John Erskine, vice president of publishing at Cloud Imperium Games. Photo by Hojun Choi.

Reporter with Silicon Hills News

Managing expectations for projects that have been crowdfunded can often pose as large hurdles for innovators whose creations depend on the support of a faithful and engaged community.

“Managing people’s expectations on how long it’s going to take to build and launch is probably the hardest part about crowdfunding, because you’re selling your vision before your product,” said John Erskine, vice president of publishing at Cloud Imperium Games.

Erskine who took part in a South by Southwest panel titled, “The Star Citizen Community: A Crowdfunded Success Story,” said projects can benefit from putting extra effort into building a community around their product development.

“Open development is really about sharing content, engaging with your community and using the community to continue building the game,” Erskine said.

Chris Roberts, the chairman and CEO of the company, led a Kickstarter campaign in 2012 that successfully raised $2 million for a project called “Star Citizen,” an online space simulation game that aims to provide players an enormous “open” world to explore and interact with.

Developers from the studio, which has now raised more than $145 million through crowdfunding, told South by Southwest festival goers that the hype surrounding the project needs to be nurtured through transparency.

“We share the good things as well as the bad things. There are a lot of ‘ups-and-downs’ when developing a creative project like this,” Erskine said.

Because of its non-traditional funding structure, Erskine said developers of the game have more freedom to address ways that it can serve its audience.

He said more than 1.6 million people have engaged with their feature product, which has led to more than 4.5 million posts on the game’s official forum.

“The goal is to incorporate this feedback so that the next time we share something, it’s a little bit closer to what people are interested in,” Erskine said.

Tyler Witkin, the company’s lead community manager, said a major goal of the studio is to maintain interest in their product through consistent updates on progress. He currently aids the production of weekly videos and monthly progress updates.

Recently, Witkin said developers have also decided to share internal production schedules with the community to show the delays and successes of the company in greater detail.

“It could be easily misportrayed by someone who does not have an interest in understanding the game development process, but it’s a decision we made because we felt like we just wanted to put it all out there,” Witkin said.

Witkin said the company will continue investing in new ways to create content for their community in addition to the efforts that are already being put towards social media and online forums.

Though the game is still in development, the studio has been releasing playable content to test servers since August 2013. Those interested in public testing can get early access through purchasing “packages” on the studio’s official website.

Last year, the studio also began testing its “Evocati Test Flight,” a closed testing server that allows players to try out game mechanics before new updates are released to public testing servers.

Those granted early access to the new closed server are required to sign non-disclosure agreements, and are encouraged to share their thoughts and comments on forums.

Eric Green and Marissa Meissner, whose responsibilities revolve around player support and feedback, said online interactions have already helped developers improve the game.

Through an online forum called the “Issue Council,” Meissner said the game’s online community can communicate their concerns in a way that was useful to developers. The platform allows players to vote for threads they think are important, which helps the company identify credible problems.

“I don’t know any developers necessarily thrilled to hear about more bugs, but they do appreciate getting to spot them faster,” Meissner said.

Austin is home to one of Cloud Imperium Games’ four office locations. The company is headquartered in Los Angeles, and also has locations in Germany and the United Kingdom.

The panel took place at the Austin Convention Center on Saturday, the last official day of the SXSW gaming conference. This year was the first time that the conference was marketed as its own segment of the festival.

People without badges could attend conference events with wristbands that cost between $25 and $49.

Day-passes for the conferences were also provided to participants of the “cosplay” contest, which took place Thursday. Children under the age of 12 were also given free admission to the gaming conference, which featured exhibits, guest speaker panels and tournaments.

Correction: this article has been updated to clarify the status of the company’s “Evocati Test Flight” system.