Vague Patch Notes: Why stan an MMO with nothing to show for itself?

"Hope for the best" does not apply when your car is on fire

    
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Vague Patch Notes: Why stan an MMO with nothing to show for itself?

We need to talk about Star Citizen, folks. But maybe not in the way you might be thinking. Not about the game’s development, which is dragging on with no end in sight and no effective scope management; that’s just a set of facts. No, we need to talk about the fact that I assure you that at least one or two people read that previous line and immediately scampered down to the comments to explain how actually things are going fine, and the development makes sense, and you’ll all be looking so silly when the game releases or goes into beta or whatever.

These are not connected facts. It is entirely possible to want the game to release and be good while also recognizing that it has missed its targeted release date by six years now and does not look to be released any time soon (just for giggles, I’d note that Daikatana missed its release date by about three). So when I say we need to talk about Star Citizen, what we really need to talk about is the art of stanning for MMOs with… well, nothing to show for themselves.

Yes, the few members of the defense brigade left after the first paragraph have scarpered off for good now to insist that the current state of the game is something. See? I planned this.

I’ve written before about how you want to be a fan but not a fanboy, and a cursory glance would reveal that these are not unrelated phenomena. After all, what we’re talking about here are pure fanboys. The only difference is that instead of being a fanboy for a game that’s actually out and in the midst of making all the wrong decisions a la WildStar, it’s being a fanboy for a game without a proper release version of any sort. Do we really need to talk about this separately?

Well… yes. The whole Chronicles of Elyria implosion alone should show that. But it still bears discussion because with a released game, we’re still looking at a problem whereby someone has decided that the game is going to be good based on crowdfunding promises, which leads to both dropping more money on the game and divorcing oneself from the critical analysis normally required before you give a game your money.

Paying for a game is, at least theoretically, a relatively pure transaction. You pay a certain amount of money and get a game. If you like the game, then maybe you pay more later or buy a subsequent game from the same people. If you don’t like the game – or more pointedly, you don’t get a game – then you don’t provide more money.

Sorry, wait, were we not pointing this one out yet?

Crowdfunded games, unfortunately, wedge out a really weird space in the valley of the Sunk Cost Fallacy. For starters, you’re already paying money for a game that’s earlier along in the development process than what you’d normally expect, meaning that there’s time and space for design to radically change because what you’re being sold is mostly an idea. For another, though, you’re often being asked to fund the idea, then keep funding the idea for longer and longer.

So the mindset seems to progress something like this:

  1. “I really like this idea that I put down $BASIC GAME COST for a while back.”
  2. “If the game never gets made, then I’m out $BASIC GAME COST and I never get my idea, so I’m a double loser.”
  3. “The developers are asking for more money, which means they need more to finish the game.”
  4. “If no one thinks the game will come out or be any good, then they won’t get any more money, and then it will not be made.”
  5. “Clearly, what is in the best interests of my initial investment of $BASIC GAME COST is to ensure that people don’t say bad things about this game, thus justifying my initial investment based on an idea I like.”

You can add some extra sting to this for every bit of additional stuff purchased in the as-of-yet unreleased game. The point is that it’s really easy to start seeing it as a simple matter of dealing with the sunk cost, which provokes an additional sting because someone who doesn’t believe in the game doesn’t just not-believe in the game itself but also doesn’t believe in your idea.

Whatever you think about Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen at the moment is based as much on speculation as it is on the actual game at this point because the actual game is not yet released. But there’s some uncomfortable midspace between arguing that a given game does or doesn’t have good content and arguing that a game will have good content, especially when that content mostly exists in the form of a dream.

Heck, I think that’s actually a point in their favor on one level. If you really like Black Desert when I don’t, my criticism is a reflection on the game itself as it exists. But if I say something negative about a game like Star Citizen that’s currently just in very early testing? I’m actively attacking ideas in your head! Clearly, I’m an utter monster of evil darkness and must be shouted down.

My ideas are so good!

The result, sadly, looks a lot less like “I have successfully defended my Ideals from the Haters” than this particular defense brigade likes to assume. Far from making people think they were wrong to ask questions about this clear avatar of future glory, it usually makes people not already far into the converted camp think that this particular game’s fans have whipped themselves into an undesirable cultish following (especially when a given game’s PR department seems to actively encourage that thinking).

