Editorial

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Star Citizen?

20

FULL DISCLOSURE: I backed Star Citizen at the $30 tier.

It has been a challenging few weeks and months for Cloud Imperium Games and Chris Roberts, who are currently developing Star Citizen – the most backed crowdfunded game to date (currently $90 million and counting).

This is not going to be an editorial that tears into the recent Escapist-Star Citizen battle royale; for that you can use Google and find plenty of other examples of it; this is a good one. This editorial will instead examine unrealistic expectations both from games at large and Kickstarted games in particular.

Star Citizen‘s Kickstarter campaign concluded in 2012, with a projected release date of November 2014. Obviously that date has come and gone, but what do they have to show for it? Quite a lot actually, if you can cut through both the pro and anti-SC hype. Full disclosure here: I did back Star Citizen to the tune of $30 (I know, high roller) largely due to my near-obsessive love of Freelancer. Star Citizen has been intentionally designed using a modular system, meaning that the game has several different “pieces” which can be released in stages. The two most high-profile of these are its single-player campaign, dubbed “Squadron 42”, and the MMO-like persistent universe.

Other smaller modules have already been released to backers, such as the Hangar module, where you can walk around your ship’s hangar and both look at and get in any ships you have purchased. It’s fairly basic, but is quite cool. After that came the dogfighting module (“Arena Commander”) which was released to backers in 2014. Both of these modules are fully playable, and continue to be developed in addition to Squadron 42 and the persistent universe. The point I’m making: this is not vapourware. Very real parts of Star Citizen exist, and I and other backers can login and play them today.

Now, the issue here is that the game’s projected release date has slipped quite significantly from its original November 2014 timeframe. I would submit that CIG became a little too successful, and did not account for raising close to $100m from their crowdfunding efforts. Raising such large sums of money has been the main impetus behind adding other modules such as “Planetside” aka the social module, whereby you will actually be able to leave your ship and walk around planets, space stations, and other installations, interacting with the environment.

Another module added as a result of the crowdfunding was an FPS component known as “Star Marine”. You can argue that instead of adding these other features that CIG and Chris Roberts should have just shunted that money into delivering what was promised in the Kickstarter campaign and nothing else, but that was not the direction they chose to move in. CIG wanted to make the best, biggest game they can that will stand the test of time, and not just another space sim that would be “good enough” for most people. I have no strong opinions one way or the other. I would obviously love to have the finished game in my hands right now, but on the other hand some of what they have added looks genuinely exciting.

And this brings me to my larger point: the time to sit down and judge whether this has all been worth it will be after the game is released. I know this is a novel concept, but trying to review art (and whatever you think about games I think it’s clear that a great deal are works of art – to a greater or lesser extent) before it’s finished is an exercise in futility.

I would give two examples here. The first is Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight. I remember first reading about it, and I could not have been less enthusiastic. I was convinced that this was going to be Christopher Nolan’s first misstep in his Batman films, and an iconic character such as the Joker was going to be completely ruined by Ledger’s portrayal of him. Well, we all know how that turned out, and his (sadly posthumous) Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor has rarely been given to a more deserving performance.

Example two is Team Fortress 2. I was a big, big Team Fortress Classic player back in the day, and Team Fortress 2‘s long development cycle became something of my white whale: always slightly out of reach. When Valve began to finally reveal what TF2 had evolved into, with its incredibly cartoony, stylized approach, I was aghast. “They’ve ruined the game!” I complained to anyone who would listen, and was convinced it would bomb and sully the good name of Team Fortress. Well, TF2 has gone on to win numerous accolades, and I am well into four digits of hours played, so… apparently it turned out ok!

I cannot sit here and tell you that Star Citizen will be great, or terrible, or somewhere in between because the truth is I don’t know. I cannot see the future. I do know that other Kickstarted and crowdfunded games, such as FTL, Shadowrun Returns, Shovel Knight, and literally dozens of others have come out to both critical and commercial acclaim – but at the same time there are plenty that have crashed and burned, and some of them burned hard.

