The Star Citizen Media Circus

Star Citizen is a dazzling media circus with wonderous curious in the foreground and a Frankenstein’s monster of a game staggering around in the background. Say hello to Franken Citizen (but don’t get too close!). The rough chunks of bloody meat are sewn together and shoved out the door 4 times a year and it’s fun to see its evolution :0)

star citizen chris roberts interview
Chris Roberts (<< left) interviewed by Jared Huckaby (right >>) for Reverse the Verse

And that’s partly what makes this game development interesting. The original broadcasts have evolved over time into a more sophisticated soap opera of characters that will probably keep on mutating before our very eyes like a grisly unstoppable Hucka virus. I can’t wait :0)

Who is Saying ‘Make It So’?

Chris and Sandi are the married co-owners of Cloud Imperium Games, Roberts Space Industries and Star Citizen.

Sandi Gardiner and Chris Roberts own 85% of the shares.

Chris’s brother Erin is Head of Production and the Studio Director of Foundry 42 UK; Ortwin is the vice-chairman and general counsel of Cloud Imperium Games.

Erin Roberts and Ortwin Freyermuth collect the remaining 15% of shares.

A Pioneering Path

Roberts has completely committed Star Citizen to show its inner workings to the world. This is such a long way from where the gaming industry started, where gamers and devs were hidden away, depicted as socially inept, potentially unstable and best avoided.

Compare that with what we have here… the hosts and devs are presented as YouTube celebrities and the weekly selection of screw-ups has been converted into fascinating insights into the work, tools and techniques of game specialists. Its the balance of hero-to-zero viewing that makes the development and future of the game so compelling.

A Possible Future

If this game gets made in the way they would like, it will become a collection of realistic virtual solar systems with scope for all kinds of occupations that go beyond its space sim roots. Roberts doesn’t see a game as being one thing and would like it to be capable of supporting gentle gameplay as well as war scenarios.

That could provide a variety of virtual meeting places for all kinds of groups that could attract real-world businesses. This type of thing is bound to happen sometime and a game is the most likely bridge to its genesis. The attitude of this game company is significantly different from the others, and selling plots of land and advertising boards to real-world business would be right up their street.

You heard it here first folks.

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Social Engagement

Of all the things they have on their ToDo list, the part that is most intriguing is the social engagement wing. This game generates a lot of angst which makes perfect material for the social engagement wing of the business. While crowds yell for blood in the forums, the heroic developers struggling against time and illness, slaying bugs to the texty roar of the crowd.

The tech talks on YouTube are entertainment in their own right and when they give whatever cadavre they have exhumed a decent name tag and story it suddenly becomes a lot more interesting! Such is the power of proper presentation.

But the spread of Star Citizen’s output can be confusing, so I felt the need to try to figure out how far its social and economic tentacles were advancing.

CitizenCon

An annual event where CIG shows the latest developments and demos of how the game could operate in the future. There are entrance fees of various grades that allow exclusive access to extras.

YouTube

Here is a link to the YouTube channel for Star Citizen and a list of Regularly Scheduled Broadcasts. You can find out what’s going on with Star Citizen there and hear the answers to questions from backers.

  • Around the Verse (ATV)
    A look at developer progress through all aspects of the game world including planet building, vehicles, props and physics as well as community-created content and events.
  • Ship Shape
    An extension of Around the Verse that looks specifically at a ship design.
  • Calling All Devs
    A weekly program where devs answer community questions from backers, usually over Skype.
  • Reverse the Verse
    A detailed look at an aspect of the game with one or more of the lead developers. The live version goes out on Twitch.
  • Subscribers Town Hall
    Questions and answers between the leaders and subscribers.
  • Ship Commercials
    Each of the ships has its own commercial with awesome animation and music.
  • Citizens of the Stars
    Community individuals who are creating content inspired by the game will get a mention in this weekly show.
  • Bugsmashers
    A show investigating specific bugs and their solution.
  • Loremaker’s Guide to the Galaxy
    A guide to the history of the Star Citizen universe.

Twitch

Twitter

  • @SandiGardiner
  • @RobertsSpaceInd

FaceBook

Jump Point

A digital magazine with 50-70 pages of background material available to subscribers.

Lore Makers

A Star Citizen text fiction based on ideas central to the Universe which (probably) generates a multitude of plot ideas and contributes to the direction of the game.

Spectrum

Spectrum is the general forum for backers to present complaints, questions and ideas. It appears on their website and game launcher.

