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Thursday, July 07, 2016

The state of Star Citizen

Derek Smart provides a detailed, and devastating, summary of the current state of the troubled project:
The exodus of key talent from the four studios around the world has also been an on-going event this past year. To the extent that the project is so toxic, that at this point, anyone working on it has basically earned themselves a Black mark on their resume. Ridicule aside. But, in an unprecedented move, that hasn’t stopped two (John Dadley, Darian Vorlick) recent departures from immediately taking to social media to stress that the sky isn’t falling. Because, you know, it’s perfectly normal to bail on such a high profile project just as the general outlook is that it’s all falling apart, gamers are being screwed etc. A project which, as of this writing, has over 60 positions that it can’t fill. And this month alone, there are rumored to be at least four more high profile people looking to leave. But everything’s fine though. That’s just normal game development turnover you know. The thing about this industry is that we never – ever – forget.

Meanwhile, Sandi Gardiner, wife of Chris Roberts and “head of marketing” (<— lol!) was recently posting pictures of staff at the LA and UK studios on social media. Funny thing, some people (including the two aforementioned people) in those pictures are actually gone. And at least four are on their way out. I guess the teams over in Frankfurt and Austin, for all the hype they get for being key parts of the game’s development, don’t get their pictures taken.

Also in the past year, most of the media hype around the project has all but died down, as most (even those gamestar.de Shillizens over in Germany are heading South with their narrative) have started hedging their bets since all of this – sadly – has all boiled down to a “Derek Smart v Chris Roberts” narrative this past year. Even as they completely ignore the plight of gamers who unwittingly put their money into this crowd-funded project, and who previously had the security of refunds and financial accountability. Heck, even with the unprecedented ToS change that happened last month, very few in the media even wrote about that. And as a media contact said to me, simply put, nobody wants to deal with Shitizens descending on their sites and turning it into a war zone. Which to me begs the question: what about when the final collapse comes?

CIG/RSI has fermented so much ill will toward most of its very own backers, that when the Feds finally come calling, it won’t be because of anything that anyone has written, but from the many complaints that are being filed with various consumer protection agencies here and in various countries (Australians have it easy, nobody messes with consumers over there – get a refund!) where backers are frantically trying to get refunds.

And if your warning alarms haven’t started going off yet, recently in a new refund rejection letter template to backers, they have started saying that CIG is no longer the entity that should be reported to agencies regarding this project and/or refunds. They’re saying that RSI – a shell company before the past month – is now the one carrying the liability. This despite the fact that almost every single backer prior to the new ToS of June 1st, 2016, has a receipt for goods sold to them by CIG or one of the other many shell companies associated with this project.
There is more. There is considerably more. The upshot is that Derek and other skeptics were right to conclude, one year ago, that Star Citizen was not going to ship as advertised, and that the project is likely to end in a debacle of proportions that will make famous game industry failures of the past, including Battlecruiser 3000 AD, look like nothing more than modest appetizers to a royal feast.

The project has gradually morphed from overly ambitious project to troubled production to what appears to be an open pyramid scheme. At this point, it wouldn't surprise me if it ended in recriminations, lawsuits, and criminal charges.

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32 Comments:

Anonymous Mathias July 07, 2016 5:49 AM  

You know, Charles Ponzi only managed to rake in 20 million with his scheme. So the question is not if this will end in criminal charges, but rather; how many of the participants will be charged, and which ones.

Blogger Myles July 07, 2016 5:51 AM  

Space Engineers already does what Star Citizen wants to do and has a strong crafting element. Buggy like Bethesda made it, but when you give KEEN your money you get a game instead of the realization that, no, Virginia, there isn't a Star Citizen.

Blogger Raziel Walker July 07, 2016 5:54 AM  

This is why you don't invest in vaporware. Let real investors decide if the risk is worth investing. Buy the real finished product when it is actually available in stores. DLC moneygrabs are another sign you should avoid a product.

Blogger Human Animal July 07, 2016 6:02 AM  

B-b-but if we hold kickstarter projects accountable for delivering things, we'll j-j-just be scaring off artists and innovators!

Anonymous basementhomebrewer July 07, 2016 6:07 AM  

The question now is when is the best time to release a basic update of Wing Commander titled "Quasar Rapefugee: Rapfuegees are better than Citizens"

Anonymous Napoleon 12pdr July 07, 2016 6:29 AM  

It'll only end in criminal charges if someone missed a protection payment to the Democrat Gauleiter.

