Star Citizen is ambitious. The space sim is set to feature FPS elements as well as space combat that utilizes Newtonian physics, three fictional languages developed by linguistics specialists, a dynamic economy system and will support Oculus Rift. It’s also being produced by Chris Roberts’ Cloud Imperium, who previously created Wing Commander and Starlancer. With a pedigree like that, it wasn’t surprising that the game’s crowdsourced funding approach has been wildly successful, to the tune of $85mm. To give you a frame of reference, that’s about the cost of what it took to create and market Skyrim.
Given the massive scope of what the game is attempting to accomplish, the large amount of crowd sourced money, the delays in promised goods, departures of key development staff and feature creep, it was inevitable that people would start asking questions and requesting transparency as to just what their money has gone to. That is all fair and good, but what Cloud Imperium doesn’t consider fair is the recent rash of blog posts from 3000AD developer, Derek Smart, which included what Smart calls options, but read really do read like demands, such as Roberts giving resignation as CEO of his own company, allowing backers to place an executive producer and forensic accountant to perform audits and a refund to every Kickstarter backer and further statements invoking the FTC.
This all resulted in game developers issuing a $250 refund to Smart, his contribution via Kickstarter, with RSI’s Ben Lesnick explaining, “We refunded Mr. Smart’s package because he was using Star Citizen as a platform to gain attention as part of a campaign to promote his ‘Line of Defense’ space game. Our ToS (or in this case the Kickstarter ToS) allows us to refund troubled users who we would rather not have interacting with the community.”
Smart obviously disagrees with that stance, but the reality is that with a game on the scope of what Star Citizen is, kinks in the process are going to happen. The snags we’re seeing in these crowdsourced games are the kinds of things that have always gone on, only it was all previously behind boardroom doors. That isn’t to say that an expectation of a clear line of view for how money is being spent isn’t an unreasonable request, but it these types of projects need to be viewed through a lens of reality.
There’s a lot of risk inherent in crowdsourcing, whether through Kickstarter or other avenues, and it isn’t literal investment. It’s a whole different sort of beast and the laws and standards surrounding it really haven’t caught up to the speed with which it’s being adopted. For every success like Shenmue there seem to be twenty Godus examples and unfortunately there’s not a lot of recourse out there for backers, even when concerns are legitimate. Reform does need to happen in this arena since there have been several big projects that have resulted in enthusiasts being taken for a ride, but that’s something that takes a lot of time, and until that need is fulfilled, backers have to be very aware of the risks they take when they pledge money.
That said, Star Citizen will be impressive if everything comes together correctly and the team will be bringing the game to Cologne next month for GamesCon. It’s a safe bet that the group will be working to alleviate concerns that have been arising, and hopefully, display some of the polish that they’ve been promising.