A few years ago you would have called us crazy if we told you that multi-million dollar budget video game projects could be funded entirely by fans. You would have added some profanity to that name-calling if we told you the most successful crowdfunded project ever was going to be for a space sim video game.
Well, it is, and that game is called Star Citizen. Chris Roberts, the maker of Wing Commander, Starlancer, Freelancer and more great space games of the '90s, first unveiled his plans for the ambitious, privately-funded PC space sim two years ago. The plan was raise some money via crowdfunding to prove to investors that there's still interest in a triple-A, hardcore space sim only on PC, and it proved much more than that.
First seeking just $2 million, the campaign went on to make $10 million very quickly. Having that much covered half of the game's projected $20 million budget, giving the studio control over the property if they got the rest of the money from investors. Long story short, no investors are needed and the game's crowdfunding campaign is nearing $45 million. It's not only the most successful crowdfunding project of any medium ever, it also makes Star Citizen the biggest budget space sim ever. Needless to say, expectations are monumental.
But, the purpose of having fans back the game's development allows for the team to take their time, to make the game the way fans want it as opposed to how a big name publisher would want it (and when). It allows for fan feedback throughout the process, and community-driven content behind-the-scenes. A quick look at the official Roberts Space Industries site will give you access to all sorts of informational content, from in-game features and detailed pamphlets on the game's starships, to multiple series of videos from the team at Cloud Imperium Games Corporation. The devs are always asking for feedback and always sharing. They are a part of the community too.
Because of this open development process, it also means that players can test the game's progress as it grows. Last year we got the Hangar Module which let backers walk around in first or third-person in a variety of hanger bays and check out their purchased starships. It even let players board and explore the interiors of their ships too. It was a smart and fun tease for fans, and one that earned more buzz for the game and dramatically increased the amount of pledges.
Next on the docket was the Dogfighting Module where players could take their ships out for a test run. After a series of delays and rocky presentations (see: PAX East), that module - dubbed Arena Commander - is now out. As someone who backed the game from the get-go, I updated the client and jumped right in - after some issues - and the video up top shows what it features.
Keep in mind, this is not even an alpha build of the game. It's less than that and you will encounter bugs in the graphics, controls and client. Even downloading the update proved problematic for us and other backers we know, but after a few shots we got in. I only own the basic starter ship (the Aurora) so that's all we have to showcase today and you'll notice the performance isn't top notch, even on a decent PC.
Still, it's a sampling, a tease of what's in the works. Not too long from now, larger ships will be added to the module, along with full-on multiplayer as the devs work on the bigger, main game - a persistent shared universe. Are you going to jump in?
Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes.