GamesBeat: How many resources do you have now?
Roberts: We have more than 300 people working on the project. It’s about 200 on staff between the four internal studios, then about 120 external people. Behaviour and illFonic are two development studios who are working on it, and then we have some individual contractors. It’s a big beast.
Last year at this time we were maybe 70 people. We’ve been scaling up. Mainly just because if you have the funds, you can scale up and deliver more of what we were hoping to deliver in the long run. What we’re building now was always the thing I ultimately wanted to build, but I wasn’t thinking I would have the opportunity to do as much of it so soon. What I thought would happen is, I’d have to have a more constrained game. Then it comes out and we’re generating money from a live game, so I can use that money to continue to add content and features and build it up. What’s happened with the support that we’ve gotten is that a lot of that can happen sooner.
GamesBeat: What’s your timeline looking like?
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Roberts: This year the FPS module will be available for backers. They’ll be able to run around and play a pretty full-fledged multiplayer shooter. The multi-crew ships will come online about the middle of the year. We have the first iteration of planetside in April, where you’ll walk out of your hangar and wander around the planetside environments and go into shops and stuff. A little later in the year, June or July, you’ll be able to take off and fly and land on another planet. At the end of October, Quadrant 42 is coming out for the backers. Just before Christmas we’ll do the first early alpha of the persistent universe, which will have about five star systems. Ultimately there’s going to be about 130 star systems, but the very first test will be five.
Most of the basic functionality of the game should be in the backers’ hands, in a very rough form, by the end of the year. There’s still a lot more polish and content and smaller features that we’ll be rolling out. Toward the end of 2016, probably, is when you could consider it a commercial release. It’s hard to judge. It’s hard to quantify us. We operate like a live game now. You can play Arena Commander, that whole aspect of the game. We have about two million game sessions and a million game hours already played as of a month or so ago. They’re not playing the full thing, but we keep rolling out these additional functionalities so people can play and give feedback and engage. Finally all the bits will have slotted so you can play in this expansive universe.
GamesBeat: Is there anything else you didn’t get to cram into the speech?
Roberts: The point I wanted to make with the speech was that community underlies everything we do. It’s part of the DNA. The fact that we’ve focused on that—When I saw you a few years ago in San Francisco, before we launched it, we’d been running the community site, just aggregating people who liked my games or liked space games or liked PC games, for 30 days. We put community even before the game announcement.
When we hire people we say, “Hopefully you’re comfortable being on camera.” We make all the developers spend time answering questions on the forums. We have quite a few people on the community and marketing side. We don’t spend money on TV ads or banner ads. We spend money on doing community-focused stuff, whether it’s a live event or video shows or behind-the-scenes. It’s a lot of work, but it pays off.
GamesBeat: They were running ads for free mobile games during the Super Bowl.
Roberts: And the ads look a lot better than the games. I don’t know. Does that Game of War thing make money?
GamesBeat: It makes a ton of money. They’ve been in the top four or five for two years now, a year and a half? At that level you’re making millions a day. So much of that money goes back into user acquisition, though, because people churn out of these games.
Roberts: I know. We had a lot of the Google Adwords—they’d say, “You’re one of the top presences. We’d like to put you own and make you better.” They were pitching a $50 CPA to us. Are you fucking crazy? The basic ship you can buy in this game is $40. Why are we going to pay you more than that? They said, “Well, you said your average per user was $100, so $50 should be perfectly fine.” OK?
But I can see how the bigger mobile stuff is in a different envelope. Even if Star Citizen becomes wildly successful, I don’t think we’ll ever have those kinds of numbers. But we’ll have a pretty dedicated core audience and community. That’s the focus. Engaging and sharing—Even if I was building a Wing Commander, a one-off release, I’d make that a more involved and open relationship with the fans and the community as I was building it. I wouldn’t do it in the way we did in the past.
When I say the world’s changing, it’s like Twitch. People just put on Twitch and look at other people running around not doing a lot in DayZ or Rust or whatever it is. It’s this sense of always seeing and sharing and being connected. When a new patch comes out, we can just go on the web and see other people playing it through their Twitch streams. It’s a window into what the community is doing out there.
Gamers themselves have changed. They expect a different level of interaction and involvement. If you can deliver that, you’ll reap the benefits.
GamesBeat: It looks like some of the infrastructure you have is bypassing what traditional game media do — the video shows and updates and blogs and all that.
Roberts: The thing that works quite well — what’s really changed now is it’s 24/7. Everyone has to have content all the time. It’s not like the old print world where you had your magazines once a month and there would be more people vying for that content. You literally cannot get enough content to keep all the blogs going.
What works for our model is, because we’re always sharing, because we’re always talking about a new feature or whatever, we’re actually very newsworthy for most of the online gaming press. “Here’s a new thing Star Citizen did!” You just don’t get that from the bigger, more publisher-focused stuff. Yes, there’s a marketing campaign orchestrated from E3 to the release date, but they’re not utilizing all this other time. We get a lot of exposure because we feed into that 24/7 news cycle.
You need to do it anyway, because in today’s world—you used to get a cover on a magazine and that magazine would be on the newsstands for a month. Now you get a big article on the front of IGN or something and it’s gone in four hours. You have to do a lot of repetition. You have to constantly get hits for people to see it. I run into people today who say, “I only found out about Star Citizen last month, and I’m the hugest Wing Commander fan.”
We’ve been covered a million times everywhere, but the truth is, unless you’re watching whatever site all the time, you can miss something. It scrolls off. Maybe you only visit a site every week, so you miss things. A fair amount of gamers don’t religiously follow that stuff. Being in a process where you’re generating material that people will get content from, it feeds into that.
GamesBeat: Going direct to the fans is part of this definition of being a digital publisher, it seems.
Roberts: If I were revamping EA or something, I’d change a lot about this same stuff. If you look at YouTube, look at Twitch, look at the rise of YouTube celebrities, they’re just someone who’s streaming stuff. There’s a connection. I have my two little daughters who watch YouTube all the time. It’s a different world. You have to connect. You have to start playing in that field or you’re going to get left behind. It’s raw. It’s there. It’s immediate. People don’t want something that’s so stage-managed or slick. They want it to feel real.
If you can do that kind of thing, that’s how I think you’ll connect with a community. It doesn’t matter whether you’re crowdfunded or publisher-backed or whatever. If you can do more of that, that’s the future of development will go.
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