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Cloud Imperium Games Break Crowdfunding Record


'Star Citizen' space game raises over $5 million.

MINYANVILE ORIGINAL In the 1990s, there was no hotter computer game series than Chris Roberts' Wing Commander series. The first Wing Commander brought a branching storyline to gamers. You could survive a mission, but still fail to reach the mission goal – sending you down a path different from someone who got the mission perfectly correct.

When Wing Commander III debuted in 1994, it was groundbreaking in the way it mixed the branched storyline concept with movie-like action scenes. Mark Hamill, John Rhys-Davies, Malcolm McDowell, and Ginger Lynn Allen were notable actors starring in this epic game.

Origin Systems, later purchased by Electronic Arts (NASDAQ:EA), was the distributor of the series and Wing Commander became one of its two most recognized titles (the Ultima series being the other one).

Chris Roberts moved on to found Digital Anvil, which was purchased by Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) in 2000. The shop created the successful Starlancer, Freelancer, and Brute Force games before being disassembled and absorbed by the Redmond giant.

The space-game genre has been mostly abandoned since that time. Investors today are not much interested in storyline games. The big production houses like EA, Microsoft, Take-Two Interactive (NASDAQ:TTWO), and Activision Blizzard (NASDAQ:ATVI) are mostly interested in making sequels or transitioning into social games. VCs certainly look crosswise at any proposal to fund something other than the next Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPad app or Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) game.

On September 10, word started leaking out that Mr. Roberts had a new project. Visitors to his website were challenged with a question (correct answer, of course, was '42') and allowed a sneak peek into what he was planning – a brand new, epic space universe.

On October 10, Mr. Roberts debuted Star Citizen and the companion Squadron 42. Simultaneously, his company (Cloud Imperium Gaming) launched a crowdfunding effort. The response crashed their servers. After also accepting pledges on Kickstarter to take pressure off their website, interest in the game exploded.

This past Saturday, Star Citizen broke the prior crowdfunded game record of $4.17 million previously held by Obsidian Entertainment's Project Eternity. On Sunday afternoon, the total raised for Star Citizen crested $5 million on its way to a likely conclusion at 2:00 p.m. ET between $5.5 and $6.0 million.

If you read Buzz & Banter (subscription required), you've seen me write about Star Citizen before in the context of one of the key features of the game – it will be available only on PCs and will require significant hardware to run. Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE:AMD) and Nvidia (NASDAQ:NVDA) will likely benefit as the game's engine will give graphics cards a real workout. Investors in those names shouldn't look for immediate relief, however. The alpha of Star Citizen is a year out and the full release won't happen for 24-30 months.

That long timeline makes it even more; remarkable nearly 80,000 people have pledged well over $5 million for a game that Cloud Imperium won't finish for two to three years.

While there is no denying the affection 30- and 40-somethings like me have for Chris Roberts because of our fond memories of playing the Wing Commander series, traditional publishing houses perhaps should watch over their shoulders. Between Project Eternity and Star Citizen, independent shops have raised $10 million direct from gamers in the last eight weeks. Of note to the ongoing debate about console gaming, neither game will appear on consoles.

The Star Citizen pledge drive continues until 2:00 p.m. EST today. The core Cloud Imperium Games team started a 24-hour "telethon" Sunday on Ustream, which should still be going when you read this.

Position: Yes, of course I pledged! (None in the companies mentioned.)

Twitter: @BiotechStockRsr

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