Interstellar Citizens

Interstellar Citizens

Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it“. Edmund Burke

The TL;DR recap on how I got involved in this farce and why I’m going to keep going until the very bitter end.

Disclaimer: I know that a lot of people are passionate about stuff like this. So I feel that I need to point out that this is an opinion based piece. And I ran it through legal, just in case. Nobody wants their liability insurance to spike due to bullshit reasons.

As a veteran game developer who crowd-funded the projects mentioned in this piece, I have the same rights as any other person who may, or may not have done so. I have been watching these projects for quite some time. Seeing all the angst that comes from Early Access games, and seeing how one of these highly anticipated projects has not only experienced significant delays, technological hurdles, key personnel departures, and with a design that has completely breached the realms of what is technologically possible with current technology, I felt that I had to say something. Some people are saying something, but most seemingly aren’t listening.

I have the utmost respect for my many industry friends, colleagues and peers; and I am well known for never—ever—casting any of them in a poor light, nor attacking them or their work. It’s poor form, respect is everything, and I’m old school like that. So if that’s what you think this piece is about, you should probably stop reading.

If you attack me over this, remember, I’m an old school Internet warlord, I’m no pushover, and I won’t take it lightly. Your rights don’t trump mine, and people don’t scare me.

PREAMBLE

The bottom line is that they had two years to deliver the game that people wanted and paid for. Now we’re 2.8 years in since the original Kickstarter, and 3.8 years in since Chris Roberts said the project started; and the game is still nowhere in sight.

NOBODY asked for what they are doing right now. If they went on crowd-funding and asked for $85m, we’d all just laugh, and go back to our lattes.

The FACTS are as follows:

  • In 10/2012, they pitched a game for $500K, and got $2.1m
  • They got the money
  • They haven’t delivered the game – as pitched – by the Nov 2014 promised date
  • They have kept asking for money and more money, based on intangible goods
  • They kept increasing the game’s scope, despite having missed the original delivery milestone
  • The game now, is beyond the initial scope, and which we backed

I love this industry. An industry that, while brutal, gave me the opportunity to do something that I love, while not making it easy. I take pride in the fact that when I screw up, or fail, and fall down, I can pick myself up – and keep on running. For me, there is no shame in failure; only pride in being able to acknowledge mistakes, and to learn from them.

My article (below) which I wrote, was a result of my observation that there is another industry disaster brewing, and which is, once again, going to not only cast the industry in a poor light if we didn’t do something, but which threatens to make it that much harder for the inbound generation to find their footing, because a bunch of people who came before, pretty much made it FUBAR.

And during my research for the piece, and for which I have hundreds of web articles, forum posts etc in an Evernote notepad, I came across a lot of things that I wasn’t even aware of. And once the article went live, I started hearing from all kinds of people in media, game development, gamers etc. And the more I read, the more I came to the realization that my article, which was merely a technical wake-up call of sorts, hadn’t even touched the tip of the iceberg. Which is why I am adding this next paragraph.

If you feel that you have been misled when you backed the Star Citizen project after Oct, 2012, and you want a chance to get your money back, the FTC has setup a special department that deals with crowd-funding complaints. You can fill out this form. Then select “Internet services, online shopping, or computers” then “Online shopping”. You can read more about that overhere.

Cloud Imperium, LLC
9255 Sunset Blvd STE 803
West Hollywood, CA 90069
http://robertsspaceindustries.com
[email protected]

Space Combat Games: The Evolution

In the beginning, there were only a few space combat “sims” available; and they were mostly for the geeks among us. Most of us grew up with the likes of Elite, which was so ground-breaking at the time, that there simply wasn’t another game like it for a very long time.

Throughout the years, space combat games, while declared, and considered a niche genre, continued to make headway in leaps and bounds. Some of those leaps and bounds came in the form of games ranging from the Star Wars and Wing Commander series, all the way down the line to the likes of the Independence War games, the X and FreeSpace series etc.

Wikipedia has a massive list of space games from all sub-genres, and the fine folks at the Escapist have a “15 Best Space Combat Sims of All-Time” article they compiled almost a year ago this month. As you can see, this genre has been popular among a select group for many years.

My Legacy

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Throughout the noise, my own Battlecruiser series, which later evolved to the Universal Combat series once I figured out how to throw in the kitchen sink without breaking my back, continued to carve out its own niche fan base, comprised of very hardcore gamers. Precisely the people I created them for.

Despite their popularity, my games never really did hit the mainstream in a big way like those publisher-backed behemoths that came and went. And this was due to the fact that they were very complex, buggy from early days, and as some would say, unwieldy. When you get to map the entire keyboard with commands, and have a game manual that’s 100+ pages, that’s probably unwieldy.

Then add to the fact that they were so massive, for me it was an on-going battle to make them work within the hardware and software constraints. Simply put, they were ahead of their time and there simply weren’t computers powerful enough to run them. I recall endless days and nights battling with the likes of DOS memory extenders, misbehaving audio and video drivers that hogged all system resources, switching from one compiler and linker environment to the next.

Once PC operating systems started to transition from DOS to Windows, shit hit the proverbial fan, because now I was stuck with a plethora of DOS based bespoke tools, engines, and technologies that needed to be ported to Windows because that’s where we were all headed.

It was a harrowing mess. Lucky for me, I had friends who were helping me out at the time and we slowly made the transition.

Most of those seemingly insurmountable problems were a result of having to build every facet of the game and engine from the ground up. There simply wasn’t anything out there to power the games I wanted to make. And robust third-party middleware were few and far between.

These Battlecruiser games have a massive universe updated in real-time, and which in the beginning featured space, air, and ground vehicle combat. That was back in the nineties. The first game in the series was released back in 1996. Let that sink in.

Interplay (the old guard, led by Brian Fargo, Phil Adam et al) were instrumental in helping me bring the game to a large group when they published the Battlecruiser 3000AD v2.0 update in 1999, over three years after Take Two’s disastrous release of the first game while still in Beta. That led to my taking legal action, which was later settled out of court and the rights reverted back to me.

Battlecruiser Millennium, released in 2001, added a first person infantry mode which allowed you to start the game in your craft, fly around in space, enter a planet, land, exit in FPS mode, do stuff in first person, fly aircraft, drive vehicles etc. The first-person infantry mode was rudimentary at best, but it worked and did what it was designed to do: that being give you a more immersive experience which brought me one step closer to that all-encompassing game.

Universal Combat, released in 2004, was the next evolutionary step for the series. This game added a slew of new technologies and features. It was also the first one to include player controlled naval assets, as well as a more robust first person infantry mode, among other things.

Little known fact: the name change was not my idea. The game was originally called Battlecruiser Generations. In my attempt to continue pushing my games into the mainstream via a publisher (back in the day, you actually needed one), my then publisher, the now-defunct (like so many from back in the day) Dreamcatcher Interactive, insisted that I move away from the “Battlecruiser stigma,” they said.

Their idea was for me to re-brand the name of the game. They came up with Battleforce, which I didn’t like. So, when I thought about the direction that the series was going in, and how it had evolved from being a pure space combat game, I came up with Universal Combat.

By 2009, when I hung up my cape and stopped chasing the whale, the genre was all but dead, save for a few franchise properties which had a dedicated following. Fan favorites such as FreeSpace, Star Wars, Wing Commander et al all disappeared from the limelight as the industry moved forward and away from the niche genres (which included adventure games, by the way).

I still had my games, which I kept updating as derivative works in some form or another. Those efforts spawned the Echo Squad games in 2006, which was a pure space and aerial combat game, completely scaled down from the more advanced and complex Battlecruiser/Universal Combat games.

Later in 2009, I again deviated from the space combat genre by focusing on planetary (air, land, sea) combat in the form of the All Aspects games, which had two titles. All Aspect Warfare and Angle Of Attack.

Are you noticing the pattern?

The Holy Grail

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As I’ve said in many interviews, articles and so on, when I first set out to make these games, I had an all-encompassing vision. Being a sci-fi buff, I wanted a game in which one could travel through the stars, meet strange new people, explore, trade, fight, command your crew, and all that. All in space, and on planets, in first person infantry mode, with air, space, and vehicular combat thrown into the mix. I envisioned a mix of Elite with Star Flight, a dash of Sentinel Worlds and Hard Nova, and all the ludicrously complex machinations of the Star Fleet series.

The fact that I actually pulled off the first iteration in 1996, while most were either laughing at me, or saying how it couldn’t be done, is something that has been lost in time.

Through it all, my vision was still not complete because, even though GPU and CPU technologies were progressing at a fast pace, the game engine technologies still weren’t there. As a result, I continued to make sacrifices in order to keep moving things forward. For example, you can’t have high visual fidelity when you’re trying to build a massive game world. So I tended to sacrifice visuals for gameplay, something that was seemingly unheard of back in the day because you just get laughed at. Which is hilarious now that I think about it, when there are so many best-selling but shallow games with sub-par graphics.

The Holy Grail of immersion for me has always been for the player to be able to exist in first person (aka infantry) mode throughout the entire game world. You’d be able to walk around inside your ship. You’d be able to dock that ship with a station, exit, walk around inside that station. You’d be able to fly your ship directly into a planet, land, exit that ship, enter a building, do stuff etc.

Much like back in 1996 whereby nobody had even come close to my vision, as of this writing, nobody has come close to making that game, let alone a capital ship combat game that gives you so much control and freedom.

Except me.

And it still continues to be a technical challenge of seemingly insurmountable proportions, over twenty-five years later since I first had an idea for the game that was to become Battlecruiser 3000AD.

And the only way that anyone is ever going to be able to make that game is if they built technologies specifically designed for it, and they have the deep financial pockets to do it with. And after that, it has to be compelling enough for gamers to want to upgrade their rig in order to play it. Unless you’re releasing the next Elder Scrolls, Call Of Duty, Battlefield, GTA or similar, good luck with getting modern-day gamers to bother upgrading to play your game without sufficient evidence of what makes your game so special.

Fact is, these all-encompassing games are exceptionally difficult to make. You can safely take that from someone who has spent over two decades making them. And even if you do manage to get the money to do it, and even manage to pull it off, the genre itself pretty much guarantees that the race to profit is fraught with agony, strife, frustration, and pain.

Getting There From Here

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With the genre all but dead—or at least on life support—back in 2010 I decided to take another stab at the Holy Grail: only this time, rather than doing the song and dance of doing a product every few years, then having to do it all over again, I decided to jump into the SaS (Software as Service) fray, commonly known in gaming as MMO gaming.

To that end, I came up with Line of Defense.

As funny as it sounds, when I was designing that game, formulating it in my head etc, I knew, right off the bat, that I wasn’t going back to the complexities of the Battlecruiser/Universal Combat games. I was resigned to the fact that, not only did I not have the time (I am after all, over fifty now) to attempt that again, but I simply wasn’t prepared to risk doing a game for a genre that was seemingly dead. That, and the fact that, even after two decades, the tech is still not there to power the game. As amazing as that sounds, it’s true.

