Interview: We sit down with David Braben for a chat about ELITE: DANGEROUS – and try to shed some light on the many mysteries surrounding its reveal and Kickstarter campaign.
When Frontier Developments announced last week that they would be using the launch of the UK version of Kickstarter to crowd-source funding for Elite: Dangerous, it’s fair to say that an initial lack of assets and confusion over the game’s features detracted somewhat from the fact that, bloody hell, it’s a new Elite game!
To clarify matters, we spoke to David Braben, Frontier chairman and co-creator of the original Elite, about the history of the project, why they went down the Kickstarter path and exactly how Elite: Dangerous’ massively multiplayer universe will work.
On the Elite: Dangerous Kickstarter page you talk about the title as having been underway for some time as a skunkworks project. Is this then essentially the same Elite project that you referred to several times in interviews during the 2000s?
The one we started in 2000 was actually different in terms of the gameplay, but all the design thought carried over, if that makes sense. Technology has moved on a hell of a way since then. The one we started in 2000 had a very different focus and I didn’t think it was working so it was stopped, and I did mention it publicly when we stopped it.
Was it a game that you pitched to publishers or the console manufacturers during that time?
The game we are working on now we haven’t actively pitched to publishers. Obviously we’ve had discussions because publishers have mentioned it to us, but it’s quickly apparent that what they would want is some degree of control over the content. And past experience is – for this type of game especially – it would be very damaging for what would be in the final game.
When did the idea of going the Kickstarter route first take shape?
Quite a long time ago, a year rather than weeks. The issue has been the availability to do it, and the fact that Kickstarter had been U.S. only. I remember first hearing of Kickstarter when Double Fine went on it, and following it with interest. It didn’t take much to think “Hmm, we could do that!”
In retrospect do you regret not having a video and assets such as the concept art up on the Kickstarter page from day one?
Possibly. I suppose it would have been better, that’s now clear. But with all those things we then got another round of publicity when we did put them up. So it’s a difficult one to judge, to be honest.
I think because of the sheer amount of publicity we got on day one it would have made a lot more sense, but hindsight is a wonderful thing.
There was a mixed response in the gaming media when the project was announced – did that surprise you?
Yeah, to a degree it did take me a bit by surprise. As I said, with hindsight we should have had at least a video on the there. With all those things, though, it’s making sure they’re ready on time and not rushing them.
We wanted to be there for the start of Kickstarter in the UK and that was the reason we launched on that date.
Do you think that people perhaps viewed Frontier Developments as being “too big” for Kickstarter? That it was more for small scale indie projects?
I don’t think so. With anything there will always be some negativity going on. Look at Double Fine, they’re also an established developer, and they were the first game-related Kickstarter – or at least the first I saw.
So I think it’s totally appropriate [for Frontier to use it]. And from Kickstarter’s point of view, from the Double Fine pitch onwards it’s almost been like the coming of age of Kickstarter. It’s almost like the transition between the 1980s and ‘90s in the way funding has gone and become a much bigger thing. I mean, look at the funding of the Ouya console.
£1.25 million seems quite low as modern budgets go, especially for a game of this scale. How were you able to (presumably) trim it down to that figure?
We said to ourselves “what is the game we want to make?”. Don’t forget we have a lot of the work under our belts already in terms of the background tech. One of the things that is challenging for this game is the online side, and we have that working now.
So it’s fair to say that Frontier invested a significant amount of its own money into the project even before you went public?
Will Elite Dangerous become Frontier’s main focus from the point the funding goal is reached?
Oh yeah. This is a very major project, that’s what I’m trying to make clear, and the degree of response that we get on Kickstarter will help indicate that.