“Sunk Cost Fallacy – the idea that an entity is more likely to continue with a project if they have already invested a lot of resources in it; even when continuing is not the best course of action. It is economically irrational, and is akin to throwing good money after bad”
SQUADRON 42 – THE SPLIT; AND WHY IT’S A SHAMELESS, DESPERATE, CASH GRAB
By now you already know that RSI/CIG have given a date of Feb 14th as the date that Star Citizen (aka Persistent Universe) and Squadron 42 (which they have now scaled back some promised features) are split into two games. Sold separately.
Back in Dec 2015 when they announced the intent to split (!) these products, and start selling them as a separate products, backers already had an idea that it was just another money making scheme RSI/CIG hatched up.
The issue here is that, despite on-the-record statements to the contrary, sources have said that they simply do NOT have the resources and/or money required to build the game(s) promised back in 2012. They’ve either spent, wasted and/or squandered the bulk of it; amid losing several key people here in the US and in the UK, downsizing studios (Austin) etc. With over 250+ (taking into account those who have left, laid off, or terminated) at four (five, if you count the small satellite office in Derby, UK) offices (US, Germany, UK) around the world, and an estimated industry average burn rate of around $2.5m per month, it is easy to see why they need to keep raising money.
“Long ago I stopped looking at this game the way I did when I worked for a publisher who gave me a fixed budget to make a retail game. I now look at our monthly fundraising and use that to set the amount of resources being used to develop this game. We keep a healthy cash reserve so that if funding stopped tomorrow we would still be able to deliver Star Citizen (not quite to the current level of ambition, but well above what was planned in Oct 2012). If you combine our in-house staff and outsourced developers, we now number more than 280 people. Your support has created a significant number of jobs in the gaming industry. (And no matter what you might have heard, only a small number of our team is tasked with designing new ships!)” – Chris Roberts, Sept 30, 2014
The current v2.x mPU (mini- Persistent Universe) released on Dec 12, 2015, is a pre-Alpha mess which, as of this writing, aside from being a tech demo akin to a CryEngine mod, doesn’t even contain 10% of what was promised for this game. Over four years (yes – the game went into development one year before the Oct 2012 crowd-funding campaign) and $107M later; with around 500 people having worked on this game at some point or another. And yes, Chris Roberts is still making lofty promises (birds! procedurally generated planets! VR! 100 system world! etc) having yet to deliver on four years worth of promises.
And given that it’s now 2016, no new features being added for testing, previous features and promises being walked back etc, it is clear that Star Citizen – as promised – is not likely to be released in 2016. Or ever, by all accounts. In fact, it was less than six months ago that a promised SQ42 feature was reportedly removed. And barely weeks ago, yet another promised feature, game modding and private servers, were also reported to be all but canned. If the language sounds cagey to you, well that’s precisely what just happened to Star Marine as well. In that module, it was even more blatant.
My very first blogs, Interstellar Citizens and Interstellar Discourse, clearly outlined why it was my opinion that they simply couldn’t build the game as promised. I subsequently urged people who felt misled by a game suite that was promised to be delivered in Nov 2014, and which amid ToS shenanigans, wasn’t likely to see the light of day, to get a refund and/or report the project to the FTC. And quite a number of people did just that.
And as I predicted, the minute they prematurely delivered the ill-fated mPU v2.0 update, amid yet another holiday cash grab, they shortly stopped issuing refunds (which they weren’t doing regularly anyway), using that shoddy release as an excuse to reject refunds.
The revelations from sources who talked to The Escapist last Oct (the first article was in Sept) are only the tip of the iceberg, and there is a LOT more to be unveiled in the weeks and months to come as the facts surrounding this project continue to come to light.
In case you weren’t up to date, this is everything promised for Squadron 42 collated in a very nice graphic. Notice the claim of Oculus VR support. That despite the fact that, not only have they stopped supporting VR entirely – due it not being compatible with the current builds – it is highly unlikely that VR will ever be supported for either product. At least not within any reasonable time frame. Not to mention some of the SQ42 features which they have since walked back.