However, I still didn’t want to abandon a lore that I had created, polished, honed, etc over the years. So I decided that, even though this game wasn’t going to be a modern day Universal Combat, the very least that I could do was build it within that lore, and on a smaller scale which could be expanded over the years… without having to start from scratch.

So I carved out a small area of the lore’s universe, and decided to build this game on that framework. To give you an example of this postage stamp vs. football field scope, take a look at the lore’s entire universe, then compare to the section that’s carved out for this game. Note that every single space region, and every single planet in the original game universe, is populated.

Now imagine a game, in a universe of that size, with populated space and planetary areas, complete with internal areas for stations, buildings, ships etc. And with high visual fidelity, great runtime performance… and multiplayer. Then ask yourself this: How the heck are we going to build that, let alone get it to actually run?

You can’t. And you’re not.

Welcome to my 1996 dilemma.

For the first time in any of my games—or any game for that matter—in Line of Defense, you exist purely in first person (infantry) mode. You are free to run around inside stations, ships (for now, just one massive multi-deck carrier), and on planets. You have space and planetary (FPS, air, land, sea) immersion, in a relatively large game world.

As this my first game to add the “interior” element to my games, take a look at just how massive the level maps are.

A typical scenario would be you engaged in a space dogfight, you dock at a station, exit the fighter, run (probably engaging in combat) through the station, locate an airlock, use an HAIS device to enter the planet, continue playing in infantry mode, with access to aircraft, vehicles etc. And while there, move from one base to another, or go back to the station, make your way back to the docking bay, grab your craft, and go back into space, and maybe fly back down to the planet you just left via other means.

Technology: The Nightmare Within

How did we do it? Well, having built game engines to power my games, that’s precisely how it all started back in 2010. Almost a year later, it dawned on me that, I was wasting resources building an engine to fit a game which, for all intent and purposes, wasn’t even 25% as complex as my previous games.

I woke up one morning, some days after my initial project review, and deprecated the entire game engine. Totally scrapped every bit of it.

At that point, there was no engine, and certainly no game. Just a bunch of content (art, models, levels, scene data) etc. All of which had to be put back together again. Somehow.

After reviewing various game engines, none of which were flexible enough to power the game, I went with a potpourri of middleware engines, which used Havok Vision Engine (previously known as Trinigy) as the underlining architecture. By the time the dust settled, we’d cobbled together so many engines—all of which had to play nice with each other—that we ended up spending a lot of time writing custom code to make it all work seamlessly.

You can read more about that in this “In Pursuit of Awesomeness” and “The World of Line of Defense” dev blogs.

And all that was on top of the costs lost during the first year of building a custom engine for the game.

Here’s the thing with game engines: no matter what anyone tells you, one size does not fit all. As powerful as the three (UE4, CryEngine3, Unity5) popular game engines are, each one is suited for a specific type and style of game.

For my games, the limitations are not in graphics, they are in scene management and scope. I am going to try and not delve into dev speak at this point, so I will explain it as best I can in layman terms.

If you were to use those engines to build a game with the scene (the game world) scope required by my Battlecruiser/Universal Combat games, or even something like Elite: Dangerous, it won’t work. At all. For one thing, the larger the scene size, the more limitations and calculation anomalies (e.g. the farther you go from the center, the worse it becomes etc.) you will run into.

The only way around all those limitations is to build your own engine, suited specifically to the game world you are building.

To give you a better perspective of scope and scale, think about this. The size of the four space regions (Lyrius, Lennen, Zilon, Sygan are in the Terran quadrant) in Line of Defense, compared to that of the space region in my previous game, is like comparing the size of a grain of sand, sitting at the center of our planet Earth, and viewed from the perspective of someone outside the solar system.

There is no middleware game engine that will make a game that has any scene of that scope, possible. You have to build it yourself.

Building games like this, you have to balance visual fidelity with gameplay and scope. You absolutely cannot have it all, and even if you do have it all, something will suffer. Either visual fidelity, or performance.

What this means is that when you see the visual fidelity in games like Star Citizen, you have to wonder how they are going to make a game of this scope, with that level of visual fidelity, in a persistent game world, with multiplayer and expect decent performance results. If you read my dev blogs, you already have an inkling of precisely what goes into building games like this.

And not everyone has the experience to do it, because unless you’ve done it all before—which they haven’t—since no game of its kind exists, outside of my own games, you’re going to be on a steep, and seemingly insurmountable learning curve, and false starts.

And even when you do build a smaller scope game, as we have done with LOD, you still have to make sacrifices or it simply will not run. In this regard, I went with a minimalist art style which I felt was a good balance between visual fidelity and performance.

And when it’s all said and done, you have to test it. And for a game of this scope, you immediately see why companies big and small run open and closed Beta programs by crowd-sourcing testers.

For an indie team of less than a dozen (a core team of only seven) people on the game, there was no way we were going to be able to test it effectively. So I had a chat with my Valve counterparts, showed them the game, and explained what I wanted to do. In the end, our only option was to integrate a suite of SteamWorks tools and release the game on Steam Early Access. With a year from release, in September 2014, I put the game up. You can read the results in this dev blog post-mortem which I wrote back in March.

Emergence: The Bridge Too Far

In the past years I’ve spent building LOD, some interesting things started happening in the space combat sector. A group of smaller bite-sized games kept coming and going. Some were great: others, not so much. None of the major industry players (publishers and developers) were even thinking about the genre, let alone making any game that catered to it. And no, Star Wars: Battlefront doesn’t count, so go away.

At some point, about three years ago, people started looking to crowdfunding for funding game development games. No way that could go wrong, right? Oh, but it did, and spectacularly so. Yes, of course there are more game funding successes than there are failures, but the fact is that when you have a small pool to sample with, any failure is considered a big one.

So imagine my surprise and excitement when two things happened in the sector, back in 2012.

Elite: Dangerous

In Nov 2012, David Braben threw his hat into the ring and announced Elite: Dangerous via Kickstarter.

He was looking to raise $2 million, but ended up with around $2.5 million.

The original pitch was every space combat fan’s wet dream: a spiritual successor to the original Elite game. Yup, funded it.

The delivery schedule was March 2014. It was released on the PC in December 2014. And as of April 2015, it had sold about 500,000 units.

Despite the fact that ED was delivered late, mostly unfinished, very buggy (it still is), and for non-space sim fans is as boring as watching paint dry, they delivered as promised. In fact, they exceeded my expectations because I wasn’t expecting, nor wanting, more than that which they delivered. What most of us wanted was a bigger and better Elite, with modern day tech. And they delivered in spades.

Now, they’re rumored to be considering adding planetary access and such, though it’s anyone’s guess what form that will take. From where I’m sitting, and given my experience in chasing that particular whale, I’ll believe it when I see it.

Star Citizen

Previously, in October 2012, Chris Roberts of Wing Commander fame, having left the industry back in the 90s for Hollywood, announced Star Citizen via Kickstarter.

He was looking to raise $500,000, but ended up with $2.1 million on Kickstarter. More on this later.

The original pitch was for a game that blended Wing Commander with Privateer with a dose of Freelancer, three of his previous games. And we were all on-board with that, me to the tune of $250 in funding.

The delivery schedule was November 2014. We’re still waiting.

As of this writing, the game’s crowdfunding has not only ballooned to an unprecedented $85 million, but so has the scope.

The entire bulk of the crowdfunding, after sailing past that initial $2.1 million Kickstarter funding, was in selling futures. No, seriously, hear me out. Someone figured out that the hype around this game was so huge that they may as well start selling ice to Eskimos. And they did just that.

Not that I’m saying there’s anything wrong with that. After all, that’s what raising funds for a project is about: selling. But it’s a double-edged sword. And usually, if you’re dealing with seasoned and experienced investors or even publishers, if they’re not convinced or even interested, you’re not getting the money. And if you do get it, that money comes with strings… usually pretty long and taut strings. With crowdfunding, no such strings exist, and you can pretty much do what you want. And that’s usually where trouble starts.

So they are making concept art for ships, some were actual models, and then selling them at a premium. People keep buying them. This, despite the fact that there is still no “game” to play them with. In short, the result is that you have ships you’ve bought, with no game to play them with.

Basically, they went from a baseline space combat with trading game with these bullet points:

  • A rich universe focused on epic space adventure, trading and dogfighting in first person.
  • Single-player: offline or online (drop in/drop out co-op play)
  • Persistent Universe (hosted by US)
  • Modable multiplayer (hosted by YOU)

To the behemoth they’ve now promised which includes the following (an incomplete list, by the way) features, all of which make up the development phases:

  • Rich, persistent universe with 100 (!) populated star systems
  • Dynamic economy with millions (!) of entities
  • Newtonian physics
  • Space combat
  • Trading
  • Exploration
  • Ship upgrades (engines, weapons, etc.) and customization
  • Multi-crew ships (your friends can exist in your ship)
  • Activities including mining, harvesting raw materials, factories, and so on
  • First person inside ships with combat
  • First person inside stations with combat
  • First person on level-based planetary hubs with combat
  • Career based progression with stats
  • Single player and co-op mode (Squadron 42)
  • Multiplayer (Star Citizen)

It has been designed in a modular fashion, which has led to some confusion. Here is an excerpt that breaks it down further.

Core Concept

The core concept of Star Citizen is that it’s a destination, not a one-off story. It’s a complete universe where any number of stories can take place. Players will have the opportunity to decide their own game experience. Pick up jobs as a smuggler, pirate, merchant, bounty hunter, or soldier. It’s a universe we’ve always wanted to create. We want to build a huge sandbox with a complex and deep lore that allows the players to explore in whatever capacity they want.

Squadron 42

The project also includes Squadron 42, a single player campaign that takes place within the Star Citizen universe. Able to be played off-line or with friends, you essentially sign up to fly for the UEE fleet, manning the front lines, protecting settlements from Vanduul warbands. If you prove yourself, you might get asked to join the legendary 42nd Squadron. Set up like the French Foreign Legion, they can always be found in the toughest war zones and always manage to come out on top. Once you complete your tour however, you re-enter the persistent Star Citizen universe with some money in your pocket and Citizenship to find your way.

Open World Architecture

The great thing about this is that you don’t have to do Squadron 42.

You can basically decide that you’re going to be a merchant or pirate and never join the military. Having that choice for the player is fantastic. What we’re talking about here is a combination of everything that made Wing Commander great along with everything that made Privateer great. The single-player military campaign sits inside this open world architecture in a holistic fashion.

While you will probably spend a majority of time in the cockpit there will be first-person mechanics built into the game. When you are flying on some of the bigger ships (transports, carriers, etc.), you will be able to wander the halls of the ship while a friend pilots, jump on a turret if you get attacked, even repel attempted boarders if needed.

I am not even going to touch on what can go wrong when you have different studios, in different states and countries, working on various aspects of the same massive game. If you know a producer who has ever worked with external contractors and/or studios on a project, have a chat with him or her, listen to the horror stories; then multiply that by a factor of ten. Only then will you begin to get the full picture of what could go horribly wrong here.

