Chris Robert's dream of a space game was first revealed to us in 2012. Recently, we got lots of details on the Alpha 2.0 flight model, the social module went live, and we saw multi-crew ships at Gamescom.
Star Citizen has raised about $94 million so far, and its scope shows it: with studios in LA, Austin, Manchester, and Frankfurt, Cloud Imperium Games is designing and building a huge persistent universe, multi-crew spaceships full of complex simulated parts, a single-player campaign with celebrity actors, first-person shooting, and more.
That development money has come from the largest crowdfunding campaign ever, which has been going since 2012, offering packages and individual spaceships that range from 20 bucks to a thousand dollars or more. And if you've ever wondered who would spend a thousand dollars on an unfinished game, here's someone who's spent 30 times that.
By his account, Chris, who goes by Ozy311 in the game, has spent "about $30,000" on Star Citizen. I was introduced to Chris by a coworker and friend of his, and talked to him last week (with some clarifications added this week) about Star Citizen and the boat he bought in the form of virtual space ships.
PC Gamer: What does 30 grand get you in Star Citizen? Do you have a running tally of all your ships in your head?
Chris: Yes, I literally have everything and even then, multiple of everything, many times. [Laughs] I have the highest package in the game, which is called ‘The Completionist with the Million Mile High Club,’ which is a base package that’s $15,000. It didn’t start out that way, though. When I started getting into the game years ago, it was this and that, and this and that. And then after I started to see the product mature, I was convinced it was what I also dreamed of, and was hooked. I went in deep.
There’s three people that have been influential for my entire life, and one was John Carmack, one was Steve Jobs, and one was Chris Roberts. Chris faded out in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, and then came back to do this project—it was at the right time of my life where I have the extra ability to support something like this. I’ve not spent a single dime out of my main account. I’ve done side jobs to come up with the funds. Some people buy real boats; I buy pixel boats. I haven’t financed anything or put anything on credit cards. Everything is clear in the up, disposable income. I wasn’t stupid in that regard, you know. Putting things on credit cards, that’d be dumb.
PCG: What kind of side jobs did you do?
Chris: Well, just various work. I’m in the computing operations industry. I work for a very large tech company. I’ve been at that company for 13 years. Like I said, I don’t have any of my fun money come from my main income. I do some work for my father, and I help a few other people that I knew before my current employment. Just enough to feed my dream.
PCG: You obviously love space a lot. How did that interest start, and become this huge interest in Star Citizen?
Chris: Well, we’re all of the era growing up with Star Wars, Star Trek, just the fantasy of not being stuck to this planet. Through growing up with all the different flavors of Star Trek, and Star Wars, Battlestar: Galactica, and Starship Troopers, and Firefly. All these science fiction movies, and you just wish you could live that life. There’s always been stabs and attempts at it and, it’s not been done correctly yet. Chris Roberts came back after being gone for so long, and had a vision, saying that he felt the technology and the PC market was there now to try to create his ultimate dream. He put forth a Kickstarter and it’s done amazingly well. He only asked for $2 million and here we are, over $94 million later, and it’s going strong.
People think that this is a scam, all those haters. There’s that—I’m not even going to mention his name—the one guy, I know you know who it is, who keeps ragging on it. But this stuff is real. I’ve met these people, I’ve sat down with these people, I’ve felt their passion. This is real. And all of the things that are being negatively said about Chris and the whole crew at Cloud Imperium are false. They’re just breeding drama.
Every time they release a tech demo and new playable features, there’s a huge surge in incoming signups and pledges. It takes a long time to make a game. Blizzard will make a good portion of their game in secret. Look at Diablo III. It was silent for how many years, under development for nearly a decade before it was even announced? Star Citizen is the antithesis of that. It’s a game that’s crowdfunded so being open to the community is the requirement. But that initial tech development window feels like an eternity to impatient people. They want it now, they want it now. Why isn’t it now? Why are we not getting anything now? And we’re just now starting to taste their efforts, in major ways. Like at Gamescom, when they gave us their multi-crew demo. And CitizenCon, when they gave us even more of the multi-crew and the Star Citizen Alpha 2.0 demos … This is real. It’s not vaporware. And I believe in it.
PCG: You mentioned that it’s a bit like you’ve bought a boat. Does anyone in your life question this big purchase? Do they get the analogy?
Chris: It depends who you talk to. People that are embracing video games as an entertainment—here I am, almost 40 years old, and I play video games, and it doesn’t seem weird for me. I guess I’ve just grown up my entire life thinking that where you acquire your entertainment from is your choice and should not be judged by the world as a whole. Am I following the, quote unquote, ‘normal midlife items’ that I think people would normally be buying at this age, like a Corvette or a real boat or all these other exotic, definitely pissing away their income for that hobby things? No, I’m choosing a hobby that is what I want … The people that get it don’t judge. The people who don’t understand it think you’re crazy. But then I always use that boat analogy, because I used to have a souped-up S2000 with a supercharger and every Honda in my twenties, and I’d race them and everything. That’s no different. I guarantee I spent more money on my Hondas and my import love than I have on this game.
