I like to think of myself as a fairly well-balanced person when it comes to my entertainment. I don’t generally become obsessed with any kind of media; I like some content more than others, yes of course, but I’m not usually one to spend time dwelling on a movie, a TV show, or a video game to the point where it eclipses all others of the sort.
Star Citizen has been different for a lot of reasons. Obviously, there’s the fact that I love science fiction. I have always been a nerd and while I enjoy fantasy in its many forms, there’s something about the potential and eventual reality of sci-fi that has always dominated my interest. We’ll never have dragons or beholders or countrysides ravaged by orcs IRL, but we’ve already got robots on Mars and virtual reality. Sci-fi technologies have always seemed achievable given enough time — more time than I will ever have, sadly. There’s also the fact that Star Citizen is an open world project. In my youth I appreciated narratives in games, but as I age, I really don’t have the time or the mental stamina to ride whatever rails are laid down in front of me and are designed to play out over the course of 60+ hours. I skip more cut-scenes than I don’t. I can’t even really remember character names well enough to care what happens to them over time, anyway. Being able to make my own way in a game world has become the overriding desire, which is why I have so many city-building games in my Steam library. Living and dying by my own decisions in a game can sometimes stand in for a reality in which a lot of decisions are completely outside of my control. Overall, I do have an intense desire to support and play Star Citizen because it does check so many boxes for me, even in its current state.
Is it fun, though? Do I see Star Citizen, now or at any time, the way I see other media? If I am entertained by entertainment, then I consider it time well spent; if I feel that a book or a TV show is going to be a chore to get through, I’ll abandon it. There’s more than enough opportunity out there for me to find a better fit. Star Citizen has many aspects currently, and many more planned, that I consider to be enjoyable. I like mining, for one. It can be both calming and frustrating at the same time (technical issues aside). I would also appreciate free-trading, but the suppl-and-demand system is so borked right now that it’s almost always a losing proposition to even try. I’ve enjoyed doing the bunker missions, the NPC bounty hunting missions, and even some Arena Commander — against the bots, of course. So yes, I do consider many aspects of the project to be enjoyable, and many upcoming features like salvaging and scanning and eventually (hopefully) homesteading promise even more enjoyment.
But sadly, the game seems — to me — to be slowly turning its bow towards more unfun waters. It started with a “special event” called “Jumptown”. This was an organic event in which players would converge on an unmarked and unregulated planetary outpost to fight over and collect bundles of drugs which could be sold for massive amounts of money. This became incredibly popular and the Jumptown 2.0 event has become an institution supported by the CIG development team. We then got word that the next system to come online, Pyro, was an example of a “lawless” sector where a lot of the NPC security concerns implemented in Stanton would be nonexistent. Inside Star Citizen, the weekly 10-minute teaser video series, talked this week about how Security Post Kareah was being reinitialized as a PvP hotspot, and how updates to the Klescher Detention Facility would provide more incentive for players to get arrested and thrown in prison.
More and more, I feel that CIG is leaning not just hard, but supernaturally hard into stacking the game’s laundry list with PvP features at the expense of pretty much everything else.
Before I go further, though, I will call myself out to acknowledge that I have always known that Star Citizen was going to focus on the kind of open world gameplay that relies on PvP. It’s never not been a front-and-center “feature”, so this isn’t me asking why the roadmap has changed; it’s just me finally coming to grips with the reality and stepping into a full crisis as a result.
I’ve never been one to enjoy PvP except when the consequences were…inconsequential. I loved Warhammer Online because I could just jump in with a larger group where none of my deaths were ever personal. I’m not a competitive person by nature so the culture of smack-talk and promises of general douchebaggery have made me steer clear of many competitive experiences that I might have enjoyed. I tried WvWvW in GW2, for example, and it was OK; I didn’t get the same camaraderie that I did from WAR, though, and never stuck with it. I tried Crowfall, too, but that game was fundamentally skewed towards large groups that to even survive in the world one had to become a number in someone else’s roster; that’s not a reason why I would choose to play a game.
Star Citizen is too large for inconsequential interactions of any kind. It’s completely over the top in how it simulates most aspects of “living in space”. While you can have a third person perspective, first person is the most natural view, which makes everything seem front and center. From getting out of bed on every login, to waiting for elevators or taking a tram in real time, to the animations involved in getting into and out of the pilot’s seat, the goal of making the game immersive succeeds so very, very well. It’s about as close to living a second life as I have ever experienced, despite it presenting on a 2D screen, and in spite of the many, many, many issues that come along with it.
The coming to terms with the apparent hardcore push towards all PvP, all the time is what sent me to find an organization to join, and if you know me, you know that I am not a joiner by nature. It’s an uphill battle, always, for me to find a comfortable place in other people’s homes unless those homes are designed in a very specific way that rarely happens. As groups get larger, I get smaller. It’s hard for me to break a surface that I feel marks the minimum required level of participation to be recognized and accepted…to feel as part of the group and not just as someone who is there. In Star Citizen, this matters because if I require escorts to go anywhere and do anything, there has to be a pool of people to request escorts from. I cannot in good conscious ask for help from people who only know me from a casual glance at the organization roster.
