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Saturday, July 16, 2016

Star Citizen: a backer's perspective

An old school Wing Commander fan explains why he backed Star Citizen and why, despite being a critic of Derek Smart, he has reluctantly come to conclude that Derek appears to be more or less correct:
After the initial crowdfunding campaign they kept promising more and more stuff. Not only had the game gone from being the “spiritual successor of Wing Commander” (a single player game), it was blowing up to be a full MMORPG. And I was fine with that. At first. I was so fine that when they showed off the Retaliator bomber I loved it and dished out $225 for one. And the idea of being information smuggler sounded cool so I dished out money for that too. But then as they continued to get millions of dollars every month I kinda saw it getting out of hand. I fully realise I know very little of what it actually takes to deliver a game and I know it takes a lot of time to make a game. A delay can easily be a year. But when they were promising new features, new ships without actually releasing much I kinda saw the problems of this ever being released. If they take two-three months to get a ship to “flight ready” and they keep coming up with 7-8 new ships every year, how are they ever to get done? If they add new feature to the scope before releasing the basic ones promised during Kickstarter like trading, how are they ever gonna get done?

And during July of 2015 Derek Smart happened. He’s a game maker who has tried to pull off these grand space games for years and never really made it. Which means he knows some of the pitfalls of even trying. He started criticising the “Star Citizen” project – very vocally, bullyuishly, annoyingly, contrived, “deliberately wanting to turn everything into a bad thing” way. And he got very personal against Chris Roberts, his wife and his lawyer (that all co-founded the studio) in a way that was really uncool. But he always stopped right at the border of lying or making shit up. Yes, he twisted everything into a negative thing. And I was right there to point out the actual facts. But the problem of trying to argue with him was the fact that “CIG” (the studio making the game) never managed to prove him wrong. They never managed to shut him up by stepping up to the plate and deliver. Instead, they made his case stronger by coming up with more irrelevant features (plants anyone?), more subscriber flare, more ship-concept sales, more of everything except actual game content. An all this while constantly missing “estimated” release dates that they themselves estimated and set.

Then they went ahead and wrote a new Terms of Service that we have to accept. Which is fine, Blizzard does it all the time. But I actually read those things, it’s a result of working with lawyers for 8 years – I actually read before I sign. And in this Terms of Service they had removed any accountability what so ever, every chance of demanding a refund. It was basically a carté blanche for them to sail away with the $117+ million they had gotten from backers and as long as the company CIG was still “active” and stating the game was still being worked on (without ever actually delivering anything) then we had no rights at all as consumers. I really wasn’t OK with that. So I refused to accept the terms of service. That had the side effect of me not being able to login to the so called “game”.
 Hey, I assumed Derek was full of it too at first, but that was a consequence of my complete ignorance about what he'd been up to since the Battlecruiser 3000 AD days. After he appeared on Brainstorm last year, and convinced a number of game devs, who were far more dubious about him than the average gamer can likely understand, that he knew what he was talking about and that there were intractable problems designed into the development plan, I freely admitted I'd misjudged him.

I even invited him to speak at DevGame, which he did, and where he was a hit with many of the larval game developers there.

The ironic thing is that I've known and liked Chris for a long time. I even tried to help him get funding for the Wing Commander reboot, and I could have easily been an early team member of Star Citizen; he was very interested in using my psychological AI approach for the AI-controlled wingmen back when it was still going to be a Wing Commander-style game.

But no amount of doubts about Derek or respect for Chris changes the facts on the ground. They are what they are. And repeatedly, they have demonstrated that Derek is correct, the skeptical industry observers are correct, and the final meltdown is coming into view. This TOS fiasco looks exceptionally shady to me, and likely marks the beginning of the end.

However, Chris may have one last maneuver in him. Derek and I were discussing this - Derek was initially of the opinion that there is no way out - but it's what I would do if Chris unexpectedly asked me to rescue the project.
  1. Freeze all game development and release all game dev personnel.
  2. Take the massive amount of footage and effects and turn them into a movie.
  3. Release the movie and pray for sufficient success to provide the funding for developing a new Wing Commander-style game of the sort that people wanted in the first place.
It's a Hail Mary, but it's the one approach for which Chris still has the resources, and perhaps more importantly, which still has the capability to provide outcomes that will keep everyone more or less happy, employed, and out of prison. Movies are much simpler than games, particularly big budget games, and although the chances of Chris making a good movie that will be successful enough to kick out the $25 million needed to remake Wing Commander are slim, slim is always a damned sight better than none.

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32 Comments:

Blogger Patrick July 16, 2016 11:09 AM  

What's the reason this isn't in the Wing Commander universe? Surely there was enough money there to buy the rights.