As of this writing, having sailed past the original November 2014 delivery date, in over three (Chris indicated that they started the project one year before the Kickstarter crowdfunding) years of development, they’ve thus far delivered the following:

  • A hangar where you can see and walk around the ships you’ve bought
  • A combat training simulator, Arena Commander, where you can dogfight with some—not all—of the ships you’ve bought thus far in the game. And there’s racing. Not to mention the fact that, as of this writing, that module still can’t even handle 8 vs. 8 combat engagements without terrible issues.

And they’ve made a lot of impressive videos, some pre-rendered (?), and some using the power of the CryEngine3 cinematics profile. More on this later.

Without disrespect to anyone, I’m just going to say it: it is my opinion that, this game, as has been pitched, will never get made. Ever.

There isn’t a single publisher or developer on this planet who could build this game as pitched, let alone for anything less than $150 million.

The original vision which I backed in 2012? Yes, that was totally doable. This new vision? Not a chance.

The technical scope of this game surpasses GTAV, not to mention the likes of Halo.

Do you have any idea what those games cost to make and how long they took?

Do you know how many games which cost $50 million to make took almost five years to release? And they were nowhere in scope as Star Citizen?

And whatever it is you’re thinking about right now, stop. Let me give you something else to think about as a segue.

I started to make this game, first in 1989, released in 1999. Then again in 2003, again in 2004. Again, and again, and again. Each time making progress as tech caught up with my ideas.

Finally, in 2009 I gave up and released the culmination of my works as a Collector’s Edition. To mark the 25th year anniversary of the Battlecruiser series back in August 2014, earlier this year, I updated and released that CE edition for free on Steam.

Go play (or read the complete docs) it if you’re up to it. If the 97 page tutorial doesn’t make your heart stop, check your pulse: you may already be dead. It remains the only game of its kind ever made. And the only all-encompassing capital ship combat game there is. You’re welcome.

And in every interview, every article, every dev blog, I’ve said the same thing: these are the most complex, difficult, and technologically challenging games to make. And being an indie—and for the most part media—whipping boy, there are those who vilified me for chasing my dreams and for trying to achieve a seemingly insurmountable goal. All because they didn’t understand what exactly it is I was dealing with, or trying to make. Even mad scientists have it easier than I did.

Here we are. And it’s 2015.

And since it’s not Derek Smart or some low hanging gamedev fruit who has gone out and crowd-funded $85 million of someone else’s money to make a game that’s all but impossible to make, the mainstream media have remained largely mum about the whole thing, other than doing article after article after article about the game, the funding etc. Nobody has asked the tough questions as to how on Earth they’re going to pull off something this unprecedented.

But if this fails, the media are going to be the same ones to tear into them. I have seen it happen time and time again. It’s a very vicious cycle.

The RSI devs have all the same insurmountable problems that I have encountered over two decades of chasing this whale, and which have not only led to their delays, but also the recent announcement that the first person module was on hold came as no surprise to me.

I have it on good authority that it’s not even on hold, but that they’re probably not going to finish it both because it won’t work within the current framework and it wasn’t in the original design as spec’ed, since it has ballooned to what it is today. So naturally, it’s the first thing to go, or put on indefinite hold while they figure things out.

Remember: the game, first and foremost, is a space combat game, not a first person combat game.

At least you will still have your hangar (which is completely and 100 percent detached from the game framework, by the way), in which you can still walk around in first person mode to look at your ships. And Arena Commander.

Why wasn’t I surprised that they’ve started cutting things out, starting with this? Well, because after spending over two decades making a game like this, you pretty much know what to expect.

Right from the start in 2012 when they said that they were using CryEngine3 as their baseline, I was skeptical. But if they kept the scope, and scene sizes manageable, I felt that it was totally doable.

Once the feature creep and increased scope started to unfold, I knew they were in trouble.

Remember what I said earlier that there is no game engine on the planet that would power the game I wanted to build, and that I’d have to build it? Yes, same thing here. That is precisely why all the top-tier developers build their game engines around the game they’re making. And even those who end up licensing middleware game engines do so based on the fact that they are making a game that fits within the framework of the engine they’re licensing. Nobody is going to license UE4 to develop a flight sim.

That CE3 engine is, first and foremost, a first-person engine. Second, it is geared toward small scale session-based games. Now imagine using a level-based engine, suited for first-person games, and trying to build an open persistent world with it. That’s like me trying to outfit my Tesla with the engine from a Prius. Bad things can and will happen.

Don’t take my word for it: here is a list of games using all three generations of the CryEngine. See what I mean?

RSI decided to build this massive, all-encompassing game using an FPS engine as the baseline.

Using an excerpt from my “In Pursuit of Awesomeness” dev blog, let me list a subset of all what they have to cobble together in that CryEngine3 based custom game engine.

  • First-person. This also includes the various animations, all of which have to be tweaked for each of the characters in the game. They also have to match the weapons, items etc.
  • Player character physics, inventory and weapons handling.
  • Aircraft physics and dynamics.
  • Space combat environment.
  • Planetside base landing, which has to handle transition from player craft, to first person to planetside base… seamlessly. Oh, and combat there as well.
  • Interior rendering for the various ships, stations, planetside bases etc. Again, with support for combat.
  • Everything seamlessly updated, synchronized, processed in real-time for a persistent universe in which, at any one time, players and NPC entities will be traveling, trading, fighting, exploring.

And no, having the source code doesn’t help much because you get to a point whereby you’ve made so many changes, and branched off the middleware developers base engine, that you can’t go back without problems. So they have their version, and you have yours. Good luck with those merges which can and often break everything.

Again, don’t take my word for it. Here is a technical excerpt from the Frankfurt team’s June 2015 engineering report.

In June, Frankfurt Engineering deployed to the main codebase some major items that were planned for this month. As mentioned in the last monthly report, the Large World (moving the codebase to 64 bit coordinates), Camera Relative (rendering coordinates relative to the camera thus allowing galaxy size rendering without loss of precision), Zone system (the new Star Citizen spatial partitioning scheme, replacing Cryengine Octree) were close to hit the Star Citizen code mainline and have now been deployed, and will find their way into the various Star Citizen game modules soon.

The integration of relevant CryEngine 3.7 SDK parts, combined with our new changes, is being deployed into our codebase as we are writing this. Additionally a large effort this month was spent on supporting multi-crew vehicle ships: local physics grid, physics debugger, entities and prefabs, support for new 3D VisArea shapes, all this combined with the Zone System, are being worked on in the context of operating moveable ships. Amongst the other things, the multi-crew development process exposed a few bugs and incorrect functionalities that have been living in the CryEngine codebase for years …

A planetary starbase in Line of Defense
A planetary starbase in Line of Defense

We too had technical issues with Havok Vision Engine, and we don’t even have the source. We’ve written so much custom code for LOD that we don’t even pay any attention to the Havok engine point releases anymore. The only time we actually get to do a code merge (much to Jon’s chagrin), is if they have serious bug fixes or performance tweaks which we must have. Then it’s like a week of no progress during that merge. And usually, all hell breaks loose and most things fall apart.

And unfortunately for us, if we miss merging a point release, by the time we get around to it, we have to pay support (yearly) fees in order to get the latest version.

We as game devs, can go for days without a solid build, let alone one that actually, you know, works. We all go through this sort of thing consistently. It’s a rite of passage.

It doesn’t matter that you have an “open” development process with feedback loop to backers. Plus, from what I know, it’s not that open anyway, because there’s only so much that you can tell the public without inciting panic which is likely to turn off the money spigot. It’s no different from not coming clean with your investors, or publisher, because you don’t want to deal with the drama or lose funding. Or you’re just being dishonest.

The average gamer has no clue that game development is not as glamorous as it seems. Even when they have nothing invested in a game, they’ll have an opinion on it. Imagine what happens if they’ve got money in it. Which is precisely why Early Access gets such a bad rap.

The End Game… Wait! What End Game?

The problem that RSI is now faced with is something that us vets all saw coming a mile away. This level of exposure, all the press, the promises, the hype, the glorious anti-establishment chanting and rhetoric etc.: all of it has a very bad downside.

And it’s not like the rumblings haven’t been there. Every time there is new press about a funding milestone or yet another ship concept cash grab, there is some derogatory rhetoric associated with it because most backers are fed up and just want the game they were promised back in 2012.

Others are just waiting for the day when it all comes crashing down, so they can point, chuckle, and say they saw it coming.

And last I checked, some people had spent over $5,000 on this game. Even if you don’t want to believe that, believe this: they’ve raised about $85 million from 918,806 backers. That is an average of $92 per gamer.

A couple of weeks ago last month, when there was news about the FTC going after failed promises made by someone who crowdfunded a game, there were various discussions about the terrible precedent which would be set if this game failed to deliver and if a bunch of people reported it. And that’s no joke. We’re talking $85 million. That’s a lot of cash. Other people’s money.

If you spend $30 and get a generic game, you’ll post a bad review, tell all your friends etc. Eventually, you will move on. It happens. But in this instance, given all what has transpired, and all this money, gamers aren’t going to let it slide. Even if they lost $19.

No; they’re going to ask WTF happened to all that money? because now it’s their money, not some faceless investor’s, or even a publisher.

And they’re going to be pissed because they expected more than a hangar and a largely buggy Arena Commander module which isn’t representative of the game they were pitched back in 2012, and which has to have been delivered two years later in Nov 2014.

As I’ve said before, I want this game to succeed for a lot of selfish reasons, least of all being that I funded it. I mostly want it to succeed because we don’t have any games like this in the genre, and not even my games can fill that void because they are super complex, pretty old, don’t look as pretty etc. You know, different budgets, different production values etc. And I really don’t care who makes it. All I know is that before I die, I want to play it. Is that too much to ask?

A planetary starbase in Line of Defense
A planetary starbase in Line of Defense

I also want it to succeed in whatever form because if it doesn’t, it’s going to be another massive gamedev and videogame crowdfunding black eye. I know people who are already rumbling that if this fails that it is going to be more epic than the collapse of 38 Studios in the Summer of 2012. And that $75 million was mostly tax-payer money.  And almost three years now, that one is still playing out in the courts.

What I mean by this comparison is related to the following, all of which happened to 38 Studios, it’s creators, primary execs, politicians etc. and how the media handled it:

  • The amount of public money raised is not something to ignore. Like that studio’s sudden implosion in 2012, it’s a lot of money. The kind of money that makes every lawyer, politician, analyst etc., perk up their ears and try to get involved in the fray.
  • Given the number of studios working on this project worldwide, the sudden loss of jobs would be catastrophic for some people, most of whom had to relocate to get their jobs.
  • The hype surrounding this project since its 2012 inception is going to guarantee that every media outlet is going to want a piece of the action, and most of that is going to be based on sheer speculation, wanton conjecture, bullshit anonymous “sources” etc., because the focus would be on vilifying Chris and crew, rather than focusing on what mistakes were made.

And I need not even mention APB as another example.

