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The Think Tank: Star Citizen and armchair speculation


This week, Star Citizen announced it's now raised a total of $48 million in crowdfunding and revealed its $50 million stretch goal, which is an absurd amount of money (but still not as absurd as how much some other AAA MMOs reportedly spent). "As a professional gamer and armchair developer with several failed armchair projects under my belt," wrote Massively commenter computerhelfer with his tongue firmly in cheek, "I can safely say this project has acquired too much money. This project makes my armchair feel uncomfortable."

Apparently, large sums of money and large-scale projects make a lot of people uncomfortable, at least judging by the huge and sometimes nonsensical debates that sprawl across our Star Citizen posts. In today's Think Tank, I've asked some of the Massively writers to speculate on the future of the game, its impact on the genre, and how much higher that crowdfund number might go before all of the core pieces of the game have launched.

Bree Royce, Editor-in-Chief
@nbrianna: I think SC's crowdfund could go as high as $80 million by the time the major game systems are launched -- I'll go with Jef's estimate and assume that's going to be 2016ish. I don't think it'll go over $100 million, personally.

Commenter SallyBowls said something that's stuck with me: "In the same way that WoW and LoL distorted the expectation of customers and competitors, I am not sure if CS's phenomenal KS success with benefit the ones who come after them." Expectations for the game are already out of line with reality, not because the game has overpromised but because fans believe you can build way more on that budget than you really can. I sort of wish the game did have a hard launch date because the smaller iterations and rollouts, while wise for the studio, give ammunition to everyone who wants to see a big name implode and make it that much harder for future games to see success on Kickstarter now that the community is so jaded as to think a game that funds for "only" a few million isn't worth a dime.

Eliot Lefebvre, Contributing Editor
@Eliot_Lefebvre: I think the game's number at launch is going to depend a lot on when, exactly, it's declared to have launched. The piecemeal releases, schedule slip or no, make moving the goalposts really easy. But it's not the funding number setting unrealistic expectations; it's the fans. The money is more a barometer of how many people are building up their expectations for the game; I suspect, like Justin below me does, that the final product may be incapable of meeting all the expectations simply because those expectations have sort of swept past the realm of plausibility.

As for whether or not it's changing the way studios think about funding: The primary lesson here seems to be "market aggressively toward a very specific group of players with lots of disposable income and that group will provide you with funding." Whether or not that's worthwhile is going to depend upon the reception over time. If a lot of people are disappointed with the end product, it's not going to look like a viable strategy.

Jef Reahard, Managing Editor
@jefreahard: It's not really going to "launch" and instead will be rolled out piecemeal as modules are completed, which makes this question somewhat hard to answer. Personally I'll consider it "launched" when my non-backer friends are able to pony up the $50 buy-to-play client fee and join me on the live persistent world shard, which I estimate will be two to three years from now. So, let's just say 30 months, and let's assume that donations continue to roll in somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 million per month, which would put my total "launch" budget between $75 and $80 million.

As for whether or not the game is changing the way studios are thinking, of course it is.

Justin Olivetti, Contributing Editor
@Sypster: Star Citizen represents not only a different type of funding for a game but a different type of development process altogether, which makes it incredibly hard to make any sort of predictions. My gut tells me that even if the end product is well-done, it won't appease the expectations of everyone who paid into it, which could turn emotions from a fever-high pitch to scathing hatred (and who wants that?).

I think the double-edged sword of crowdfunding is definitely heightened considering the sheer scale of the contributions and the "all-in" mentality that's developed in the community due to that. It definitely gets people more invested (pun aside) in the end project, but it also has to be heaping tons of pressure on the team to make what they've promised and then a little more besides or else risk backlash.

As an aside, this sort of project is a total win for the non-contributor, by the way. These crazy and sometimes very inventive projects get made, but without any financial donations on my part, and I'm a lot more laid back in waiting to see what bubbles out of it. If it's great, terrific -- I will play and probably pay some money at that point. If not, my gaming world will not crumble down around me.

MJ Guthrie, Contributing Editor
@MJ_Guthrie: Since there isn't an actual "here's the game now" launch date, I am unsure about which date to pick for my funding speculation. If I were just to pick, I honestly could see the game reaching $75 million by the time everything is out (whenever that is!), with $55 million by the end of this year. Sounds crazy, doesn't it? And I definitely think that this campaign specifically has changed the way the industry looks as a whole at funding games. With any luck, seeing players willing to fork over such amounts of money for games they want will make publishers feel the pressure to focus on and accept more variety and not just hold out for the next WoW (which ain't comin'!).

What do you get when you throw the Massively writers' opinions together in one big pot to stew? You get The Think Tank, a column dedicated to ruminating on the MMO genre. We range from hardcore PvPers to sandbox lovers to the most caring of the carebears, so expect more than a little disagreement! Join Editor-in-Chief Bree Royce and the team for a new edition right here every Thursday.

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