Massively Overthinking: The Star Citizen money machine

    
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It's like three games for the price of... well, actually, it's two games now.

Massively OP reader Ichi has posed us an interesting question. At the end of 2015, a lot of gamers, including some of our own writers, said they expected Star Citizen’s funding to slow way down. Massively OP’s Brendan Drain argued quite convincingly that he expected the 100 million mark to be a sort of mental hurdle for backers.

“Pledges have slowed down dramatically throughout this past year and were given the final push to 100m by a combination of factors including the Alpha 2.0 reveals at CitizenCon, the [Internet Warlord] drama, and a series of aggressive sales and marketing pushes,” he wrote in early December. “People also have a strong psychological attraction to round numbers, so there’s been a lot of organic movement within the community to help it hit the 100 million mark and we won’t see that same fervor in the future. If we go by the current development schedule, I would expect passive organic growth will push it to 105 million by launch, and with aggressive enough marketing it could top out at 120-125 million.”

A few months later, the game’s crowdfunding tally sits over $108 million (trigger warning: sweet, sweet spreadsheet porn), and it’s just split into two different crowdfunding packages. So what’s going on here? Is it slowing down? Why is this thing still making so much money? Is it brilliant marketing, actual quality, or as Ichi put it, some sort of mass hysteria? I posed these questions to the Massively OP writers for this week’s Massively Overthinking.

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): I can’t ignore Star Citizen (even the BBC can’t ignore it!), but beyond headlines, it’s too big for me to get hyped over. Any headlines about SC and money become, “Star Citizen is $X closer to becoming recognized as a small, digital country!”

The reason it’s still making money is that it’s huge. It’s a small planet that generates its own monetary form of gravity. It’s “too big to fail.” I haven’t invested any money in it (yet), and I’ve only briefly experienced parts of the game I’m not very good at (flight sims), but even I’m curious to try the finished product. I never even played any of Chris Roberts’ old games and only really played Rogue Squadron for the N64, so I’m hardly a huge fan of the genre.

For me, as both a fan and press, it’s not so much about marketing. I don’t hear much, though I know there are blog updates for those watching. Heck, I even once contacted Cloud Imperium to make sure I was still on their mailing list, as I hadn’t heard anything from them in ages. No, without a doubt, it’s a community effort that keeps SC in the spotlight (even if a certain former member of that community is toxic). There’s so much enthusiasm, patience, and yes, money, that it’s hard to ignore them.

I also have to say that Roberts himself is incredibly good at pitching his game. He generally knows upcoming criticism before it leaves your mouth and has a response prepped, but more importantly, he knows how to pitch SC at angles for those outside the genre (and maybe the industry), and that’s a big deal. The fact that he’s also including a shooter and RP-bar as overlapping and (supposedly) independently enjoyable methods of gameplay in the same larger game world makes me feel like he wants to include everyone. It’s something I rarely find in the MMO sphere that’s largely about third-person combat being spread out between various group sizes of killing AI or killing other players, sometimes while there’s also AI, and that makes the game even harder to ignore.

Star Citizen

Brendan Drain (@nyphur): We had this argument in the comments of the predictions article at the time, and it turns out I was actually wrong about pledges slowing down dramatically throughout 2015. The graphs actually showed a consistent 30 million per year revenue for the past three years, and if that trend continues and we don’t get a major release, then this year should end at 130 million or so. My main argument still stands, though: The level of marketing required in order to hit that 30 million revenue mark had definitely increased each year. As I said at the time, it appears from the graphs that revenue and new signups were much spikier over 2015, with fewer day-to-day sales than in 2014 but bigger spikes during concept sales and heavy marketing periods.

In short, a greater percentage of revenue in 2015 was precipitated by marketing and PR than by organic growth, which means that organic growth was definitely slowing by the end of 2015. This indicates that the market for Star Citizen in its pre-alpha form was starting to reach a saturation point. Carrying that trend forward throughout 2016, I predicted that either total funding will slow down due to this saturation, total marketing efforts would increase to compensate for the saturation, or the product itself would change enough to tap into a wider audience and so increase organic sales again. In my original prediction, I underestimated the third of those effects as I failed to consider that public Alpha 2.0 access could be such a transformative event for the product.

