Star Citizen dev: Mobile game scene will be a bloodbath

Chris Roberts, developer of Wing Commander and the upcoming Star Citizen, shares his views on the fickle nature of the gaming industry, and further justifies his decision to focus on PC.

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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.

Star Citizen's genre and high-end PC focus are scary to AAA publishers.

"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.
From The Chatty
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    October 25, 2012 9:30 AM

    Jeff Mattas posted a new article, Star Citizen dev: Mobile game scene will be a bloodbath.

    Chris Roberts, developer of Wing Commander and the upcoming Star Citizen, shares his views on the fickle nature of the gaming industry, and further justifies his decision to focus on PC.

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      October 25, 2012 10:39 AM

      Damn Chris Roberts knows his shit. Glad to be primarily a pc gamer. Good article post.

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      October 25, 2012 11:37 AM

      Indeed!

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      October 25, 2012 12:10 PM

      Ugh. Unfortunately I have to disagree with him about the mobile game bubble. Having come from the casual game space I can tell you it won't burst. It'll change certainly, but there is no rational reason for the barrier of entry to raise any. Do we want it to? Ya, there is a good argument for it to come up at least some. Will it actually? Probably not unless Apple, Google and MS all do something at the ecosystem level - and can't do it in a collusion way to get slapped with a lawsuit. We wanted to bar to raise in the casual space. No effective way to do it. The only thing that raised the bar was that it was the main publishers that did their own development and had a destination website that had the edge. But, today, most of those, including the mighty Popcap, have been bought up.

      So, I guess I would say consolidation might happen before a bubble burst. IAP never existed in casual though, so that could be different to skew my analysis.

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      October 25, 2012 4:17 PM

      He's right only in that big-budget casual (Dark Knight Rises the game, etc.) may be unsustainable, and of course that crap will fail.

      Some related notions that fit together here:
      * If a game is good, people will buy it.
      * One of the determining factors for how good a game is is how well it fits its medium. Crossword puzzles aren't great on my bigscreen, but Star Citizen is. The opposite is true for my mobile phone.
      * If games must be extremely good to be noticed, and that's too expensive, then the market will recalibrate based on the value of different platforms. Due to the length of a dev cycle, that balancing can "lag" behind market reality for a while.

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      October 26, 2012 8:10 AM

      Glad I backed this as soon as I learned about it, and his statements continue to encourage me.