A planetary starbase in Line of Defense
A planetary starbase in Line of Defense

To add to the noise, there are reports that people (Travis Day, a senior producer left recently) at RSI have been leaving, the executive producer (!) (UPDATE. It has been confirmed to me that Alex Mayberry, the Exec Producer, hired a year ago, is no longer at the company) is on his way out, and they’re spending more than they’re bringing in because crowdfunding has peaked etc.

The understated economics of game development is quite simple. For as long as I’ve been around, and seen so many projects fail because they ran out of funds, you’d think that by now this is something every developer and publisher would be aware of, and plan for it:

  • If you’re spending $2 and bringing in $1, you’re in trouble.
  • If your studio is burning through $2 million a month, then you need $24 million a year in funding. If you’re selling less than $2 million a month, you’re in trouble.
  • If your studio has $24 million to make a game over a period of two years, and you’re burning more than $1 million per month, you’re in trouble.
  • If your budget is down to the wire, in that you don’t have a buffer of at least 15% of your funds in reserve, and which you can use for unforeseen expenses during development, you’re asking for trouble.

None of the departures, delays etc. should necessarily be regarded as a sign of trouble for the project. When you start to scale back or hunker down, people leaving, delays, stuff getting cut etc. is all par for the course. What you can expect though, for something of this scope, is that it’s going to get scaled back. That’s assuming that it ever sees the light of day.

And if they scale it back, that’s going back on promises. And when that happens, it’s going to be a complete disaster. Guaranteed.

So to those of you who don’t know how this works, it doesn’t make any sense to scream “failure” when you have no clue just what (a lot) goes into developing these games.

It may succeed, it may fail; but for now, all we can do is watch how it plays out. But given the fiasco surrounding Freelancerthe other very ambitious game that Chris tried to make, and the disappointment that was the final game as delivered versus what was promised, after which Chris left the industry—we should all be worried. Especially this time around, there’s no Electronic Arts and no Microsoft to act as a tether, or for us to point the finger at and to hold accountable.

For me, I already know—for a fact—that they can’t build this game they’ve pitched, and which I was looking forward to someone making. So all I’m looking forward to now is getting my $250 worth of gaming. And right now, a hangar and Arena Commander, after three years of development and now eight months late, is not something that inspires confidence in me.

To the rest of you, I only have this to say:

stop buying virtual items for a goddamn game you don’t have. What in the holy phuck is the matter with you?!? You know how many indie games you could’ve bought and supported and been PLAYING by now?!?

A Vision Out Of Scope, A Man Out Of Time

A planetary starbase in Line of Defense
A planetary starbase in Line of Defense

Knowing that the time for me to build that massive all-encompassing game within a reasonable amount of time and with my indie level resources had come and gone, I made a similar decision to reduce the scope. That was the plan around Line of Defense.

Even so, the only reason why you don’t get to fly capital (cruisers, carriers, transports) ships in the game, as you could in Battlecruiser/Universal Combat, is because:

  • There are no playable capital ships in the game.
  • The game world is too small for them.
  • It’s a different kind of game.

Though it is smaller, we still needed to build a custom engine to power the immense scope of the game.

Even the single capital ship in the game, an Engstrom class carrier, is only in the game because I was clinging onto the notion that one day, the game would evolve via DLC which would allow me to not only continue expanding the world (though it would still be smaller in scale), but also add all the capital ships from the lore. So for now, my gamers running around inside the Starguard carrier in LOD, though unable to fly it, can well imagine what could’ve been.

Right now, even with that carrier, it’s not player-controlled because it’s not enabled. It’s just like any other aircraft or vehicle in the LOD game: it can be flown, if the mechanics for it are enabled. Which means that, even with that massive multi-deck behemoth, you could have 255 players in it, and one person flying it. Yeah. We built that.

If you have ever played* Line of Defense, then you already know how it is, and what all you can do in it. In fact, here are the complete game docs.

Now imagine if, back in 2010, I had set out to make a new game in the Battlecruiser/Universal Combat series with that level of fidelity. First, there won’t be a single machine powerful enough to run it reasonably well, even if each of the habitable planets only had one planetary base the size of the one in LOD. Second, the costs would be insurmountable for my small indie company.

A planetary starbase in Line of Defense.
A planetary starbase in Line of Defense.

The thing is, if I had $85 million to spend developing a game, regardless of whose money it was, I probably wouldn’t do it. But that’s just me.

In 2012, I did an interview with Russ Pitts for Polygon in which I stated the following:

I’ve learned from everything I’ve done over the years and I’m still the same person who started out in the 80’s. When I’m gone, my games will be out there. Those who like them will be out there. Those who don’t like them will still be out there. But one thing I know is I’m still going to sleep at night because if I lost money, it was my own money. If I earned money, it was my own money. I never took advantage of anyone. I never caused anyone’s company to go under. I never put anyone out of work because of mistakes I’ve made. Every mistake I’ve made I’ve owned and I’ve always held myself accountable and I’m OK with that.

I have come to terms with the fact that, at my age, I will never be able to realize my dreams of building that awesome all-encompassing space and planetary combat game that I envisioned decades ago. And it wasn’t from my lack of trying, let alone expertise.

So I really do hope and pray that RSI can pull this off, because if someone like me, with all my experience and expertise on this very same subject and who has spent half a lifetime trying can’t do it without sacrificing something (visual fidelity, performance, scope etc) in the process, and they, with all this money and star talent can’t do it either, then it’s safe to say that it simply can’t be done. At least not in our lifetime.

That is all.

The bridge of the Starguard carrier level in Line of Defense
The bridge of the Starguard carrier level in Line of Defense

ALL STAR CITIZEN BLOGS

54 thoughts on “Interstellar Citizens

  1. I share many of your frustrations about star citizen, thank you. I find your post to be well written, honest, and a valid opinion shared by others. I find the tales of the death of your credibility to be greatly exaggerated.

    I’d also love to read a little more about how the difficulties with you own project were dealt with. Maybe it’s too technical, but I’d be curious to learn why you eventually had to compromise your vision even with 20+ years of technical advancements since your first attempt and the sort of games like mass effect 2 that seems like its in the ballpark.

    I was confused when the funding completed successfully on KS but their fundraising never seemed to stop. I have backed many games on KS, several of which were large, multi-year titles backed by industry big names. I was largely content with the fact that I was supporting something which I wouldn’t get to play for year. I believed in their credentials that it would succeed.

    Usually, when I would periodically check on the games, they would consistently look more and more like the game I was pitched years before. This has not been the case with SC. Every update email, occasional visit to the website, and alpha download looked more and more unfamiliar. To be honest, I didn’t even know that it would have a FPS element in the game until it was announced that it was being held up in dev.

    Maybe I should have taken a more active role in the development via the the forums, but I had no reasonable expectation that the project scope would shift so dramatically following the brief KS backing window. You’re absolutely right that I would have reconsidered my support if I had known what was eventually going to happen to the project scope.

  2. Over the past few months I started building the game I’ve been designing for nearly twenty years. Saved money, got grants and student loans to go to school to learn the ins and outs of coding. I could have saved all that time and money had I known the right questions to ask, but now I know and can do the rest on my own.

    I started looking into crowd sourcing my game, it is a rather ambitious concept, a lot of what is promised in Star Citizen is what I want to do. I looked at their funds, I look at all the hype, and then I read your articles on the subject.

    I am now no longer intimidated by how my game would be in competition with Star Citizen.

    True, I liked much of what was done in Freelancer (especially the Discovery mod that is out there), and I like the 6DOF (essential in any space game in my opinion), but I want to do an MMO with broad scope but focusing more on individual tales of exploration and self-discovery. Yes, I want in-ship combat (already have several deckplans mapped out on paper), yes I want multiple players on a single ship (much like Artemis with a bit of the fighter pilot crew thrown in).

    I realize, this is a huge undertaking, and I realize it will be difficult and the journey is long and will take 2-3 years of my life. But, it has already taken 20. I have already done the impossible (according to classmates, people currently in the industry, as well as my teachers) by creating a reputation system based on the gossip of NPC’s using their own motivational priorities and loyalty tiers (yes, I have a playable proof of concept of this system).

    But for some strange reason, I found your articles encouraging and challenging. Encouraging in that big names can fail and little names can succeed (so long as they finish). And challenging in that my game may be deemed impossible by you, but will be developed with or without funding (no matter what, I am going to finish this game, even if I have to program the last piece of code on my death bed).

    Thank you for being insightful, an asshole, and relatively honest. I truly appreciate it and hope that some day in the future, you will take me to task for my ambitions.

  3. Examine some similar projects which did succeeded:

    Kerbal space program, which used alpha-funding. This is somewhat similar in complexity. They had a sequence of releases where each release was ‘release worthy’, with sub-goals working towards the very clear ‘space program’-simulator.

    FTL, which asked for $10,000 and reached a goal of $200,000. This release is similar in that it got way overfunded. Subset games decided to first create the promised game, then use the extra money to create a free upgrade to the advanced edition.

    It seems to me that the main reason those projects succeeded is:
    1) Clear goals and subgoals. Success did not make the developers of these games make extra (unrealistic) promises.

    2) Deliver something playable, enjoyable AND already worth the admission price, first. Extra features later.

    My second major problem with star citizen is that it really makes Dungeon Keeper mobile seem benign in charging extra for in game content. (but you already mentioned that)

    1. People are failing to see the issue here. The original vision was totally doable. Until they got stupid, greedy, and irresponsible by increasing the scope, while ignoring what the initial backers paid for. As I wrote here, the result of my articles have even had him (in the July 20 update) admitting – on the record, and on camera – that feature creep, among other things.

  4. Hi Derek, I just wanted to point out that in no way did you ever own any stuff. I find it hard to believe that someone who has done as much research as you claim to have done missed the very important part of the terms of service which state that CIG retain ownership of any and all digital assets. What you bought for your $250 was a license to play the game. At no point did you own the Constellation. Therefore, they didn’t take your stuff, they took away your right to play with their stuff.
  5. The issue of them “taking your stuff” is that “taking” is not the same as “refunding”. Those two things are not the same in any dictionary. Some people are fighting to get a refund, something every company in the world wants to avoid yet they did it without you even asking for it. That is not the same as “taking” something. And as stated, legally you never owned the stuff they refunded, of that I am sure. This goes back to what I was saying about the tone of your writing being personal. Simply saying “I was refunded against my will” is alot better than saying they “took your stuff”.
    You’re right in that pledging for this project was a very personal act but when trying to raise concerns, no matter how legitimate they are, the more facts and less opinion

    you can get in the better, surely you know this, I’m just pointing it out as someone who is trying to stay objective on the matter.

    A follow up question on this – are you banned to create a new account and buy a new package? Them banning you is a whole different thing than refunding and sets a dangerous

    precedent if a company can ban someone for posting negative remarks on their own blog.

    Sandi being his wife or not really is irrelevant. It’s as irrelevant to me as half the boasting CR was doing in the latest videoclip. For me results matter and with no insight

    into their business it’s impossible for me to say what she herself is doing. I can only judge it by what CIG is actually producing which, as it stands, falls very short of

    expectations.

