Stick and Rudder: Chronicling CIG’s naked hostility toward Star Citizen’s long-time backers

    
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Earlier this week, Cloud Imperium creative content lead Jared Huckaby stopped the focus of a Star Citizen Live showcase to very grumpily look through the fourth wall and tell people in chat that “things will be when they’ll be” in terms of feature releases. He says that major updates will arrive “when [CIG] think[s] they’re ready and when [CIG] think[s] they’re proper, and uh, yeah,” with several shrugs of the shoulders and a dismissive “thanks for watching.”

The point of calling these comments out isn’t necessarily to note how CIG is avoiding giving hard dates or even vague dates about releases; that’s been ongoing for some time now, as everyone who scopes out our context box at the bottom of every Star Citizen article already knows.

No, it’s more the attitude with which these statements are being delivered, and it’s just the most recent instance of a pattern of bizarre hostility toward the game’s long-time backers, the very people who have propelled it to crest $600M in lifetime crowdfunds. Speaking as a backer of the game myself, I can’t help but assume that things are rotten in the state of Manchester.

And yes, I have examples.

This is not the first time in the last few months that SC devs have taken a swing at the doubters, of course. August’s Star Citizen Live saw Huckaby prop up a strawman about how long it’s taken CIG to create star systems to begin with, then argue that tool creation is the answer to the complaint, all with a dismissive tone for skeptical backers. Huckaby isn’t personally the problem here, mind you; he’s merely the public face for what is seemingly a growing sentiment within the larger studio, and studio leadership obviously supports this attitude, else it wouldn’t publish the videos.

That same week CIG changed its test policies; those invited to the public test server waves would get those invites based on their overall activity. The studio’s argued backers who play the most frequently would provide the most useful feedback, which might be fair, but it nevertheless needled the playerbase and veteran backers with minimal time to do unpaid work, especially given the knowledge that separating signal from noise in PTS build testing is really up to the developers to manage, not the players. There should be some effort put forth by players to provide constructive and well-written feedback, but that’s impossible when testing isn’t done in a vacuum – and when a certain class of backers are being excluded from early waves of testing.

Back in July you might recall that a long-standing backer was able to get a partial refund from CIG after noting his displeasure with the project’s development speed, but it was done so with all of the grace of an angry lawyer, as the company’s refund form letter was loaded with passive-aggressive and contradictory language as it argued backers should know the game is both released and in an alpha state at the same time and that putting hours into the alpha somehow proves its release state. (What do words mean?)

And of course, there are last year’s adjustments to the roadmap, which was done because CIG effectively declared it was tired of players believing in the things CIG said – and blamed the players for this state of affairs. “It has become abundantly clear to us that despite our best efforts to communicate the fluidity of development, and how features marked as Tentative should sincerely not be relied upon, the general focus of many of our most passionate players has continued to lead them to interpret anything on the release view as a promise,” CIG said.

CIG’s braggadocio was also put on full public display when it crowed about purchasing Turbulent in July, writing in part that this was another example of the studio “[disrupting] the industry,” [being a] disruptive force in gaming,” and striking against “the usual ‘consumer -> retailer -> publisher -> creator’ paradigm, which stifles innovation and holds the industry back,” all of which read like a sort of siren song to new money, new investors, and those with poor impulse control.

These are just the smaller aggressions against long-time backers in terms of comms, but they add up over time. And the studio has punched down at fans over money too: There was the pricing for a digital goodies pack for this year’s CitizenCon, which included items that haven’t even been made yet; June saw a stealth attempt at raising the prices of certain ships, allegedly because CIG simply felt that it could; December 2021 saw a free gift of a picture of a sales item among other price hikes for ships and backer packages; and Squadron 42 is still absent from the pledge store as of this article’s writing, with CIG dissembling over what’s really going on – and confirming a price hike for the game once it does return to boot.

All of these individual flare-ups sure seem indicative of an emerging tug-of-war between CIG and its own loyalists and backers. One fan took the time to look through 10 years of video footage to call out the studio’s tool development claims. Multiple players on the largely positive forums have begun asking questions. And that’s just a few of the incidents we’ve covered recently. Heck, there’s an entire subreddit devoted to people who are specifically mad at SC, instructing them how to get refunds.

Even so, the game still continues to raise funds: over $602M as of this writing. But that’s starting to feel less a result of gamers being in this for the long haul and more a result of CIG fishing from an ever-shrinking pool of whales and marks. And maybe it needs to – it needs to keep the new money flowing in, and it appears more than willing to poke its long-standing and long-suffering fans to do so.

I should point out that I’m not writing this because I’m suddenly some Silver Surfer-like herald for the SC Refunds Reddit. I don’t have buyer’s remorse (though I will admit that it would be nice if I could play the game a bit). Considering that my only other multiplayer space sim options are a game that is now akin to crawling across glass or another that is a gleeful PvP hellscape, I want something like Star Citizen to actually happen; a rising tide raises all ships, after all. And I also still believe, at least on some level, that many of the devs want the project to cross a finish line; Tony Z seems like the kind of person who’s both an ideas guy and an execution guy, for example.

My point is that I don’t like being made to feel this way by anyone, let alone a studio perpetually seeking player support. I don’t enjoy how an entire studio whose whole vision is literally built upon the dreams and the funds of backers has decided to attack those same backers, to treat its own loyalists like the enemy just for expressing skepticism over where the hell the game they backed 10 years ago is. I don’t enjoy feeling uncomfortable with having bought in those many years ago. I don’t appreciate how Star Citizen looks more and more like a game that has no incentive to launch. And while I’m not suggesting that the devs should roll over and take all of the abuse The Gamers™ throw out, I definitely don’t appreciate the aggressive stance. It’s not a good look for the studio, and it doesn’t spark any faith in the future of the relationship between the game and the fandom.

It’s not as punk rock as you think it is, CIG.

It’s a big wide universe out there, and the MMO industry is busy filling up the space between the stars – with sci-fi MMORPGs! Join the MOP team here in Stick and Rudder for intermittent voyages into all the big space-trucking, dog-fighting, star-flighting MMOs of the moment.
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