Gaming wizard Chris Roberts is embarking on an end-all and be-all of games. Will Star Citizen be launched? Read now for the answer. Chris Roberts is an American video game designer, programmer, film producer and director on a mission to create the most ambitious game of galactic proportions.
Star Citizen, the crowdfunded space simulator promises to be the world’s greatest space game the world has ever seen. Millions have poured in to make this ambitious project a reality. But is it anywhere nearing its fruition?
Chris Roberts: Childhood
The talented multimedia artist was born in 1968 in Redwood City, California, United States.
Born to an American mother and a British father, he was raised in Manchester, England where he attended Parrs Wood High School. Computer music composer Martin Galway attended the same school. Chris grew up reading and imagining the alternate reality brought forth by fantasy and science fiction books, mainly Dungeons & Dragons and the Lord of the Rings.
When Chris Roberts was eight years old, his dad brought him to watch Star Wars in a Manchester cinema. That fateful day in 1977 changed the little boy’s life and fueled his passion for space and the galaxy far, far away.
Chris showed talent in his teens, composing several video games for the 1980s microcomputer BBC Micro, such as King Kong, 2d action game Stryker's Run, and best seller Wizadore.
Chris Roberts: Early Life
He grew up around computers, his father having bought him a BBC Micro in early 1980’s.
To harness his computer skills, Chris took an extra-curricular class at Manchester University when he was 12 to learn BASIC but their teacher focused on phone number management databases. While the class was busy with these tasks, Chris was at the back of the classroom writing codes for action games.
The teacher took notice so when he moved to become the editor-in-chief of The Micro User, he asked Chris to create a “game of the month” to be stored in the floppy disk attached in the magazine. This opportunity kick-started his developing skill, and Chris pitched the action game he was working on.
A player, boarding a helicopter, had to push King Kong off the Empire State Building. At 13, Chris Roberts became £100 richer for his first video game ever.
Chris Roberts at Origin Systems, Inc.
When Chris was in his late teens, his parents left Manchester to return to Austin, Texas, where his father took a university teaching job.
He soon followed in 1986, and at age 18, Chris went to work at ORIGIN Systems Inc. (OSI). While employed at Origin Systems, he developed games such as Times of Lore (1988) and Bad Blood (1990). The first installment of the Wing Commander series was also created in 1990.
Roberts was said to be responsible for the company’s exponential revenue increase from $4M to $50M. The highly acclaimed Wing Commander was published in 1990 and set a new standard in PC games. Wing Commander and its franchises soon became Origin's most successful product.
The series produced spin offs such as Wing Commander II, Wing Commander: Privateer, Wing Commander III, and Wing Commander IV. The game’s cinematic quality, story lines, and famous actors made it an “interactive movie”-- a new genre within the gaming industry.
Roberts directed the live-action cinematic scenes for the series which won him one of Next Generation’s "75 Most Important People in the Games Industry of 1995". In 1992, Electronic Arts (EA) bought OSI as a wholly owned subsidiary, for $30M.
The Wing Commander Series accounted for 60% of the company’s revenues, and in five years (1990-1995) raked in over $110M. The breakthrough game product won various awards and sold millions of units worldwide. After 10 years, Roberts left OSI to build his own studio, Digital Anvil (DA) with Tony Zurovec, his brother Erin Roberts, Marten Davies, Craig Cox, John Miles, Eric Peterson, and Robert Rodriguez.
The game studio was established in Austin, Texas, and in 1997 inked a publishing deal with Microsoft. In an interview, Roberts said they took the chance to send Bill Gates an email and got a call from the company’s general manager for entertainment division the following day.
The exclusive publishing deal earned Digital Anvil $75 M. The studio was smaller than OSI and Electronic Arts but gave Roberts freedom to do whatever he can, especially in producing games and films. It was reported that Origins parent company Electronic Arts only wanted to fund Wing Commander sequel projects which upset Roberts.
Prior to the release of many of its games, DA had average annual revenues of $14M. Roberts’ innovations in the gaming industry made DA the first interactive entertainment company to produce a game title into a $25M feature film which starred Freddie Prinze, Jr, Saffron Burrows and Matthew Lillard.
Digital Anvil's first finished game Starlancer was released in 2000. Microsoft acquired DA in December 2000, and sold Conquest: Frontier Wars led by Eric Peterson, and Loose Cannon led by Tony Zurovec to Ubisoft. Microsoft redeployed the developer's employees to its Microsoft Studios headquarters in November 2005.
Digital Anvil was officially dissolved on January 31, 2006.
