It’s 2016. Another year has begun for Cloud Imperium Games (CIG) and their much discussed and analysed Star Citizen project. This was conceived as a game that PC gamers would be eager to play and one which would utilise all the power of contemporary (and future) PC hardware. It’s an exciting thought that one day this huge space universe will come alive.
So how’s it all going? The simple answer to that is at a snail’s pace (see timeline). It’s so slow, in fact, that even some of the most faithful Star Citizens must be wondering if a proper persistent universe will see the light of day before 2018, if at all. Putting that to one side for a moment, there is also Squadron 42. That’s the single player component that I’ve been looking forward to the most since the crowd funding kicked off way back in 2012.
With a star-studded cast of A-list actors, this solo campaign is something we can hopefully all look forward to. At the end of last year CIG announced that the Star Citizen Persistent Universe and Squadron 42 would now in fact be two completely separate releases and anyone who didn’t buy in at the start (available now at $54) would have to cough up for Squadron 42 as a stand-alone release which will cost $45.
This makes some degree of sense until you actually think about what’s happening here. Star Citizen is a game that is currently failing to meet any of its release goals. Over $100 million was raised (plus addition private investment), but with a large development team to fund across multiple studios in expensive locations, cash must be disappearing reasonably quickly. There’s no better way to raise additional funds than to sell the single player Squadron 42 separately, even though we’ve seen very little of this module aside from a staged cabin walkthrough, and mo-cap footage done with the actors. Oh, and Chris Roberts stalking around a studio directing it all.
This has been the plan from the start as they state in their recent update:
When we started Star Citizen’s crowdfunding campaign, the plan was that earlier backers would get a lower price on the Star Citizen starter package than those that backed later. The plan was to first gradually increase the price and then split up various modules for “a la carte options.” This gave backers who joined the project early on and helped get it off the ground an advantage. With the package split, we’re accomplishing this objective without increasing the amount of money needed to join the persistent universe. The ‘package split’ is the first introduction of the anticipated a la carte option: you can pick which part of the game you’re interested in, for now the single player campaign or the persistent universe, and then can choose whether or not to purchase the other module as an add-on.
CIG has set a cut-off date of 14 February to get access to the whole Star Citizen package, which applies some pressure on anyone who was thinking about picking up the game in the future and thought they could get the whole package. With this date now set in stone, there was a spike in funding despite the fact there’s still not really too much to play about with in the PU alpha.
In a few days, around the 14 February, I wouldn’t be surprised if all of a sudden we see some Squadron 42 footage appear to entice more players to pick that (or both) up. There’s nothing inherently wrong with selling these two games separately, but it feels like another fund-raising exercise based around shuffling a very light deck. CIG has not yet shown anything of substance from Squadron 42 and the main Star Citizen game still looks to be some way off.
The continual ship sales have also been disappointing to see, and it’s a real shame the PC community (usually reliably cynical about pre-orders) has willingly piled so much cash into what are largely still just a collection of concept images. With some backers now so heavily invested (financially and emotionally) in the project, there really is no way out. They’ll be crossing their fingers that Chris Roberts and his team can pull this off and it won’t matter to them if it comes out in 2020. Even Roberts’ appalling live demonstration doesn’t seem to have shaken the faith too much. Most backers are still sold on his abilities and passion for the game.
I enjoyed the first year following Star Citizen. It felt like there was a team that were pushing hard to create something special. But as time has gone on I’ll admit some of the business practices have made me feel a little dirty. Luckily I’ve not invested much in the project, because you can never tell what’s going happen in this volatile industry. Every week you read about layoffs, studio closures, and crowdfunding failures.
2016 is a critical year for CIG. If by August things have not improved with delivery of content I do think it’s time to write off most of the release schedule promises that were made at the start of the crowdfunding campaign (if there are still many left). January’s month’s studio report also reads as if they’re still a little rudderless when it comes to many of the game’s systems and design.
The goal posts have moved so far in the past couple of years they’re now in the stadium car park. Can I keep the faith? I’m a patient guy but in four years there’s not a lot that’s actually tangible to get that excited about. Will Roberts surprise us all? I hope so for the sake of the backers who have thousands invested in Star Citizen.