Wing Commander creator Chris Roberts shows off Star Citizen and the new way to fund triple-A games (interview)

star citizen ship

GamesBeat: How many people do you have working on this now?

Roberts: I think at last count it was 268, between contractors and in-house. We have three internal studios – one here in L.A., one in Austin, and one in Manchester. The Manchester one my brother heads up. It was formed from the core nucleus of his team at Traveller’s Tales. Then we’re working with two external studios, one in Montreal and one in Colorado. Between the five studios, we’re all spearheading the different elements of the game.

The game’s pretty modular, so each studio’s taking the lead on one aspect. Squadron 42 is the single-player game. That’s being led out of the U.K. We’re leading space combat here in L.A. The persistent universe and planetside’s happening between Austin and Montreal. First-person shooter is happening in Colorado. It all gets integrated together, but that allows a smaller team to work on an aspect and not get overwhelmed by such an ambitious game.

GamesBeat: Are you building out a vision that you maybe had many years ago?

Roberts: I probably talked to you back in the Freelancer days. I wanted to do Freelancer online. I wanted this dynamic universe. A lot of the ideas I was pitching when I was first doing Freelancer are what I’ll be able to do in Star Citizen. The tech’s there so I can do it now. The financial support’s there. But yeah, I want to build a dynamic universe that’s got that sandbox element to it, but at this level of fidelity, where it looks as good as any triple-A shooter game.

GamesBeat: Do you still have to watch your spending?

Roberts: $46 million is a lot of money, but first of all, you don’t actually get $46 million. You have to pay Paypal and Kickstarter and everyone. It may sound like a lot of money, but in the world of these huge games like Destiny or Halo or whatever—Those guys have 500 to 1,000 people on their teams. We still try to be pretty efficient. We try to figure out where we can be more economical in terms of how we’re outsourcing work and things like that.

star citizen hud

GamesBeat: This is based on Crytek’s engine, right?

Roberts: Yes, this is the CryEngine. We’ve done a lot of modifications and we’ll continue to do more.

GamesBeat: They’ve changed their licensing policies some. Does that help you at all? Or do you have a more general license?

Roberts: Yeah, we bought it out. We’re building this game for the long term. It’s an MMO. Hopefully it lasts as long as something like EVE or World of Warcraft. We need to have control over it. So we basically had to buy it out and control the source and everything. We still get updates from them. We work very closely with Crytek. But their new licensing deal doesn’t factor into what we do.

GamesBeat: Which elements of the game are going to finish first? What targets are you looking at right now?

Roberts: It’s hard to say. This year we’re going to show the first-person combat. We have a couple of big iterations on the Arena Commander, with things like multi-crew ships and some other functionality. Next year we’re going to be showing the planetside stuff. We’re starting Squadron 42, the first set of episodes there. Then we’ll have the persistent universe. We’ll start with a smaller elements, like one system, and then we’ll add more systems and keep on adding until the content’s complete.

The backers should be able to fly around in a small version of a persistent universe toward the end of next year. By the end of next year, the beginning of the following year, everything will be feature and content complete. All along the way, though, they’ll be playing. They can play this, go head to head against other people. That’s kind of the content curve.

When you get people in early in development—Inside a publisher, the games go on for years. The end user doesn’t realize that game was in development for four years or five years. A lot of times it’ll get pushed back a year or so and you don’t even know that happened. But we’re doing this totally publicly. Sharing as we go along is one of the big ideas. It forces the team to focus on finishing it and making it stable and polished. When you put something out in public, you don’t want to do it half-assed. It’s very good for cohesion and making the game work well.

When you have people playing it and seeing it grow, they feel like, “Okay, I backed this thing. They’re working hard. I’m getting to play it and I’m having fun.” My goal is, by the time the game is done, a lot of the early backers will say, “It’s all gravy from here. I’ve already had a lot of fun playing the game and giving feedback.” The goal is to take everyone along with us on the journey.

I do think that’s one reason we’ve done so well. We’ve paid attention to interacting with the community. If you go to our website, we do eight to 10 posts a week. We have two or three video segments that we share with everyone. We show them what we’re developing. We give our backers a monthly report, just like you would with a publisher.

Star Citizen cockpit

Above: Star Citizen cockpit

Image Credit: Roberts Heavy Industries

GamesBeat: You’re kind of showing everyone in the industry how to do this.

Roberts: I don’t know if we’re showing anyone. We’re just doing what seems to work for us. It’s nice. I very rarely used to get to meet people that enjoyed my games. Ever since I started doing this, because we do a lot more community-focused events, I get to meet people, and it’s really cool. You meet someone who says, “The first game I played was Wing Commander. I became a pilot because I played Wing Commander.” I never thought I’d have that kind of impact.

There’s a sense, when you get to connect with the community on a closer basis—You feel like the work you’re doing matters. People really care. Sometimes, in the more business-oriented publishing side, you lose focus on that. You do all this fighting with the machinery. When’s my release date? Can I get enough marketing dollars? All that stuff that comes in with big business and big publishing. When you’re going straight to the gamer, you don’t have as much of that.

You do have other stuff. You have 400,000 critics. But that’s life.

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Grandyo .com
Grandyo .com

CIG's success with 'Star Citizen' is down to knowledge of their fanbase, relentless stream of content, constant fan recognition and the hard work from Sandi Gardiner (Marketing VP) and her team at CIG. All of those things would not be necessary for a regular AAA title at this stage of development.

Please check out our latest blog post where we have a brief look at 'Star Citizen' and Cloud Imperium Games' use of User Generated Content as part of their tremendously successful marketing -

We also surveyed the participants in the recent UGC 'The Next Great Starship' competition held by CIG, and feature some takeaways from the results in the blog post.

Any comments (on the blog or our Facebook page - would be most welcome.