Since I made that prediction on December 10th, we’ve seen the second and third of these predicted effects in action. The holiday holiday sale and livestream at the end of 2015 made several million dollars, and January and February have seen incredibly good organic growth again. This is likely because of the release of Alpha 2.0 to all backers, which resulted in a huge spate of people making YouTube videos and streams that act as organic marketing. As long as SC releases something considerably more complete during this year and makes a lot of media noise about it, there’s no reason that this new trend can’t continue. There are a lot of people out there waiting for Star Citizen to be more complete before they buy in, and attracting some of them should be a cost-effective revenue generator that would allow SC to hit its usual 30 million per year target or even exceed it.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): Brendan’s number analysis is dead-on, so I won’t rehash that part. I don’t think it’s some form of sustained mass hysteria (just the opposite with all the hipsters throwing shade all the time). And it’s certainly not a product of overt advertising; Star Citizen doesn’t advertise and seldom reaches out to media. It has, however, hit key self-promotion marks in the form of free-fly periods and an exhausting stream of weekly behind-the-scenes information that keeps the game constantly in the news, independent of the toxic elements. The Squadron 42 split no doubt propelled sales too. Like Brendan, I suspect that the cost of that type of marketing is not insignificant and appears to be increasing in conjunction with the game’s lengthening development period. Lucky for them, they can afford it.

Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): Star Citizen’s endless hype train has a number of things going for it, really, and one of those things is the fact that it’s still not out. Small indeed are the number of people who can drop several thousand dollars on a game once, but it becomes a lot easier to justify tossing another $50 in the pot once per month if you’ve got the disposable income and the wish to do so.

And that’s part of what’s keeping it running; for better or for worse, the game has really positioned itself in an idealistic spot, a convenient anti-boogeyman on which aspirants can pin every individual hope that they want. With the game still very much in a state of flux, existing more as a set of design principles and ideals than an actual game for the players, it’s very easy to imagine that everything you want to see in the game will​ be there when it finally launches. If the game had opened up more of itself to testing earlier, I suspect it would have to more conclusively deal with the limitations of being an actual game rather than the hypothetical Perfect Game that it remains in theory. When faced with that idea, donating money becomes not just easy, but logical​.

This is where people like myself say that it’s not going to live up to the momentum that it’s generated – not that it’s going to be a bad game, necessarily, but that it can’t possibly live up to the fervor around the idea alone. I think the biggest thing that’s going to really slow its momentum (and has, to an extent) is a combination of the time between hearing about the idea and having that idea shaped into an actual game coupled with people actually playing the game and discovering that it may not, in fact, be perfect. While it remains an idea, it feels like putting more money in just means a better game in the end result, and so long as the game keeps feeling like something that’s just around the corner, it becomes easy to just toss a little more in this month because you’ll be getting all of your rewards very soon.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): It’s a dark and sinister cult and I totally feel left out of all of it just because I haven’t taken out a second mortgage on my home to buy one of these internet spaceships.

Seriously, I think Brendan’s analysis is spot-on, although we’ve also learned never to rule anything out when it comes to Star Citizen’s fundraising capacity. The future of the game’s fundraising might well be heavily influenced by how tight the financials are getting behind the scene; if RSI is in real trouble, it might start pushing aggressively once more instead of somewhat passively letting funds pour in.

Right in half.

MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): I am going to flat out admit that I have no interest whatsoever in crunching through that spreadsheet. I really don’t care about the numbers. I predicted the game would make even more millions, and it has; I never really saw it stopping, though it makes sense that it would ease up a bit until the next new shiny is introduced.

OK, I peeked at it. It’s true there is a dip, but that doesn’t mean it is slowing. I wouldn’t even venture to suggest that until there are maybe four low months in a row. I think the game continues to draw in funds because it is filling a void that so many want filled, between sandbox and space and super cool stuff. I am, however, curious to see how the split into two games affects things. It has the potential of bringing in even more when you add people who didn’t really want to bother with an MMO but are eager for the goodness that Squadron 42 is shaping up to be. Great, now that I have seen that spreadsheet I am going to want to keep watching it! Thanks a lot, Bree!

Patreon Donor Archebius: O great Star Citizen, the Unassessably Wealthy! I think that everyone was right to predict that funding would slow down dramatically; sure, the gaming community has been starved for a really good space sim for ages, but $100,000,0000 is an appropriate measure of our desire, right?

Apparently not.

I don’t think that this wallet-emptying spree is the result of actual quality that we’ve seen from the game; though the modules they’ve released so far are functional, I still don’t feel like it’s tying together into anything very satisfying as of yet. Mass hysteria is out; Star Citizen has been rolling on for way too long to chalk it up to temporary insanity.

Ultimately, it’s successful for the same reason that home gym systems, fiery politicians, and self-help books are perennial favorites: It’s more a reflection of what we want to believe is possible than what might actually be.

We want to pretend that Blizzard isn’t seriously looking into the mobile market. We want to believe that there’s still the potential for games out there that can surprise us and engage us, not copy-pasted franchise installments with one gimmicky mechanic to set them apart. We remember a time when we played games like Escape Velocity with branching storylines (!) and ships you manually outfitted (!!), when we first set foot in New Eden and grasped the size and scope of the universe, when we flipped through the galactic map in Mass Effect and read about all these worlds that existed out there, somewhere.