Blogger James Dixon July 16, 2016 11:11 AM  

Chris *has* to know the game has failed at this point. Why else the new TOS? If he's not willing to admit that publicly, he's probably not willing to take any steps necessary to save it.

Anonymous Eduardo July 16, 2016 11:17 AM  

That would be a huge gamble Vox, what if you and Derek could just storm Chris's ofice and give him the life saving response? I feel like you two could pull it off big time, you are pretty good thinker and Smart knows what it take to do a game like Star Citizen.

Btw, it is always a delight to read your gaming posts man.

Blogger John rockwell July 16, 2016 11:26 AM  

While Chris have everyone right to be ambitious and I am sure he will benefit from putting his ambitions down in record. He is trying to do too much at the same time. Focus on the basics 1st and get it going. Then gradually build it up.

Blogger Patrick July 16, 2016 11:31 AM  

Thinking about it more, it's too bad he didn't put all his effort behind a single player Wing Commander type game with a basic multiplayer component aimed at consoles. Developers have really taken a pass on that market. No reason it couldn't be as big as COD.

Blogger VD July 16, 2016 11:34 AM  

Thinking about it more, it's too bad he didn't put all his effort behind a single player Wing Commander type game with a basic multiplayer component aimed at consoles.

That's what Wing Commander Reboot was supposed to be. That's why I approved it for funding.

Anonymous Big Bill July 16, 2016 11:43 AM  

Is cocaine involved anywhere? The ever expanding "vision" and grandiosity verging on megalomania strike a familiar chord from the 1980s.

Blogger Sun Xhu July 16, 2016 11:54 AM  

Should just take the WC III footage and redo the green-screened crap CGI, of the time, with modern.

Blogger YIH July 16, 2016 12:10 PM  

Big Bill wrote:Is cocaine involved anywhere? The ever expanding "vision" and grandiosity verging on megalomania strike a familiar chord from the 1980s.
It wouldn't surprise me. In previous posts I linked the Whackopedia page Ponzi scheme, it notes:
Ponzi schemes occasionally begin as legitimate businesses, until the business fails to achieve the returns expected.
In this case, a working, relatively bug-free, playable game.
The business becomes a Ponzi scheme if it then continues under fraudulent terms.
At first. I was so fine that when they showed off the Retaliator bomber I loved it and dished out $225 for one.
At lot of people said ''Aw yeah, cool spaceships you can buy!'' then quickly realized that they're digital ornaments, all you can do with them is look at them/show them off to your friends.
Then they actually try to play the game and discover as one YouTube poster put it ''Alpha? This thing is too broken to be an Alpha!''
Meanwhile CIG is raking in all that sweet, sweet cash and changing the TOS to try to hold on to it.
It would not surprise me a portion of that cash was spent on 'consumables' (maybe even of the white powdery kind) that got consumed.
''Where's my refund?!?'' Uh, we'll get back to you *run* *run* *run*

Anonymous BGKB July 16, 2016 12:25 PM  

2.Take the massive amount of footage and effects and turn them into a movie.

Do they actually have enough to make a coherent 1.5hour+ movie? Teleporting outside ships, & having your ass stick out into space might not play well on the big screen. They can't even walk standing up in their ships hallways.

Is cocaine involved anywhere? The ever expanding "vision" and grandiosity verging on megalomania strike a familiar chord from the 1980s

I wouldn't bet against it. The only reasonable bets is if it was off of tits or something else.

Blogger Jack Ward July 16, 2016 12:29 PM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

Blogger Jack Ward July 16, 2016 12:33 PM  

OK. Lets try that again with a few less tortures of the English language.
Movie equal interesting idea. If Vox is involved I lay down money to view.
Cheap human actors and/or digital ones. Avatar turned out good. Or, good enough, even with the human/CG mix. Digital actors work cheap [after CG creation] and don't take days off or have drug induces tantrums.
Go for it!

Blogger Human Animal July 16, 2016 12:40 PM  

I don't get why they didn't accept their first goal, (make a game) then say "now we have a long term goal of Super-Game and along the way, we can build sequels and dlc and spinoffs."

Blogger Dave July 16, 2016 12:47 PM  

Take the massive amount of footage and effects and turn them into a movie.

You're talking about a full length feature film not a biopic like Atari: Game Over, right?

I like it. Hail Mary's occasionally work; Aaron Rodger's Hail Mary just won the Best Play ESPY for whatever that is worth.

Blogger Cataline Sergius July 16, 2016 12:50 PM  

The thing that interests me here is the role Chris Roberts wife played in the affair.

