About a month ago we reported that the development costs of the space sim Star Citizen would be fully covered by the game’s crowdfunding campaign a year before the game’s scheduled release date. It was an easy prediction and we were correct, but that was only the beginning – a new beginning of sorts as we approach tomorrow’s one-year anniversary of the game’s announcement.
Cloud Imperium Games Corporation, spearheaded by Wing Commander developer Chris Roberts, hit the $20 million crowdfunding milestone two weeks ago (the expected budget of the game) and in the two weeks since it’s raised another $1 million, unlocking another stretch goal feature and revealing the next goal on the list.
With the game’s costs now more than covered, the Cloud Imperium enters the territory of they-must-deliver. Unlike most Kickstarter games, there’s reason to more faith into Roberts and his team since he’s a proven developer and they came out the gate with exciting gameplay footage. Since then, they even released the first of several playable modules, proving that there’s significant work being done.
Below is the newly received concept art of the MobiGlas, the portable computer interface characters utilize to manage inventory, ships and to interact with pretty much anything.
By crossing the $21 million line, the following feature will be included in the main game:
- Salvage Mechanic: Salvage isn’t an aside: it’s a career, with its own mechanic, story tie-ins and universe-shaping endgames. Search the galaxy for a host of valuable and interesting secrets using both the flight and FPS components. Discover the secrets of the ancient Hadesians, locate valuable components and cargo… or go down in history the first to make contact an entirely new alien race!
And here are the next two goals:
- Facial Capture System. We’ve researched a technology that uses a series of cameras to capture real heads and import them into the game. This will let the team more easily create a variety of realistic characters. In addition, the technology is mobile enough to allow us to take it on the road and capture select fans during special events! You can learn more about this technology at Infinite-Realities.
- Xi’an Scout Unlocked! The Khartu is the light attack craft of the Xi’An military. Contrary to Human ship design, the Khartu doesn’t have a traditional main thruster, instead featuring an array of maneuvering thrusters on articulated rigs. This design allows for incredible agility, making them the bane of UEE pilots, who bestowed the nickname ‘Quark’ because when all of the thrusters are firing, the ship looks like a spark flying through space. The Xi’an Aopoa corporation also manufactures an export model, the Khartu-al, for sale to human civilians as a dedicated scout/explorer. The export model features the same Xi’an maneuvering rig, but control surfaces modified for human use and a more limited armament. (Designer: Aopoa)
Breaking that down to its simplest form, if players invest $3 million dollars into Star Citizen, the game gets a single alien ship, facial capture tech and a character class. Obviously, it’s not as simple as that and we can expect a lot of the funds to go to expanding the development team and polishing other features, but it does raise a few concerns in a day and age when crowdsourced games are still an unproven commodity.
The first being the cost to players (read: supporters) of buying ships and other in-game items, most of which have price tags that are more expensive than the average price of an entire video game (see them here). For all we know the release of additional playable modules could boost the hype and funding momentum so much that by the time Star Citizen is ready for full release next November, the developers will have raked in an extra $10 million in exchange added ‘Stretch Goal’ features that may not cost that much to implement. This raises the questions of the immensely high prices being charged for players to purchase space ships – are they justified? If players are buying and happy to support does it even matter? If the money is being saved to continue development and content expansion post-launch, isn’t that good?
Here’s a great snippet from an interview with Dealspwn on the matter:
“So we got to a point where we went ‘Okay, well it doesn’t look like we need investors now. We are fully community funded and that’s the best because everyone who’s backed the game just wants a cool game, [and] I want to make a cool game — we’re not worried about ‘Okay, you’ll get your 10 X return on your investment.’ So as long as the game, even after it goes live, makes enough money to pay for the servers and add new content, then it’s great, you know, and anything over that would be gravy.”
The other major growing concern is the obvious nature of feature creep, something Chris Roberts – to his credit – openly addressed when they hit the $20 million goal. They even asked fans how they should proceed and the votes wanted more money going to more stretch goals. Roberts wrote in an open letter:
There has been some concern about “feature creep” with the additional stretch goals. You should all know that we carefully consider the goals we announce. Typically the stretch goals fall into two categories;
The first are goals that involve features we already have planned or have implemented, but we couldn’t create content because of budgetary constraints. The first person combat on select planets is a great example of this type of goal. We already have FPS combat as part of the game in ship boarding, and we already have most of this already functional thanks to CryEngine, as we essentially have Crysis3 functionality out of the box. But creating all the environments and assets to fill them is a huge task, so we were planning on not doing any planetside combat initially, simply because of its cost, with the idea that we would slowly roll it out once the game is live. But with the additional funds we can now afford to create some of this content earlier rather than later.
The facial capture system is an example of the second type, where we identify technology and equipment that will make the game better and allow us to be more nimble and economically efficient in continually creating content for the ongoing universe that we are aiming to support. The motion capture system and sound studio were goals that feel into this category.
But both types of goals are carefully considered – we don’t commit to adding features that would hold up the game’s ability to go “live” in a fully functional state. Also remember that this is not like a typical retail boxed product – there is no rule that all features and content have to come online at the same time! As you can see from the Hangar Module we plan to make functionality and content come on line as it’s ready, so you should look at the stretch goals as a window into the future of functionality and content additions we plan for the live game.
It would be amazing if all players could use a webcam or mobile device to capture their own face but that would result in a bunch of faces that don’t look like faces, sadly.
The worst thing that could happen is that millions of dollars (literally) go to features that the community are not impressed with or there becomes backlash to the exorbitant prices of in-game digital assets. Fortunately, Roberts has been extremely open and honest with the community and the official Roberts Space Industries website is loaded with awesome community-driven content, from artwork and news updates, to letters from Roberts himself and videos with members of the team.
And let’s not forget, Star Citizen is spearheading the return of a long-lost genre that deserves to be back at the top. That’s a win for everyone.
Star Citizen will launch in full November 2014.
Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes.