Star Citizen’s Fundraising Could End Up Hurting the Game
And that wait time is likely to increase. Each stretch goal places further demands on development resources and work hours, to the tune of $35,000 to $150,000 real world dollars per ship. At the same time, backers have been promised that stretch goal content would be available at launch, including a persistent universe of 100 star systems and extended flight sim support.Take into account time needed to develop and test the suite of launch-day content, and you’re looking at extensive delays that already reach into 2016.
Cloud Imperium Games claimed the high cost of its stretch goals would allow it to meet a November 2014 release date
The real kicker? Cloud Imperium Games claimed the high cost of its stretch goals would allow it to meet a November 2014 release date, two years after the project was announced.
“The purpose of the higher stretch goals is to ensure that the game-as-described is finished in the two year time period,” the Star Citizen Kickstarter FAQ reads. “We intend to build the game that Chris Roberts described at GDC Online regardless, but without additional funding we are going to have to do it one piece at a time, starting with Squadron 42, rather than as a single larger production. With more funding we can include more ships, systems, unique locations, animations and cinematic sequences.”
In other words, backers paid millions of dollars so that the proposed game could be finished on schedule, but with every stretch goal, the parameters of the proposed game expand, extending development time. It’s not exactly surprising that as of writing, the Arena Commander dogfighting alpha is the only playable content available. If Roberts had focused on “one piece at a time” instead of juggling many plates, perhaps the core game might have been farther along without stretch goals holding it back.
Big budgets and a lack of publisher oversight don’t ensure smooth development; in fact, we’ve seen Kickstarter projects suffer when creators raise more money than planned. The extra funds and stretch goals tend to increase manufacturing costs, demands on customer support, and even tax payments, something that not all indie developers were prepared for. Now remember that Star Citizen is the biggest crowdfunded project we’ve ever seen, and one realizes that the immense strain its developers face bringing everything to completion.
That’s not to say Star Citizen will fail entirely, but it faces many unusual hurdles that could lead to a very different game.
That’s not to say Star Citizen will fail entirely, but it faces many unusual hurdles that could lead to a very different game. At best, we’re looking at additional delays before the advertised game is finally released to the world. But since the team is also trying to fit in stretch goal features, it runs the risk of being bloated, unbalanced, and confusing to players. Star Citizen’s modular release schedule should help, but fitting each gameplay element together will require additional testing and bug-fixing. And that’s not even getting into unexpected demands on its budget that may crop up, which could easily happen for such a graphics-heavy title.
Meanwhile, backers continue to provide contributions to Star Citizen, exacerbating potential problems as expectations continue to rise. Few other games have garnered this much attention pre-release, and even they didn’t ask players for financial investments in advance. If the finished game is a critical flop, or is delayed beyond a reasonable time period, many fans will feel cheated. Imagine if players had Kickstarted Duke Nukem Forever in its early days, only to be let down by the finished product. It would be a massive blow to services like Kickstarter, causing both backers and potential developers to lose faith in crowdfunding platforms. While I sincerely hope it won’t come to that with Star Citizen, it’s a very real concern given the project’s massive scope and budget.
Star Citizen still has the potential to be a great space sim when it finally launches, and it still could very well revitalize the genre. But today, it’s known more for its fundraising campaign than its gameplay. Being able to collect almost $50 million dollars is great, but letting it run for so long distracts from the game players want to see. Whether the game will be a smash hit or a cautionary tale remains to be seen, but I suspect this much is true: if the game’s crowdfunding had closed back in 2012, we’d have a much clearer idea which of the two it would ultimately become.