Star Citizen 2019 – A Year of Troubled Development

Development of Star Citizen has been ongoing since 2011, yet a release date is nowhere in sight. It’s the highest-earning crowdfunded video game ever, due in large part to its ambition. It’s also caused many a controversy, with lawsuits, angry backers demanding refunds, the most expensive microtransactions in gaming, and plenty more drama where that came from.

A Year of Troubled Development

For the unaware, Star Citizen is an online space-shooter funded on Kickstarter in 2012 to the tune of $2.1 million and change. This came largely due to Chris Roberts, creator of Wing Commander, and longtime cult-favorite game developer. Roberts later moved the crowdfunding to his personal website, where, with the help of massive microtransactions, later raising over $275 million and counting. It’s the most funded video game ever, and second highest-funded crowdfunding campaign next to only EOS Blockchain.

For a richer account of the last year of Star Citizen’s development (April 2019-April 2020), check out my video below. But if you’re looking for an abbreviated account, you’re in the right place.

Roberts’ Mansion

On May 1, 2019, Forbes published a bombshell article detailing the behind the scenes goings-on of Cloud Imperium and Chris Roberts’ management. “This is not fraud,” writes Matt Perez and Nathan Vardi, “Roberts really is working on a game—but it is incompetence and mismanagement on a galactic scale.”

Perez and Vardi spoke to 20 former employees of Roberts’ who all lament his poor management skills and talk about why development is so slow. The article also digs up news that Roberts bought himself a $4.7 million mansion in 2018, that the company employs 537 people, spending $30 million annually just on their salaries, and that Cloud Imperium only has (or had) $14 million in reserve.

They also discovered that the American FTC has received 129 consumer complaints about the game, asking for $24,000 in refunds. And as the icing on the cake, Cloud Imperium has finished zero of its promised 100 star systems in the game, yet has sold 135 different spaceship models over the years.

Regardless of the report, nothing changed. More and more people continued spending on the game, more complaints were filed to the FTC, and more minimal updates were posted, such as 3.6 on July 19, 2020.

The $275 Dinner for $1,000 Backers

In August 2019, a familiar aspect of Star Citizen’s bizarre development popped up again: what I call “backer-exclusive payments.” Anyone who “donated” at least $1,000 to the game was given the privilege of spending $275 to attend a dinner with Chris Roberts, to be held in Frankfurt, Germany. Travel accommodations and board not included, of course.

Buyers would get dinner and a Q&A with Roberts. There was also a surprise announcement – a brand new ship that those in attendance would get to pre-order, whose key features of laying space mines wasn’t yet a mechanic implemented in the game. So to summarize: the higher-tier backers had to first spend $275 just to attend this event, spend more money on travel, and when they got there, they were shown an ad to pre-order a ship that not only wasn’t yet in the game, but whose key gameplay mechanic also wasn’t yet implemented either.

This event echoes another one held in 2018, where $1,000 got to spend another $350 on a “special event” which included a tour of the company’s LA motion capture studio, and a dinner with Chris Roberts and “key members of the dev team.” Also in 2018, Roberts began charging $20 to view the annual CitizenCon event, featuring multiple shows with the developers talking about development. After severe backlash, streaming was made free and Roberts apologized.

Cloud Imperium vs. Crytek, Round 563

The biggest news to non-Star Citizen fans regarding the game has always been the Crytek lawsuit. Star Citizen and Squadron 42 both started out using Crytek’s CryEngine. But later Cloud Imperium switched to Amazon’s Lumberyard Engine, which is heavily based on the CryEngine. When Crytek found out in 2017, they sued Cloud Imperium and Chris Roberts for breach of contract, claiming the studio had signed a contract with them that stated Star Citizen would exclusively use the CryEngine, and that the company had paid for a license for one game, not two.

A filing found from January 3, 2020 showed that Crytek was now trying to get their case dismissed, which isn’t to say they were dropping the lawsuit. Instead, they wanted to postpone it until Squadron 42 released. Why? Well, this is a bit “inside baseball,” but Crytek’s argument centered on the fact that Squadron 42 would be a standalone release from Star Citizen, but with a release date for the game so far away, Crytek’s lawyers decided the case would be better off waiting until the game comes out.

In a long, scathing rebuttal, Cloud Imperium’s lawyers stated:

“Crytek should not be allowed to aim its car at CIG’s storefront window, stomp the accelerator, smash through, do doughnuts for years, then back out and drive away to maybe circle around and crash CIG again another day. Crytek richly deserves having its keys taken away for all time, so that CIG can conduct responsible business without further interference from Crytek or its series of lawyers.”

The following month, Crytek and Cloud Imperium had agreed to settle the case out of court. What exactly the terms of the agreement are haven’t been announced publicly, and probably never will.

Where Are We At Now?

Alpha update 3.9 was supposed to release in March, but as of writing this article, it’s still not out yet. This update is set to have more changes and additions than the typical update, promising better cover finding for enemy AI, better animations, better lighting tech, a prison and bounty mechanic, an eating and drinking mechanic, and the need to regulate your body temperature, plus the usual new weapons, armor, vehicles, and ships.

Also in March, Cloud Imperium announced a cool $17.25 million purchase of shares from the Calder Family Office, Snoot Entertainment, and ITG Investment, three investment companies that had already pumped over $46 million into the studio back in December 2018. What’s great for CIG is that the board of investors remains the same, and Chris Roberts still has full control over the company.

Star Citizen has now raised over $338.6 million through crowdfunding, microtransactions, merchandise, and outside investments. And the final game is nowhere in sight.

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This Article was written by: Harry Cole

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