I’m a post-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of blogger. When I get a thought, or feel provoked, I could talk to my dog who is practically my shadow, or I could craft a post. I prefer the latter because the former doesn’t help me make sense of my thoughts and feelings in any way. Writing forces me to at least try and refine my position, though I think most of my posts sound like scribbles on the wall of an asylum.

This time: CitizenCon 2953, the year-end shindig for all things Star Citizen. This year, it’ll be the return to in-person convention located in Los Angeles. During the height of COVID, CitizenCon persisted, but in an online-only format. The online portion will still be available this time for those who cannot or will not travel to L.A., and there’s an optional “digital goodies bag” available for purchase.

Where we are now

I have been on a Star Citizen communications blackout for a few weeks now, starting somewhere in the middle of the current patch, 3.19.1. I had run out of interesting things to do, my org has been focused heavily on PvP at the current PvP event centers, or if none are available, making their own (pretty much the antithesis of everything I enjoy, which should illuminate my feelings on my current org status), and the promised patch cycle of every quarter has pretty much been up-ended thanks to the debacle of persistent entity streaming (PES). The community (little ‘c’) is breathlessly awaiting the next phase of the project, the lawless Pyro system in version 4.0, which holds absolutely zero interest for me, which basically means that I do not see any respite for my own disinterest, nor for the disinterest of the legions of people like me, until version 5.0…if that.

While current concerns vary across the board, a quick run through Spectrum seems to provide a unifying thread: more community members than ever are dissatisfied with state, the rate, and the focus of communication, updates and fixes, and the general vibe of CIG and Star Citizen as a whole.

Where we’re (told we’re) going

The truth is, no one knows. While it’s de rigeur for game developers to keep their cards close to the chest when it comes to progress updates in order to A) protect themselves from “…but you said…” type blow-back, and B) maintain a level of hype through rampant community speculation, we haven’t had any kind of leak regarding what is actually on tap for CitizenCon.

In the heady days of the project, we enjoyed planned, scripted demos, like the “sandworm” demo. We also got exciting-to-some-of-us panels about game systems, like the Quanta/um economic AI system. The general flow of the convention had been a keynote by Chris Roberts with the “live” game-play segment that made us all glad that Roberts wasn’t our boss and which featured content that would more or less set the tone for the rest of the convention. We’d then get a bunch of panels talking about things alluded to but never previously covered in depth through Spectrum or the weekly community content videos (Star Citizen Live, Inside Star Citizen).

There’s a lot of sarcasm permeating Spectrum right now, insinuating that we’ll get the same pattern this year, with the same results: no concrete dates, scripted yet somehow problematic game-play demos, and a surprising amount of overtures from the highest-profile “content creators” that their “faith (has been) restored” in the wake of…basically nothing of substance.

Where we’re (probably) going

I really cannot disagree with the prevailing winds: this is going to be a make or break CitizenCon for CIG. While there will always be diehard stans (I will not call them “white knights” because that’s a confrontational trigger and I’m a fan of letting people like what they like for reasons they don’t have to explain to anyone), I am finding it harder to locate them on Spectrum. A lot of people are restless or downright hostile, and while that’s nothing new for Star Citizen from the outside, for it to be coming from inside the house at these decibel levels is indicative that something is rotten in the state of development.

The shadow of PES still looms large. It upset the cart so much that I think CIG is still dealing with its ramifications internally. PES was supposed to be the linchpin for server meshing that would allow for hundreds of players to co-habitate, compared to the 50-150 people per server the game is struggling with now. Server meshing was also supposed to help with a lot of other things like the AI economy, which we haven’t heard hide nor hair about since a few CitizenCons prior.

Pyro is the elephant shaped hole in the room, another casualty of PES. CIG ended up buying their side piece Turbulant outright this past year. Turbulant has been working on a whole lot of pretty high profile stuff, like the star map, Spectrum, and other web technologies, and a subsidiary of the company has been given the responsibility of creating new star systems for the game. Pyro will be the first new star system added to the alpha, but I’m not sure if this is being done all in Turbulant’s studio or if this is an in-CIG-house task that will serve as a template for Turbulant’s eventual ownership of the process. Either way, Pyro has been on deck for years now — no surprise considering this is Star Citizen — and there’s still no firm commitment from CIG regarding its release.

That’s why many people are half hoping, half expecting, half demanding that Pyro’s release (or announcement) is slated for the keynote at this years’ CitizenCon. In some people’s minds, it can’t not be: it’s the largest profile update we know about, it’s the longest suffering omission we know about, and it was supposed to be heralded by the release of PES and the promise of server meshing. An omission of Pyro actual or at least a firm release date (which CIG can never seem to hit anyway) would signal to many that CIG is in complete internal disarray; anything less than a Pyro-centric presentation would be considered white noise obscuring a much, much larger tragedy yet to publicly unfold.

Also, Squadron 42. Remember that? Most people don’t because CIG never talks about it, and the last time it was mentioned in public was when they pulled it from their store “for a limited time”. We get monthly updates on the “progress” of the side project, but none of the emails tell or even allude to exactly how close we are to receiving SQ42. Many people are hoping/expecting/demanding a surprise announcement about the game, either for the alpha/beta dates, or a meaty presentation on the game itself. SQ42 has been weird because it was supposed to be a product with a quick turn-around time so it could be made, released, and used to generate money to create the Persistent Universe side; instead, CIG has pulled in over $600 million USD though Star Citizen (the PU side), at least some portion of which is assumed to have been funneled into Squadron’s development coffers (although there’s no official numbers on that). If it’s true, then that’s another point of contention for disgruntled Star Citizen backers, the overwhelming majority of who don’t give a shit about SQ42 and never have.

The writing is on the wall

CIG needs to go bigger than ever before with this CitizenCon. Many loyal backers have started grumbling about the progress. Yes, the same kind of grumbling non-backers have been doing for years, I get it, but I for one don’t apologize for my historical support of the project, and I doubt many who are now finding dissatisfaction would either.

If CIG doesn’t drop a bombshell this October, then those light grumbles will certainly turn to pitchforks and torches. Now is the time when the community needs to get some concrete info to avoid turning fence-sitters into fence-destroyers. Personally, although I don’t care about Pyro, I would feel a whole lot better if Pyro’s release date was announced, or if CIG actually hot-dropped it post keynote to the PU. I think that would blow people’s minds and would recoup some good will as it would clear the way for the next major phase of development…whatever that might be.

Barring that, if CitizenCon is nothing but platitudes, poorly executed keynote demos, and panels on second- and third-tier subjects that have limited appeal, Star Citizen is going to have a very bad 2024. Maybe a late first or mid second quarter Pyro release would ease the pain, but it wouldn’t have the same impact as if it had happened this October.

For me, my interest in this project is at an all time low. I am only getting info from third party sources when they happen to come across my feeds. I haven’t engaged with my org in a few weeks. I don’t have any excitement over the roadmap in the near future, especially as everything for the 4.0 patch — whenever it is — will be undoubtedly PvP focused. I feel bad for CIG employees who go to work each day and do the best damn jobs they can. I like a whole lot of what we have currently in the alpha product, and there are many systems that I want to look forward to, as described. Star Citizen would change the video game landscape in many ways — on paper — but right now it’s just serving as a cautionary tale against flying too close to an overly ambitious Sun. If it falters and crashes, that could reinforce a hard limit on the ceiling of what developers will be willing to attempt in the future. We won’t get games that embody a unabridged “life experience” the way Star Citizen is trying to provide. That type of game might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but Star Citizen’s failure could really chill the entire industry from even trying to be more ambitious than it currently is.

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