And trust me, when a PR studio wants its fans to serve as free promotions, that’s generally a bad sign.

Let me be clear about something: At least among the staff here, it’s pretty much accepted as an a priori assumption that we want MMOs to come out and be awesome. We would like the games that we are skeptical about to prove us wrong and absolutely rock, both for the sake of market diversity and simply to see more ideas come to fruition in the genre we all love enough to spend years of our life writing about them. But when a game is routinely delaying, failing to communicate, going over budget, going silent for long stretches, and so forth… that’s not a good sign, and the reason that it’s not a good sign has nothing to do with malice aforethought. It has to do with recognizing how the story is going.

In a novel, it would be called a callback.

For those of you who didn’t take a hop and a skip right down to the comments, though, I would both thank you for reading and thinking and urge you to take a step back. Yes, I know you’re eager for a given crowdfunded game to come out. But criticism of a game based on actual development red flags doesn’t mean the critic hates the game or wants it to fail. It just means people are paying attention to development trends.

You don’t have to defend an MMORPG. The game should be able to defend itself on its own merits. And if it can’t do that… maybe your priority shouldn’t be getting a return on that initial purchase price beyond a refund.

Sometimes you know exactly what’s going on with the MMO genre, and sometimes all you have are Vague Patch Notes informing you that something, somewhere, has probably been changed. Senior Reporter Eliot Lefebvre enjoys analyzing these sorts of notes and also vague elements of the genre as a whole. The potency of this analysis may be adjusted under certain circumstances.

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Brian McBride

It really feels like there haven’t been any new significant MMOs is many years. Well, released anyway. There has been a LOT of interesting starts and crowdfunding projects.

Animal Crossing shows there is a huge market for new MMOs. Yeah, it’s not 100% a MMO, but I think it is close enough. People like the idea of going into a world to build something. But they also want some challenge and resistance. Open world MMOs that still feel safe and a bit easy at first.

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dsmart

I just popped in to say that this was a very good article.

Carry on.

ps. Joe is going to be working a long weekend.

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Rndomuser

The result, sadly, looks a lot less like “I have successfully defended my Ideals from the Haters” than this particular defense brigade likes to assume. Far from making people think they were wrong to ask questions about this clear avatar of future glory, it usually makes people not already far into the converted camp think that this particular game’s fans have whipped themselves into an undesirable cultish following (especially when a given game’s PR department seems to actively encourage that thinking).

Yes, very true. A lot of overly aggressive fans of the game cannot comprehend that their behavior may show the potential customers the kind of fanbase they will have to play with once the game will be released, and a lot of rational people just do not want to play with people who allow their fanaticism to go to such level where they start throwing personal insults and outright lies towards any person with valid criticism of the game and ignoring anything else including undeniable facts. It is even more unfortunate when the developers of the game encourage such behavior through inaction, criticizing ONLY the people who have valid concerns about the game and the company, not understanding the harm such behavior from aggressive fans of the game will unquestionably create.

Funny thing is, that’s what I exactly posted about on the official forums of certain game which is still being developed (no, it was not Star Citizen), before reading your article. I’m glad that at least one other person can see the situation such aggressive fans create and describe this situation in details, even if this article may fall on deaf ears, especially when it comes to the developers of the game.

Raleigh-St-Clair
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Raleigh-St-Clair

The great irony is if people had shown Star Citizen LESS love, and not become enamoured with buying and trading JPGs of spaceships, the game would have had lower targets and been out by now.

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dsmart

That’s one way to look at it; however, lets not forget that once they increased the scope past the original specs, the project was ultimately doomed. So, I think that it would have either been another failed KS project, or it would have been limping along with very little interest like so many others.

Also, don’t forget that after raising over $400m+ from backers and investors for what was originally a $2m game, to this day – eight years later – they still don’t have the original $2m game they pitched. And that says all there needs to be said about that.

Raleigh-St-Clair
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Raleigh-St-Clair

Yes… and why did they increase those original specs? Because people showed it too much love, ie: gave it too much money. It’s already there in what I said, yet you seem to think you’re making a new point?! I’m a bit confused by that.

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dsmart

The scope creep had nothing to do with that because it was up to the creator to stick with their original design plan. They didn’t increase the scope because of “love”. They increased the scope because they wanted to, then presented it to the backers who then went along with it. The scope increase came before, not after. There’s a big difference. Backers didn’t first give them money to go ahead and increase the scope.