Anonymous basementhomebrewer July 07, 2016 6:34 AM  

OT: Google's homepage today is very, very problematic. It is celebrating a woman who discovered the sex chromosomes (which of course, we are informed don't exist). I wonder if they make it through the day or if the SJW's manage to get them to take it down.

Blogger Cataline Sergius July 07, 2016 7:28 AM  

These kind of management failures are an interesting study for me. Everyone always assumes they are things of the past and can never happen again. And yet they do.

Michael Cimino just died at the age 77. He was the director of the notorious bomb of Nagasaki like proportions; Heaven's Gate. This was the film that famously broke United Artist's studios.

There were several factors involved with this failure but the biggest was the appointment of Joann Carelli as the line producer. It's the Line Producer's job to say, "no" to the artist.

The problem here, (as with Star Citizen) was that this executive's primary qualification for the job was that she was fucking the artist.

The rather obvious take away here is don't hire someone's wife, if that wife's major job is to rein in the creative instincts of her man.

It's so obvious, I can't figure out why this still keeps happening.

OpenID denektenorsk July 07, 2016 8:24 AM  

Funnily enough I was just black knighting this a few days ago. A coworker said "When Star Citizen is released..." and I burst out laughing and then started to point out why it will never ship. 2 days later he was parroting some of my points. Mission Accomplished!

As a friend said "Why would they ship? They all already have all of the money they'll ever make.".

The real problem with Star Citizen is it will ruin it for the rest of us. If an "expert" like Roberts can't do it, why should anyone trust dev XYZ to succeed (aside from the obvious of having and sticking to a core vision).

Anonymous Toastrider July 07, 2016 8:31 AM  

@2: Space Engineers. Empyrion. Elite: Dangerous. All of these seem to fill the roles Star Citizen is looking for, and in some cases better.

I try to keep my cynicism in check. And God knows anything that comes out of Derek Smart's mouth gets taken with a huge grain of salt. Sorry, Derek, but some of us DO remember the Usenet days, and that poor unmourned drink machine.

But as I'm fond of saying, even madmen and fools can be right. And if they ARE right, you have an obligation to respect the truth, regardless of who's saying it. And the more I see of Star Citizen, the more I get vibes of John Romero and Daikatana, or the dumpster fire that was Duke Nukem Forever's development, squared and cubed.

Anonymous Kell July 07, 2016 8:47 AM  

I'll be one of the first to admit that Star Citizen seems to be doomed to failure, and I'm a bit disappointed by that, but really, does no one else realize that crowdfunding a development project is a gamble? These things can fail for any number of reasons, including personality conflicts, technical hurdles, underestimating costs, mission creep and the ever-popular gross stupidity. Do a basic risk assessment, figure out the rough odds of success and roll your dice. And don't throw money at it you can't afford to lose. How hard is that? Isn't that just common sense?

Blogger c0pperheaded July 07, 2016 8:49 AM  

I see some parallels between Star Citizen and the recently deceased director Michael Cimino, (who directed "The Deer Hunter") when he set out to make the greatest Western ever made which turned out to be "Heaven's Gate". It's not a bad movie, but it is not the masterpiece that it was supposed to be. It had an $11.6 million budget and wound up costing about $44 million. It made $3.5 million at the box office, so lost $40.5 million. It just seems that these grand ideas/projects never live up to their promise.

Blogger Sillon Bono July 07, 2016 8:56 AM  

No man Sky:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D-uMFHoF8VA

Blogger VD July 07, 2016 9:06 AM  

I try to keep my cynicism in check. And God knows anything that comes out of Derek Smart's mouth gets taken with a huge grain of salt. Sorry, Derek, but some of us DO remember the Usenet days, and that poor unmourned drink machine.

But how is that relevant? It's been one year since he first posted about Star Citizen and events have quite clearly supported his view of the situation, and not the view being put forth by its defenders.

Anonymous Toastrider July 07, 2016 9:11 AM  

@14: Goes to credibility, yer honor. Derek does have a reputation as being, how shall we say, a little excitable? And there is room to argue he's feeling a little sour grapes since BC3000 didn't exactly set the gaming world on fire.

Again, though, even madmen and fools can be right, and I have a distinct feeling Smart's right on this. The behavior of the devs has been... dare I say it? Problematic. :)

Blogger YIH July 07, 2016 9:23 AM  

I find it interesting the Starles Ponzinen has yet to sue Smart for libel. I wouldn't be too surprised if that's the next tactic they try. The illegal alien (yes he was) did it - and won!
The difference here is Smart has documented all his claims.

