Star Citizen: The Power of Creating One’s Own Crowdfunding Platform

Star Citizen marks an important step in the history of crowdfunding, because it extends a campaign well beyond its initial objective and incorporates major crowdfunding mechanisms into the creative dynamics of the project itself.

  • Type of production/project: Digital media (PC video game) 
  • Funding period: Campaign underway since October 2012
  • Targeted backers: Anyone interested in space simulator games
  • Pledges collected: US$20 million (including $12.8 million since Turbulent manages the funding platform)
  • Number of backers: 160,000
  • Average pledge: US$52.51
  • Companies: Cloud Imperium Games and Turbulent

In as little as 12 months (from October 2012 to October 2013), this space simulator gaming project has collected $20 million in pledges and continues to generate income at the sustained rate of about $2,000 each and every hour. To date, this makes it the most successful crowdfunding campaign ever undertaken.

The project

Chris Roberts is the creator behind the success of the Wing Commander series, a reference in the space simulator gaming industry. In 2012, he announced the launch of the Star Citizen project, a massive multiplayer PC space simulator game. The launch is scheduled for 2014, and Roberts intends to rely solely on crowdfunding to finance his project. Roberts’ intention is to give backers access to the game’s content and modules as they are developed, and his objective is threefold: thank the project’s backers for their pledges, get them actively involved and feed their passion for the game until its official release.

The funding process

Chris Roberts and his team at Cloud Imperium Games do not want to depend on a conventional platform, which they consider too costly to operate. However, his idea of housing his own platform on the project’s website is constantly stalled by technical issues. Chris Roberts and his team finally end up launching a campaign on Kickstarter in October 2012. The goal is set at $500,000 in pledges. In a single month, 34,397 people get involved and pledge a total of $2,134,374 to the project.

Although the campaign is already a success, Chris Roberts feels that he can do even better by leveraging the buzz generated by the project. Once again, he wants to manage the campaign within his website. This time around, Behaviour Interactive (a major Montreal-based gaming studio that is currently developing Star Citizen) recommends doing business with Turbulent, a multiplatform production company also based in Montreal.

The platform

For several years now, Turbulent has been developing HEAP C3MS, a highly advanced content management platform that uses advanced content, community and commerce (the 3 Cs) management functions. This is the tool being used to redesign the Star Citizen project’s website (www.robertsspaceindustries).

The website serves as the cornerstone for the campaign and the yet to be released game. The team uses the site to provide backers/future players with a host of information and details on the development, spaceships, creatures and new worlds as the designers conjure them up in their minds. A portion of this extensive content is restricted to backers. It is therefore crucial that backers’ personal information be managed smoothly. The information must also be managed with a great deal of flexibility in order to constantly adjust it to the evolving content: new spaceships, new backer benefits, etc.

One of the main advantages of Turbulent’s platform is that it allows backers who so wish to “convert” their initial gift into virtual dollars to purchase something that interests them even more, and backers often end up increasing their pledges in the process. A backer can also decide to offer a spaceship as a gift to a friend, thus raising the latter’s interest for the game. In turn, the backer’s friend may also decide to make a pledge.

What initially begins as a “simple” project website redesign contract becomes a blossoming partnership as Turbulent’s platform is used to manage an increasing number of aspects regarding relations with backers. Eventually, the database used for the funding campaign will be used to manage players’ accounts once the game has been released. The transition from making campaign promises to filling orders—often risky for many widely successful projects—should therefore go smoothly in the case of the Star Citizen project.

The recipe for success

To which aspect of the crowdfunding campaign does Star Citizen owe its unprecedented success? To the notoriety of Chris Roberts and the nature of his project? To Turbulent’s platform? To the campaign’s “open” approach? Or to its flexible reward program? In reality, all of these aspects played a role in achieving the ambitious goal set for the crowdfunding campaign.

The project’s phenomenal success is attributable to the encounter of an extraordinarily ambitious and innovative project—that also benefits from the aura of a renowned creator and the support of a large community of fans—with an extremely flexible platform. Chris Roberts and his team would have had great difficulty managing such a large number of backers (more than 230,000 in total) and the complex system of flexible pledges had it not been for the management capabilities of Turbulent’s platform.

Is that to say that this platform would generate the same level of success in the case of any other project? Probably not, because the exceptional Star Citizen project was spearheaded by a person whose credibility in the field is beyond reproach. The platform alone, without the buzz generated by the initial campaign on Kickstarter or the project creators’ ability to use a continuous flow of news and information to focus attention on the project, could have ended up being nothing more than a hollow shell.

However, project leads and crowdfunding platforms themselves can certainly use this case study to learn how to feed and manage their campaigns more effectively. Further integrating the funding platform within the project’s platform represents a logical evolution for crowdfunding and will without a doubt become an increasingly important metric that future project leads will need to take into consideration.

Furthering the integration and specialization of crowdfunding tools and platforms is a sign that this area of activity is evolving and that it should continue to evolve at an increasingly rapid pace. The number of available platforms continues to increase globally, but an increasing number of new platforms are designed for specific sectoral or geographical markets. We may also witness the appearance of an increasing number of “white label” platforms, i.e., platforms that tend to disappear into the background to allow all of the attention to be focussed on the project itself. In this regard, Star Citizen is possibly the most accomplished project to date.

We thank Marc Beaudet and Benoît Beauséjour of Turbulent for having accepted to answer our questions.

Fabien Loszach
Fabien Loszach holds a doctorate in sociology specialized in social imagery, art and pop culture. He works for the Brad agency as its director of interactive strategy and as a consultant in the media and digital fields. Furthermore, he contributes as a commentator to the digital culture show La sphère broadcast on Ici Radio-Canada Première. Each week, he discusses a current issue from a sociological perspective.
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