$400+ million dollars and 10 years of development has resulted in the alpha space game you may have heard of: Star Citizen. But should you buy it? Let’s find out!
If you’re in the market for a good space game you may have ran across Star Citizen during your search. But before you hit buy on that starter package it’s a good idea to know just what you’re getting into. This article will cover:
- How much funds Star Citizen has raised
- The troubled past of Star Citizen
- Insane ship prices and FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) practices employed by CIG
- The controversy surrounding Star Citizen and Squadron 42
Alpha After 10 Years and $400+ Million
If this isn’t your first time hearing about Star Citizen then you likely know a lot about its troubled history of development. Helmed by Chris Roberts, development officially started in 2011 with the Kickstarter first launching in 2012. It smashed through its funding goals, raising a total of $2.1 million.
However, funding didn’t stop there. They continued adding stretch goals with each funding milestone they passed until they reached the $65 million milestone. Fast-forward to today and they’ve managed to raise over $380 million in crowdfunds alone. With the extra Calders investment of $46 million that puts the total funds the project has amassed to over $400 million.
A Never-Ending Tale of Missed Deadlines and Setbacks
Star Citizen’s development has a long and troubled history. With development starting in 2011 and the first release date set for 2014, it’s likely no one thought that it would still be in an alpha state 7 years after the first missed deadline and $400+ million.
Back in October of 2012, Chris Roberts did an exclusive interview for TheMittani. In it he was asked if the game could really be done given its size and scope to which he replied:
“We’re already one year in – another two years puts us at 3 total which is ideal. Any more and things would begin to get stale.” -Chris Roberts; TheMittani October 2012 (Editor’s Note: TheMittani is down, but here is a backup source to the interview.)
Chris Roberts seemed confident at the time that all it would take was 2-3 years. But 9 years since the Kickstarter and the project is still nowhere near finished.
Freelancer Vs. Star Citizen – The Past Repeated
Star Citizen is touted as being a spiritual successor to Freelancer, a game that was also originally planned by Chris Roberts. But not everything goes according to plan and after being hit with delays, Microsoft bought out Digital Anvil, the studio behind Freelancer. Roberts remained as a consultant on Freelancer, but Microsoft proceeded to cut out a lot of the over-ambitious features while trying to adhere to Roberts’ vision. It was finally released in 2003, six years after work had begun and well after its intended release date.
Even back in the early 2000s, people noted how long Freelancer had been taking. In an article on Gamespot, Amer Ajami notes that “it’s been in development longer than most every other PC game.” In that same vein, Star Citizen is on track to breaking the record for the longest non-released game in active development. Many backers are expecting the game to take at least 5-10 more years which would surpass the development time-frame of Duke Nukem Forever.
In his original pitch video, Chris Roberts mentions how 10 years ago he got burned out on making video games. Taking a look at his LinkedIn profile reveals that since January of 2001 until the creation of Cloud Imperium Games, he was not involved in the gaming industry at all. He was working as CEO of the film company Ascendant Pictures, followed by working as chief creative officer for Bl!nk Media International.
Star Citizen was going to be his comeback to the gaming industry however, as he was not just going to build a video game, but a universe; something he’s always wanted to create. However, he wanted to fund it via crowdfunding:
“One of the things I like about crowdfunding is cutting out the politics and the noise of the big publisher.” – Chris Roberts; Pitch Video
While it’s true that crowdfunding is a great way to fund a project, it also comes with a significant amount of risk for those who choose to back certain projects. Kickstarter projects often fail, leaving backers with little to no recourse of getting their money back. In Star Citizen’s case, with no publisher oversight it has amassed a significant amount of money and over-ambitious stretch goals that will likely not be in the game for years, if at all.
Star Citizen’s “Scope Increase”
Why is Star Citizen taking so long? When asking this question a common answer is that the majority of the community voted for an increase in the scope of the game. Once Star Citizen reached certain funding milestones, various polls were released asking backers how funding should continue. They were released at the $19 million and $40 million milestones respectively.
In both polls, it appears that most backers voted to keep up the crowdfunding counter while adding more stretch goals. However, 88% of 21,363 backers voted for more stretch goals in the first one while 55% of 34,819 backers voted yes to continue offering stretch goals as certain milestones were reached in the second. That is 17, 090 and 18,600 voters for the scope increase respectively.
While the polls seem to indicate the majority of backers wanted the increase in scope, as of November 19, 2012 (the year before the first poll was released), the Kickstarter had gained support from 34, 397 backers. But by September of 2014, Star Citizen had about 534,000 backers, three months after the $46 million poll was released. This means that the majority of the community did not actually vote for the increase in scope.