Blogger VD July 07, 2016 9:26 AM  

Goes to credibility, yer honor. Derek does have a reputation as being, how shall we say, a little excitable?

That's true.

And there is room to argue he's feeling a little sour grapes since BC3000 didn't exactly set the gaming world on fire.

That's total bullshit. I mean, seriously, that indicates absolutely zero knowledge of the professional game development community at all. First, BC3000 was a LONG time ago and Derek has successfully released many games since then. He wouldn't still be working in the industry if he wasn't a successful developer.

Second, there is NOTHING that would have been better for Derek than for Star Citizen to have been a huge success. As one of the few successful developers in that genre, he'd have found it much easier to raise development funds.

Look, I'd never once spoken to Derek before this whole Star Citizen thing. And he is FAR from the only veteran developer to recognize that the situation is a catastrophic clusterfuck. He's merely the most outspoken.

Blogger Cail Corishev July 07, 2016 9:34 AM  

some of us DO remember the Usenet days

Good times, good times. Derek wasn't always an easy guy to like on alt.games.bc3000ad. Reading his stuff now, though, I wouldn't guess he was the same guy if he wrote under another name. He seems to be calmly reporting what he hears. If he's getting some extra enjoyment from seeing someone else take a beating like he took, that similar context gives him extra insight into what avoidance tactics they might pull, no?

Anonymous Big Bill July 07, 2016 9:39 AM  

They’re saying that RSI – a shell company before the past month – is now the one carrying the liability.

Nice try. But fraudulent conveyance law will get them. I am sure the corporate formalities have not been observed, too. Pierce dat ol' corporate veil an' git 'em!

Anonymous VFM #9617 July 07, 2016 10:32 AM  

I have backed a few Kickstarter games, with no debacles. But also no hype. I have a friend who sunk a few hundred into Star Citizen early on and I looked into it. Concept is great, still have old disks and an ancient Wing Commander t-shirt, but when I saw you could invest thousands into your ship, pay to play (want to trade? Need to drop c-notes for a ship with cargo space), I called BS and forgot about it.

Anonymous BGKB July 07, 2016 11:06 AM  

You know, Charles Ponzi only managed to rake in 20 million with his scheme.

I am pretty sure a scheme like his was documented in Martin Luther's book about all the financial scams known in the 1500s

but when I saw you could invest thousands into your ship, pay to play

Get ganked by a trust fund kid who spend $50,000 on upgrades.

Anonymous Mathias July 07, 2016 11:19 AM  

@2, Have you tried Empyrion: Galactic Survival? Same basic premise and mechanics as SE, MUCH better performance (and more focused on survival rather than complex crafting).

Anonymous Toastrider July 07, 2016 11:43 AM  

@17: Because nobody has never held grudges, or ever acted irrationally, right? :)

Look, we're getting off topic here and as much fun as it is, it's poor form on my part. I'm not a fan of Smart, and I probably shouldn't have mentioned it; I have a bad habit of bringing up 'the bad news' before the good, to try and convert metaphorical uppercuts into weak jabs. I do give Derek credit for calming down a good bit (as Cail noted in @18, he seems to have mellowed substantially).

At the end of the day, Star Citizen is showing a distressing amount of ... hmmm, what's a good term for it? Nonconformance? Probable failure points? And CIG/RSI is not doing much to alleviate it.

@19: Boy howdy, that's a great business plan (/sarc)... hope Roberts doesn't plan to try and do anything ELSE afterwards though. Even if he evades prosecution I can't see any investors wanting to touch him with a ten meter cattle prod.

@22: I've been playing Empyrion for a while. Its big weakness is that once you reach a certain point in advancement and crafting, the AI is only slightly more dangerous than your average housecat. You can mount heavy turret weapons on your base and capital vessels, and smash most enemy base defenses with massed rocket fire from a small vessel.

Blogger residentMoron July 07, 2016 11:50 AM  

I'd be surprised if the law suits were not the beginning rather than the end, that's how big a screw-up this thing has become.

The legal ramifications of being sued across as many jurisdictions as they have broken laws in, are going to be labyrinthine to say the least.

