Change is in the Air
My feelings on the subject of Star Citizen are shrouded in more shades of grey than the murkiest Seattle skyline. I’m a Golden Ticket holder, Imperator, High Admiral, and very nearly the first writer to report on the game as being a major movement in the gaming community. If I wasn’t the first to point out how it’d shape the future of the industry, I was dang close. Beyond seeing the historical impact this game was bound to have, I’m also a straight up fan. I’ve been a fan of Chris Roberts and his games since senior developers were few enough that we actually knew most of their names.
Today, I’m going to walk through where a few of my conflicted feelings appear to be coming from in an attempt to analyze the current health of the Star Citizen project. This is something very similar to what I did not long ago with another favorite project of mine, Shroud of the Avatar. Even more so than with Shroud, I have a somewhat love/hate relationship with Star Citizen, so let’s get going and dig right into some of the more recent stuff.
Star Citizen may be Chris’s game, but it’s not stretching a bit to say that Eric Peterson made it. Eric’s extensive experience with producing and developing games has been the ballast this rocking ship of a game has desperately needed, and his excitement and candor probably deserves more credit for the game’s success than even Chris Robert’s name. Eric loves making video games with a passion that just makes you want to cheer every time you see him in his element.
Eric has been the soul in Star Citizen’s development in so many ways that you can’t help but be rocked to the core at his recent announcement that he’s leaving the team. I have a serious knot in my stomach at what his absence could mean for the eventual game. There are still plenty of exceptional people involved with the project, but the recent exodus of several long-time members of the original team can’t help but raise hairs on the back of my neck. While it doesn’t herald impending doom, this is the sort of thing that immediately raises red flags, and you have to step back and take a hard look at the situation.
There are indications that this isn’t as dire as it might appear, though. As central as he is to the culture behind this massive project, Eric could have created serious waves on his way out. However, in an unmitigated demonstration of class, Mr. Peterson has quietly left the building. Not only did he refrain from blasting the situation that necessitated his departure, but he modestly expressed sincere faith in the future of the enterprise and his respect for everyone still working on it. Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve never in my life seen a deed more nobly done.
Culture, the Darker Grey
No matter how smooth the exit, Wingman’s departure still concerns me, though. In a lot of ways, it’s indicative of a larger issue with the emerging culture around this game, and that culture’s departure from the roots that it was founded on. Spend a little time in chat or on the forums and you begin to note the slightly more juvenile influence fairly quickly.
The early days of struggling to make the crowdfunding goals were attended by a significantly different crowd. A very large part of us were employed in technical fields like programming or engineering, and the conversations demonstrated that fact quite obviously as we debated various aspects of the game. Earlier suggestions in the forums seemed to come with far more substantive and tenable concepts for expanding the game, and there was a great deal more tolerance for dissenting ideas.
How the change happened is pretty easy to spot, I think. Due to many of the younger gamers not being as familiar with the space sim genre, it created a fairly mature core audience initially. As the game got off the ground, the early backers were mostly composed of long-time space sim fans who were nostalgic for a taste of their youth. Being a bit older, I think our voices tended to carry a modest amount of weight with those around us as we discussed games that interested us and why. Our obvious excitement over this fantastic new project pulled in a wave of friends, which of course only helped to further fund the game.
With each successive generation of new fans created by the spreading excitement, the pool of technically-minded and more mature backers became increasingly diluted. The project spread to younger demographics and wider audiences, and the natural result is what we see surrounding the game now. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing, but rather that it’s no longer a different collective from what you’d find around any other popular MMO these days. That’s a bit of a buzzkill for many of us who looked forward to something a little more niched, but there are some distinct advantages.