Star Citizen dev: Mobile game scene will be a bloodbath

By Jeff Mattas, Oct 25, 2012 9:30am PDT

In part one of our Chris Roberts interview, the Star Citizen developer talked about what made him take a break from game making in the first place, and why he has returned. Today, he tackles the prospect of financing the development of a high-end PC-only game, and the tendency of the games industry to be bandwagoneers, particularly when it comes to the rise of new platforms like social and mobile.

Roberts has opted to fund Star Citizen using a combination of venture capital and crowd-funding options, but he warned about the fickle nature of industry development trends. "Venture capitalists ... they all want to do a mobile thing. Yes, there's cool things you can do on mobile, but everybody is doing a mobile game," he said. "Actually, as far as I'm concerned, it's going to be a bloodbath. Every week there's like some big developer that's like, 'I'm quitting doing console games and I'm doing mobile games!' And they're all getting sold for like zero, or $0.99."

Roberts feels the mobile development bubble is ready to burst. "There's too many people making [mobile games]. The barrier for entry is too low, so it's also very hard to get exposure on it.

"If you think about Angry Birds--Rovio, right?--it's the biggest outlier in the history of gaming," Roberts elaborated. "I mean, they've had a billion downloads. Last year, they did $100 million in revenue, and of that, $30 million was licensing. So they actually did $70 million in revenue off their core business, which is mobile. And they're an order of magnitude bigger than anyone else in terms of single game sales."

But what about the bigger picture? "You compare and contrast that with, say, Call of Duty that does $1 billion every year. It's doing well over 10 [times] what [Rovio] is doing. Now, there aren't one billion downloads of Call of Duty, but people pay $60 [each] for it," Roberts said. "And you've got World of Warcraft, and plenty of other things that are doing around $500 million, like Madden or Battlefield. What that tells you is that the core gamer is willing to pay for the premium experience."

At the end of the day though, Roberts believes there's a healthy symbiosis that can exist in the industry, which can be good for all platforms. "The way I look at it is that mobile, social, and all those aspects have expanded our industry, and they're good for our industry because there are more people playing games than ever would [in the past], and maybe some of the people that play a social or mobile game now may migrate to playing the more sophisticated games," he said.

"But I do think the industry is really silly because it says stuff like, 'PC is dead! Console is here!' And then it's 'Console is dead! Social is here!' and 'Social is dead! Mobile is here!' " Roberts explained. "All of these [platforms] are viable parts. And so part of my choice was, I think PC is a very viable part [of the industry], and it hasn't been getting a lot of love and attention. I can do really cool stuff in it, and it's easier for me to compete on that than it is trying to go head-to-head with Call of Duty on a console."

"I've also been kind of bummed because I take a look at the industry, and there's a lot of people -- some of my peer group -- that want to start making a social game, or are making a mobile game now," Roberts said. "For me, the analogy is, 'I can watch Dark Knight Rises on my iPhone, but do I want to? I want to go see it on a big-ass IMAX screen.' I'm into games because I like to have that immersion. And I just can't do it on a mobile [device], and I can't do it on a Facebook game. I can do it on a PC rig. So, for me, I feel that there really aren't a whole lot of people pushing it."

That's not to say that Roberts hasn't seen any recent examples of PC support. "Valve has done a great job keeping the PC flame alive, and Blizzard has, although Blizzard doesn't focus on pushing the technology or the visuals the same way as maybe I used to do on the Wing Commander stuff," he said. "I think the last PC game that was really balls-to-the-wall [from a technological standpoint] was Crysis 1. That's pretty important for me."

And that's the kind of quantum leap in gaming Roberts is aiming for when it comes to Star Citizen. "Hopefully there will be enough other people that are like, 'Hey, that's cool. I like what he's doing and I like what he's saying,' and they help support it," said Roberts.

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