Wednesday 24 May 2017 News Updated at 11:05 AM IST
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Video game raised $148 m from fans; faces issues - Deccan Herald
Video game raised $148 m from fans; faces issues
Laura Parker, International New York Times,
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A handout image from the video game Star Citizen, which drew support from a crowdfunding site and its online donations page. INYT
Mark Kearns, 38, a web designer and gamer from Chicago, stumbled upon a new video game called 'Star Citizen’ while online in late 2013. The game, which was in development, promised to revive the spaceflight simulation genre with a sprawling universe for players to explore.

Intrigued, Kearns decided to pledge money to see the game come to fruition. In total, he donated $175, which gained him access to the game’s alpha version - a playable version of the game in its early stages - plus a virtual ship to use in the game. Kearns and others have now vaulted Star Citizen into the record books. Since 2013, the game has quietly amassed more than $148 million in funding - all from regular people who have donated either through the crowdfunding site Kickstarter or through the game’s online donations page.

The amount is a record for a crowdfunded video game, and one of the largest for any crowdfunded project. The game’s developer, Cloud Imperium Games, has not taken any money from traditional financiers. "My expectation was that we’d raise around $4 million,” said Chris Roberts, 48, the founder of Cloud Imperium Games.

Yet the gigantic sum of money has created issues for Star Citizen, which began with a modest goal of raising $500,000 in 2012. As the dollars have mounted, the ambitions of Cloud Imperium Games have grown, and the game’s official release has repeatedly been pushed back. Some gamers have demanded refunds. One even filed a formal complaint. "I’m already building the best game I can,” said Roberts, who acknowledged the bumps. "But imagine - the game I can build with $140 million is going to be very different to the one I could build with $10 million. If I can build a bigger and more robust experience, I will.”

Star Citizen highlights the promise and perils of crowdfunded video games, which have become increasingly popular in recent years. Video game creators have flocked to crowdfunding to make niche games for specific audiences of passionate fans and to interact with gamers earlier in development. Crowdfunding has helped spawn a revival of classic role-playing games like 'Baldur’s Gate’ and 'Divinity,’ which were popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

According to Eedar, a video game market research company owned by the NPD Group, about 30,000 successfully funded video game projects were on Kickstarter as of February, and more than $593 million had been pledged to them. Yet several prominent crowdfunded video games have failed to live up to expectations. 'Mighty No 9,’ a game pitched by developer Keiji Inafune as a "spiritual successor” to the classic Mega Man action series, raised $4 million, but was delayed several times before being released in 2016 to lukewarm reviews.

In 2014, a first-person sword-fighting game called 'Clang’ that had raised $500,000 in crowdfunding was canceled when the developer failed to secure additional funding. "Crowdfunding projects, even those from established developers, are not seen by consumers as a sure bet as they were five years ago,” said Patrick Walker, vice president for insights and analytics at Eedar.Still, for players, giving money to help develop a video game like Star Citizen offers a way into exclusive content - as well as something more emotional.

Cloud Imperium Games was founded in 2011 by Roberts, who has a long history in the video game business. It began with a dual crowdfunding effort on its website, plus a Kickstarter campaign in 2012 to increase interest in the project. The Kickstarter campaign ended with just over $2 million raised. From then on, Cloud Imperium Games relied on donations through the Star Citizen site. The minimum donation to support the game was $5, but players could not get a ship to play in the game until they had given at least $30.

It said many people contacted the studio to ask about giving even larger amounts. By the end of 2013, Star Citizen had raised $35.5 million. At the end of 2015, the amount stood at $104.4 million. The success of the crowdfunding campaign allowed Roberts to hire developers worldwide. Even so, gamers know Roberts is adding more features to the game. Roberts said he was investing in film-level graphics for Star Citizen, as well as building an ever-increasing universe with multiple solar systems and planets for players to explore - all rendered in elaborate detail.