Raleigh-St-Clair
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Raleigh-St-Clair

It depends on how tight you’re being with your definitions here. I mean, heck, the stretch goals during the initial crowd fund on Kickstarter can be interpreted as scope creep even though they were all made up-front… conversely the additional goals they kept coming up with as people threw more money at them AFTER the Kickstarter can be interpreted the same way… it all depends where you want to draw the line in the sand. Bottom line, there was always more sketched out BEFORE they got the money. But if people hadn’t shown the game as much love – and here again, surprise, we’re back at my original comment – the game would have maintained a more manageable road-map and been out by now. This isn’t rocket science.

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dsmart

You’re going around in circles. Let’s try this another way.

1) Original 2012 fundraising had a set of promises. They ask for $2m and got $700K

http://web.archive.org/web/20121015042706/http://robertsspaceindustries.com/star-citizen/

2) They moved it to KS a few weeks later with the same goals. They asked for $2m and got $2.1m

3) After KS completed in Nov 2012, they unveiled their new site, kept increasing the scope, and got $65m by end of 2014

https://robertsspaceindustries.com/funding-goals

4) After that, they stopped adding scope to *that* schedule, instead opting to just do it little by little over time via various promises made in newsletters, videos, announcements, trade shows etc. while selling ships which primarily funded the scope creep.

So, ask yourself this, what came first; the chicken or the egg? I can help you with that.

The scope creep came from CIG. They created it, presented it, and backers *then* paid for them to do as promised.

Had CIG not created scope creep first, how would the “love” have converted to money? Get it now?

Raleigh-St-Clair
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Raleigh-St-Clair

There’s nothing for me to ‘get’ – I’ve had the right of this since square one and you’re just argumentative. Let’s use your own words. The goals between 1) and 2) were the same. No additions needed to reach the goal amount, just a change to the industry standard crowd-funding platform. And when the dollar amount WAS exceeded, yes CIG certainly did introduce more stretch goals; based on the fact the support was there and showed no signs of stopping. Again, taking us back to my comment about people giving the game too much love. At this point, the audience had the choice of whether to keep throwing money at the game, or to collectively stop and think, “OK, they have all the money they’ve asked for, and we’ve all given well over what a boxed game costs. Time to stop…” But no, like a pack of morons, the backers collectively threw pay packet after pay packet at the game and ate up all those stretch goals until eventually even CIG declared it had no more stretch goals to offer… and people STILL threw excessive amounts of money at them. That is absolute fact. And comes back… yet again… to what I originally said. If people had shown Star Citizen LESS love, and not become enamoured with buying and trading JPGs of spaceships, the game would have had lower targets and been out by now. The end. No more correspondence will be entered into on this topic.

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dsmart

Right. Still going around in circles. Carry on.

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Armsman

As usual Derek smart is wrong. Yes the goal was 2 million for the crowdfunding; but the original concept game before the scope creep was estimated to cost 20 million.

But hey it’s Derek smart he doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about when it comes to modern game development, he’s just another person with an opinion, and you know what they say about opinions.

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dsmart

“but the original concept game before the scope creep was estimated to cost 20 million.”

You guys lie. A lot. All the time. So please, go ahead and prove me wrong. Cite the source of this particular lie, and prove that it was in fact true.

Let’s ignore the fact that, even after they got $20m, they still didn’t even build that game. Nine years later.

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Utakata

What Mr. Roberts (and others like him) should of done was start with a bare basic game with specific goals in mind, an aspect of that overall dream if you will…then work on that to release a working gem on an objective schedule. Then after it’s release, work expanding that dream to the next. And so forth…

…this is how WoW and FFXIV worked to degree in the example. With each expansion, more of that dream would be realized. And what are expansions anyway, but realized playable stretch goals. There is no need to string everyone along. The game is there to play and an entirely tangible. And in the case of Star Citizen (as with others), this could have all been funded at start via crowd funding initiatives.

But Mr. Roberts (and others like him) didn’t go that rout at all. Instead, he wants to make a game with all it’s expansions ideas in the works. With no release date. No accountability. And ending in sight. All on the pledges of vague promises, turgid podcasts, paid for concept art and “working” components that always seem to be in the works. That’s not good enough by any reasonable standard. Especially when funded by other people’s money.