Blogger S1AL July 07, 2016 12:47 PM  

"The real problem with Star Citizen is it will ruin it for the rest of us. If an "expert" like Roberts can't do it, why should anyone trust dev XYZ to succeed (aside from the obvious of having and sticking to a core vision)."

Proof of concept is the main thing I'm interested in for crowd funding. Fortunately my tastes run more towards relatively simple digital designs, so "Here's the product concept, we need $xxxxxx for implementation" is enough for me.

Anonymous dsmart July 07, 2016 4:35 PM  

@Big Bill

Big Bill wrote:They’re saying that RSI – a shell company before the past month – is now the one carrying the liability.

Nice try. But fraudulent conveyance law will get them. I am sure the corporate formalities have not been observed, too. Pierce dat ol' corporate veil an' git 'em!


We have no idea why they did it other than to shift liability from one entity to another. Under normal circumstances, it's perfectly legal because that's how corps protect one legal entity in case a subsidiary collapses. What's suspicious is that they chose to do it now - four years later - and right after a drastic ToS change, coupled with liability shift from CIG to RSI in said ToS.

And I'm not screaming fraud at this point. Considering all the corporate entities that they have (15!), coupled with the fact that they made this change, along with some entity filing changes in TX, they're definitely preparing for something. Only time will tell.

===
List of Star Citizen related corporate entities

Cloud Imperium Games Corp, West Hollywood, CA
Cloud Imperium Games LLC, West Hollywood, CA
Cloud Imperium Services, LLC West Hollywood, CA
Cloud Imperium Games LLC, Santa Monica, CA
Cloud Imperium Games Texas LLC, West Hollywood, CA
Cloud Imperium Games Texas LLC, Austin, TX
Cloud Imperium Games UK Limited, UK
Foundry 42 Limited, UK
Foundry 42, Germany
Gemini 42 Entertainment LLC, West Hollywood, CA
Gemini 42 Productions LLC, Santa Monica, CA
Roberts Space Industries Corp, West Hollywood, CA
Roberts Space Industries International Limited, UK
Twin Brothers Production Inc, West Hollywood, CA
Twin Bros, Germany

Blogger Markku July 07, 2016 5:08 PM  

Proof of concept is the main thing I'm interested in for crowd funding. Fortunately my tastes run more towards relatively simple digital designs, so "Here's the product concept, we need $xxxxxx for implementation" is enough for me.

The problem is rhetorical, really. "Remember Star Citizen?" is such a simple and obvious meme. It's what people with vague understanding of crowdfunding will walk away with. So, to say that you crowdfunded a project, is taken as an admission of being a shmuck. And the unfortunate fact is that no matter what facts and logic says, when something becomes socially embarrassing, it's by far the most efficient thing to cause them to stop doing it.

Blogger S1AL July 07, 2016 7:01 PM  

@Markku - Good thing gamers are already socially incompetent schmuck (heh)! I think this will certainly put a damper on the outrageously massive funding projects, but I consider that a good thing overall. I doubt it will do much to the 5-6 figure projects that are mostly built on reputation anyways.

Blogger Zimri July 07, 2016 7:53 PM  

I don't think Star Citizen's epic fail is going to ruin "it" for the rest of us, if by "it" you mean "Starflightlike exploration through a procedurally-generated universe". No Man's Sky is coming. Mass Effect Andromeda is coming. Empyrion is sort-of already here, albeit in alpha form.

Anonymous Toastrider July 07, 2016 8:26 PM  

@26: Yeah, but if Roberts and Co. pull something like this, regardless of getting away with it, it's still going to permanently sour people on anything to do with them in the future. It seems weirdly shortsighted to try to run that kind of dodge; people are going to remember.

Also, and none of these incorporations are in a 'tax haven', either. 10 in the U.S. (9 in California, too!), 3 in the UK, 2 in Germany. Very strange.

Blogger Markku July 07, 2016 11:23 PM  

if by "it" you mean "Starflightlike exploration through a procedurally-generated universe"

I mean any big crowdfunded project whatsoever. Crowdfunding has so far worked because it has acquired lots of social capital by not having any massive, widely known failures. Due to the specifics of this project, this one will be such.

Blogger GeuxBacon July 11, 2016 7:00 PM  

I backed it with a low 2-figure investment midway last year. But I was quickly turned off by their blatant greed in pricing the 'cool' ships. To get the ship(s) I wanted, I would have had to pay somewhere around $500. So I just put it in the back of my mind and have been waiting. Too bad too, because it could have been pretty cool.

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