Freelancer is one of my favorite games of all time. Being able to fly wherever I wanted, join whichever faction and combat whoever got in my way was a dream for the Cowboy Bebop, Space Opera loving teen I was. So when I heard about Star Citizen, basically Freelancer but with more freedom, more planets, more everything, and made by Chris Roberts of Freelancer, Starlancer and Wing Commander fame no less. I was ecstatic. I backed it without hesitation during the wildly popular Kickstarter and have been eagerly awaiting its eventual release. But as it has become more popular, and the crowdfunding money has continued to pour in, the promises made by the development team have grown and become even more incredible, and that has me worried.
Hype has become an integral part of the gaming industry. Each new shooter that comes out promises to “revolutionize the genre” or be “a game changer” and inevitably the games are basically what we expected, and while there might be a change or two, the genre has definitely not been revolutionized in years, but this doesn’t stop almost every single new AAA title from proclaiming they are the chosen game, come as a gift from Valhalla to the gamers of Earth. Then once I play the game itself, I am almost always disappointed. The reason I worry for Star Citizen is because it is starting to become it’s own self perpetuating hype machine.
Back when Star Citizen was just a little Kickstarter, the stretch goals were promising 100 star systems and even a fully orchestrated soundtrack! These were the honest desires of a small game attempting to make it in the big leagues. But now the plan has changed entirely. Currently instead of promising orchestrated scores, Star Citizen is claiming it will provide multiple play styles, merchants, pirates, fighters, scavengers, and more, public transport systems, FPS elements on certain planets, facial capture system so your character will look like you, player managed and owned space stations and much much more. All of those things together make the game sound like it will be too good to be true! And that is the problem, things that seem too good to be true usually are.
With so many different playstyles, space stations, and explorable planets, there are many points of failure. All it would take is for one to be not well done, like the FPS segments or the thrill of exploration, for the game to lose a ton of its fun, if not fall apart altogether. Chris Roberts and his crew have so many things on their plate, all of which need to be done right, and it isn't going to be easy.
The development time required to produce and test every single one of these features is sure to be immense. There are plenty of FPS titles that get released that aren't very good, and all they had to focus on was the FPS mechanics! Star Citizen not only has to worry about dog fight mechanics for a wide range of ship classes and sizes, but also FPS mechanics, space station customization and more! That is a lot for one team to do.
The good news is that since the expanded goals are directly linked to budget increases, Star Citizen should have the money to support each of the project’s promises. Most AAA titles fall short of their promises because money runs short or is completely cut from the project so certain aspects of the game have to be compromised, which is one of the myriad reasons Spore turned out so disappointing. Another mitigating factor for game development is time. Usually game development is chasing a deadline outlined by investors or producers, not the developers themselves, so occasionally features have to be cut or watered down for the sake of keeping the deadline. Luckily, Chris Roberts has played the deadline game right by just never giving one. Currently the game is expected to be released by the end of 2014, but since there hasn't really been an official announcement, they can take as much time as they need to finish it, which is great. I would much rather have to wait six more months for a game and have it be well done and polished than get a half-baked beta copy, like the catastrophe that was SimCity 5.
The last speck of hope inside the maelstrom of hype and marketing is from an open letter on the Star Citizen website. It claims that most of the stretch goals were already planned to be included, but were left on the drawing board because of budget constraints. This is comforting because they were already planning on implementing these features eventually, instead of just making them up on the fly. This shows that the added features have been thought out and evaluated, not just marketing hot air.
Star Citizen is the largest crowd funded game to date, pulling in over $25 million since its announcement. As the hype on the game has grown, more money has flooded into the game, causing more features to be added which, in turn, increases the hype again. This perpetual hype machine has me worried that Star Citizen may not live up to it’s promises, but if anyone can do it, it’s Chris Roberts and his team. Good luck guys and I’m looking forward to living out my space cowboy fantasies.