I’ve been putting this post off for some time, mainly because I’d been hoping that my views would magically change due to some atmospheric front or fairy godmother wearing a Chris Roberts mask or something equally weird and disturbing, but here I am, typing this post about how I’m contemplating being over and done with Star Citizen.
I’ll try and keep this much more brief than the two versions I wrote before this one.
On Incessant Crowdfunding and Fixing Bugs
Star Citizen is approaching $600 million dollars in funding. They’ve already blown past half a billion dollars, and every event, like Invictus or CitizenCon, and every newly announced ship concept brings in more money. It seems that Star Citizen is less of a game and more of a revenue generator, and were it not for the fact that they are patching the game on a somewhat regular schedule, it might appear that the revenue is for revenue’s sake.
While I understand that companies need to keep the revenue stream flowing, I do agree with critics who might say that CIG spends too much time pushing internet space ships. And while I know that the ship development pipeline group is not responsible for fixing bugs and long-suffering problems with the current game, the perception — my perception, and the perception of others if Spectrum is to be believed — is that CIG is constantly goading people to buy more while lingering problems with the game do not seem to be getting any better. Being able to play the game without issue changes by the hour, and was made significantly worse with the introduction of persistent entity streaming (PES) in patch 3.18. While most of the PES issues seem to have been addressed, there are bugs that are much older than that which still exist. Meanwhile new ships and new “tier-0” features are being launched to support those new ship sales, all of which come with their own bugs and issues. Often times it feels that for every step forward, the game takes three steps back.
Making matters significantly worse from an optics perspective, CIG has recently restructured the way it invites players to the public test universe (PTU). Yes, an alpha product has a test environment. This new system weighs a player’s participation in the past two patch cycles, but also prioritizes players who have contributed the most money to the project. CIG claims that this spreads out the participation over several courses, which is a move to combat cases where players log into the PTU early on, play a while, and then never return to the PTU during that phase. This has apparently been front-loading the test servers, leaving the long-tail as a relative ghost town — the times when CIG has made attempts to fix and deploy updates to the test environment. Personally, I don’t even know why there’s a test environment at all considering how many bugs have been lingering throughout the past several patches.
I know that game development is hard. I know that I don’t understand everything there is to know about game development, nor do I know anything about what goes on behind closed doors at CIG. From the armchair perspective of a long-term backer, it seems that bugs and issues are constantly compounded in favor of delivering more and more revenue generating content, and I’m getting tired of experiencing many of these legacy bugs.
On Death of a Spaceman and Chris Roberts’ Ego
Chris Roberts made his name with Wing Commander, a game which I believe single-handedly pushed wider adoption of CD-ROM drives for home PCs back in the 80’s (along with the Encarta CD ROM edition). If there is anyone who could bring a game the size and scope of Star Citizen to life, Chris Roberts wants us to believe that it must be him. On the whole, I agree, based on what I’ve seen with Star Citizen so far, but the longer the development of the game continues, the less I like Roberts’ tunnel vision on what he wants the game to be about.
Roberts penned an article on the RSI website called “Death of a Spaceman“, and it has been the manifesto for what he wants Star Citizen to be. There’s one sentiment that I want to focus on specifically:
Without the risk of losing something you’ve worked hard towards, the sense of achievement is cheap.https://robertsspaceindustries.com/comm-link/transmission/12879-Death-Of-A-Spaceman
You can’t have light with[out] dark and you can’t have reward without risk.https://robertsspaceindustries.com/comm-link/transmission/12879-Death-Of-A-Spaceman
Based on these quotes, it appears that Roberts does not believe in any kind of “personal goals”, only “risk versus reward”. In this light, Roberts might argue that taking on a task because its goals have personal meaning to me is pointless unless there’s a chance it could fail, or unless there is some kind of reciprocal cost. I then assume that in his eyes, any game where players can decorate a house, or play with friends without specific roadblocks to overcome is basically pointless. The only way Roberts sees to gain value is to potentially lose that value.
I absolutely cannot get behind this; I think it is one way to look at an experience, but it is neither the only, nor the best, way to structure a mechanic. It’s certainly the worst core mechanic around which to create a game the size and scope of Star Citizen. Making every activity a “do or die” situation is fine for an arcade game from the 80’s, back when computing power was at a premium and when that was all a video game could handle. Star Citizen is aiming way, way, way higher than that, so to pin the entire ethos on a single, narrow vision while also claiming that we can play however we want in a universe-sized sandbox is complete bullshit. The only way to play, it seems, will be how Chris Roberts believes we should all play.
I do not have much faith that Star Citizen will deviate very far from Roberts’ singular focus on “risk versus reward” because I believe that he’s maintaining a stranglehold on absolutely everything this game will be about. He’s always struck me as the kind of boss who would agree hear what others say, but would immediately follow up with a red-faced “ok but…” and would then do what he wanted to do anyway. Maybe I’m wrong; I hope I am, because otherwise everything about Star Citizen, from flying in space to building your own home, is going to be about some level of risk versus reward, and I refuse to risk much of anything except time and in-game money for something as banal as buying or making furniture for my house.
