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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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