The Scope Before and After
Even though increased scope is often the scapegoat as to why the game hasn’t been finished yet, is that really the problem?
With the most recent addition of the location Orison to the game, Star Citizen finally has one “finished” system. That said, it is far from optimized and it is full of game-breaking bugs. Most backers report that you need at least 32 GB of memory to run the game smoothly. That said, let’s take a look at the $6 million stretch goal from their campaign:
Their $6 million stretch goal was 100 star systems on launch. This stretch goal was passed on November 18th, 2012, well before the scope increase via additional stretch goals. But it has taken 9 years since then and $400+ million for one complete star system missing the majority of its gameplay features.
Even if you include Squadron 42 in the total development budget, that’s still at least $200 million a piece; half towards Star Citizen and half towards SQ42. It is also important to remember that both games share assets.
Here are some other stretch goals, keeping in mind that all of these were already stretch goals well before the polls were released:
At the $4 million stretch goal we see that an additional system will be added for every $100,000 pledged. Players will also be given professional mod tools. There is a mod manual you can purchase on the RSI store right now on how to mod private servers despite both the tools and servers not in the game. It doesn’t even have a picture associated with it:
We’re already seeing an impressive amount of very ambitious features being added to the campaign at the $4 million stretch goal. At the $10 million stretch goal we see the addition of a mocap studio:
Squadron 42 has an original cast of A-list actors. They include the likes of Gary Oldman and Mark Hamill. In 2008, Gary Oldman earned a $3 million salary for his role of James Gordon in the movie The Dark Knight. In The Force Awakens, Mark Hamill was paid between $1-3 million where all he did was stand and take off his hood, as reported by TheThings.
In addition to high actor costs, running a mocap studio isn’t cheap. A single Rokoko suit costs $2500 and that’s supposed to be on a budget. According to Cloud Imperium Games, a single day of motion capture “costs between $25,000 and $50,000 and provides roughly 200 “moves”; simple gestures, limb movements, and so on”-Chris Roberts; RSI Forums. Keep in mind this was for the $10 million stretch goal as well and does not include development costs nor the 9 other actors that make up the main crew.
The answer seems pretty clear that the alleged increase in scope is not the reason Star Citizen and SQ42 have taken this long. The scope was already massive before funding had even reached $10 million. Years later, there’s only one un-optimized system in place missing many features and core tech that would greatly help realize Chris Roberts’ vision.
The stretch goals continue up until the $65 million funding milestone, the majority of which haven’t been implemented into the game. In spite of that, thanks to concept sales of ships among other things, funding has continued to soar.
Ship Prices and FOMO Practices Employed By CIG
If you thought microtransactions that nickel and dime you at every chance they get were bad, wait until you see CIG’s revolutionary macrotransaction setup! In fact, it’s so revolutionary that the editor being used to write this article thinks the word is misspelled! Let’s take a look at some of CIG’s insane ship prices that you can pledge (not purchase) to support development of Star Citizen.
1. The Javelin – Standalone Price: $3,000 (Concept Price: $2,500)
2. The Kraken Privateer – Standalone Price: $2,000 (Concept Price: $2,000)
3. The Kraken – Standalone Price: $1,650 (Concept Price: $1,650)
4. Idris-P – Standalone Price: $1,500 (Concept Price: $1,250)
5. Idris-M – Standalone Price: $1,000 (Concept Price: $1,000)
As of writing this article, none of these ships are able to be spawned by players into the game. There is a mission that involves an Idris in the game, but there is no interior. Of course, all you need to do in order to play the game is pledge a $45 starter package and many ships are purchasable with in-game credits if you’re willing to grind in order to get them.
That said, a lot of the ships that have been released into the game aren’t able to be utilized to their full extent. For example, the Carrack, a $600 ship that is purchasable with in-game credits, is an exploration ship. But many players are still waiting for meaningful exploration gameplay.
While Star Citizen does have some gameplay loops implemented, they are primarily bare bone versions of what they’re supposed to be. A recent thread on the Star Citizen subreddit asked what gameplay loops backers would want if it could be 100% completed. Many backers asked for exploration. Others wanted trading and mining. Some added they just didn’t want certain bugs/desync in the game.
The most desired, fully completed feature backers wanted was trading, followed by the ‘other’ category which includes racing, piracy, and exploration. Based on the responses from that thread, it’s safe to say a significant portion of those that voted ‘other’ wanted exploration. Third place goes to salvage, a feature that has been constantly pushed back on the roadmap.
