Star Citizen. If you're reading this blog you probably know what it is already but just in case, let's get up to speed.
Star Citizen (the website is labelled Roberts Space Industries, after Chris Roberts, the lead designer on the game and of Wing Commander fame) is a massively multiplayer space adventure game that's been in development with Cloud Imperium Games since 2012 and is the spiritual successor of games like Wing Commander and Freelancer. Currently there are roughly a dozen studios working on various parts of the game. It's a gigantic project. It's also a PC exclusive that technologically just wouldn't be feasible on consoles. In it you'll be able to run, shoot, fly, trade, explore, mine, race, fight, capture, steal, hunt, etc. inside a living, breathing galaxy. Everything. It's got everything. Whatever you've ever wanted to do in a space game, just expect that you'll be able to do that and you'll probably be right.
It's also the must successful crowd funded game ever. It currently has raised approximately $80m and this number continues to grow daily. Being crowd-funded, the development process is very visible to the public, and we see a lot of early, raw, 'warts and all' content that a big publisher would never show you, as well as being given weekly development update videos and more. This makes it a very interesting game to watch and talk about.
The scope of what the game hopes to accomplish is massive. A massive multiplayer component, multi-crew ships, first person shooting, and a gigantic single player campaign to boot. Characters and ships with orders of magnitude more detail than has ever been seen before. And the commitment not to fully release the game until it's ready. A traditional publisher would never have taken the risk on a project like this, so Chris Roberts took his vision to the crowd funding community, asking them to prove that PC gaming and space-sims in particular were not dead or on the way out, but in fact had a gigantic community just waiting for something to throw their money at. He was right, and throw their money they did (insert Futurama meme here).
The crowd got right behind the project. Most packages granted early alpha and beta access to the game but there were huge differences in pricing between packages and these came down to which spaceship you would own in the online universe. I'm an enthusiastic backer myself. In early 2013 I first spent around €60 on a single seat fighter, the Origin 325a, figuring that's about as much as a game should cost. Later that year, swept up in enthusiasm, I bought what is basically the game's version of the Millennium Falcon, the RSI Constellation. It's a rugged, multi-purpose, 4-person-crew ship that comes with its own dockable 1-man fighter, at a cost of €170. I justified this to myself saying that the game was now looking gigantic. The single player game is currently set to be over 50 hrs long and a lot of AAA shooters like Call of Duty won't even last 8 hrs for my €60. Then there's the multiplayer game in which I can do ANYTHING?! That's gotta be worth another what, 2-3 games? And maybe it will be. But it was an obscene amount of money to spend on a virtual ship. It's nothing physical. It's "just a game". But it's also an experience and hours upon hours of leisure/hobby time. What's that worth to you? To me? I don't know. That was my justification anyway. But the craziness doesn't stop there at all!
CIG have sold ship packages in this game for over €1,000!!! Things like the Idris Corvette; a full-on capital warship with cannons, bridge, combat operations centre, and even a hangar for launching all those cheaper €60-150 fighters you bought. Anyone with a gaming clan would love to get one of these and power around the galaxy together, living out their childhood fantasies of commanding the Enterprise or a Star Destroyer with their friends. Only about a dozen were put up for sale, though, as CIG didn't want to shift the balance of power in the game towards the rich, or have everyone just flying around the best possible ships, with the lowlier players in their Aurora fighters just being bullied out of the game. Good decision. But is it obscene to be selling a virtual item for that much money? You could buy an alright car for that in the real world. You could invest in the stock market. You could get a new TV or have a sun holiday for two to Tunisia or somewhere.
This is the kind of thing I've been wondering about myself, and the kind of question I've been seeing crop up more and more from games media outlets and YouTubers. This is why I wonder is the tide of public enthusiasm turning against SC somewhat. With a game taking huge amounts of money for things we can't even play with yet, and that we will never be able to touch, with these sales being made up to two and a half years ago and with an indefinite amount of time remaining until release, formerly enthusiastic supporters are getting impatient, and the media is starting to ask awkward 'what-ifs'. What if the game never comes out? What if development fails all of a sudden? What if the developers abscond with all this money? Or, what if the game just isn't all that it promises to be? The latter is a legitimate enough worry for any game you've paid for in advance, but that's how crowd funding works. You wanted a chance for this game to be made, so you put down your money and allowed it to happen. Hope you like what you get. You wouldn't have had a shot at playing something like this otherwise.
As a human being, and particularly as an Irish one, I'm aware that humans, wankers that we are, can simply resent success too for no good reason. I always try to fight this feeling in myself personally, as it's petty and ugly, and I have a choice to make over how I behave. I don't always succeed, and it seems like a lot of others don't succeed or even try here either, but I do my best, and I'll try to remain objective here.
To compare the €1000 virtual spaceship to a holiday; both are intangible. Neither will last. Both are experiences. Is one more valid than the other? More people would 'get' the holiday idea, I'm sure, since the ship is "just a game", but what is "just a game"? What would a hardcore gamer say to comparing the two? You never forget visiting another country. Maybe you'll never forget the experience of flying the most comprehensive and detailed spaceship you've ever seen, side by side with a dozen good friends, around the most realised and open-ended virtual game space ever created, fighting off a pirate boarding party before destroying their base with a coordinated fighter and torpedo attack. Both sound pretty awesome to me!
At this point I should say that all ships are purchasable in-game for the currency that you earn in-game, and that the ships you buy today are only the ones you start off with. Short cuts, really. You don't have to spend cash to have these experiences but, to paraphrase the 'party line', every dollar goes back into funding Star Citizen's development and into creating a bigger, better game.
We've already seen some strong evidence of this with the Arena Commander dog-fighting module of the game, in which you can fly the single-seat fighters, and the level of fidelity is legitimately better than anything I've ever seen. But at what stage do they have enough money to make the game they want and for the lead developers to start pocketing the rest? Now? Soon? Never? I don't know. Despite the fact that this is one of the most openly developed games in history, with weekly web-shows published on the development, I don't believe they'd tell us. I don't believe as a company that they should tell us or that we have a right to know, but being constantly told that all the money is going back into the game is something I'm getting sick of hearing on their videos. Personally I just want to play the game, and so do a lot of people. I paid for it 2 years ago at this stage, and the game won't be "out" (fully) for another year at least.
I know even 4 years of development for a game of this scope wouldn't be at all unusual, but normally, companies wouldn't show you what they've got until the final year and so the wait is less agonizing. I understand that! But I'm also getting sick of seeing fan art and fan fiction and 'what if' discussions all over YouTube and the Star Citizen website and forums. So are a lot of people. There's nothing at all to be done about it. We knew it would be a long time before we'd get the finished game. So personally, I'm still waiting optimistically, but I see a lot of people starting to turn against the game, whining that it's taking too long or that they're taking too much money for things.
I say if some silicon valley millionaire who grew up playing Wing Commander and watching Star Wars in the early 90s wants to sink tens of thousands of dollars into making this game happen, let him! If you want to play it, you can for the normal price of a game, but you'll have to wait, because it's not ready yet!
Personally, I know I'm just getting impatient and anxious that the game won't let me down after such a long wait, but them's the breaks. I'm still convinced that this will be one of the best games I'll ever play, but I want it now!! :P
I guess we're seeing one of the downsides the new trend of crowd funding development of games. There has to be some, because there's so many upsides. That's a discussion for another day, though.