    So will it fail?
    To be honest I don’t know. And I’m equally sure you don’t know for a fact that it will. We can only take what we know and have learnt and make predictions based on that. All

    your experience tells you it will fail. My experience tells me it may, but my hopes are it will work out. Your hopes seem to be they will crash and burn and CRs legacy will be

    laughed at. And opinions and predictions are fine – but what’s the use of actively working against them? What’s the use of hinting at legal actions all the time? I do my part

    by raising concerns on the forum, asking questions etc but I still hope this gets made.

    The finances we (atleast I) have absolutely no clue about, but some facts to help the equation:
    – For the first year of their operation they were only a 20 man team in Austin with contractors doing website etc. It’s only now that they are 255+ people, so it’s not

    accurate to calculate based on that number for full 3 years.
    – The sales will spike once multi crew ships hits, and those multicrew ships are some $250 a pop.
    – The annual october sale always produces extra millions. Big spike!
    – When “Star Marine” and “Planetside” modules are released there are some 500.000 people that don’t have full alpha access that will need to buy a module pass for $5 per

    module.
    – Alot of people are waiting for the next level of “cross chassis upgrade” to upgrade alot of small ships with LTI to bigger, and more expensive, ships to keep the LTI.

    Another spike.
    – When SQ42 is available there will be a surge of people buying it that didn’t want to be a part of the backer program because “concerns”.
    – Future server operations will be financed with in game currency sales (which will be limited)
    – CR has admitted he wants to avoid subscriptions at all costs – but he hasn’t ruled it out completely.

    Presently only their accountant can tell us what the burn rate is exactly and how much is left of the $85 million. But it’s a safe bet we’ll hit $100 million by the end of the

    year and that really should be enough to get it made.

    Regards // Kris

    1. Hey Kris,

      The “ownership” question raised, is more personal, than it is legal. If I bought something, and it conveys “ownership” to me, that’s a justified description. If they can legally yank it because I don’t legally “own” it, that’s totally different; and raises issue as per their ToS, and not something that’s standard practice.

      Yes, unless and until their ToS is challenged, whatever they say, goes. And it won’t be the first time that a company’s (e.g. most recently it was PayPal causing a stir, resulting in a reversal of new policy) has overstepped the legal limits of what they can or cannot do.

      By saying that I paid $250 for something, that really was nothing, you’ve engaging in a circular argument that has no basis in reality. I paid for something. If my $250 didn’t convey ownership of “something” to me, they wouldn’t have refunded my money, and in turn, taking the stuff that the money gave me access to.

      You try telling people who have pledged $16K+, that they aren’t entitled to anything, and see how far that argument goes.

      And yes, I am banned from creating a new account, pledging etc, as they have made it clear that they do not want me as a backer, following my raising these questions. This was made clear, so I’m not sure why there should be any ambiguity there. If I create a new account using a different email, and they found out about it, clearly, they will do the same thing.

      The less said about Sandi, the better. All I can say is that a lot of people, including some very good attorneys, will disagree with your assessment that it doesn’t matter. It matters; and there are many reasons why.

      As to the success or failure of the project, it’s all subjective. I have zero confidence that it will succeed in its current form; and I stand firm on that opinion. My opinions on this aren’t any less valid that yours, or anyone else’s.

      Calculating estimated burn rates for studios based on size, is not rocket science, or alchemy. We don’t need factual evidence that their burn rate is high, when we have numerous sources to pull from, and which give an “idea” of what it could be. With the now stated 255 employees, plus a now “undisclosed” (a few months back, they stated 200+) number of contractors, a typical burn rate up to $3m is an easy estimation to make.

      I haven’t seen anything that leads me to believe that this project will hit $100m by year end. The funding goals have been fluctuating for months now, and fell to the $1m mark in June. At the current $85m raised this July, for it to reach that $100m milestone, they have to average around $3m per month consistently from July through to Dec.

      People keep harping on that there were never hard release dates, this despite the fact that the original Kickstarter clearly showed what was deliverable in Nov 2014. And in the recent July update, CR has gone on record as saying that there has been scope creep. Then there’s this schedule from 2013.

      No doubt new sale announcements and such (e.g. see the $35K spike based on the July 20th dev reports), will continue. But as I’ve said before, anyone putting money into this project, rather than waiting for at least SQ42 to be released, or 2016, is throwing money into a pit, and have every chance of losing it.

      As to the long-term prospects for sustainability of the project post official release, we’ll just have to leave that to speculation for now

  6. I’m usually a silent observer in these matters, but I just couldn’t walk past this one, and since comments seem to be disabled for all following blog posts regarding the issue of Star Citizen, I’ll just leave mine here and encourage everyone who somehow ended up on this page to follow up with the rest of the series.

    Now I’ll not go so far as to say that I’m an industry veteran, but I have been around for quite some time. A good portion of which was spent as design team lead and creative producer on a 300+ man project.

    Derek, you have some very fine and thought-provoking points to make on the whole dust-up, however I would like to point out, that the way you present all the information and go on at length about your own projects, the experiences you’ve had developing them and your outrage on the matter seem arrogant and self-serving. All the while attributing the rising outcry both among press and community and RSI’s efforts to contain toxicity (however ham-handed) singularly to yourself, which is summarily contradicted by the amount of traffic, retweets, likes etc… pertaining to this particular series of posts and total lack of mention of such in the press (someone somewhere would have picked up on this, were you truly even part of the driving force behind the rising discontent).

    And then there are the constant references to “insider sources” without a single mention of a particular credible individual with knowledge of the actual state of affairs surrounding the project.

    And this is where it all breaks down, devolving from constructive conversation, which may lead a larger number of people towards actually taking notice and taking action, by bloody well staying as far away from the “buy” button as possible until Roberts finally ships some solid gameplay, into just another rage post on the internet.

    I’m sorry, bit that’s what I see, when reading this. To be clear – I’m not invested in Star Citizen in any way. I have not made any donations towards development, nor am I affiliated, or even acquainted for that matter, with any of the staff. I do not hold any expectations for the game (though would very much like to fire up a proper spiritual successor to Wing Commander/Privateer).

    Understand, that I’m not attacking you or your opinion of the matter, to which you are fully entitled, I just wish your concerns were voiced in a more reasonable manner.

    Granted – the whole thing stinks. From the outside looking in, knowing what I know about what it takes to build and release games, it’s looking like this ship has blown more than a few bulkheads. I mean, on average, a gross man-year of work in this industry for a studio the size and complexity of CIG costs somewhere in the range of $80 000 (cut that in half for outsourced and freelance work) give or take. Considering that estimates are at ~250 employees and ~200 contractors, taking into consideration that projects like these usually grow exponentially over time, i’d estimate they’d already burned through roughly 2/3 of raised funds over the past 3 years. Will what they have left be enough? Hard to say without knowing EXACTLY what they’ve already done.

    Roberts has gone on record here: https://robertsspaceindustries.com/comm-link/transmission/14839-Letter-From-The-Chairman to say that lots of things are about to be released to backers very soon, with a pretty specific deadline of Gamescom as a checkpoint. If they meet it, and manage to present several feature-complete modules (minus the WIP ships) with a solid back-end in place, I’d say they have a pretty good shot of pulling through.

    If not… then probably the whole affair will crash and burn. With the repercussions being quite unpleasant for the entire industry, most notably any future crowdfunded efforts. But that’s an outsider’s point of view. I have no access to their financials, staffing, production schedule, production builds or any other materials that could support or contradict this.

    One final point to make about accusations of feature creep that are constantly being thrown around. This is more an issue of questionable player entitlement than anything else. Stretch-goals are the DeFacto norm of crowd-sourced products. It is unrealistic to expect an unchanged scope as more stretch goals are met. A game of this magnitude consist of a multitude of interacting, interlocking systems, which must often function as a cohesive whole. Often, while adding an extra component, or dynamic, or system, or layer, to the mix, other systems HAVE to be retooled or reinvented to work seamlessly together. And once that is done, these components stop functioning properly without one another. So yeah, they had to push back with all the stretch goals the people payed for and expect to be delivered. The question DOES remain whether their workload evaluation was on target for the extra features they now have to account for.

    I’ll say this – I think this project started getting away from the developers round about the 20mil mark. That’s what they should have stopped at. It would have been more than enough to make a solid outing, while employing a single studio’s worth of effort, with all the essential components in place and a wealth of potential for monetizing and expansion post release. This is one piece of cake they are likely to choke on now.

    Anyhoo, thank you for this write up, Derek.

  7. Hi,
    First off – I share some of your concerns about the “Star Citizen” project too. The ever increasing scope of it; the missed deadlines; the lack of playable content; the lack of details of “exactly how would that go” when it comes to things like “exploration”; the poor communication that quite often contradicts what has already been said/decided – all bad signs that we may see the final game sometime around 2020 – if the funding is there. I’d actually want to add “lack of security” to that list as well, but that may be a bit geeky for the average consumer.

    Like you I pledged during the Kickstarter campaign because the RSI site was overloaded. Since then I’ve bought some merchandise and some standalone ships that I had hoped would be exactly what I would want in the final game and I think my total is $1500 by now. But since about a year ago I haven’t bought anything for the above reasons. Not because I think it’s going to fail, but because I think they need to start delivering and, as you say, start being accountable to all promises. Still, I motivate these $1500 to myself not only as donating to this project, but also as still paying Chris & Erin Roberts for the weeks, months probably even years of entertainment I’ve had with their previous titles. It’s also to show the world that indie games can indeed succeed in a very financially viable way. (“indie” in this case being “independant of a publisher”, not “indie” as in “very low budget”.)

    When this thing between you & CIG exploded what I first saw was a backer who was questioning the project to the degree that the term “backer” wasn’t applicable anymore. Pledger, yes but backer, no. But I liked that you were able to put some concerns into words and make the noise to get it heard. I did’t find it strange for CIG to refund you at this point. It looked like a nice gesture for them to refund someone who was apparently not supportive of the project anymore. But Ben’s reply in that thread showed that their reasons wasn’t as noble. I can’t say if they are right or not, if you have used the SC forums & brand to promote your own games, because I haven’t been paying attention to that and I don’t even know what your account(s) name(s) on the RSI site is/are. This might be another case of CIG’s head doing one thing and the mouth saying another which, as your research shows, has happened quite a few times (“LTI” for example).