I choose who I tell it to. Like, I haven’t told hardly anybody outside of my wife and kids, and my immediate family. My parents don’t know. They wouldn’t understand it. They would think it’s a crazy, stupid thing. Most people on the street would think it’s a crazy, stupid thing. But I spent 10 years of my gaming life in World of Warcraft. And I met amazing friends in that game, so I really truly think that this game is more of a community and social aspect than it is just a game. And everybody that I’ve met so far—I’m in an organization called COVE, Cosmic Ventures—these are some of the most mature, respectful, and great people to be around that I’ve met anywhere. It’s not a bunch of kids sitting around ‘pew pewing’ about Call of Duty. It’s a very mature audience, and people of all ages, up to their 50s, 60s, 70s. There’s a guy that just posted in the Star Citizen Facebook group the other day saying that he’s just retired, he’s 70 years old, he’s going to spend the rest of his life in Star Citizen. [Laughs] And I expect this to live for 10 years, if not more.
So if I think about, “I’ve helped create a project that I think is going to be game changing for the next decade,” I’m OK with that. I know that I’m going to spend more. Because I don’t go, “OK, I’ve drawn that line in the sand, not a single thing else.” I haven’t thought of it like that. Yet. [Laughs] But, I’m OK with it. And they don’t take it for granted. They treat us well. I get VIP privileges when I go to events, I get instant customer service when I open tickets. They’re very respectful, they let us tour the office on requests, they’re not hiding anything from us.
And I have seen the game change in so many positive ways due to player feedback. They listen. So it’s not like they’re going to pop the game out at the end and it’s going to suck because of something they didn’t talk with us about. They’re taking everybody’s feedback, retweaking it, rebalancing it, spending all this time considering everybody’s feedback to make the game we all want. They’re not just going to work behind a closed door, pop it out, and say ‘thanks for the 94 million, hope you like it!’ That’s not what they’re doing at all.
PCG: You said that Chris Roberts is one of the top three most influential people in your life. What was it like meeting him? What did you think of Chris?
Chris: Well, he takes the time to talk to every backer. He doesn’t think that he is above anybody, meaning that he will mingle with the crowd, he listens to everybody. He’s not that untouchable celebrity. He’s a gaming dork just like us. He just happens to have that almost, you know, Lucas-like long-term goal of what he wants this to be. And he’s surrounding himself with the right people to help him create this, and you can tell that he has a vision. He has listened to us sit around and talk to him for as long as he’s able to before he has to go get pulled off for somewhere else. But he signed all my 25-year-old original Wing Commander stuff. He signed a laser cut “Anvil Aerospace” board I made for my son. My son’s my wingman as well. He’s 11 years old and almost has Concierge status on his account due to his good grades. [Laughs]
And, you know, [Chris Roberts] is a programmer. I’ve been in computers my whole life, and the fact that at age 22, he released Wing Commander—that had a great influence on my motivation to continue being a computer dork and that it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. I remember playing on my 486DX-33, Wing Commander, the exit sequence where you’re going out to the tube to shoot into space. I’ll never forget it, the music, and when we saw the Squadron 42 preview trailer they paid homage to that, and I don’t know how many people caught it. But the leg sequence of them running out to the ship, there’s a cut sequence from that that is exactly from Wing Commander, and it just give you a really good feeling that he’s had this dream for Star Citizen since the beginning. And he’s tried to do it, and express it in Wing Commander, and did a good job for what he was able to do at the time. And now you’re seeing, with CryEngine, and all of these smart, smart developers he’s surrounded himself with, it really feels like they’re going to pull this off.
PCG: We talked about your interest in space, and it’s obviously a big part of your life, because I understand that you have your own observatory? Can you tell me a bit about that?
Chris: Sure. Before I had my observatory, I had a website that was dealing with import cars and models, and it was an underground site that I did for a long time with two other people. And it became really popular—too popular—to the point that it was taking up too much of my time. And so, we decided to sell the company. We sold it and with the proceeds from that sale I decided with agreeance of other people in the household that I would take a portion of that and try to do something else with it, something new and hard. And so I moved from doing racing and model photography to doing astrophotography, because I had the ability to fund it at that point.
My father has a ranch up in northern Arizona, and Arizona has some of the best skies in the United States for observatories. I asked him if I could put a building there, because for a long time I had been setting up a tent and doing really low quality astrophotography, and he said “sure.” So, back in 2008, I went in a big way and built an observatory. And I’ve been doing astrophotography for quite some time since then. I also have an observatory partner to help, and he’s a local friend who happens to also be deeply invested in Star Citizen, so we have a lot to talk about when we’re taking pictures of stars, or thinking about, “Hey, that’s a system that’s actually in the game.” [Laughs] And then just the thought that you go into the game’s StarMap and you can just imagine that these planets are orbiting around it and stuff. But as far as the fascination with space, sure. It’s very humbling, because after doing all this astrophotography, you really come to realize that we’re very, very small. [Laughs] I don’t know if that’s depressing or enlightening, or a little bit of both. But it’s just—it’s beautiful. Space is beautiful.