Much of this is why I am pained to admit that I don’t know if Star Citizen will ultimately be “for me”. My interest in the game itself has never been on PvP. It’s been on the apparent fringe elements like mining and trading, and I don’t even know if those aspects will have any bearing on the game itself, or if they’re just included “because they seem right” for the venue. Right now, mining is only for making money. Making money is only for buying ships, gear, and equipment. Buying ships, gear, and equipment is only for making money. And the cycle goes around and around; it’s this exact same gameplay reason why I quit Elite Dangerous, as there wasn’t anything to do aside from make money to upgrade ships in order to make more money. Star Citizen has showcased the “Quant(a)(um)” system which is their NPC AI “life” simulator which will include the harvesting, creation, and moving of goods that players can buy. There has been no word on player crafting, although the inclusion of the “Pioneer”, a homestead construction ship, alludes to at least some kind of cookie-cutter creation mechanism planned for the far, far future. But if mining and free-trading and salvaging doesn’t have any ramification outside of helping me get money to pay bills, I don’t know that there’s enough gameplay that interests me for me to stick around for the longest haul. If the only other gameplay loop left is to go fight other players, well, I can’t say that I’ll be satisfied with that.
Despite the gajillions of dollars that the project has pulled in over the years, PvP focused MMOs do not do well which doesn’t auger well even for Chris Roberts’ deep pockets. The only one that I think anyone can mention as having been anywhere near successful is EVE Online, of course, but outside of that one shining star, PvP-centric MMOs have been — and I hate to use this specific word — failures according to their own bravado. They have all seemed to talk a big game in the run-up to launch but have all failed to take the genre by the storm they predicted for themselves. It’s always been this way, but even more so now because if anyone wants to scratch their competitive gaming itch, there are tons of better ways to do it than in an MMO. Lobby shooters Overwatch, Fortnite, Apex, and others are how people prefer to get their competitive, PvP gameplay on these days, and a game like Star Citizen, with its massive overhead, learning curve, and insane levels of simulation already positions it as a niche product that casual players will probably bounce off of. Making it a must for players to join up, to become more than a competent pilot, or to be an accurate FPS player, to spend every moment in game armed to the teeth because you know that even the most mundane, real-world operation will never be safe enough to just do is really going to butt heads with the kind of depth that Star Citizen is already poised to offer. It seems like a massive waste of talent, resources, and technology going into a game where the most basic goal if for everyone to be blowing up everyone else, all of the time.
I do have fun when I play the game the way I want to play it, and that’s the eternal struggle between PvP and everything else. A PvPer’s way of playing requires them to interact with other players. My way of playing requires me to make my own decisions on how I want to play and that’s usually alone or cooperatively. When someone else’s method of play intersects and interrupts my way of play, it’s no longer my way of play; my game time has been co-opted so that someone else can enjoy their game time, while I am forced to either quit or endure the situation long enough that I might be able to recoup some enjoyment later on. When a game focuses specifically on PvP, then I can never be assured that any of my game time is going to be enjoyable. A lot of discussion in the Star Citizen community has been about “risk versus reward”, but not every aspect of life — simulated or not — is about “risk versus reward”. Sometimes you’re just driving to the grocery store or traveling to visit your grandmother or minding your own business mining asteroids for a decent — but not a windfall — payday. It’s not what I usually ask for in playing a game of this scope, and while I can accept it sometime, I prefer that it be when I choose it, not when it’s chosen for me.
I still have an intense desire to support and play Star Citizen and I hope this period of focus on ramping up all things PvP is a point in time, and that the pipeline will eventually provide more specifics on other, more cooperative systems once the sandbox mechanics that make PvP possible have reached a “gold standard”. No MMO that relied on PvP has survived and flourished on the support of PvPers alone; even EVE requires non-PvPers to make the economy work. Never mind that Star Citizen is a mountain already, requiring a lot of time and effort to get to a point where a player can participate at even the lowest level. The kind of players that the game needs are not the ones they seem to be hell-bent on catering to right now with Jumptown or Klescher or SPK revamps. I bet a lot of people are only enjoying those activities because there’s not a whole lot else to do right now, and any consequences are immaterial with patch-day progress wipes a certainty. It really will be the people who want to log in and are fine taking taxies or calling for transport to get to their locations, who would love to move goods around alongside the Quant(a)(um) AI, who look forward to salvaging wrecks and repairing ships, and even the unrecognized massive communities who just want to decorate a fucking house who make the game. If CIG is going to lean into simulation to make a realistic sci-fi world, they shouldn’t put all their focus onto the hyperactive PvP crowd, because they’re going to need the support of non-PvPers in the long run, and in a way that makes them feel that their game time is as respected as they are making it seem for PvPers. That means giving systems and capabilities to non-PvPers so they can play the game their way, and not just be pawns for PvP gameplay.