Star Citizen is the very definition of a success story. From it's humble Kickstarter beginnings, it's emerged as the most crowd funded project ever. It breezes past other huge projects like Broken Age or the Pebble smart watch and has continued to accept donations and pre-order pledges as time has gone on, leading us to the current stage of its crowd funding where it sits at over $40 million.
The problem is it's not been released yet and it isn't planned to for some time, with a projected (and revised) release date of early 2015. There are smaller modules set for release as the game's development continues, with a dogfighting game mode set for an April unveiling (though it was originally scheduled to release earlier than that), the social/planetside portion of the game sometime in Q2 of 2014 and some other elements, including the main Alpha of the game at some point before the final release.
But despite the game having all the funding it needs – and then some – to be completed, Roberts Space Industries (RSI) is still taking in pledges for certain ships, that players will have when the game launches and can be viewed in the hanger module now, as well as in-game currency and other rewards and bonuses. It doesn't need the money, but more stretch goals keep being created and the community gamely helps it to the next finishing line, with even average days without updates netting the developers $50,000.
To RSI's credit, it regularly keeps in touch with the community and has kept them abreast of every coming and going, showing off developer videos, concept art and teasing further releases, but the promised dogfighting module has yet to appear and the release date has been pushed back once already. Nobody is suggesting that the game will be scrapped, or that any more modules will see further delays, but $40 million is a huge amount of money to take from fans when all that they've had in return is a hanger module.
Especially when we've seen countless other projects, Broken Age being a prime example, of how feature creep, even at established studios, can cause massive delays and even go so far as to risk projects being shelved altogether because they become too ambitious under the weight of responsibility that a massively expanded budget gives.
Of course RSI seems to be doing everything right, for the most part. It's very open with reasons behind delays and it continues to offer meaningful additions to the game that aren't enormous game changers, but do expand the original scope of the title. It's also explained that the reason it won't crumble under the weight of the finances, is because it doesn't have a publisher to satisfy, or other investors that want some of that money paid to them; it all goes into game development.
But when will it stop? Probably never and that just feels problematic. Like the thrust to weight ratio that's so important when it comes to space travel, there must be a point with Star Citizen where the money isn't delivering more, but is actually taking away from the project. There must be a point where it's expanded so far beyond its initial premise, that it stops being the game it was first envisioned to be.
On top of that though, the multiplayer player base is going to be split when the game is released. It may not be pay to win, but it certainly will feel pay to progress when first launched. You'll have the hundreds of thousands of backers, with advanced ships that they paid for a year in advance and then you'll have everyone else. I don't think RSI would be silly enough to make a game that had an unplayable gulf between new and paid up players, but it does seem like as time goes on, any sort of gap that is there will widen.
Whether RSI eventually does put a cap in pledges and stretch goals or not though, you do have to admire its ability to keep the money flowing in. Many developers would be lucky to earn $50,000 a day from a game that's out and selling full retail copies and yet here is RSI, making that much from selling in-game content that isn't even going to be available in its full state for another year.
And $50,000 is a crap day for RSI. On its best, it's pulled in over half a million dollars, for ships and upgrades. It's not clear whether that says more about their Jordon Belfort like ability to sell to their customers, or whether the Star Citizen audience is packed with people that struggle not to just throw a few more dollars at the game because the numbers, upgrades and rewards are more than a bit addictive.
The average pledge price is around $100, which is very impressive, considering again, the game isn't out yet, but some of that is certainly offset by a surprisingly large number of people that have dropped $15k on the “completionist,” package.
I'm afraid this is one of those pieces that was more about discussing the ongoing rather than concluding it. Certainly RSI and Star Citizen's story and crowd funding have a long way to go, so we'll have to sit back and watch to see what happens, but if there are any among you that have dropped a few dollars on this game, tell us how you feel about it below.
But even if you haven't, do you think there should be a cut off point? Is RSI pushing its luck and could it succumb to feature creep like so many others?
Here's hoping it doesn't. The game looks amazing.