So thank you Mr. Eliot for bringing what was needed to be brought to our attention. And in a form of well written cold water thrown in our faces. /bows

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Armsman

CR actually did. In fact ONE of his claims when people were saying “you can’t do this in the timeframe you state” was – “Hey, we’re not really dealing with large ground spaces…just ship interiors, a small bespoke landing zone (with no combat allowed)…”, etc. <— And they even had a prototype of that within the first year.
^^^
Then when the funding floodgates opened…begin scope creep to the point where they are at today.

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Kickstarter Donor
Ken from Chicago

That’s what Elite Dangerous did. It announced its kickstarter the month after Star Citizen. It has its players and fans and there is an overlap of players of both games.

Ironically, many of the players of ED complain that the game is lightyear wide and an inch deep. Also they’ve even cut back on what they were offering, the Live content, mostly tweet-sized announcements about the lore of the universe, Thargoid invasion attacks and Galnet.

Where SC was the “bad child”, ED was held up as the “good child” in space sim crowdfunding.

And then 2019 and 2020 happened.

Bereman
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Bereman

ED being an “inch deep” is in reference to the amount of stuff to actually do, correct? You can haul stuff around, fight NPCs, steal from haulers, explore, act as a courier, mine, track down salvage…essentially all as missions you pick up from NPCs or activities you can do as a matter of course (such as pirate activities)…and you basically just keep repeating those elements…

I don’t see how Star Citizen, as detailed as they plan it to be, can escape that gameplay loop.

Ultimately, it’s shaping up to be more simulator than game…which is a perfectly fine thing to aspire to, but consider this – the new Flight Simulator from Microsoft is pretty detailed when it comes to the various planes you can fly, but that’s all you can do. Fly. From point A to point B, or just around in the air for however long you fancy (and your fuel allows). There are some challenges…but they all revolve around flying (or the related elements, take-offs and landings, or a combination of the above).

I’d be worried that SC is going to be (if it ever releases) that experience where you have super detailed elements…and very little reason to be in that virtual world beyond things being very detailed.

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Jim Bergevin Jr

So much I could say, but I will leave with just this paraphrased quote:
“Chris Roberts was so preoccupied with whether or not CIG could, he didn’t stop to think if they should.”

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Rolan Storm

Good article – always good to read you. Though all this… it was always like that.

All this repeats itself endlessly, every time with every subject. It does not have to be game, it may be as well celebrity or an idea. People paying for something ephemeral, cult followings, fanbois jumping out of the bushes with torches, haters jumping those fanbois… It’s chaos out there, you need a sword.

People will not accept constructive criticism and take offense as long as they emotionally invested, most intelligent and sane commentators will be especially hated because it is one thing to see a troll bashing their precious – whole other when people read something that actually makes sense _and_ contradict what they want to believe. Kinda like religious disputes.

There always will be people who want to benefit just from this social dance in general, jumping on whatever bandwagon and just feel big with all that attention.

And even after you wrote clearly that you want all games to succeed (whole team, no exceptions) people will ignore every word and will keep doing their thing because it is either about emotion or ambition.

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rePool

Perfectly said and I’m sure Joe Blobbers will be along shortly to add you to his online list of trolls hating a game while he misses the point of this article entirely.

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FormlessOne

I’ve already spent too much time covering the sunk cost fallacy as it relates to Star Citizen (and The Repopulation, and No Man’s Sky, and Stargate Worlds, and …)

Simply put, every time I think about crowdfunding a game, I grab the “reminder box” and wait until the urge passes.

I don’t buy promises. I buy software and I subscribe to services. Games have worked very hard these days in exploiting their users to pull cash from them, but I draw the line at buying vaporware.

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Ironwu

Actually, I do not think No Man’s Sky belongs in this category or with that group of games. While it did launch (at least it launched) rough, the developers have continued to improve and update content regularly since then. And, for free.

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Kickstarter Donor
mysecretid

I agree. No Man’s Sky has absolutely redeemed itself since launch. It’s worth looking at what the game is now.

As someone else posted on Massively recently, “all the things they said would be in the game at launch, are now in the game”, plus a whole lot more.

(Yes, even the planetary butterflies made it in)

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scotty 2ridge

But Joe Blobber always convinces me to spend generously with his wise reassuring words of wonder, Chris gonna make him right, Chris gonna make it all ok.