    But from that initial point when CIG refunded you, your tone has changed. It’s gone from pointing out reasonable questions and concerns about the project to being personal. You seem to be personally attacking Chris and it goes beyond what the situation warrants in my opinion (and everyone has one). It looks to an observer like myself like you have a personal grudge against him, something that Eric Peterson’s post emhpasized. But he’s not exactly objective on the subject either given his history with CIG, Roberts and Origin. But making it this personal takes away from the questions and concerns that you have and makes it _look_ like you are simply jealous of their success.
    One thing that stands out is your repeated remarks about Roberts giving his wife Sandra the high profile job. I haven’t done much research on the subject and there doesn’t seem to be any official or even unofficial information on this – but I can only hope for your sake you have facts to back that up – that they are indeed married. Not that I mind though because you can’t argue with her results – but like Nixon it’s the secrecy of it I dislike.
    Another thing I reacted on was your comment “I was promptly deported by RSI. And to boot, they took all my stuff that I had paid for, and owned” which makes them sound evil. It’s not until after 3 paragraphs you mention your were actually refunded, which isn’t the same as “took all my stuff”. Also as most people in the world of digital in game items know – you never fully own stuff in any game, they are always owned by the developer and they can do what they want with it. For example, see all the changes on the “Retaliator” they’ve done from the concept in the Kickstarter project to the finalized product – they can do that and legally say “everything subject to change” and that we, the pledgers, don’t actually own it.

    I’m no lawyer nor a developer. I’m just a gamer. And as a gamer I want to see this game get done. You questioning the project and raising concern I thought was ok and valid because some I agreed with. But the path you seem to be taking now is to make sure it fails, which is a far cry from just raising concerns. That’s how you fulfill your own prophecy. And in such a scenario everyone loses. So please, as you say – don’t be part of the problem. Asking questions was fine, we need that to keep people honest.

    Regards
    // Kris

    1. Hey Kris,

      While I understand what you are saying, there are several parts that I don’t agree with.

      This wasn’t personal – it never was. However, when you think about it, putting up money to help someone with a project, is a personal decision in and of itself. There is a fine line, and as humans, sometimes that line gets blurred. And if you don’t think that Ben’s statement was personal, then I don’t know what to tell you. In fact, it was completely unprofessional by all accounts.

      The issue with taking my stuff, still stands and is valid. When I pledged $250, it gave me a set of items, all of which are tied to the game. Those items were conveyed to me, after the original Kickstarter ended, and once I created an account on the RSI website in order to “own” them. So they refunded my pledge, then terminated my account. The latter is the “took my stuff” part, since that’s the implication. Not sure why that’s not clear.

      As I mentioned in the 3rd blog, Interstellar Discourse, I have never used their systems. There is no argument or discussion about that. It’s a fact which they have also confirmed to the same media person they originally sent the statement (of my account closure) to.

      I don’t know how/where Eric Peterson comes into this. I never even mentioned him because he plays no part in any of this, other than the fact that he is part of the “Boys Club” I mentioned. He goes way back with Chris and others. Also, he used to work at CIG. His comment about me on the RSI forums, saying that twenty (!) years ago I was complaining to them that they were stealing my ideas, is false, and without merit. And no evidence of that exists anywhere because it’s simply not true. Only a complete idiot, or someone looking to jump on the “attack Derek Smart” bandwagon, would compare my original Battlecruiser 3000AD game, to any game that Chris ever worked on back then. In fact, the only thing the games share in common, is the genre (space combat). Nothing else.

      Why Star Citizen is destined to fail

      It is unsurprising to me that there are those who are so entrenched in this, that they fail to see the signs of a project that’s in trouble. And it’s not like we haven’t seen this all before with so many other projects in the past.

      As I have said repeatedly, this goes beyond Chris Roberts and his “dream“. If and when this fails, given the scope of this project, and the amount of crowd-funding it has received, it will have far reaching repercussions for the entire industry. Aside from job loss, displaced families etc, it will adversely affect the videogame crowd-funding landscape for years to come. Given the dearth of publisher incentives in creating innovative titles, crowd-funding was a way for those projects to be made. Take that away, and the whole thing can collapse.

      I wrote a short missive yesterday, after the latest dev updates from RSI.

      Anyone who read the latest July 20th Chairman update, and watched the 10 for the chairman video and thinks this game has any chance of seeing the light of day, is delusional. Or just a fanboy clinging onto false hope.

      In fact, their funding fell off a cliff in June. Note that my first blog appeared July 4th weekend. So I had nothing to do with that. I suspect that the July numbers will be even worse when they are tracked.

      And since my three blogs went up on July 5th, 10th, 17th, all they’ve done is damage control, while causing damage (e.g. killing my account) in other areas.

      Thus far, they’ve unscrupulously killed my account – while engaging in defamatory conduct, refunded me, refunded some others, un-banned some others, posted massive meaningless dev updates etc

      And in this latest July 20th video, CR clearly admits scope creep (item #5 in my 2nd blog) @ 1:04:41, and addresses one aspect of the nepotism (item #7 in my 2nd blog) (Erin @ 51:28), while ignoring the massive smoking gun (it’s not what you think it is – more on this soon) that’s his wife (Sandra Roberts) involvement in this project and the implications of same.

      Basically, what White Knights are downplaying, is that he has now gone on record and admitted that he increased the scope of the game from the original Kickstarter.

      All these videos and dev blogs are going to come back and haunt him at some point in the very near future.

      I am going to say it again, this Star Citizen game, is never seeing the light of day as currently pitched.

      When the dust settles, what’s going to be left are all these disjointed, incomplete, buggy, modules (hangar, arena commander, star marine, multi-ship, planetside, social) and possibly EP1 of SQ42.

      I was astonished to hear, in 2015, a developer talking about increasing client count in a multiplayer game (Arena Commander) to 16 players. Yes, it’s a fact that the module struggles with basic 6v6 players at this point. And that’s just one small module in the bigger scheme of things.

      From an economics standpoint, what people fail to realize is that most games don’t sell 927K (their approx pledge count) copies. So this $85m, at this point, are pre-sales because people expect something in return for their money. Thus, any money needed to continue ops after that money runs out within this year, has to come from somewhere.

      So the question is, who is going to continue pledging to a project that seemingly stands very little chance of completion, if they haven’t first received what they pledged in the first place?

      F2P games work on the premise that most of the whales (those buying stuff), pay for those who don’t buy anything. The ratio is massive, and even if the numbers go from 927K to 1m, it’s not enough for long term financial success, even if 70% of those are whales who keep buying stuff. And with 255 (as of this July statement) employees, plus an undisclosed number of contractors, that monthly burn rate is killer.

      This biz model, beyond this $85m pledge phase, is unsustainable.

      Which is why, most of us in the industry, and who aren’t part of a cult, are watching this closely, and shaking our heads.

      And when the crash comes, as most of us expect that it will, the fallout will be unprecedented and have long term ramifications for the industry, as well as videogame crowd-funding in general.

      Sandri Gardiner

      Sandi Gardiner is Sandra Roberts.

      The kids in the early Kickstarter videos, are their kids. There are staff who used to work there, and who reportedly used to babysit these kids.

      As to Sandra Roberts, lot of things haven’t yet come to light, and which soon will. The issue of nepotism, while not illegal, is something that should concern everyone who backed an $85m crowd-funded project, if in fact it ends up being an issue where family members unfairly control, or benefit from an unfair distribution of wealth.

      And, as his wife, if there is evidence of fraudulent actions (padded credentials which lead to her holding a highly paid position she is unqualified for etc) anywhere in this house of cards, it will have some serious consequences which will cause people (lawyers via lawsuits, Federal investigations via FTC, IRS etc) to dig deeper into everything associated with this project; from structure and finance, all the way down to expenditure. This sort of thing has happened, time, and time again in various business sectors, and in most cases, have resulted in jail time in the event of any illegal activities being discovered.

      At the time that my 2nd blog, Interstellar Discourse, went up, in which I questioned her experience, qualifications, etc, her original LinkedIn profile (which we have screen capped), contained entries for her degrees at UCLA.

      She deleted that original profile.

      Here is a Reddit thread in which people were quoting from that old profile from over a year (466 days to be exact) ago. It contains links to the same old LinkedIn profile. Search for UCLA to see the context. Let me quote the contextual parts.

      Nevertheless, it would have been Sandi Gardiner’s job, as their PR person, to handle the relation to the audience when they were more than 40 minutes late at the beginning (this was not a rock concert and more than 15k of audience were waiting without any clue what was going on) and especially when they had a system fail and the entire event got stuck. Instead Sandi Gardiner was standing around frozen in a corner of the stage looking like a frightful rabbit …

      I guess that is what you get if you decide to hire a good looking, but absolutely inexperienced actress as your Vice President of Marketing.

      It would have been her job to manage the situation and handle the audience, to limit potential damage. She failed to reach even low professional standards. I guess that can happen at your first job after just finishing your studies, but I’m not sure anymore if it is good enough.

      Btw. her statement

      Before Star Citizen, I was working full-time modeling and acting. My other jobs in marketing have been in Fashion and Entertainment. (Source) obviously contradicts her LinkedIn profil were she declares *that her job at SC is the first after her eduction at UCLA Anderson School of Management.* Previous jobs in Fashion and Entertainment marketing are nonexistent there.

      One might call that a white lie, but the fact that it is obvious after one minute of googling her, let’s me doubt that she is qualified to handle more difficult tasks than moderating videos and giving the project a nice face.

      Last night showed, that Sandi Gardiner doesn’t function professionally when under fire. That is probably the worst you can say about any PR person. I have massive doubts if she is good enough to handle the project.

      Sure she might be a nice to look at presenter, but her skills in crisis communication are non existent and the vivid discussion in the community about the “community ambassador” showed that she is neither able to act pro-actively, nor thinking strategically.

      I really would like to see a experienced professional handle the marketing and PR side of the game. Last night it became obvious that the project has reach a level, were Chris needs someone who can handle situations under fire. Someone who can cover his back when the shite hits the fan (pardon my French). A nice face alone will just not cut it in the long run. The community and Chris deserve someone more experienced, someone they can rely on in times of high pressure.

      When my 3rd blog, Interstellar Justice, went up, I again talked about the nepotism etc. I also mentioned why it is that, after spending over $200 in requests, UCLA had no records of her, or any version of her maiden and married names. we did this because we received information that she was lying about her credentials. Which is why the researchers went digging in order to find out more.

      She then created a new Linked profile. In fact, this was done over the July 18th weekend, and we caught it when people she was linked to, received LinkedIn notifications, alerting us to it. Several people notified us.

      In this new profile, no mention of UCLA. Instead, taking it’s place, is a new Australian college, which our researchers there are currently looking into.

      In a lengthy podcast interview, Sunny’s Diner Show (@ 18:45), she was again claiming a UCLA degree. She claims she got a degree in Marine Biology while in Australia, and then later got a degree in International Marketing from UCLA.

      Similarly, in a meet the dev video, she tells of how she first started working on Star Citizen and never mentions them being married or her having been Chris’ intern at Ascendant Pictures.

      Here is another YouTube video, of which there are several.

      And this all came about because I questioned the nepotism, her role in marketing, someone who has gone on the record as saying that she has no clue what the “VP of marketing” position entails etc. And no, she’s not responsible for the marketing success of the game. That credit goes to the marketing professionals working there, under her – despite being more qualified, experienced etc. The same way that Ben Lesnick, unknown to most, reportedly writes the chairman updates, not Chris.