“It’s amazing how quickly things have soured. And here’s the thing; CIG has nothing to stem the tide. No game, no progress, nothing to reveal. Even their marketing strategy (ONE &%#^%$^&*!@ TOKEN BE GRATEFUL YOU SHITS) is ^%$#*(@ insulting at this point.
The thing Sandi forgot in her infinite business wisdom is that there are two resources that crowdfunding relies on. The first is money. This is the obvious one, the number that gets tossed about with every record. And while money is obviously important, it’s easy to replenish. Backers typically have a significant amount of disposable income and every paycheck brings about a new opportunity to toss some cash towards a good thing.
The second is trust. It is not infinite. It does not replenish. And it is far more important. Trust is what makes a backer decide that they should spend those dollars on your game instead of some other distraction. Trust is what makes a backer tell their friends and get them interested. Trust is what makes them pay attention to your progress and stay engaged. Trust is what keeps you from facing chargebacks and demands for refunds.
Trust is what allows a backer to forgive you when you fuck up.
Every joke about how frivolous Chris and Sandi have been in spending money pales in comparison to how they have hemorrhaged the trust of the people who funded them. They have relentlessly pursued funding at the expense of their own credibility and the faith of those who funded them. Whether it’s LTI, the resale of “limited” ships, the endless delays and failed expectations, unmelting requiring real dollars, cutting promised features, or most recently Chris flat out insulting people asking about something he’s hyped for literally years, all of this has a price. And Chris is not in a position to pay it any more. He has nothing to give. No progress, no reveals, nothing but a buggy technical demo and a litany of broken promises. He’s fucked.
This is only going to get worse.” – Star Citizen backer, Jan, 2016
The above missive was written by the project backer who recently had an eye-opening exchange with Sandi Gardiner, project marketing director, wife of Chris Roberts, and the person who has been reported as having started a campaign against me for my reporting on this project since July 2015. We’ve been waging a public relations war ever since. A war they have absolutely no chance of winning, due to all their own statements, actions and their incompetent handling of this once promising crowd-funded project.
Though billed as “open development”, it has been anything but. Amid all this furor, not to mention all the entities we have uncovered as being associated with this project, the revelation that several execs were linked to various failed enterprises (including the Gizmondo connection), the on-going influx of cash into Foundry 42 (headed by Chris Robert’s brother), the comparison of the project’s handling to that of a long con, backers have no idea what is really going on with the project they backed. Key points being:
- How many backers really are there? The only solid numbers that backers have are from the original 34K who backed the Kickstarter campaign. I was one of them.
- Why is the Star Citizens number being promoted as the number of backers of this project; when in fact sources tell us that the number of real backers (unique accounts which have bought anything) is “nowhere near” the 1.2m number currently cited on the website? Even though backers have known for some time that this number actually includes funding backers, forum/game accounts etc, RSI/CIG continue to evade answering this key question. Even amid a glaring loophole discovered this past Dec during which the funding numbers were completely incorrect. To extent that the site had to be taken offline for a period of time in order to investigate what had happened. That aside from the fact that they even removed the UEE ship counter from the website because it too was apparently inaccurate.
- Having promised to deliver BOTH Star Citizen & Squadron 42 by Nov 2014, where are the games? And why is there no longer a release date for which backers can expect to get the games that some have paid upwards of $30K (!) for?
- Having promised (in their own ToS) to provide financial accountability for failing to deliver the game within one year of the promised date of Nov 2014, why have backers not received any such accountability for where ALL their money went? Yet, refunds are being refused en-masse. They added that language in the original ToS and then surreptitiously changed it. That is akin to a confidence trick in which that protection then got yanked (to favor themselves) after they received the money from backers.