At every point where a project manager should have put a foot down and said, "no". She actively encouraged him.

I was reminded of this when Director Michael Cimino recently died. A big chunk of the reason, Heaven's Gate was such a disaster was because of a woman.

And last was the most destructive addition of all. The Line Producer. The person who is supposed to rein in the excesses of the artist.

In fit of abject stupidity the studio agreed to Michael Cimino's choice of Joann Carelli. A woman whose primary job qualification was that she was fucking Michael Cimino.

At every turn where a line producer was needed to say, "no, Michael we can't do that." She invariably said, "yes." Shoot for a week in Yale because I've suddenly decided the film needs a bookend? "Yes, Michael no problem!" Tear down one entire side of the set and move it few feet back? "Absolutely, Michael this is your vision!" Have an authentic and period correct 1880s roller disco scene? "OF COURSE! Michael, you're a genius!"

Whenever she should have said, no. She said, yes and actively encouraged him.


Blogger Patrick July 16, 2016 12:52 PM  

@13, Maybe they looked at Kingdoms of Kingdoms of Amalur. That's what Curt Schilling tried to do. The base game didn't do well enough and then everything turned to shit.

Blogger Dave July 16, 2016 1:18 PM  

"Ponzi schemes occasionally begin as legitimate businesses, until the business fails to achieve the returns expected."

A Ponzi scheme is typically defined as an investment scheme in which the investments of later investors are used to pay earlier investors. That's not really the case here as the return was only ever expected to be a video game, correct?

Another definition is a fraudulent investing scam promising high rates of return with little risk to investors. What was the rate of return for those that spent hundreds and thousands on spaceships? A virtual advantage in the game?

Ultimately SC will probably be looked upon as an investment swindle if it fails to meet expectations but it shouldn't be classified as a Ponzi scheme. It shouldn't even be considered an investment in anything other than a video game.

Blogger Human Animal July 16, 2016 1:28 PM  

Patrick - Wouldn't the lesson to draw from Reckoning be: "Before we spend 100+ Million, why not spend the 2-3 million and find out if we're on the right track?"

Anonymous BGKB July 16, 2016 1:38 PM  

What was the rate of return for those that spent hundreds and thousands on spaceships? A virtual advantage in the game?

They can gank newbs(better players) who paid less for the game than the computer it is played on. All of the bought ships supposedly magically regenerated if destroyed. There are people who bought and played 5 WOW subscriptions just to be able to play 5 identical toons that could one shot people with focus fire you couldn't achieve with 5 players on vent.

Blogger maniacprovost July 16, 2016 1:40 PM  

I'm sure they can hire five geniuses for a million dollars each and have them duct tape the existing assets together in a year. The only hard part is you would need the world's greatest hiring director.

Blogger Patrick July 16, 2016 1:44 PM  

@18, Not sure what the actual lesson is, but I can see someone looking at Reckoning and thinking, "May as well go all in."

Anonymous KH July 16, 2016 2:06 PM  

Mystery science theater 3000!

Blogger Human Animal July 16, 2016 2:06 PM  

If you proposed to make Grand Theft Auto 1.5, got more funding than you asked for, then decided to make GTA 5.5 - Vice City Blues? I think you'd need to do better than "May as well go all in."

Anonymous Spartacus xxxxx July 16, 2016 2:40 PM  

Cataline Sergius wrote:The thing that interests me here is the role Chris Roberts wife played in the affair.

At every point where a project manager should have put a foot down and said, "no". She actively encouraged him.

I was reminded of this when Director Michael Cimino recently died. A big chunk of the reason, Heaven's Gate was such a disaster was because of a woman.


http://reactionarytimes.blogspot.com/2016/07/star-citizen-and-lessons-of-heavens-gate.html
"Heaven's Gate was a passion project for Cimino. He had been shopping the script around Hollywood for years. There were no takers on the grounds that no one thought that a Marxist flick about the evils of capitalism in the Old West would move tickets. These wiser-heads were completely right of course...
"When it came to Cimino's exacting methods - and his lack of interest when it came to lunch breaks...
"At the end of the day the film had cost 44 million... comparable to around half a billion in production terms."

So a dictatorial Marxist at a Capitalist company in the West blows half a billion (in 2016 dollars) to depict the evils of Capitalist companies in the West. He micromanages the project to near-death as central planners do, overworks and abuses the workers and animals, bankrupts the enterprise, and produces a white elephant that nobody outside of a concentration camp would look at. Nice.

critic Vincent Canby panned the film, calling it "an unqualified disaster," comparing it to "a forced four-hour walking tour of one's own living room.... Though Heaven's Gate was not the first film to have animals killed during its production, it is believed that the film was largely responsible for sparking the now common use of the "No animals were harmed ..

