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.