If this was 5-6 years after Star Citizen‘s Kickstarter and it still wasn’t released, then I think questions should be asked with regards to funding and the game’s development. Barely three years in though? It’s simply too soon to get into that right now. Backing any crowdfunding project is a gamble, and more than one person has found themselves sans money and any promised rewards. Unfortunately that’s how it works. Someone looking to back a project needs to do their homework and decide for themselves whether they believe in the people proposing it, and if they think it can be delivered.

I hope Star Citizen will be great, and so far nothing I have seen has persuaded me that it won’t be, but there’s only real way to find out. Ask me again in a  year or two, and you’ll likely have your answer.

This article is an opinion editorial which reflects the views of the author and may not represent the entirety of OnlySP as an organisation.

Simon Nash
I write about PC games and sometimes it even makes sense. I'm a refined Englishman, but live in Texas with my two young children whom I am training in the ways of the Force.

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20 Comments

  1. I remember when this thing was a single player game.

    1. It was never just a single player game. It always had two facets.

    2. I remember when it was a single player game. That day is today. SQ42 will be single player. There is also the multiplayer other half of the game.

    3. Then you remember wrong. Since day 1, there was always 2 parts. The single player Squadron 42 campaign and the persistent universe (multiplayer).

    4. Watch the Kickstarter video again – here I’ll link the start time – https://youtu.be/VhsgiliheP0?t=3m9s

      He talks about Star Citizen and SQ 42 and mentions how you don’t even have to play the single player to get into the PU.

      I know it’s been 3 years people forget stuff.

    5. It was never going to be just a single player game. However, October 10th, (3 days away). We’ll get our first glimpse of the single player game: Squadron 42. Hopefully, it will blow us all away.

  2. The majority of your article is based on a false premise.
    Planetside (not planetfall) and the FPS Module (Now name Star Marine) have been part of the game’s scope since day one of funding. They were not added later on. They are both integral to the game’s original design.

    1. Good catch on Planetfall – I have made that correction, thank you.

      However, neither the FPS Module/Star Marine or the Social Module/Planetfall is mentioned in the original Kickstarter for the game: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/cig/star-citizen

      1. Like many others you seem to be focusing on the games kickstarter page/period and ignoring what they had going on their own site.

        They started on their own site about 1-2 weeks before they added kickstarter, which was added as much for exposure as it was at the request of the community and to take the pressure off their own site which was frequently overloaded and even crashed a few times.
        I don’t know why so many seem to ignore or not be aware of this, but I guess its due to the high profile of KS

        The FPS was added as early as the $3.5 million goal with ship boarding.
        https://robertsspaceindustries.com/comm-link/transmission/12777-35-Million-Unlock

        So even though its not mentioned on their KS page, its still something that was part of the game from early on.

        There is another error I would request that you correct, that is about Arena Commander.
        AC was not released earlier this year, it was released almost 2 years ago.
        The multiplayer part alone started in June last year, with AC already having been out for a while before that.

        https://robertsspaceindustries.com/comm-link/transmission/13947-Arena-Commander-Multiplayer-Roll-Out-Begins
        It was the social module(Planetside) that was released earlier this year.
        I think its great you try to help the more impatient people understand what’s going on and that this will take time, I wish we hd more people do this rather than just make drama.
        However it would help even more if you did a little more than just scratch the surface when trying to provide information, its something that can be very helpful in terms of credibility and if people will listen to you.

        1. Thank you, I have corrected the Arena Commander date.

          1. Star Marine is new – never going to argue that. But the reason behind Star Marine is not – Chris wanted you to be your character not the ship – so you could walk around and interact with the world as an avatar. To my knowledge there was always going to be gunplay as part of the story – so they proposed making Star Marine as a module to use as a test bed – that didn’t happen as intended and I think there were a ton of lessons learned in hindsight from it.
            So while many people say just drop Star Marine its not quite as straight forward as that – there are going to be FPS events in the game – and if you have FPS people will want to use it to shoot each other in an arena. Not a single gamer can deny if they were given a multiplayer server and an FPS they would not expect an outcry for resources to be spent making an arena to fight in with no consequences. That is what has taken longer than it should – but if its quality is decent then it should speak for itself.