On the Beating of the PvP Drum
I cannot complain much about Star Citizen’s PvP focus because it’s always been front and center and any bitching about it on my part would be disingenuous. I don’t like it, but it’s something I’ve tried to come to terms with throughout the years.
Still, every feature that’s been released has always had some aspects described in terms of how it will benefit “pirates” and PvP players, even when the system being talked about inherently has absolutely nothing to do with PvP. The recent cargo refactor in 3.18 which made cargo physical objects was meant to bring the game closer to it’s “simulate everything” goal and would give free-traders that sense of realism, yet a good amount of press was given over to how pirates could now collect cargo from ships they destroyed, which made the entire feature update seem (to me, at least) more in the service of PvP but framed in a way that wasn’t going to completely disenfranchise non-PvP players; basically, a smokescreen. This could be my bias, of course, but there was also talk of how physicalized weapon hard-points on ships would allow players to steal weapons from ships, and how the introduction of “master modes”, a feature designed to make ship combat feel more visceral, would also penalize players who try to flee by turning off their shields in favor of speed. Such a system has yet to be seen in the wild by a wide audience; it could work as intended, or it could be designed to be exploited by PvPers through an easy mix of ships and tactics against players who can expect only a weak token system by CIG that will give them an actual chance to flee an encounter.
It doesn’t take a lot of leg-work to look around the MMO landscape and see that PvP-centric games don’t do so well in the modern marketplace. Star Citizen is far from ready for a “modern marketplace” and by the time it gets to a “1.0” state the market might be unrecognizable. Considering how slowly development is progressing, though, now is the time to correct erroneous courses and aim for a more equitable harbor. PvPers will only be happy for a short time playing with other PvPers; it’s a sad truth that for PvP to survive it needs to have a large pool of non-PvP players to target, and to supplement its ranks. If Star Citizen becomes known as a game in which PvE players cannot play on their own terms, where they are required to play in ways they do not want to play, and are only supported when they become the content for other players, they will look elsewhere. The game is already turning out to be an acquired taste on account of the levels of simulation it has and will have, and the complexity built into the pipeline between logging in and getting anything done. I expect a lot of players both PvP and PvE to bounce off the game when confronted with that wall of complexity, and those who stay should not be assumed to be fanatical converts who will accept anything the game throws at them; for those people it may always be a short trip between “maybe I’ll stick with it” and that singular event that causes them to say “fuck this” and quit for good. This knife’s edge balance will ultimately leave only the hardest of the hardcore, and that’s no way to maintain a PvP-centric game. Just ask Crowfall how well that works out.
As Ships Gather Dust
It’s been several weeks since I have logged into Star Citizen; I know I am not missing much because the 3.20 patch is completely off schedule, and the 3.19 was more of a panic patch fixing the 3.18 debacle than anything else. Content has been few and far between this year. I have lazily watched some of the weekly video content, Inside Star Citizen and Star Citizen Live, but my current malaise has not driven me to seek them out each week. I have even shelved interaction with my organization, in part because of my decision to put the game on hold, and because of some friction between what I want from an org and some of the people who have found their way to this one (I might be in the market for a new org eventually).
As of right now I don’t know when I might consider logging in again. The much anticipated 4.0 update, unscheduled since it’s announcement in 2017, if you remember that far back, will bring in the Pyro system which is a completely lawless expanse that further pushes the PvPness of the game into overdrive. I have no desire to go there (though I expect CIG will purposefully design all viable trade routes through such systems), and will have to rely on secondary and tertiary focuses in the 4.x series of patches to draw my interest, if possible.
It would take some concessions on the part of Chris Roberts to re-convert me to where I started with this project. First and foremost, I wish CIG would put a hold on the endless supply of concept ships and instead start boosting info on how they are improving the alpha product that’s already there. Again, I know that making ships and squashing bugs are two different sides of the house, but it’s almost as if CIG is busking ships as a way to gloss over the long-standing issues with the game, and I’d like to see more acknowledgement and more public focus on what they’re doing to move the needle on the game that already exists. Second, and this is a tall ask, is I’d like to hear about planned features without the addendum as to how they’ll benefit pirates and PvP in general. There have got to be some features — possibly a massive amount of features — that are off-limits to player versus player conflict. If all the work of all the players can be ruined by other players, I cannot see a way for CIG to attract, nor maintain, the levels of interest from segments of the gaming community that they will need to entice in order to fill the massive space they are creating for themselves. Third and finally, not everything can be about “risk versus reward”. Creating a game focused on one and only one way to play is fine for a simple arcade game, but it’s a complete waste of time and effort, and I think players will see that and will react accordingly.
And yes, this post is a lot shorter than the previous versions I wrote.