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The Social Hub: Star Citizen’s Ship Rentals Are A Good Thing - And Worth Criticizing

By Christina Gonzalez on February 23, 2015 | Columns | Comments

Star Citizen’s Ship Rentals Are A Good Thing - And Worth Criticizing

With over $72 million in funding raised from crowdfunding, Star Citizen is no doubt an ambitious project that has grown over time. That hasn’t happened without its share of criticism. People wonder where the game is by now. Others criticize the developers for consistently releasing new ships to buy for a game that, as yet, isn’t out. These ships aren’t cheap, either. When ships come out that cost $200-300 for a ship in a game that you can’t play yet, and then sell out in limited editions, you might see why some might feel this is a bit extravagant. Perhaps some might even call it arrogant. In a moment where trust in Early Access has taken a hit and crowdfunding may have run into some problems attracting backers, Star Citizen will be getting a system that allows players to earn in-game credits for playing the game. These credits will then be applicable to renting a ship of choice for one week’s time. This announcement was also, rather predictably, met with criticism. Yet it is one way that, whenever the game is playable, may alleviate some of the other criticisms about money being the main way to get ahead.

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Rental Equipment Credits (REC) were recently announced as a system that will allow players that haven’t backed the game at higher levels or purchased expensive ships to get the chance to play and experience those ships on a rental basis, with an initial cost and then slightly cheaper renewal costs. Personally, this sounds mostly reasonable, though the balance will have to be tested well to make sure that the time to earn enough credits to rent a ship isn’t overwhelming and unreachable for many players. With a 7-day cap with the option to renew, the system isn’t as generous as something like League of Legends’ IP system, which lets you unlock champions permanently, but it should help dispel the unreachable status of some ships, let people try them out, and turn their playtime into ships while they are active in the game without requiring a monetary investment of say, $200 for a permanent unlock. Those players who have paid to access Arena Commander can participate and test new ships, which is beneficial to both players and the development team.

Some feel that this somehow devalues the experience for those that have been plunking down cash by the hundreds for these ships, but in terms of growing Star Citizen’s player community and keeping players--and not just backers--active, the REC program is an addition that looks promising. With doubts about the game and lots of people thinking it will all be pay to win anyway, due to all of the ships available for real money and the large amount of cash in crowdfunding dollars the game has attracted while only delivering a couple of playable modules (including things that cost extra to access) and nothing resembling a cohesive game just yet. While players wait, and Cloud Imperium Games continues to develop and test, Chris Roberts emphasized that:

“I got a little exasperated when after making a requested community feature a priority to get accused of turning SC into a "freemium" game with all sorts of "grind". The point of REC isn't to decide on the game economics or prices for weapons, or turn SC into some sort of the Korean MMO grind fest, its purely to allow a route for players to earn things by playing so they aren't forced to pledge for them but this is entirely optional. Just like no one needs to do anything more than pledge for the most basic ship, no one needs to spend a minute of their time in AC.”

Yet by offering the REC route, CIG lets players test a wider variety of ships, which ups their numbers in action and gives the devs some more data to utilize. Players have to pledge to a game package and have paid access to Arena Commander, which has led to some worrying that REC would be limited just to PvP. For now, at least, that seems to be the case, which makes sense on a development level for the game, since at a guess, most players will probably find themselves engaging in PvP in Star Citizen. The door isn’t closed for it to be a system that grows, but as CIG statements prove, this is an optional system and it serves multiple purposes, including allowing those that don’t pledge as much to access the game’s content in some way.

The opinion that this somehow devalues the ships and is an insult to the players that have been paying in the hundreds is also an undertone in the debate over the new feature. Having them be rentals is one way of getting around the idea that players are grinding things out for free that others have paid for, but  some also believe that the idea of the rental system making things accessible to those players that don’t or can’t spend the same amounts of money as others has a serious flaw. The fact that it’s a rental system won’t necessarily entice backers whose friends have come in at lower pledge levels to stay. Ultimately, the series of arguments over all of this feels a bit like “This is why we can’t have nice things”, but these concerns are also part of running a game’s community.

Players should be able to access some of the ships within a reasonable number of played hours, which seems more likely to happen if a $300 ship isn’t available to unlock permanently by play. CIG feels this is optional, and has decided to try and make these multiple player groups happier with the structure. If this feature does make it to a general release without some degree of change, I’d be surprised. How this balances out will be very important if it becomes something CIG sticks with beyond development and testing phases. Personally, I’m waiting for something more substantial to come together and be released before considering buying into Star Citizen, so I don’t have any stake in the matter. I think REC is a good idea, but it needs to be implemented with care. The response from Roberts and CIG seem to be along the lines of being open to feedback and change, but the insistence that ‘they didn’t need to add this and you don’t need to participate in it anyway’ don’t shield the feature from criticism.

Christina Gonzalez / Christina is a freelancer and contributor to MMORPG.com, where she writes the community-focused Social Hub column.