It’s always free click-bait to put Star Citizen’s latest million dollar mark in their crowdfunding process in an article headline. When you’re seeing hundreds of millions of dollars, it’s easy to spark interest from even the mildly curious. Of course, $250 million isn’t anything to ignore – and of course, many great games have been developed for less money. However, no game in history has approached what Cloud Imperium Gaming is doing with its funding model, so trying to compare them doesn’t make much sense.
There are far more contentious opinions about the development of Star Citizen than there are even different flyable ships in the game (over 90). People are quick to call it a “scam” and say it’s never going to be released, even as numerous Free Fly events allow anyone to download and play the game for free in its current state. Convincing people otherwise is a lost cause given the staggering amount of written and video content covering the development process. Yet, the fact that the company is crowdfunding its entire development process seems to be the most argumentative topic of all.
The issue here is that Cloud Imperium Games didn’t really exist as a developer before 2012. Even in the early bits of the Kickstarter campaign and crowdfunding, the studio was really only Chris Roberts and a handful of other people. Initial goals for the game were mild and didn’t really require much of a team while it was shopped around to publishers. However, as the money rolled in from the fervent fanbase with the crowdfunding efforts, the scale of the game grew significantly.
Since 2012, CIG has contracted other developers, built multiple studios in the US, UK, and Germany, and increased the size of the development team to around 500 people. They didn’t get all of this from day one. They didn’t even get all of this year one. Unlike most high budget published game developers, they have had money trickle in week by week, month by month, for the past seven years.
The company had to be built from the ground up – and all of that had to come from backer money. All of the comforts existing developers have like a pool of onboard talent, furnished studios, assets from previous games, server architecture and so on, weren’t available for CIG and had to be acquired over time and at cost.
It always confuses me when I see people making statements alluding to the idea that all of this money was obtained at the start of development. The Kickstarter alone was only $2 million. That’s a quarter of what the Ouya campaign raised. Even a full year after starting, the budget was less than a tenth of what it is now. While the cash flow here has been consistent, it is very different from a budget that would allow full development from the start.
Star Citizen is a game that’s going to take time. More time than the seven years that it has taken to get to this point. Even when it is officially “released,” the game will be far from complete from a development perspective. Content will grow and additional ships will be included. Star systems, planets, and whatever else rumbles around the mind of Chris Roberts will show up in-game as well.
Even Squadron 42, the single-player campaign, is set to have multiple chapters keeping staff busy potentially for years post-launch. This $250 million is only another step in the largest crowdfunded project ever and certainly not the last one. Every time you see another article click-baiting you with a big number, remember that this development process is truly unprecedented.