PCG: This is clearly a pretty expensive set of hobbies, but they also have to be time consuming, right? How much time have you spent on Star Citizen, and is that hard to balance with your work and family life?
Chris: Well, I’m just really lucky that at my current employment, I can work from home. I work from home 100 percent of the time. So, I would say that, because I’ve been able to save all the nightmarish hell of commuting that everybody normally has to deal with, that is a lot of refunded time in my life that I’m able to spend with them. And that plays a big part in it.
The other part is that my family is as involved, well, not as involved, but is understanding, and that’s what they like too. Sure, my wife doesn’t—I haven’t convinced her to play the game yet, and I don’t know if she ever will, but she doesn’t object to it. The thing is is that I don’t have a setup in our home where when you decide to play games you remove yourself from the social aspect of the rest of the family. Our family is a tech family. We have a 65-inch, a 55-inch, and a 4K 48-inch television in the living room all next to each other attached to PCs, AppleTV’s, and Tivos. We spend most of our time in the living room together, we don’t all escape to our rooms. Everyone has a laptop. Everyone has a gaming PC. Everybody has an iPad and an iPhone. In the family room, there is not the customary couch and chairs. We have another entire area dedicated to gaming on massive gaming PCs that have triple SLI on NVsurround G-sync screens, HOTAS & pedals, headphones, and every other gaming necessity. We live and breathe tech. My eleven year old son learned how to type 40 words a minute at age eight in order to earn more gaming privileges. He’s taking programming classes at school, studying Unity 5 at home, learned Linux to build his own Minecraft server.
I believe that gaming builds future careers. It did for me. I owe my entire career to gaming. So the fact that tech is such an integral part of the family, I don’t feel like I’m disassociating myself from the family to do this. My kids are just as involved as I am.. And because of that, I don’t feel like I’m robbing from Peter to pay Paul, so to speak. We’ll take family vacations in the ‘verse.
PCG: Have you done much travel, to conventions or to the Cloud Imperium offices?
Chris: Not so much … there’s only one or two events a year where you have to travel for Star Citizen. I didn’t go to the one last week, CitizenCon, because it was in the UK. I could’ve. I had no block financially, but I was just doing the math: I was going to spend 30 hours on an airplane to be in Manchester for 20 hours, then to fly home again. That would be miserable. So I chose to use all that money on airfare to buy a bunch of Endeavors. [Laughs] So I bought a five pack of Endeavors instead.
PCG: How much is an Endeavor?
Chris: $350 base. And, so, that weekend I spent another $2,600 on the game, just that weekend, after seeing CitizenCon’s results. That burst of excitement every time makes me pull out the wallet and give him more funds, it’s just horrible. [Laughs] And we have so many more things coming. I haven’t yet seen my Javelin. My Javelin was a $2,500 pledge from Christmas last year. I still have a token for another one from my Completionist package. We have many more ships to come, probably four or five mainstream ships and then some variants before the release comes around. Unfortunately, they still have a way of prying multiple thousands more probably, before all’s said and done.
PCG: You seem exceptionally patient, waiting for that stuff and the full game to be realized, given how big your investment has been in Star Citizen.
Chris: I think it’s because of what I do for a living. I understand the iterative improvements, QA and testing, and patience, and the appreciation for the difficulty of the task at hand allows me to understand why it is taking so long from a technical aspect. If you just look at it [from the perspective of] being an impatient gamer, it’s going to drive you crazy. But that’s the other thing: the more you get involved in this, the more you understand and realize it’s OK for it to take longer. I spend so much time enjoying the technical aspect, in chat, in the forums and the Reddit forums, and we’re all talking dork, and we get it. And the fact that I spend so much time playing the alpha, dealing with some of the most frustrating bugs, that most people would just give up and say “screw this” and just punch their monitor, I have more patience for it. Because when it does work, it’s magical. I mean, come on, it’s alpha.
My orgmates and I sit in Teamspeak, streaming on Twitch, I get six to seven viewers constantly—I know that’s not many, but through the night it’ll go up to fifteen to twenty viewers—sitting in Twitch with me, and since I have everything, my channel title is ‘Hangar Tours and Test Drives.’ People get on Twitch and go “Hey, can I see that ship?” and I’m like, “Yeah! Log in.” Because you can log into the free flight alpha module with me, and I’ll bust out the ship they wanted to play with, I’ll go land on the dock, I’ll get out and go, “Go take it for a test flight! Go take it, I’ll sit here and read the news while you’re flying my ship around.” It’s just a lot of camaraderie like that. Just a lot of fun.
PCG: We look forward to seeing you in the game, Chris, and thanks for talking with us.