      I am aware of several investigative media pieces currently in progress about this whole RSI thing, and which are going to ask a lot more questions, confirm a lot more things, ask more questions, than I’ve done in my blogs.

      All I wanted to do was get people talking, and asking questions as to why this once promising project has come to this. Before that, most of my questions were already being discussed all over the web. It just so happens that I bring a face, and a very loud voice to it, causing it to get more attention. And since this started, a lot more has come out than ever before. I think that counts for something.

      1. Derek,

        At this point you are losing some traction, mainly because of the personal attacks. When you start dragging others families through the mud it comes of crass. Hiring a family member to do work is not wrong, and so long as there is a fair wage and they pay taxes, the government will not care.

        I also don’t see any issues with you being banned. There is no other way to say this, but you have a very long history of creating trouble. If I was running a business, making a game, or any activity I would not be ecstatic to have you as a customer or member. You have proven this point by using your notoriety and money to create angst.

        I do believe social pressure on CIG is not a bad development, but it has to be tempered with understanding by backers. They are most certainly attempting a game that has not been done successfully before. I have my skepticism as I have watched previous developers not live up to expectations and hype.

        To end, I donated some money to CIG in the hopes they can achieve that ultimate goal. It was an “investment” that I was fully aware I could lose . . . just like the stock market. They have always communicated their plan and it seems reasonable.

        Regards,
        Brad

        1. I don’t believe that any personal “attacks” were made. People generally don’t understand what a “personal attack” is. General, well thought out, and eloquently stated criticism, is not a personal attack.

          Point out one such instance of me making personal attacks, so we can discuss it further.

          You won’t see an issue with me being banned, because you don’t understand the dangerous precedent.

          And I wasn’t banned. In order to be banned, I would have had to use their services. I never did. They preemptively closed my account as retaliation for these articles and the questions raised. Not the same thing.

          And this nonsense about me “causing trouble”, is just that, nonsense. And it’s always that urban legend (which I wrote about) that people want to hang on to when they have nothing else. My notoriety comes from the simple fact that I don’t let people bully, harass, or put me under siege. I am very outspoken, and don’t intend to change. That’s who I am.

          Whether you accept it or not, the Star Citizen project is FUBAR. There is nothing that you – or anyone – can say, that will change that. It’s only a matter of time before the rest of the chips fall into place. You’ll see. Regardless, what you do with your money, is entirely up to you. Nobody cares, but you.

  8. Wow, I didn’t even know that was a thing.

    Chris Roberts = modern day incarnation of PT Barnum?

  9. Hi Derek,
    Dont forget all the LTI nonsense and the grey market crap that went on. There are people out there that cant get refunds because they had to get 3rd party people to buy the ships with LTI and gift them otherwise the packages wouldnt have LTI.

    Also the grey market that has flourished made people lots and lots of money – especially mods.

    SO a little hint for you to follow. PS I lost faith when they said no more LTI and turned around and sold lti on concepts because no one would buy it without it. They happily leverage one part of the community and set it against another fighting so that they can keep selling ships and keep people away from fighting CIG for the truth. They are too busy fighting each other and the white knights ride in saying the game is great.

    1. Oh yeah, don’t even get me started on that lifetime insurance crap. I don’t even know how they even expected to get away with that. However, the fact is that, it’s their game, their system, their rules. Which is part of the problems that I keep highlighting in terms of them having zero accountability in pulling crap like this on backers.

      Since my articles started coming out, they have done the following:

      1. they’ve refunded me + closed my account
      2. refunded some people
      3. un-banned others
      4. out of the Blue, they came across some alien technology, and announced that the Star Marine fps module (which was, as well as the June dev update were the catalysts for my first article) is now due out in 3-5 weeks. Even after this June 30 comment from Lesnick.

      The end result is that the Hangar, Arena Commander, Star Marine, Planetside, Squadron 42, and the much touted Star Citizen PU, are all looking like a bunch of individual parts which, aside from what happens with SQ42 as a stand-alone game, will end up being stand-alone.

      Remember that, aside from the Star Citizen PU, all of the above were previously reported as coming out by end of 2015. Pretty much how what was pledged in the Oct 2012 in the Kickstarter, were touted as coming out in Nov 2014.

      Added to that, I’ve probably forced their hand about the episodic nature of the SQ42 product. So we’ll see if they actually announce it as such, now the cat’s out of the bag.

      And the Star Marine module announcement is just in time for GamesCom. And in all likelihood will come with some sort of new ship sales again; assuming they ignore my warnings about that being a very bad idea.

  10. @STEVE I was thinking of a rescue, not the current situation of funding. So the plan was to make it with KS money, but now as they ran into problems (supposedly), they need a rescue and I’m quite sure they can arrange one. Chris Roberts is a famous guy with many famous games, and there’s many rich IT people around and a lot of money looking for an opportunity in this world. I don’t think this game falls because of money, maybe because of technical difficulties, but even that they can overcome by downscaling the game and say… “look, it was impossible to do, but we tried our best”. I’m sure RSI has a plan B and plan C from the beginning. They just haven’t gone into those options yet or spoken about it in public.

    I think Derek knows what he’s talking about, he has Ph.D in computer science & mathematics + decades of gaming development. It would be silly to doubt his expertise.

    1. @SAMPO: I’m not as sanguine as you are.
      Chris Roberts is a famous guy with ONE famous game, to correct you.
      His other projects (in which he had administrative control) have all stumbled (some have succeeded nevertheless; I’m thinking of Strike Commander) *substantially* because he’s always unable to fence the project in and get it done according to the plan…or at least so reads the scuttlebutt. Each project (curiously, a lot of this has been scrubbed from his wiki page) has grown Brobdingnagianally (is that even a word?) beyond original scope, budget, and timeline – sound familiar? – until people above him rip it from his hands and publish.
      In terms of rescue VC, I *do* hope there’s someone out there that would be willing, but “rich people” don’t get rich by being dumb. Either a) you fund this project and leave him at the helm, which means nothing really will change, or b) you fund the project on the condition that he leave, in which you decapitate the driving spirit and creative brain behind the enterprise.

      Neither sounds like a great way out.

  11. I went ahead and contacted the FTC and filled out the necessary information. Because as expected and not surprising I was denied a refund. Here was a very lengthy explanation to as of why. I have friends and family that are lawyers and handle cases such as this, so I’ll be consulting with them as well. Needless to say, I’m not surprised by anything thats happened. That fact still remains which a lot of people seem to miss, it the original Game that was pitched via kickstarter doesn’t exist. It could and everything else added could have been added as DLC or expansions, and I feel that overall the explanation did nothing. Feel free to look and use both as examples. I’ve essentially written the game off as a loss. If it happens great but I guarantee when it does, it will be “outdated” by that time.
    http://i.imgur.com/w1jmvLa.png
    1. I’m sorry to say it, but I suspect FTC action will be non existent, unless a politician gets it in his/her head to make it an issue.

      Face it: Kickstarter is like throwing your money away, hoping for rainbows and unicorns. Until now, largely, people have been ethical about the donations. Hell, I believe even Chris Roberts is ethical (in that he didn’t start it to defraud people), I just believe he’s had a history of undisciplined projects that balloon out of budget and Kickstarter (& people starving for a real first-person space game that doesn’t suck) gave him the keys to the candy store.

  12. When can we expect to read your next article? I see it is password protected. Will it be released before COB?
  13. I wonder if people realize another avenue for their money back would be to just dispute the charges through their bank….

    Almost every major bank will allow you to dispute any charge -often times right there on the website. I think Chris would start to take notice once all those chargebacks started to come in.

  14. I thoroughly enjoyed reading everything you’ve put up so far about Star Citizen and I’m looking forward to reading more. For me my biggest red flag was I bought the 125$ package, and as I sat by with my friends anxiously awaiting the dog fighting module, it came out! We were excited as we all tried to login (everyone of them bought the 125$ package as well) Just be faced with error after error. After research apparently spending 125$ truly wasn’t enough, yet here according to their pledge page “Exclusive access to the Alpha and Beta” it should have been. We had to spend another 10$ to get access to something we should have been already been granted access to. That was my 1st Flag.

    The second being the most recent, it I put in a request for a refund. Here is my Email to them (I screen shot it with my request for refund their response as well as my reply since they I want to “depart under false pretenses”:
    http://i.imgur.com/rQpRy1u.png

  15. As a player of a few early access games on steam i consider myself pretty open minded toward crowd funded gaming projects.
    However, the way SC is being marketed right now seems very scam-like to me.
    This reminds me of ReRoll – http://rerollgame.com/the-game/ – which in my opinion is another highly ambitious project that will never see the light of day.
    I’m not saying these developers are actually trying to scam people out of their money, but when you sell in-game items (for a lot of money, nonetheless), but you don’t have an actual game for those items to be used in some flags get raised.

    One thing game some developers don’t seem to take into account is how their actions are impacting the industry as a whole, and if (HA, listen to me say “if”) this project fails a lot of people will lose faith in ambitious projects and drive early access games deeper down the hole.

    In the end I have to admit that despite my skepticism I wholeheartedly hope they succeed in this endevour because I a child brought up on Freelancer and as an Elite Dangerous early access player, Star Citizen would make me a very happy gamer. It’s just that I make sure I have my grains of salt at the ready…

  16. What kills me is the simple fact that there has not been one single new gameplay video in months and months. The teams talk about what they have been working on ect ect. The SC Zealots bend over and take all these words with a smile right up the arse. I do not know about you all, but I like to see progress with in engine gameplay. With my own two eyes. I swear I hope I eat these words because like Mr. Smart here, I have been waiting my entire life for a complete space adventure like what Mr. Roberts has envisioned. Now a quick look into how I think his team’s are comstructed. Let’s say it’s an Army. With nothing but low ranking Soldiers running the show and Chris being the only Non-commissioned officer. There is no structure within this organization at all. It likes putting five puzzles together with pieces that do not fit. They very badly need strong leadership. Anyway I want this game to succeed with all my heart!! But they really need to reel it in and get thier shit together Asap!!
  17. Thank you for this well written, thorough analysis of the project’s state.
    As a software engineer (not in the game industry) and original backer myself, it was very insightful to read an expert opinion on this subject. In our team, star citizen has been the topic of many water cooler conversations. The feature creep you mentioned, the odd technical foundation (CryEngine) as well as the potential missmanagement of the funding money was an concern that many of my colleages share, and this post will definetly fuel our discussions again.
    1. Thanks. The sad thing about this is that, the original design, was totally feasible. They completely blew that out when they continued to increase the scope of the project. In my follow-up article, though less technical, I highlight some of the many problems with the project, and why the company needs to be immediately investigated.

      The biggest issue here is that we as developers, are all guilty of scope creep, delays, etc at some point or another. But in this case, if they were still working on the original pitch as designed, even thought over nine months late now, there wouldn’t be this much concern. The concern is that this project is headed to failure, and if that happens, will wipe out $85m of public money, and take almost 500 jobs along with it. That’s really the issue here. Projects fail all the time, and with very little fanfare. This one is different.

