Last night during his BAFTA Masterclass presentation Chris Roberts, the game developer turned movie producer and back again, shared the story of his career. The presentation, given live in Los Angeles and streamed on Twitch, also filled in some of the gaps in the release calendar for his latest project, Star Citizen.
With the crowdfunding campaign for the spaceflight simulator nearing the $70 million mark, Roberts' talk was clearly crafted for an audience of film and games professionals interested his learning more about his path to financial success. The concluding question and answer session, however, was largely crowded with fans seeking more information on the features and technologies behind the upcoming game. Roberts was very open, and eager to deliver on all counts.
Perhaps most importantly to backers of Star Citizen, and fans of the Wing Commander series who might be interested in the game, Roberts announced target dates for when certain portions of the game will be released.
The vision for Star Citizen is essentially to create four different game systems in one product. There will of course be a space combat game system, but there will also be a first-person shooter, a single player experience and a persistent, first-person universe not unlike an MMO.
Those four systems are draped across six different game products; Hangar, which allows players to view and interact with their collection of spaceships; Arena Commander, which allows players to fight against one another and run races; Squadron 42, the single player, story driven campaign akin to the original Wing Commander series; an unnamed first-person shooter; and a sort of bridge between all of these components, referred to as "planetside," that involves flight mechanics, first-person exploration and social interactions.
To date, only the early versions of two of these products, Hangar and Arena Commander, have been made available to backers. At last night's BAFTA presentation Roberts gave dates for the remaining products, effectively filling in the existing gaps in information on the game website's storefront.
The beta for the Star Citizen FPS will release in Spring 2015, along with the beta of the "planetside" product. Then, that same summer, the Arena Commander product will be upgraded to a 2.0 version, complete with ships that allow for multiplayer crews. Then, in the fall, the first episode of Squadron 42 will be released. By the end of 2015 backers can expect to play the alpha of the persistent universe, leading up to an eventual 2016 commercial launch of the game.
Showing a remarkable ability to stoke the flames of interest in its community, just yesterday the team behind Star Citizen released an experimental build of Arena Commander to every single backer, widening access to the upcoming release candidate.
It's that kind of engagement that Roberts called out as key to Star Citizen's success.
"We're incredibly community focused," Roberts said. "From the beginning we started with a community site, even before we announced Star Citizen, and we had 30,000 people sign up."
"It's built into the DNA of Cloud Imperium, who's the company that's making Star Citizen. It's the community focus. And we get headlines because we're the largest crowdfunded anything in the world. We're now close to $70 million, and it's likely the carry-on will probably be over $100 by the time the game is close to public release. But the crowdfunding isn't really about the money. Yes, the money is nice. Yes the money enables you to do some of these things you do, but it's really about bringing people in to create this community and have them sort of share that experience with you as you're building it."
"You can never please everybody all the time"
With all the funding raised, there are elements of that community that are critical of Roberts and his staff, which now numbers over 320 with 180-200 full time employees. To appease them, Roberts has hired on a team of community managers with the goal of being as transparent as possible.
"Transparency, in our mind, is critical," Roberts said. "We try to share as much as we possibly can of what we're doing. Sometimes it's not enough for every member of our community, because we still get accused of not being transparent enough even though we literally publish these monthly reports from every one of our studios that goes into more detail than any report I ever did for a publisher back when I was working back at EA or Microsoft. But you know, you can never please everybody all the time."