Wanderlust is a very real thing. It’s what drives us to explore, virtually or in reality, to seek new horizons and new stars. To find. To weave new stories. And lately, games have been more focused on getting us to play them, and keep playing them, than they have on creating a place worth our time.

Star Citizen isn’t just a game; it’s hope. Hope for an experience we haven’t had in a long time. Hope that we can feel again what we haven’t felt in years: something new, something to discover, something to explore. Something that, years from now, we’ll look back on and think, “Man, that game made me feel something I hadn’t since I was a kid.”

And apparently, you can’t put a price on that desire.

Your turn!

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deekay_zero
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deekay_zero

Zerote deekay_zero i literally did the math before posting those numbers, using tracking from my own star citizen community.

it should be noted that the larger of the two user numbers is just total accounts for the site including free trials and forum accounts without any pledges on them. the smaller number (still under a million as of that post), is accounts with something of monetary value on them.

furthermore we hypothesized that if CIG were to release median and even better ranged spending figures it would be even more telling about the nature of the whaling operation at hand here.

you should probably check yourself before spreading misinformation and lies.meme.jpg yourself m80.

Zerote
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Zerote

deekay_zero “less than 2 years ago the average amount per paying customer spent was around $60. now it sits at $116 with change.”
Eh, no. 2 years ago today, they had an average of $98.73
It actually peaked at around the first of january 2014, and has been steadily falling since then.
It’s currently sitting at about $84.
Maybe you should check the giant spreadsheet that was provided as one of the many sources in this article, before spreading misinformation and lies.

Rolfski
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Rolfski

I bought a 35 euro
starter package at the time and I already got more than my money’s worth out of
it, by just following its development and checking in-game from time-to-time to
see what has been added or improved. It’s an amazing game to follow because of
its insane ambition and very frequent and detailed backer reporting. You
definitely learn a thing or two about game design.
So even if the
launch product completely sucks (which I frankly don’t believe), I can truly
say the journey was great, regardless the destination.

JeremyLoome
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JeremyLoome

Ironhelix Having just played through 2.2 in the PTU and now into Alpha, I really wonder about comments like this. You can play for hours right now without crashing, and even with a bare fraction of promised content, it’s still hella fun. The flight model with a HOTAS setup is ultra-solid, the lag is down to a minimum (I’m on a 4690K and rarely see any).

If people can’t get fun out of it now and see it’s obviously going somewhere, it’s because they’re not actually looking.

Alysianah
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Alysianah

JakeDunnegan Archebius I laughed at that but you’re right, people would lose their damn minds if CIG closed the pledge store.  I have more than I need already but the option getting rid of one thing for this other thing that’s probably more in line with my goals is appealing.  And there are still people who are just now finding out about the game.  Some times we hardcore gamers forget that.  We see the newly initiated wandering into reddit on a regular basis.  And it’s a lot to suck down if you’ve just arrived at the dinner table but they’re still coming.

JamesBrand1
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JamesBrand1

Exactly ask all the people moaning about Star Citizen ” So what about Rockstar and GTA Online, Surely when they made 4 times what it cost them to make the game in the first week of sales on the XB360/PS3 never mind what they have made from the XB1/PS4/PC, they don’t need to keep selling shark cards right ?”Then you get either total silence or the “But its a business man and businesses have to make money” The same with Wargaming and its constant passing off reskinned free tanks/ships/planes as premium items often selling for $60 each.

I have played all of Chris Roberts games from launch and they all left me with a sense of awe and enjoyment and even in SC Alpha 2.2 and some of the bugs it has that same feeling persists on a nightly basis I load up the game and enter a session with either friends or strangers and you can find that we have so much fun, capturing com arrays,taking out AI Pirates hunting players with a bounty on their head or even witnessing some crazy glitch which causes us to all burst into full bellied laughter you look at the clock and realize multiple hours have passed.

JakeDunnegan
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JakeDunnegan

Darkwalker75 JakeDunnegan Archebius I agree with pretty much all of what you said. I don’t think it flopping will entirely kill kickstarting, but kickstarting/crowdfunding has already taken a hit compared to what was happening when the idea was first being floated as a way to fund games (and other stuff)…
And of course, just to toss in one more time.. all the constant negativity.. oy vey! But, I guess it’s just symptomatic of society. Just wish with something as fun/enjoyable as games that it would be less prevalent!

