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Why Wing Commander's Chris Roberts turned to crowdfunding Exclusive
Why  Wing Commander 's Chris Roberts turned to crowdfunding
October 10, 2012 | By Tom Curtis, Kris Graft

October 10, 2012 | By Tom Curtis, Kris Graft
More: Console/PC, Business/Marketing, Exclusive

Earlier today, industry pioneer Chris Roberts announced that he's returning to game development after more than a decade to create Star Citizen, a new, ambitious space simulation for the PC.

But rather than turn to traditional publishers as he did in the 1990s for games like Wing Commander and Privateer, Roberts is looking to support the game by raising at least $2 million via crowdfunding on his own official website -- not through the ever-popular funding site Kickstarter. Speaking to Gamasutra during GDC Online, Roberts told us that he wants the fans to fund Star Citizen so he can speak directly to that audience from the very beginning.

"In the old days, this is the presentation I would've given to [EA executives] John Riccitiello and Frank Gibeau at a greenlight meeting. [I'd show them] all of the work we've done over the year, I'd have to put a team together, and then I'd say, 'This is Wing Commander 6 or 7 or whatever,'" Roberts said.

"Ultimately, [crowdfunding is] the same sort of device, but it's for a different audience. I'm pitching to the people who ultimately count -- the people who are going to buy the game. If you're doing this [pitch] at, say, EA, they're just sort of anticipating or estimating how many people want the product, and they're fronting the cash for it."

By circumventing Kickstarter and doing the crowdfunding through his own site, he can also maintain complete control over his relationship with players as the game continues to evolve. "The problem I have with Kickstarter is that it's better than the publisher setup, but it's still another party. Essentially you bifurcate your audience." He said having one central website like his own, instead of having a Kickstarter destination and an official destination, keeps the relationship with players simple.

"I'd rather have one site that I can theme, like the idea of Roberts Space Industries. ... The idea was to do it all in one place, not to have some of it on your site, and some of it on Kickstarter," he said. The downside is that they've had a lot of time to work through the kinks. Our site's gone down quite a few times because there are too many people visiting it."

With Star Citizen, Roberts will still be raising additional funds from private investors, but by staying clear of more traditional publishing models, Roberts is confident he'll be able to try something different and maintain a greater degree of creative freedom.

"When I decided to come back, I'm essentially choosing to take this option versus taking the more traditional path. It's not that I can't get somebody to give me money to make the game. It's just that I would be making a different kind of game [if I went another path]. I wouldn't be making the kind of open world online-connected thing. I'd be making something -- you could guess what it would be called -- for next-generation consoles for 2014 for 2015," he said.

"That's kind of fun and interesting, but I feel like there was a moment in time where the business moved to digital and online, and the PC is at the forefront of that."

Gamasutra will have more from Roberts in the near future.

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Kevin Fishburne
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Unless I missed it on the his site, I don't see a received funding total. Somehow that feels very wrong.

Bram Lazaroms
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It is wrong, but in another way. Their website is getting to much traffic so what you see is a backup website. Yesterday I saw a counter, last time was about 14 hours ago and it was at about 12% already. I wonder what it will be on when it gets back online again!

John McMahon
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If you go to you see the original site and a placeholder for where the counter and # of backers will be. It currently says it will "shortly" be up.

Given this is their first attempt, they have to work out the kinks. I still don't see how Kickstarter gets in the way of communicating with your audience.

My only thought is that he doesn't want to follow Kickstarter's new rules.

Maria Jayne
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@ John " I still don't see how Kickstarter gets in the way of communicating with your audience. My only thought is that he doesn't want to follow Kickstarter's new rules."

Probably an excuse to keep all the money for themselves.

Nooh Ha
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The other, unstated, reason he has gone direct is that he doesn't have to pay the Kickstarter/Amazon Payments fee. He still has to cover the billing costs but they will be a fraction of the cost of going via Kickstarter.

I would have thought this would be a great candidate for equity crowd-funding. Big name, big ambition, big risk but potentially big reward for investors.

Kyle Redd
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An even more likely reason for skipping Kickstarter is that he gets all money immediately and doesn't have to set a hard funding goal. Plus there's now even less accountability for him if he doesn't deliver the game, as opposed to the (admittedly limited) transparency available on Kickstarter.

Michael Rooney
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I'm curious if the fees charged by kickstarter are any better than the loss of investors due to not using it. Kickstarter has a payment system a lot of people are confident in/have already signed up for and a pretty solid discoverability platform. It seems like it should pay for itself by the added investors it would net.

It would be cool if you could see alternate reality comparisons of how many backers he'd have if he would have gone with kickstarter. Still not enough data on Kickstarter itself to know with any certainty if it would pay for itself or not afaik. :/

Jack Lee
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I feel like this article is leaving out an important caveat that he's raising money to entice investors to fund the game. He needs more in the neighborhood of $12-$14 million and is trying to demonstrate purchase intent and enthusiasm with the $2-$4 mil. Not that I'm super negative on the idea (like some sites have been, including The PA Report), but it's important to know what's up before handing your money to someone. If he gets a few million from this, but then all the other investors back out, he won't be able to make the epic, sprawling game of his dreams. I'm sure he'll release something eventually anyway, but it will have to be scoped down to lower budget.

That all said, I'm a big fan of the things he's pitching. I think it's worth $40 or so even on the off-chance this thing gets made. If he runs off into the night with my money, well, I think I'll be okay. I have faith that won't happen, though.

sean lindskog
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Michael Rooney: "I'm curious if the fees charged by kickstarter are any better than the loss of investors due to not using it."

That's a good point. But there's also a gain too - which is he solidifies the community on his own site, rather than on the KS site. Having a large, thriving web community tends to snowball, with lively forum discussions and the like.