Blogger kh123 July 16, 2016 3:03 PM  

How does Solzhenitsyn frame the proverb? The horse that pulls the hardest, they urge on all the more. And: A zealous horse dies early.

"So a dictatorial Marxist at a Capitalist company in the West blows half a billion (in 2016 dollars) to depict the evils of Capitalist companies in the West. He micromanages the project to near-death as central planners do, overworks and abuses the workers and animals, bankrupts the enterprise, and produces a white elephant that nobody outside of a concentration camp would look at. Nice."

Rule #2, if I remember right.

Blogger kh123 July 16, 2016 3:08 PM  

...To follow that up, there's a hazy memory of either Himmler or Heydrich - one of the two, or likely both during a power lunch - talking about "this project or that project."

And it's Rule #3.

Blogger VD July 16, 2016 3:14 PM  

At every point where a project manager should have put a foot down and said, "no". She actively encouraged him.

They have absolutely no idea what is going on.

You're talking about a full length feature film not a biopic like Atari: Game Over, right?

Yes.

Do they actually have enough to make a coherent 1.5hour+ movie?

Almost certainly, considering that I've heard they've spent tens of millions of dollars on footage with various big name actors. They might need some CGI-rendered battle scenes, but they already have the models for those.

Regardless, they are a LOT closer to having the pieces for a complete movie or two than for a complete game.

What's the reason this isn't in the Wing Commander universe?

Piranha acquired the rights from EA first, although they didn't do anything with them.

Btw, it is always a delight to read your gaming posts man.

Merci.

Anonymous Spartacus xxxxx July 16, 2016 8:36 PM  

kh123 wrote:...To follow that up, there's a hazy memory of either Himmler or Heydrich - one of the two, or likely both during a power lunch - talking about "this project or that project."

And it's Rule #3.


Houston, we have A Convergence.

Blogger Aeoli Pera July 16, 2016 8:43 PM  

I'm not following this except through these blog posts, but the impression I get is that the TOS change stripped away most of the popular sympathy. What would have been a disappointing fizzle is now potentially an explosion.

Blogger The Kurgan July 17, 2016 12:49 PM  

VD,
You don't often make a bad call, but this one is.
Unless you mean some kind of direct to DVD/ online streaming (who would even pay for it) the idea of making a movie that will bring cash in instead of more out is not feasible.
I have had more than a little dealings with both TV and film (big screen) and my guess after reading this is that you may not be very familiar with that industry.

To call it a parliament of whores on crack is an insult to crack whores.

Anonymous Jack Amok July 17, 2016 12:54 PM  

I don't get why they didn't accept their first goal, (make a game) then say...

You say that like "make a game" is easy. Sometimes it goes south, and you realize the game you were trying to make isn't all that good. You've made some wrong decisions, or your engineers chowdered things, whatever. You're far enough along you should have something close to release, but you've got a mess.

What do you do?

There are three basic options:

1) cancel the project, lick your wounds, and hope you leaned something for next time.

2) roll the project back to where you think it went wrong and re-do it. Likely this means scaling it back and ultimately releasing something smaller than your original vision.

3) Expand the vision, morph the project, adding on new features in the (almost certainly vain) hope the new things will provide the fun the stillborn original vision lacks.

Option 1 is usually the right thing to do. If you've gotten to the point of considering this decision, you probably have more than one thing wrong with your team and it's very risky to keep putting money into that team. But Robert's entire reputation is based on Wing Commander, and it's been too long without a release from it, so if he abandoned the reboot, where would he be? Would he have another chance to do anything big again?

As best I can tell, Derek Smart with Battlecruiser 3000AD took option 2. He eventually delivered something, but it was no where near what everyone (me included) had been expecting, and it was a profound disappointment. It wasn't very good for his reputation. Until his recent dust-up with Roberts, the first thing almost anyone in the game industry (or fanbase) who was old enough to know the name thought of when they heard "Derek Smart" was "the guy who botched that game back in the 90's."

CSI is taking option 3. It almost never works - almost can't work, but the other two options may not look very appealing to someone looking for one last hurrah.

Blogger GeuxBacon July 20, 2016 7:45 PM  

I managed to avoid dropping more than 2 figures on the game thanks to my general distrust of giving people money for a product I can't possess for an unknown length of time. And I saw the constant sales of new ships that didn't even exist (even as a digital thing can exist), plus the exorbitant pricing. Too bad,, because if the game they pitched when they started crowdfunding had come into being, it could have been pretty cool.

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