Mid-Atlantic Popular &
American Culture Association

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Crowdfunding PC Games: Star Citizen and Community-guided Development


“Greetings Citizens” reads the opening statement of the weekly newsletter sent out by the Roberts Space Industries (RSI) Comm-Link to the more than 170,000 backers of the space sim PC game Star Citizen. By pledging $65, I qualified for the Digital Bounty Hunter package which lets me start the game with a dogfighting focused spacecraft and grants me access to the Alpha and Beta versions of the game. My monetary contribution also gives me the opportunity to participate in the development process of the game via regular polls and surveys as well as online discussion forums. Although its anticipated release date of November 2014 is still far away, gaming news sites are hailing designer Chris Roberts’ latest creation and its fan-oriented development as something of a game production revolution. Roberts’ company aims to deliver Star Citizen outside of traditional AAA publishing circles, by funding the game exclusively through crowdfunding and incorporating the suggestions of backers into the game via a community-guided development approach. So far, almost $10 million have been raised for the game and Roberts is holding off offers from outside investors, hoping to reach his ultimate goal of $20 million without turning to conventional venture capital investment channels. Through a case study of Star Citizen, this paper investigates the growing popularity of crowdfunding and examines the opportunities and ambivalent relationships that arise with its application. I argue that while granting pledgers certain participatory privileges, community-guided projects still employ rigid hierarchical structures and permeate historical distinctions between experts and non-experts. Furthermore, despite Roberts’ claim that the universe of Star Citizen belongs to the crowd, an analysis of the community interaction between backers and the development team brings to light the complexities of online participation as well as the nuanced obligations and expectations brought about by the crowdfunding model.

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