their target] the game was never actually a $2 million game,” said Roberts. “It was, at the smallest version, it was a 12 to 14 million dollar game. So the deal I originally did was I had investors lined up for $10 million, and that money triggered if I raised between two and four million on crowd funding.” Chris went on to explain that they were expecting to “at least get to two [million] to prove there was a demand” for space sims on the PC to make a comeback. “The plan from that point was that [Star Citizen] would launch it a bit sooner and think of it like Minecraft where Notch had it, and you had the Alpha where he was using money from Alpha sales to finish the game.” Roberts went on to point out that doing it that way helped the folks at Mojang bring in around $40 million (and counting.) “So, ultimately the big game that I wanted to make was approximately $20 million on the minimum side.”
Well then, consider that mission accomplished!
“Once we started to raise all the money and it started to go so well, I basically started to go ‘Well, I don’t need the investors.’ They had pre-committed but from my standpoint if you don’t have any publishers – you have your issues with publishers, they’ve got their dates, they’ve got their other agendas – and investors, even nice investors that we had lined up, they want a return on their money, so they can be patient for a few years but in three or four years’ time they can be like ‘Okay, EA wants to buy your company for $400 million and I’m going to make ten times on my money. You need to sell to them,’ and you actually see that happen a lot.”
It’s a familiar chain of events for Roberts, having had it happen at both Origin and Digital Anvil who were sold to EA and Microsoft respectively, and Roberts explained that he would not like to lose another of his creations again. “I’m sad that I don’t have Wing Commander anymore,” Roberts began, “and I can’t continue to do stuff in that universe, so for this, my dream would be what CCP have done with EVE. I mean, it’s ten years later, they’ve organically grown that world [and] that audience. They’ve got more people playing now than they did before, and they’re a private company – they're not having to turn around and sell out to someone or go public.”
“So we got to a point where we went ‘Okay, well it doesn’t look like we need investors now. We are fully community funded,” he continued, "and that’s the best because everyone who’s backed the game just wants a cool game, [and] I want to make a cool game – we’re not worried about ‘Okay, you’ll get your 10 X return on your investment.’ So as long as the game, even after it goes live, makes enough money to pay for the servers and add new content, then it’s great, you know, and anything over that would be gravy.” Roberts went on to explain that even a successful game can still bring a lot of pressure with investors and publishers on board. “When things go well, they’re like ‘Oh, you did really well. Well, next year we need you to do 20% more.’” But, of course, that isn’t the case with Star Citizen which is now 100% independent from these issues and restrictions.
Roberts then returned to the topic of what the original plan for the game was from the beginning. “A lot of the stretch goals that we announced were actually always part of the full design of the vision," he said, "so the only difference was that I was kind of revealing the things I wanted to do, and we were able to do them with the initial version of the game instead of having to wait until once we were online and making money, basically. So I guess the big difference is that I thought we’d have to be further along to be at the point where we could be making enough money to move forward to do these extra things, and that turned out to be earlier, and I’m very happy!”
With the Hangar Module, which was released just under a month ago, giving us the first glimpse into what Cloud Imperium Games is providing with Star Citizen, we’re expecting great things from Chris Roberts and his team, with the Dogfighting module due to be released to backers in November. If you want to learn more about the game, you can always watch our video interview from this year’s Gamescom, or if you want to see the first playable part of the game in action you can check out our episode of Dealspwn Playthrough where we take a look at the Hangar Module.