      1. “will wipe out $85m of public money, and take almost 500 jobs along with it…”

        I wouldn’t call it the “public’s money”. Caveat emptor – anyone who dumps money into a kickstarter project either a) needs to understand that it’s pretty clearly a donation, not an investment, or b) shouldn’t be allowed to manage their own funds.
        BTW isn’t intended to absolve Chris Roberts in the slightest. If one deliberately committed fraud, then there should be prosecution. PERSONALLY I don’t believe fraud would be warranted here; without knowing Mr Roberts in person I can’t judge his character. From the cheap seats it looks more like there was never a deliberate attempt to gain $ without an intent to ever make the game, which would be required for actual prosecution.
        No, it sadly looks more like garden variety lottery winners who start with the best of intentions, get big eyes, blow their money on stupid crap, and end up poorer than they started. Now he’s got a tiger by the tail and daren’t let go – even if I don’t think there’s fraud here, it doesn’t mean that if/when $85 million in ‘donations’ vanishes with little or nothing to show, the IRS, FTC, et al infinitum won’t climb violently up his backside if only to satisfy the public/media.

        Moreover, as was mentioned before, aside from the $85 million and 500 jobs, this *will* be the death of Kickstarter. The public exposure of the Emperor’s lack of clothing there (long overdue, imo) will mean that people are suddenly faced with their unsupported rationalizations (wait, I spend $100 on what, again?) and if it doesn’t actually kill it will at least cripple the brand name.

  18. Its like they say: Everybody can make a game, its finishing a game that is the challenge.
    Being a game developer myself I fully understand the escapism of SC into a new, better and larger game.
    I have these delusions of grandeur myself when near a deadline and realizing a lot of features have been dropped in order to finish the game on time. But once a game is finished and people are happy you realize what it is all about namely: Making something that people can actually play instead of dreaming about it.
  19. I never thought I would see the day when Derek Smart became my hero and Chris Roberts the villain. Thank you for doing the research and finding that FCC information. I want every last cent of my money back. It’s clear to me Chris lied to me to buy ships to fund his dream that, for the most part, is vaporware. I’m not a Venture Capital, I’m just a hard working, tax-paying American gamer. I feel like CIG stole my money. The official forums have basically called me every sort of name, mocked me for being an idiot for attempting to get my money back, and even outright banning me twice for posting dissenting comments about my anger and frustration. Star Citizen is singlehandedly responsible for me never backing another Early Access or Crowdfunded game ever.
    1. Yeah, we actually now have a dB of people who pledged, complained, then got banned. It’s for internal research use thus far, but we’re working on an offsite one, which we will merge with this one. So check out that link, and use the form (the URL is at the top) to fill in your information.

  20. It is interesting to see how much you seem to be wanting to tackle this game. I am very skeptical about it’s promises and potential, but please at least try to show the other side of the story if you are going to do such an in depth article about it.

    Also, I don’t understand how you can put these two things together within such a short distance of each other:
    “For me, I already know—for a fact—that they can’t build this game they’ve pitched, and which I was looking forward to someone making. So all I’m looking forward to now is getting my $250 worth of gaming. And right now, a hangar and Arena Commander, after three years of development and now eight months late, is not something that inspires confidence in me.

    To the rest of you, I only have this to say:

    stop buying virtual items for a goddamn game you don’t have. What in the holy phuck is the matter with you?!? You know how many indie games you could’ve bought and supported and been PLAYING by now?!?”

    So first you say you spend a whopping 250 dollars on a sales pitch but then you continue to say how people are fucking stupid (your words), to invest in such games.. maybe you should have set a better example yourself? Or at least rephrase it.

    1. Those are very good points; which is why your comment was approved.

      First, I don’t want to tackle this game. I already have tackled similar. I will never want to spend a lifetime chasing this whale again.

      Second, I can’t show the other side of the story, because that’s for them to do. And they’ve been doing that, which is why these questions are now being raised.

      I pledged $250 to a game that I was promised would materialize by a certain time. That time being Nov 2014. That time has come and gone, with no game being produced. So to me, that amount of money is like buying a collector or special edition of a game product. My warning was to those who, even after it is clear that this game hasn’t been delivered, and is not likely to, they keep buying virtual ships, for a game that doesn’t yet exist, and which most likely, wouldn’t.

  21. @SAMPO C’mon, that’s a stretch. Roberts has bragged continually about being funded by Kickstarter, about being KS’s wunderkind, and how this is such a ‘freeing’ new financing paradigm.

    Either: a) he’s being honest, or b) he has a secret slush-fund of VC money and he’s being entirely disingenuous about the relevance, value, and importance of KS in the progress of his development.

    Personally, I’d go with the simplest explanation rather than inventing some cabal of secret funding; that comes dangerously close to rationalizing away everything that’s being discussed.

  22. Are you sure they don’t have other sources of money? They might be backed by private investors? There may be some billionaire who is a huge fan and willing to make a deal with them for $100 million for a share of the profits. Billionaires have a lot of money like Steve Ballmer who bought a basketball team for $2 billion, just because he can and he’s a fan.

    Enjoyed reading your article.

  23. So, Many months ago you tweeted that SC is a SCAM and people will lose their money, Now you say something else…
    When people point this out, (since you denied it ) you delete the tweet … Why is that ? 😛
    1. Well it’s not true. No such tweet exists, nor was it deleted. Anytime someone wants to save a tweet like that, they take a screenshot, or use one of the many archiving tools. So, if you have it, please post it so I can see. Then I can trace the tweet in my history.

      The fact is that it never happened. And this is how people spread lies in order to suit their narrative.

      As I said in the article, each time there is news of a new funding goal, there is always some drama associated with it. So this one time, after people started screaming ponzi, pyramid etc – trying to convince everyone of that, I made a sarcastic tweet that said:

      That’s it. I’m convinced that this whole Star Citizen thing is some massive Ponzi scheme – that I helped fund. 2015 can’t come soon enough

      Because it was tongue-in-cheek, I even said so in another tweet later in the same conversation:

      now I’m confused. r we talking about my tongue-in-cheek SCitizen jab or Flappy Bird (as per my last)?

      Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet, without first verifying it. That’s how wars start. 🙂

  24. Good read. Thank you.

    Have you offered your experience to Chris ?

    Can you estimate the cost of running the operation as you understand it to be at the moment ?

    1. Thanks.

      Actually no, I have not offered my experience. Though we’re not direct competitors, I think it would either be inappropriate for me to do so, or his camp would probably regard it is as inappropriate.

      Also, you must understand that there is also ego to consider in things like that. Regardless of the sincerity of the gesture, it would most likely be regarded as “going to Derek Smart for help“. See my latest blog post for reference.

      And despite my qualifications, experience etc, it’s probably not something that would work for them. Because instead of looking at it as a team based effort like, say certain divisions at Apple still working with Samsung; or Microsoft with Google et al, it would be looked upon from a personal perspective. Our industry is full of drama, and ego driven bullshit, all of which involve making personal, rather than business minded decisions.

      I don’t have the hard figures on hand atm. But as this is a crowd-funded project, full P&L accounting are one of the items that we’re going to try and obtain through direct or legal channels. However, currently, our estimates, and information from various sources, put it at a monthly burn rate of around $3m USD, with an income stream of around $500K per month.

      The key to understanding the $85m raised to date, is not in how much they have raised, but how much they have left in the bank. It may not be a lot; compared to what was raised. And that’s one of the primary issues that we’re trying to get a handle on because it will determine whether or not this project, as it stands, can be completed. If they stop selling virtual items, that would mean no more tangible funds for long term development, let alone on-going support.

  25. Elader made a good point. Is the fact No Man’s Sky plans on keeping players separated for the most part make it more feasible to create?
  26. I too am interested in your point of view of No Man’s Sky attempt at the same idea. Perhaps No Man’s Sky keeping players separated solves a lot of the multiplayer problems?
  27. With all respect, Derek kept reiterating he has been trying to make the impossible game this 20 years in his life and doesn’t suceed, so surely Star Citizen can’t. But this argument is flawed, it is based on ancedotal evidence with sample size of 1. Sure, development complexities scale with number of people working on it and throwing twice the money into a problem may not result in twice the speed of development or twice the scope of game, but still productivity should increase. Sure, Rockstar spent $265 million on making GTA V, but $150 million of which was on marketing, which Star Citizen does not need.
  28. Great write up, bet it took forever! I’ve resisted funding SC because I wanted to see something real before I gave them money. Like you, I badly want a sci-fi sandbox MMO where you can walk around your ships, fly down to the surface, have a crew of other players, etc… I got a hint of this in SWG (you could decorate the inside of your ship). Then in Eve I was massively disappointed that the huge freaking ships were run by one person… lame!
    I do hope SC fulfills it’s goals, or even just half of them! But I won’t be sending them any money until they have an official live launch date.
  29. Just one question: Why didn’t you point out these facts three years ago, when their goals started to flush out of hands?
    1. Because as a software developer, I know that it takes time to develop a product. So chasing them, right out the gate would’ve been inappropriate, and counter-productive. Also, I could’ve done it when it was past Nov 2014. I chose not to do that either because, as we all know, games are likely to ship late.

      To be honest, I was going to give them until Nov 2015 before I started raising the roof. However, recent events, followed by insider musings, caused me to stand up, and say something. Reasons being:

      1) crowd-funding has slowed down, which means less money to see the vision to completion

      2) the number of studios they have, amounts to high burn rate

      3) the risk of there not being enough money to finish the project as originally visioned, or even the new scope.

  30. Absolutely terrific article.

    Amongst the dozens (or more) of great points you made, the other thing is the nature of Kickstarter.
    People seem to forget that the money that’s being spent isn’t like VC investment money. KS funding is incentivized /against future sales/. That is, every person that put in $20 or $30 or whatever to get a copy of the game is a future sale that will not happen (or technically, has already happened).
    In your discussion about “…spending $2 and taking in $1, etc…” remember that a KS $85 million is just frontloaded sales, including (ostensibly) margin.
    Sure, the numbers end up the same at the end, but the curve plays out entirely differently. With a retail game, you sell 1.2-1.5 million units, you have this groundswell of activity, etc. With Kickstarter, you’ve given away the first million units or more, and your first-year sales are an anemic 200-500k. Moreover, by having the front-loaded money, the temptation is to spend it all on development, leaving no margin in your pocket to invest forward (as all your biggest fans already have given you their money and have the game).

    Personally, I believe the economics of KS aren’t even faintly evaluated yet, in terms of how they play out in the cashflow of the firm. If CR and crew are any example, I suspect it will be a bloodbath.

    Anyway, great article full of actual-life-experience detail. Thanks.
    -S

  31. I am rather interested in what you have to say about projects like No Man’s Sky and CCP’s EVE/DUST514 experiment as both of these games at least appear to be doing (or in CCP’s case, on the verge of doing, the blowback from the station walking expansion forcing them to put their plans of full integration on indefinite hold) what you say can’t be done.

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