With only one system in the game and many gameplay features missing, the majority of ships are empty shells of what they could be. However, CIG continues to sell ships and vehicles that are not in the game as a means to continue funding development. There is even a Legatus Pack you can pledge that costs an astounding total of $35,000.
For more information on ship pricing, you can find a comprehensive list here.
Standalone Prices Vs. Concept Prices: FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)
You may have noticed while browsing ship prices that there are standalone prices and concept prices. In addition to those, there are warbond prices as well. This reflects a FOMO tactic (Fear of Missing Out) used by CIG to entice backers to buy ships at cheaper prices.
Buying a ship at its concept price in most cases means you will get it cheaper than when the ship is released in the game. Though some prices remain the same, many increase in price. As you can see with The Javelin, the concept price was $2,500 while the standalone price is $3,000.
While it is true that you can buy a starter package at a $45 price point, CIG is well-known for aggressive marketing techniques. During concept sales, the company will put a limit on how many digital assets are available to pledge as a means to generate artificial scarcity. Here is an example of one of their marketing emails:
The Scorpius, Crusader Hercules Starlifter, and Tumbril Nova cost $220, $400, and $120 respectively. Right now, there are 162 ships in Star Citizen with 111 of them being “fly ready,” though not necessarily feature complete.
Star Citizen and Squadron 42’s Controversy
In parallel with Star Citizen and Squadron 42’s troubled development, the project has garnered a lot of controversy over the years. In 2015, Chris Roberts is quoted as saying:
“By the end of this year, backers will have everything they originally pledged for, plus a lot more.” -Chris Roberts; Polygon, March 2015.
That was supposed to include the single-player campaign, Squadron 42, along with a very early alpha of the “persistent universe” by the end of the year. At bare minimum, they planned to have trading, mining, piracy, combat as well as other core features developed by then. However, as of right now SQ42 has no release date and the most fleshed out feature in Star Citizen is arguably mining.
Where is Squadron 42?
On their previous roadmap, CIG was supposed to have Squadron 42 enter beta by the end of 2020. But that changed when Q3 of that year came and went with no indication the game had entered beta. In a response on Spectrum in October of 2020, Chris Roberts said “Squadron 42 will be done when it is done” and that it “will not be released just to make a date.”
In his reply, Roberts points out Red Dead Redemption 2, Last of Us 2, and Cyberpunk 2077 as examples of games that had taken longer than planned. Granted, they also weren’t in an alpha state after 10 years or selling ships for thousands of dollars that weren’t in their games yet.
A Roadmap to a Roadmap
In an attempt to maintain transparency with their backers, Cloud Imperium Games released a roadmap to a roadmap:
“In the immediate future, we plan to deliver the following communications:”
1. Give an explanation of the goals of our new Roadmap and what to expect from it
2. Show a rough mockup of the proposed new Roadmap
3. Share a work in progress version of the Roadmap for at least one of our core teams
4. And then finally transition to this new Roadmap
-Tyler Witkin; Spectrum July 2020
This news hit the internet by storm. The company was criticized by backers for not communicating the status of Squadron 42 until MassivelyOP and Kotaku had published articles regarding the issues. Tyler Witkin, whose handle is @Zyloh-CIG on Spectrum, claimed that “no one reacted because of an article” as “it’s not where we place value.” (Spectrum Forums, July 2020).
Interestingly enough, Tyler Witkin also supposedly played through all the SQ42 missions back in 2016:
Squadron 42 was apparently playable enough to get through every mission back in 2016, yet as of August’s update report, the entire first half of chapter 05 is just now playable from start to finish.
“It has been great to see all this work pay off as the entire first half of chapter 05 is now playable from start to finish. This was no easy feat, as there were lots of animations, two walk-and-talk sequences, and plenty of technical challenges involved.” – Gameplay Story Team
Squadron 42 is supposed to be a trilogy. Last year, CIG released an update video regarding the single-player franchise. It primarily showed the developers walking through an empty space station, theory crafting about what you could potentially do, and then showed some basic interaction with NPCs.
“Something you could do or the AI could do is you could come over to one of these consoles and interact with some of the screens and basically, like, get access to these server racks. And you could actually interact with them and then kind of have them lower into the floor.” -Ross (28:43)
In their series called Squadron 42: The Briefing Room, Ross goes over things you could possibly do in the event you were in a room with enemies. But rather than show any actual gameplay, the discussion revolves around the idea of what a player would be able to do. After 10 years and $400+ million, it seems the long-awaited single-player game is still a long ways off. And this is just for Episode One.