Thanks & Per Aspera Ad Astra,


Jack S Wolfie
Jack S Wolfie

46m is pocket change compared to the budget on a normal AAA game.

James Pony
James Pony

So... end of 2016... Until there... they will make a lot of money with their pay wall with the ships behind, always getting money from the same addicted people that are brainwashed enough by their poor marketing, focused on dumb-down people to take their money more easily, and not showing any accountability.

Ken Smith
Ken Smith

 A "normal AAA game" spends more on marketing than it does on development. Star Citizen doesn't. In development, it's equal to a game that's over $100 million.

nojan j
nojan j

@James Pony please try to read more carefully it is said" By the end of next year(2015),  the beginning of the following year, everything will be feature and content complete (2016) you just added 9 months to that , and you seem to hate star citizen for no reason , it's not like anyone forcing them to buy it, it has reached 46 million because backers are seeing for the first time some one is making the game they want not the game publishers want to make, the average age of backers is 30+ and they are mature enough to see for them selves, and you seem to know nothing about this games development as this is the most open development in AAA gaming .

p.s: if you call a 46 million dollar crowd funding  "poor marketing" , think how much higher this number could have become if it HAD marketing , go figure;) 

Ken Smith
Ken Smith

@nojan j Don't mind this twit. He astroturfs all SC articles with the same copy/pasted drivel under multiple names/sock puppets. James Pony and Tommen Stark are the same person. It's funny when he carries on conversations with himself.

Steinar Bergstøl
Steinar Bergstøl

@nojan j @James Pony Don't even try arguing with him, Nojan J.  James Pony is almost certainly the same person as Tommen Stark, AKA Manzes, JCRG99 and, more than likely, at least half a dozen other aliases.  He has a grudge against Star Citizen and Cloud Imperium Games due to getting permanently banned from their forums ages ago due to his poor behaviour.  Since then he's managed to get himself banned from just about every gaming site who's had a Star Citizen article due to displaying the same poor behaviour and obsession with spreading misinformation and outright lies about the game and the people making it.  No arguments can sway him and anyone who does not agree with him is either stupid, brainwashed or on CIG's payroll (or all of the above at the same time).

It's quite easy to spot his rants despite his many aliases, really.  They all contain the same arguments, the same flawed understanding of the English language and the same tendency to have several of his aliases act (poorly) as individual people agreeing with eachother.  It would be amusing if it wasn't so sad.

Tommen Stark
Tommen Stark

@nojan j @James Pony Really. Let me see... 6 months of delay to release a citizen card. 7 months and counting of delay to release a promised Multiplayer Alpha for everyone (not for VIPs). Planetside module, promised to March of 2014... will come not earlier than March 2015.... Right... go figure yourself... you are a very naive person.

And yes. 46 million dollar taken all the time from the same addicted people buying additional ships for any ship offer that they made is a very bad marketing. they are not really growing in number of people on this game, and more like losing people, disappionted by they constant mistakes, failures and changes in things that they promised, as well as showing zero accountability while there is another project... Elite Dangerous, also crowdfunded (but with 40 times less money than SC got), releaseing on schedule their Alkpha/Beta, respecting customers, and everyone liking it. You only see people asking refund on Star Citzien, due their bad marketing more interested to make people sick and addicted to make more easy to seel whatever thing so they swallow, than realy delivering quality and showing accountability.

All that can work to take money from fanboys. Let's just hope that this tiny group that will remain as a tiny group, keep this level of insanity for more time, so they can make enough money to keep their servers running for an acceptable time...

This game will have definitely a short period of life and will be much less popular than Elite Dangerous and EvE Valkyrie, and you do not have to be to smart to see that trend. A half brain person can see that CIG is losing ground and changing things for the worst....

Even the flight model, HUD, dogfighting in general is already a big contradiction from the CR promises made since the beginning and told along this project. IT is already a big fail, indeed, and these things are not fails due "pre-alpha", but design failures that won't change.

It is much more easy they convince their fan-base to accept whatever that they release, and continue to give them money for fancy ships, than really delivering quality and more content. Just look for the poor panel that they created... based in holograms, not really on panels, as it was appeared to be in the first videos...

That is obvious a way to save money, making something more standard to reproduce in different ships. This is CR saving profit... and the dumb people continue to give him more money. These people are just dumb. Really dumb.

Tommen Stark
Tommen Stark

@Steinar Bergstøl @nojan j @James Pony You sound like a Democrat that is got in some corruption attitude, and claim that it is just an intrigue of the Republicans, with some agenda against you.

Guess what? Regardless having or not an agenda (Which I don't have), that stil does not make one fact said by "your enemy" said in quotes by purpose, a falacy. 

That's what CIG fanboys usually do. They attack every single person who claim anything against this game and the attitude of the company, trying to make people dismiss such testimonies and opinions due that... "Do not hear that politic, he don't deserve to be the presidente, because... because... he has a mistress outside marriage". Pretty much what all they do, because they never have arguments to defend something that cannot really be defended.

By the way, if you know too much about me, you obvisouly makes not so absurd to accuse you as part of the CIG marketing team or some fanboy with vested interested on this game because already gave too much money on it, and the only way to save your money, is to deceive more people. Just like that attitude of people that works in financial piramid business.

nojan j
nojan j

@Tommen Stark @nojan j @James Pony As seem to have a full brain not a half one and definitely not dumb so that you are not trapped in this Chris Roberts scam of the century;) , i can not educate you about your -mostly inaccurate- reply ,  , you must have an IQ more than the hundred of thousands people backing star citizen combined, kudos to you sir for being so above this hype train;) and also i'm sure elite will be a great game as i've backed it but how can some one enjoy two games at once it's beyond me!!!!!!!;)


some one really dumb:D 

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