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State of the Game: Can Star Citizen Live Up to Expectations?

Star Citizen Columns - By Shawn Schuster on October 09, 2014

State of the Game: Can Star Citizen Live Up to Expectations?

Earlier this month, it was announced that Chris Roberts' Star Citizen had broken a Guinness World Record for the top crowdfunding project of all time with $55 million being raised to help develop the game. While $55 million is far from the biggest game budget of all time, it's still an impressive amount of money to be raised by little more than word-of-mouth and a Kickstarter campaign. OK, the fact that the guy made Wing Commander and Freelancer doesn't hurt, but truthfully, this record-breaking funding drive may just be out of control at this point.

I don't doubt that Star Citizen will be an amazing game. A combination of hands-on time and some informational panels at various conventions has convinced me that these people know what they're doing, but for a progressive, living, online world to succeed, it needs to have a solid long-term plan. I fear that Roberts' plan with Star Citizen at this point is to keep throwing new features in as the funding continues, but not all of us like to be overwhelmed with more new stuff.

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If there's one thing game developers should have learned by now, it's that you can't be everything for everyone. When games go for that buffet approach, the real gems get lost in the shuffle. When you try to please everyone, you please no one.

But the hard part is finding that one thing that will really catch the attention of success. Roberts enjoyed success with Wing Commander for a variety of reasons. The timing was right for that genre, and the game was just plain addictive. But one thing it wasn't was complicated. Frustrating, yes; complicated, no.

With that success and addictiveness in mind, many of Star Citizen's backers may be relying more on nostalgia than real modern-day translations of what's fun. This reliance on nostalgia is something we saw with two other top-crowdfunded titles: Wasteland 2 and Torment: Tides of Numenera.

These two games are banking on the fact that those people who loved the classic originals now have good jobs and money to throw at a sequel that will allow them the possibility of recapturing their youth. Not that this is a failed premise, mind you, as Wasteland 2 has already proven to be a wonderful game. But that's not always the case.

With Star Citizen, Roberts is doing things right so far. He's taking what we all loved from Wing Commander and Freelancer and giving it the modern upgrade it deserves, complete with some impressive online multiplayer features. I'm just as excited for the game as the next Chris Roberts fan, but when I hear about "new ships!" being added when the next tier of millions is reached, one eyebrow raises and my mouth twists into a skeptical grimace. Do we really need more new ships at this point? Do we really need a new cinematic and more advertising?

I admit, I'm playing the devil's advocate here because I've seen this exact situation too many times over the years. It's rather embarrassing, to be honest. The next amazing MMO will be better than anything ever released before it and will finally be the one to catch our attention forever, and then it launches.

One thing Star Citizen has than many others didn't have, though, is experience and proper management. Chris Roberts knows what he wants and he goes after it without letting anything stand in his way. He's shown this with a handful of successful games and he's shown it with this entire crowdfunding campaign. I often feel that what's happening with Star Citizen now could have happened with Richard Garriott on Tabula Rasa if only NCSoft wasn't in the way. Garriott's Shroud of the Avatar funding campaign has so far raised close to $5 million of its original $1 million goal, so we'll see how my theory plays out when that game launches, as well.

I want Star Citizen to be that next big game and I want to be able to see that the game is well worth the $55 million in development costs, but I worry that it won't. And if it isn't what we've all been waiting for, how many more times can we go through this?

Shawn Schuster / Shawn Schuster is the former Editor-in-Chief at Massively.com and founder of the indie gaming review site Shoost.co. Shawn has been writing professionally about video games since 2008 and podcasting about games since 2005. When he's not leveling yet another alt, he's running his organic farm with his wife and four kids.