Chris Roberts’ absence has been felt in the video game industry these past ten years. The spaceship combat and galaxy-spanning simulations in games like Wing Commander and Freelancer have been relegated to niche titles like EVE Online. People are excited about Roberts’ new studio Cloud Imperium Games and its debut title Star Citizen. Very excited—To the tune of $6.3 million in crowd-sourced funding.
Roberts’ began raising money for his space sim—a persistent online universe with both MMO-like multiplayer and expansive single-player story modes—publicly at the beginning of October. At that time, the goal was for Cloud Imperium Games to raise a total of $15 million for development, with $8 million coming from the sales of 200,000 slots in an alpha test version of the game sold at $40 a piece. The remaining $7 million would come from personal and private investment. As of this writing, Star Citizen has raised $6.3 million, making it the highest earning crowd-funded game yet. By comparison, Obsidian’s Project Eternity raised nearly $4 million before wrapping up its Kickstarter campaign in October.
Kickstarter is an interesting factor in Star Citizen’s fundraising success. When Cloud Imperium Games first brought its proposition to the public, it initially planned to only raise funds on its own. Two days after Project Eternity wrapped its campaign, though, Cloud Imperium opened its own Kickstarter, raising just over $2.1 million via the service. With $6.3 million in total funding, Star Citizen has demonstrated that crowd-funded gaming projects should seek funds from multiple forums, not just the much-discussed Kickstarter.
The last months of 2012 are illuminating the future of the video game industry in fine detail. As people have predicted for the last decade, players are spending less and less on DVD and Blu-ray disc games increasingly preferring to instead download them via services like Valve’s Steam and Apple’s iTunes. The release of the Wii U will provide a good indicator if devoted game consoles are still a viable market, or if the US and Europe will follow Japan towards a mobile device-centric gaming culture.
The brightest trend of all, though, here at the end of 2012: Crowd-funding. It’s still a miniscule percentage of game projects that are brought to the public for development investment, but game creators of note are finding real success working with their audience rather than a gaming publisher. It remains to be seen how many Kickstarter success stories translate to actually successful games.