Star Citizen: How Cloud Imperium Games Uses YouTube to Keep Fans Engaged Throughout the Development Process
Launching a project can be very intimidating — especially when the project you’re launching is making bold claims like revolutionizing the size and scope of video games. It takes countless hours of preparation and planning and work, and then, when it’s finally out in the world, there’s no guarantee people will even care.
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Cloud Imperium Games (CIG) is the company behind Star Citizen, a highly immersive multiplayer online game unlike any other before it. From flight simulation and space exploration to combat, players get to choose their roll in this continually expanding world of space adventure.
Crowd funded by over 1 million backers pledging over 178 million dollars to help bring this project to life, Star Citizen thrives because of its avid fan base of those who believe in the game’s vision, community and ambition.
Jared Huckaby, Content Manager of Global Video Production at Cloud Imperium Games, started as a backer and later came on board to work with the team’s video production prjects. Jared explains how the need for video arose from the game’s earliest stages of development.
“In those early days, we were crowdfunding a game. We didn’t have a finished game to show people like most video game projects. Those early Communications in the first couple years when I came on board focused on the people, the idea being that if you get to know the people who are making Star Citizen, maybe you’ll know the game that those people are making.”
Why make videos?
Because of the ambitious vision to create a game the size and scale of Star Citizen, the team decided the best way to get people on board was to show as much of the behind the scenes process as possible.
Jared recalls how early on in the development of the game, “…we were making a lot of pretty bold claims…We wanted to make this huge giant game; we wanted to make it outside the traditional development model. It drew a lot of skepticism, and it still does today. And one of the ways we combat that skepticism is the “here’s the guys, they’re right here on camera.”
Being this transparent has allowed for the Star Citizens community to stay engaged with the project as the developers continue to expand and develop this game further.
It’s because of this outreach, Jared believes, that Star Citizen is as successful as it is. He declares, “…none of [our success] would’ve have happened if we announced Star Citizen and said ‘Okay now come back in 5 years, you know, and we’ll have a game.’ It’s because of this constant never-ending outreach each and every week that keeps them engaged, that keeps them invested in the project.’
Over 20 web series are produced per month on their Star Citizen YouTube Channel. Each series has it’s own unique format and dives into a different aspects of the game development. They range from shows dedicated to interviewing the writers of the game, who will break down story structure and why story choices are made, to series dedicated to showing how bugs are fixed in the game.
Jared explains, “I am of the belief that if you can make something that appeals to everybody, you’re probably making something very bland. You’re probably making something not particularly edgy or interesting or unique in any way. So we apply that that idea to our video content.”
The production team uses Blackmagic cameras to shoot their variety of series. Cinematographer J.J. La Britt expresses how Star Citizen is a “…visually beautiful [game], so our shows should also be visually beautiful.” J.J. will regularly check in with the writers and developers learn about how the game is going to look and feel so he can then communicate that through each show’s set. J.J. describes how he will, “…go to the writers and be like ‘Hey can you tell me about Drake, what’s their feel?’ and they’ll be like ‘Well it’s dark and mysterious.’ So these interviews, I’ll set up a dark background with really contrasted lighting. Or let’s pop this background in to make it feel like one of the manufacturer’s.”
This is done not only as a means to stay true to the game’s visual aesthetic but also as part of the company’s dedication to doing more. “…[J.J.] helped to the raise the production value of a show that nobody was complaining about. But as with every aspect of Star Citizen, we ask ourselves ‘can we do this better?’ If yeah we can, then let’s do this better,” Jared praises.
How do ideas come about?
With over 73 million total views on their YouTube channel, Jared expresses that though they have achieved a certain level of success, they are always looking for new ways to engage their audience.
At the beginning of 2018, they ended two series and launched two new series in their place. This decision was made with a combination of listening to their community and diving into their YouTube analytics. Jared explains “The thing I love most is the average view duration. Views are nice easy number to look at and say ‘okay yeah those [videos] are getting views,’ but I look at the average view duration.”
As a case study, he uses one of their series, Lore Makers Guide, which features the writers of Star Citizen talking about story. Jared continues, “It doesn’t get a lot of views — there aren’t a whole lot of people interested in the behind the scenes of how a story gets made — but it has one of our absolute highest average view durations. The people who do watch that show watch more of that show than any other show that we have.” In fact, at the end of the year, when they polled their audience to see what their favorite show is, audiences actually voted Lore Makers Guide as the favorite show on the channel.
The biggest challenge the video production team faces is working with the development team to show work that is still unfinished. Jared points out, “We have a lot of artists, and art and artists no matter what field you’re in, whether you’re oil painting or sculptures or video games, they all share a common trait; they want their work to be DONE and to look as good as possible before you show it to anybody.” Because so much of what is produced is around work that is work in progress, it’s one of the biggest struggles when creating their many series. This can oftentimes affect the deadlines and production schedule of the many videos they produce. Jared continues. “…And we’ll tell them “That’s great we’ll will put italics like ‘work in progress.’” But they’re like ‘NO IT CAN LOOK BETTER.’ We go through that every single week. But that’s because everyone is so invested that even the work in progress they want to look great.”
Another challenge the team faces is communicating visual style and aesthetics across their five studios they have set up around the world between Europe and North America. In 2016, the company made a big push to create a Global Video Production department and embedded people in each of their respective studios. They did this to “…really build out our capabilities so that we could truly focus on the worldwide Global development of this game and it’s a challenge every single week,” Jared shares. Each studios focuses on different aspects of the game while still sharing some level of crossover.
It’s a logistical challenge but one the team seems anxious and eager to meet every week.
The most rewarding aspect of their work, J.J states, is, “…the community. Like the immediate feedback we get when we make a video. We will release an ATV and I can get a message on Discord from a few of our community members [saying], ‘Oh this thing you guys did was so cool! Like this shot you got from the ship was so awesome!’ — like that. The immediate feedback is so cool and you end up becoming friends with these guys over it”
Jared even expresses how the criticism is rewarding. He explains, “[criticism] is never mean-spirited or anything; it’s them helping us improve our production…and they’ll help us identify that stuff. It’s a collaborative effort in every respect. I mean Star Citizen is a collaborative effort, so why shouldn’t outreach be collaborative, as well.”
Creating a project can be challenging and many would choose to wait until the project is ready to launch to share it, but based on how Star Citizen has grown their community, sharing the process may be the key. Jared believes that, “…an amazing chunk of our success came from those early years of showcasing the people that were making the game. You always do great with B-roll; you’ll always do amazing with flashy visuals. And if you can have the flashy videos and the production value and all that stuff, that’s awesome. But if you don’t focus on the people…”
The team also encourages you to experiment. Speaking from 13 years of experience on YouTube, J.J. emphasizes that you need to “…just experiment. You have to keep experimenting. Try different things, you know just do it. Keep on shooting, keep on rolling with it.”