Video Games

Video Games: Players have every right to be unhappy with ‘Star Citizen’ progress

“Star Citizen” space combat gameplay.
“Star Citizen” space combat gameplay. Cloud Imperium Games

More than 1,200 people who backed space simulation PC game “Star Citizen,” which has raised more than $87.6 million to date, have changed their minds.

Developer Cloud Imperium Games has refunded 1,269 people – 93 since July 1 – on a case-by-case basis. Many of these disgruntled gamers are frustrated with the lack of progress – the game is at least one year behind schedule.

The question is clear: How can a game with nearly $90 million in funding possibly be behind schedule? We were supposed to have a fully formed beta version by the end of 2014, but that isn’t coming until 2016. What happened?

I asked David Swofford, spokesman for Cloud Imperium Games, exactly that.

He told me that no one has ever attempted an online multiplayer game with such a massive scope. “Star Citizen” will feature online space battles, first-person shooter portions and various social activities. Players can own a fleet of spaceships with different purposes, explore planets and galaxies or complete a single-player campaign.

Fans of the genre and (Cloud Imperium Games head) Chris’ previous games stepped up to the plate and stated that a game of this scope, fidelity and promise is exactly what they want. And Cloud Imperium Games plans to deliver exactly that.

David Swofford, Cloud Imperium Games

Typically, Swofford says, a team developing a major game would take its lump sum of money behind closed doors and spend years creating the game it wanted. Because of the crowdfunding, “Star Citizen” can’t do that. Cloud Imperium Games must be open and forthcoming with its players – all of which are also investors.

The team is working to develop pieces of the game to keep buyers happy until the finished product is released, which Swofford says will be sometime next year. The spaceship combat is available now. The social module will release sometime in the next week, and the first-person shooter section is due out in a few weeks, Swofford says.

As for the refunds, Swofford says anyone is entitled to a refund within two weeks of purchase with no questions asked. After that, Cloud Imperium Games reviews each refund request. The developer is under no legal requirement to issue a refund after 14 days, as its terms of service clearly indicate that players are investing in a product, not just buying it. However, many refunds have been issued to those unsatisfied with “Star Citizen” or Cloud Imperium’s progress.

Swofford makes some important points. The $87.6 million figure seems staggering, but it is far from a record number. Games like “Grand Theft Auto V” and “Destiny” racked up well over $100 million in development costs. The price tag for “Star Wars: The Old Republic,” also a massive online space title, was estimated at over $200 million.

These other pricey games took years to finish. So can we blame Cloud Imperium Games for not progressing further than it has since its successful crowd-funding campaign in the fall of 2012?

Of course we can.

I am sure “Star Citizen” is a massive undertaking, but it isn’t delivering much more than “Eve Online” has in the 12 years since that space exploration title came out. The “Star Citizen” universe won’t be bigger than the “No Man’s Sky” cosmos, which are said to be so huge that they would take 10 years to map if everyone on Earth discovered 500 planets a day.

965,432The number of Star Citizens, or players/investors, according to the “Star Citizen” website.

The other major space exploration titles did have time to develop behind closed doors, but so did “Star Citizen.” Cloud Imperium had a playable demo in 2011, a full year before the crowd-funding began. The money began to hit in 2012, then the team spent a year developing the space combat section, which released in August 2013. The developers have had nearly two more years since the space combat module released to finish the first-person shooter section, which still isn’t out yet.

That means if Cloud Imperium hits its current goal of a 2016 release, that will be a five-year development cycle – longer than most of the aforementioned massive budget titles.

Many people have already spent thousands of dollars on the game. Starter packages, which come with a ship and access to space combat, are $45. Additional ships cost anywhere $20 to $325. Want them all? The completionist package will grant you every ship currently available in the game – all for the bargain price of $15,000. Yes, you read that correctly.

If I had spent all this money on these ships and could only use them in the same way after two years, I would be mad too. I understand that the process takes time, and that the time is elongated due to the fact that “Star Citizen” must be released in pieces in order to placate the fans/players/investors.

But you have nearly $90 million. Hire more bodies. Throw some more technology at it. Heck, purchase a small island for your current staff and let them channel their efforts from there.

I’m sure Could Imperium is working very hard, but maybe not as hard as it would be if a traditional publisher was looming in the background. If development stalled like this on an Activision or EA-funded project, the veteran publishers would probably have canceled it by now. Maybe working without that threat has bred complacency.

Hopefully the rumblings and refund demands of the current investors/players will push things along.

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