Physical Products From the Kickstarter Are Still Not Delivered
Various physical products from the original Kickstarter have not been delivered to backers. Here is a list of them, excluding rewards that are duplicated at each tier:
- Spaceship shaped USB
- CD of the game soundtrack
- Fold-up glossy full-color map of the game universe
- Hardcover copy of Star Citizen manual
- Set of 5 ship blueprints
- 3-inch model of in-game ship
- Hardcover copy of ‘The Making of Star Citizen’
- 4-inch model of in-game ship
- 6-inch model of in-game ship
- Hardback bound 42-page SQ42 manual
- Hardback bound engineering manual for modders
- 8-inch painted model of in-game ship
- 10-inch painted model of in-game ship
While CIG has stated that most of these items would be shipped when the game is complete, by this point the CD soundtrack is outdated given that CDs are rarely used nowadays on PCs beyond installing OS systems and certain software.
Despite the fact these physical goods have never shipped, CIG sells physical merchandise on their store ranging from ship ornaments to Pico plushies:
While some players have reported receiving models, it is unclear whether those models were from the Kickstarter or purchased via the store. CIG has on occasion sold models such as The Constellation on its store for $125. Additionally, the higher tiers offered video conferences and even meeting Chris Roberts and key developers in-person, but those have not been included as the physical products. CIG has since invited people to their studio multiple times.
While it’s typically not a problem for a company to not ship physical products to backers until a project is complete, is it okay for a company to sell physical products on their store when they haven’t even delivered the physical merchandise from the original Kickstarter? What do you think?
The Court of Public Opinion
The controversy surrounding Star Citizen and Squadron 42 stretches back years. CIG has been sued by both companies and players. Crytek sued CIG for copyright infringement (a case which was ultimately settled outside of court) and a backer sued CIG for a $4,500 refund, but lost.
While legally, the courts seem to side with Cloud Imperium Games, the court of public opinion is harder to convince. Star Citizen has been called an outright scam by many, while others often make the joke that money laundering is involved. The majority seem to think it’s simply mismanagement; an underestimation about how long it would take to get certain things done.
But is it really a scam, mismanagement, or simply ambition? Let’s be honest… at the very least, it’s not money laundering. If you want a good, fairly hilarious and neutral outlook on the project, have a look at TechLinked’s video where they approach the project from both sides of the coin. However, they’ve said some arguably questionable things:
How can something not be a scam and yet people be scammed by it? You can’t get scammed by something that’s not a scam. In this segment, Murdock says that Star Citizen wasn’t “presented” as an ongoing alpha project, but that it was constantly portrayed as something that was two years from release. He “blames” Chris Roberts and CIG for constantly acting like the game would be “released within the next couple years.”
And frankly, he’s right. The game always seems to be two years away. It’s actually become a meme at this point within the community. CIG is constantly putting the carrot in front of the horse, only to end up releasing a feature in a literal Tier 0 state. This has often caused friction within the community and as a result caused people to lose faith in the project.
No Refunds After 30 Days – The Grey Market
From actual refunds to the subreddit starcitizen_refunds, finding a way to recoup losses is a common theme when it comes to Star Citizen. After years of waiting, many backers decide they want out, but now that you cannot get a refund after a 30-day time window of purchasing the game, the only recourse a player has is to go through the grey market.
The grey market is where a backer can sell their ships to other players in an attempt to get back their money. This is a win-win for both the backer and CIG as the backer gets back some of their money and CIG loses none. In some cases, a backer may even get more money if they’re selling ships they bought at the concept price.
There are actually multiple sites where you can get ships. You have Star-Hangar and Space-Foundry that will help players either buy or sell ships. It’s important to note however, that it’s easy to get scammed selling things on the grey market in general. Always know who you’re dealing with when going through the grey market.
The refunds subreddit can also be a helpful resource when it comes to the grey market. There are users that often help those wanting to sell their ships and recoup what they’ve spent on the game. The community is also responsible for the album of quotes created by the user QuaversandWotsits that sources various quotes from CIG, some of which are featured in this article.
Should You Get Star Citizen?
Whether or not Star Citizen is a game you should get is up to you. Are you comfortable with backing a game that is still in alpha with a lot of bugs? Are you okay with supporting a project that has been delayed many times with the director saying he is unwilling to compromise?
It’s been 10 years since development started, 9 since the Kickstarter, and $400+ million. How much longer will be needed to develop the project? Chris Roberts seems to have the answer:
There is a freefly going on right now where you can give the game a shot and make the decision yourself without paying a dime. Who knows, maybe you’ll have an unforgettable experience.
Crowdfunding is basically the Wild West of gaming. It’s the American Dream of the virtual world, but will you find milk and honey along with streets paved with gold? With high risk comes great reward. Just remember to use common sense and never spend more than you’re willing to lose.