          2. Agreed.

            I was not particularly for or against Star Marine when I first saw some of the concepts for it, but what they have turned it into actually looks quite interesting!

            I’m hoping to see more information on that soon – perhaps at CitizenCon this weekend?

          3. You sure need to correct allot of things… Your Article is crap

      2. That’s only because you can’t see the original stretch goals (Up to $6 million) as the image they used to show them only displayed the last stretch goal achieved.

        FPS:
        $3,500,000:
        “Ship boarding – learn more about how Star Citizen will allow players to conduct boarding operations.”

        $5,000,000:
        “Enhanced boarding options: melee combat, heavy weapons, zero gravity simulation, suit HUD options and EVA comb”

        Planet Side wasn’t even mentioned in the initial stretch goals because the idea was always to allow you to land on planets, like Freelancer. The stretch goals simply added more planets that you could land on.

        The $14,000,000 stretch goal refers to this:
        “Star Citizen will feature a fourth landout option on Earth! Where will it be? London? Berlin?”

        1. As I said below, I think it’s clear that “feature creep” has been a definite issue with regards to Star Citizen, and that the large amount of money they raised has probably been the source of this.

          It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is one of the reasons the game is taking longer to develop than was originally envisaged.

          1. Most of the pledge goals were features that were planned for the game and only revealed as the funding increased. Only very few features were actually “added” later one, like procedural generation. And many of these features are not planned for the “release” either. I’m using the quotation marks because the game won’t have a release in the classic sense. The game will simply grow from the current stage and at some point CIG will decide to open the game for the non-pledging public and switch from a crowdfuning to a retail based business model. After that day the game will simply continue to grow like it before. What the game will look like at that particular day isn’t even clear yet. Maybe CIG decided next summer that they have enough to declare the public release (highly unlikely), maybe it will take until early 2017 (my bet).

            And Ken is right is right. Neither Planetside/Social nor FPS were added later on. Both the FPS- and the Social-Module are public alpha-testbeds for key features of the game that were part of the initial pitch. Star Citizen has always been a “first person shooter with spaceships” and not just a game were you only fly a spaceship and never engage in “avatar-to-avatar” content (which includes armed combat).

            Aaprt from that CIG isn’t building the “20 million Dollar”-game anymore that was announced for release in late 2014, but a “100 million Dollar”-game. The late 2014 release date that was announced during the Kickstarter became void in 2013 when CIG and the community decided to go for a fully crowdfunded game. That’s something which many media outlet out there aren’t aware of because they only look at the game every couple of months and compare with the Kickstarter pitch in ignorance of how the game and the scope has changed.

  3. The moment you said you love Freelancer your opinion lost allits weight. I just stopped reading. :/

    1. First of all, this is not an opinion, its a factual presentation of how game development works.
      Second, while I don’t really have much love for freelancer myself either, unlike you I don’t just dismiss facts or other peoples opinions out of hand just because they love a game I dislike, nor does it change the facts.
      So the article still carries far more weight than you are willing to give it credit for.

  4. how long you have spent watching the developments and the day-to-day work in Star Citizen ? we see the world that is being developed in Star Citizen every day …The difference between Derek Smart and Roberts is that Derek’s fall is already a reality. Not a speculation but based on fact of his lastest “game” called “Line of Defense” is this a MMO full of bugs and errors and failures and ugly graphics but listen this only with a average of one person playing by day this is a joke …Line of Defense which is a major failure, somehow the pinacle of a bunch of poorly developed game.

  5. Well count me critical. They’re trying to tackle everything with this game. Just seems too good to be true.

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