Roberts created the Point of No Return Entertainment hoping to produce films, television and games; it did not create any material, but led to the founding of Ascendant Pictures in 2002.
Ascendant Pictures was responsible for Hollywood films such as Edison, Timber Falls, Outlander (Kim Caviezel, Sophia Myles, Jack Houston), Who's Your Caddy?, The Big White (Robin Williams, Holly Hunter, Woody Harrelson), Ask the Dust (Colin Farrell, Salma Hayek), Lucky Number Slevin (Bruce Willis, Joshua Hartnett) and Lord of War (Nicolas Cage, Ethan Hawke, Jared Leto).
Bigfoot Entertainment bought the company in 2010. In 2005, actor Kevin Costner sued Ascendant Pictures for breach of contract on an unreleased film. According to a report, Ascendant Pictures reneged on its verbal agreement to pay Costner $8M to star in a romantic comedy movie entitled “Taming Ben Taylor”.
The story runs around a bitter divorcee who refuses to sell his cash strapped vineyard. No case updates are available as of this writing. Returning to game creation, Roberts founded Cloud Imperium Games Corporation in 2011 to expand on his works in Wing Commander and Freelancer.
Co-founders include Roberts’ now wife Sandi Gardiner and business partner and long-time international media attorney Ortwin Freyermuth. In 2012, the company launched a crowdfunding campaign for Star Citizen, a revolutionary game that Roberts promised to be the greatest space game the world has ever seen.
more than $23M. Five years on, in 2018, some 2.2 million fans have funded over $211M to finish the sci-fi universe. By the end of that year, Roberts said the company had raised an additional $46 million in venture capital to develop full marketing campaigns for single-player and the larger multiplayer sci-fi universe of Star Citizen.
Outside investors came in the form of Snoot Entertainment, owned by UK entertainment moguls Clive and Keith Calder, who now owns 10 percent of the company. Roberts maintain 75 percent ownership. Roberts aims to provide a reality-based gaming experience in Star Citizen, where a player could go to “various locations, wander around worlds, fly ships, and have it all done in this detail that you would imagine you could project yourself in as a person”.
He said the concept runs on a dynamic, living, and breathing universe that bases its response on the players’ actions. Things and characters of the game will be so realistic that they are subject to aging, wearing and tearing.
Roberts said the Star Citizen universe moves whether the player is participating or not. This makes it steps way ahead of other massively multi-player online (MMO) games. In 2018, Roberts said the game is expected to debut in the summer of 2020.
Some are doubtful whether they will be able to play the full version of the game at all. The company published its 2018 financial statement, which showed pledges of $37.8M, subscriptions worth $3.3M. As of March 2020, it reportedly raised $17M from additional investors.
Originally meant for release in 2014, gamers are still waiting for the ambitious project almost seven years on. A Forbes report hinted that the development stages are marred by allegations of fund mismanagement and Roberts’ questionable design direction.
Mark Day, former producer of Wing Commander and part of the initial team hired for Star Citizen in 2013, said he was shocked about Roberts’ inability to focus. A contrasting report indicated that Roberts insisted on approving all the designs even as the project was expanding, leaving one graphics engineer stuck for several months working on a ship’s shields.
In 2015, Roberts married his second wife, Sandi Gardiner. The Australian born model and actress is co-founder of Cloud Imperium Games Corporation and heads the marketing department. The report further stated that a huge chunk of the budget goes to marketing, with Roberts’ wife leading the team.
Roberts apparently has credited Gardiner for her marketing strategy. Making Star Citizen the most crowdfunded game. Roberts was once accused of misappropriating funds, the exclusive Forbes report further states, when he used part of the money invested by Microsoft to partially fund the Wing Commander movie.
Twenty former employees who worked on “Star Citizen” detailed their experiences, revealing that the nearly $300 million crowdfunded game seems destined to never release, according to a recent report from Forbes.
Over 129 refund requests, some amounting to $24K have been filed before the Federal Trade Commission, according to Forbes. Roberts had told Forbes that the company’s fundraising is “ethical”. Frankfurt-based video game developing company Crytek in 2017 sued Cloud imperium Games for copyright infringement and breach of contract.
According to the lawsuit, Crytek allowed Star Citizen to use its CryEngine technology at low rates in exchange for conspicuous displays of its trademark in the reality-based space game. The complaint further alleged that in 2016, Roberts sought to minimize Crytek’s contribution to Star Citizen and planned to call its video engine Star Engine, instead of CryEngine. No updates are available relative to the status of the lawsuit.