Darkwalker75
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Darkwalker75

JakeDunnegan Darkwalker75 Archebius 
“But, the naysayers have likely not even logged into the SC forum to see for themselves.”
Seems to me at least some of them have.
I see some of the naysayers talk about a toxic community and referencing complaints that I can validate by just looking at the forums.
These naysayers are using anything they can find and go out of their way to find the negative/complaining threads on the forums and use that as grounds to call the community for toxic.
Or they will find threads that speaks positively of the game and claim that the forums are populated by blind fanboys or white knights who act like Roberts is some kind of saint and that they refuse to accept any criticism no matter how valid.
No community is without its share of complainers and white knights and SC certainly is no exception.
I have seen my share of people complaining about bugs and unfinished features as if it was a commercially released game(deliberately avoid saying finished as no MMO is ever really finished), refuse to accept that the game is still in Alpha and demand things be fixed yesterday, as well as people who will defend Roberts against any criticism.
But if you ask me, SC is one of the most mature communities I have ever encountered, I could go visit almost any other game forums and it would be far more toxic than the SC forums are

As for spending allot of money and having fun along the way, that is something I can completely relate to.
Having spent in the $4k range myself, I have enjoyed following this development, but most important is that I have found it to be highly educational.
I learned more about game development in these last 3 years than I have in the last 20 years of gaming and what I see is a dedicated team who truly enjoys what they are doing and wants to make this the best game it can be.
And what I have learned here has given my a high degree of patience and understanding for the time it takes to get this game done.
But it also makes me want to twist the necks around on all those naysayers who will use anything they can find and twist anything they are told to try and discredit the work being done, for reasons that are beyond my comprehension.
I just cannot understand why people can be so negative about something so positive.

The work that’s being done on this game is nothing short of impressive and it proves just what is actually possible to do if one is willing to just try.
I just wish the publishers would be willing to at least try a fraction of this.

Regarding kickstarter/crowd funding, I see people saying that if this game flops it will somehow spell doom for crowd funded games.
Sure it will have a negative impact, and possibly a noticeable one as well, but I just cant see how one game no matter how high profile can cause the doom to crowd funding that some proclaim.

JakeDunnegan
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JakeDunnegan

Darkwalker75 JakeDunnegan Archebius Yes, $200M. Going to bed at 530am and writing a post right before doing so breeds mistakes. ;)
Yep. In addition to your points, which I agree with – is really a summary of them – so much complaining the gaming community!  

I think the only thing worse than the complaining is how ignorantly by which so much of it is done. Not even looking up stats or due diligence to verify whether said complaint is even valid. 
SC now gets a lot more negative press just b/c it’s hit some $100M mark. Is there a lot of hype? Sure. Is a lot of money being tossed in the way of hope. Again, absolutely. But, most of those people with the big dollar amounts are having a lot of fun along the way. You go on the forums there and you see a lot of people enjoying the ride. If the destination ends up being anything remotely like the hype, they will be happy anyway. Friends have been made, communities created, and fun has already happened in spades – and the game isn’t even close to being launched.
But, the naysayers have likely not even logged into the SC forum to see for themselves. Or, worse yet, they take someone else’s word for it, and I guess they get their own bit of enjoyment in their pessimism or their trolling or their negativity. 
I know it’s purely conjecture, but for those folks who have dropped their thousands on Star Citizen (happily, I might add) they sure seem to be getting a lot more happiness out of life in general than on those who can only poo poo the idea.
I know I’ve gone a bit far afield from the subject of this thread, but no matter how it’s sliced, at the end of the day, Star Citizen is injecting a ton of experience, market share, money, development expertise, and just plain keeping the MMO genre alive and kicking for another year (or decade?).

You’d think most people who write on this site (particularly the GAMERS/commentors) would consider all that a good thing.
If he takes the $110M+ and doesn’t ever produce a product, does it ultimately hurt the genre? 
I would say NO, it does not. Kickerstarting maybe. And all the fans of publishers out for a fast buck and crappy games can rejoice. But the genre? Not at all. 
Why? It’s a topic for another conversation, but the short version is: more devs in this industry, new technologies being developed for our (MMO-fans) industry, the possibility of new gamers finding our genre, more money spent on advertisers to keep MOP writers fed, and any other positive effects of having $110M spent on MMO development that follow.
Sure, there’d be some negative press, and potentially some fans who would never come back.  But they likely wouldn’t anyway. Not if they gave money for a kickstarter, which, first and foremost, is for the idea of pushing game development forward – and, scarily enough, not for actually playing Star Citizen, as CIG has made patently clear at every opportunity. 
(Steps down from soapbox.. :P )

Cleannternet
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Cleannternet

If you are looking for unbiased advice or review about
how SC is currently doing, just check dedicated reddit forum (reddit.com/r/starcitizen/)
or Bad News Baron on Twitch. None of them are affiliated to CIG.

Suggested more recent video of current Alpha 2.1 from
backers:


Feel free
to make your own personal opinion and do not hesiate to come back every so
often.