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Where it all Came From

The history of Roberts goes some way to explain what’s going on with all the development and marketing issues. In his past life, he has made millions in game development with large teams, so this isn’t new to him. He has also produced big budget films with well-known actors and the films have mostly achieved good ratings.

In spite of this weighty history, he seems to be a down-to-earth person with a dream. And I don’t mean the ones with naked ladies.

star citizen's creator chris roberts
Star Citizen’s creator Chris Roberts quietly acknowledges heated criticism from the forums and explains how the team decides on new features. I used to be a sceptic but now I’m convinced. I have to say that from a users point of view, Star Citizen can still look like a box of frogs sometimes.
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The Chain of Command

Cloud Imperium Games (CIG) is the owning company, Roberts Space Industries (RSI) is a subsidiary of CIG that markets Star Citizen.

Cloud Imperium company structure
The Cloud Imperium company structure showing the approximate number of staff at each site as a percentage of the whole – approximately 500 at the time of writing.
About 20% of the Star Citizen team
The activities of Star Citizen
As well as producing two games simultaneously, the team has to make room for the social engagement.
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The Measure of Success

From the point of view of the shareholders, things have already turned out astronomically better than they anticipated. Post-release developments are now pre-release tasks. They have a big team with talented, experienced individuals creating the content, a large audience and probably a large reservoir of money at their disposal.

If the game were to make it to a released state, things wouldn’t really change for them. The focus would still be on new features, new tech and new funding just as it is now. This is probably one of the key reasons why there is no particular desire to put the game mechanics before the appearance and details (which is enlarging the rework cycle).

You could argue that adjusting the appearance, details and game mechanic form a legitimate iterative cycle, but its expensive and tiring one to maintain due to the cascade of errors it causes. The boring but effective route is to work out what you are doing in detail and freeze the design so they can get done. Sorry to be Captain Dull about it, but it had to be said.

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Income

As a crowd funded project, money pledged goes directly to the game’s development.
– robertsspaceindustries.com

Pledges ($54 to $27000)

To take part in the game you will need to give them some money for the development and in return, you get a ship and the executable that allows you to take part in public alpha gameplay/testing.

star citizen ships
credit: Lundfoci for this ship poster (starship42.com)

You need to understand that you are not buying the game but giving support in the hope that it will be completed, so you will not be able to ask for a refund beyond the initial cooling off period. It appears that the creation of ships has stimulated people to pledge a lot of money and thats probably the reason that there are 132 of them at the time of writing.

The largest fee is for a complete package that would most likely be shared amongst large groups of players that have banded together to access more of the game like a timeshare.

If you want to get started with the game go to the Guide (click here) to find all the information you’ll need.

Subscribers ($12 to $24)

You can become a subscriber for $12 or $24 which gives you access to the Jump Point digital magazine, first wave access of the Public Test Universe (PTU), in-game equipment rentals, a private chatroom & forum, discounts and more.

Merchandise ($18 to $54)

Posters, t-shirts, caps and a hardcover Jump Point compilation

UEE Land Claim Licenses (about $100)

This has been made unavailable for the time being, but it entitles you to own some UEE controlled land (video here). To complete the claim, you need to buy a staff shaped location beacon, plant it on your claim and take the co-ordinate recorder to a UEE Planetary Development office before anyone else. Click here to see the pledge item. Once you have recorded your claim the UEE will protect it for you if it is located within their control.

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A land claim license
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Expenditure

The figures used here are conservative guesses to get a sense of scale. The total staff are made up of volunteers, part-timers, freelancers, juniors as well as the full-time staff a fraction of which will be earning a lot more than the average. The income of the directors is not taken into account.

As of 2018, there are 500 people working on Star Citizen and it is still expanding. Applying a conservative $38k income for each employee makes an annual salary bill of $19m. Factoring in a proportional amount to cover the office, services, benefits, taxes etc. we could hazard a guess that the whole thing costs $25m per annum to run (note: this is half the amount arrived at by Reddit).

Assuming the costs have risen smoothly from zero since 2012, the cost so far would be:

($25m * 6 years) / 2 = $75m.

The crowdfunded pot would then be depleted from $200m:

$200m – 75m = £125m

$125m would support 5 more years of development ignoring future earnings. I’d also guess that while there is money available, there won’t be a need to release the game as a finished product. So while these numbers are guesses, it does tell me one thing: this could go on for years :0)