- Despite repeated threats (by the project co-founder, 1, 2) of doing so, why have RSI/CIG still not taken any legal action against parties who Chris Roberts and others have gone on the record as saying were spreading FUD, falsehoods and the like? It is very easy to see that ALL of these answers – including those pertaining to the fraudulent claims which they have been actively scrubbing (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) off the Internet – of credentials (two MBAs) by an executive, Sandi Gardiner, associated with this $107m+ project, the numerous shell companies around the world, the movement and allocation of backer funds, among other things – can only be answered within the premise of legal action if they don’t give backers the answers they are entitled to. Regardless of who brings about said action. Gamers have every right to know and question the integrity of the people they have collectively given over $107M to and for a project they have yet to receive, which is now over one year late, and which time and time again, has seen key features which were promised, promptly removed.
Amid the lies, broken promises, shoddy product releases, missed release dates, key team departures and rumors of dwindling funds, this latest episode now involving Squadron 42; which backers already paid for in full, is just more of the same.
Going back on the original 2012 promises, this is what the new Squadron 42 release now looks like:
EP1 – this is what they promised on Kickstarter. 50 missions @ $5m. All backers before $5m get this.
EP2 – this was the Behind Enemy Lines mission disk promised @ $6m. This supposedly continues the story line from EP1. All backers before $6m get this.
EP3 – No clue wtf is going on with this, and they haven’t offered any further details nor clarity.
When they started selling Star Citizen and SQ42 combo on the website for $45 back in Q4/15, this gave you both Star Citizen and SQ42 EP1. On Feb 14th, this goes away as they try to do the same thing they have done with Star Citizen: maximize the flow of income without showing work that is commensurate with the money backers have already given.
If the outcry over the Star Marine debacle is any indication of a growing uprising – even among the most staunch and ardent supporters backers and whales – then this upcoming product split should be the one that serves as yet another example of why nobody should be putting any more money into this project unless and until they have delivered either Star Citizen or Squadron 42 and in the form promised. They have already proven, time and time again, that not only can they not meet delivery milestones, but that they can also continue to go back on promises with impunity and zero accountability, while releasing builds that even Chris Roberts was unable to play in a live stream.
“No, it’s all Chris’s fault. Every bit of it. It’s his program, his dream, his vision, his failure. He’s the face of this monstrosity and I sincerely hope that his failures hound him for the rest of his life. Everything else, from Ben’s incredible incompetence to Sandi’s predatory marketing “genius”, stems from him and his constant inability to deliver. The man does not care. Even now, with his community royally pissed off because he was dumb enough to admit how little he gives a shit about them, he’s sitting in his reality distortion field assuming everything is fine. It’s the Hitler bunker video all over again.
I spent years contributing in an honest and earnest manner, providing thoughtful feedback on everything from the toxicity of the community to level design of ships. None of it matters because Chris Roberts is a fraud, a self-entitled embarrassment of a human being who surrounds himself with sycophants and culls anyone who dares question his nonexistent talents. He took the greatest opportunity ever given to a game developer, a blank check to build the game of his dreams, and squandered it. He has ruined lives, tarnished careers, uprooted families, wasted millions, and years later hasn’t learned a single fucking thing. I hope he spends the rest of his life as a punch line.
Anyone who works at Cloud Imperium Games and is reading this: Get Out Now. Please. You are quickly nearing the point where your affiliation with this clusterfuck is going to harm your career. The people who have left before you talk about how they are treated as refugees within the greater game dev community. That may not happen for much longer. This company will not fail gracefully. Look at 38 Studios and how those workers simply stop getting paid one day. That is your future, if CIG doesn’t lay you off first. Look at your game. Really, truly, honestly look at the entirety of your project and what you are really delivering compared to what was promised. Is this a project that’s on track? Is this a company that’s well managed and has a viable delivery strategy? You know it’s not. Get out.” – Star Citizen backer, Jan, 2016
If any of this was happening to any other developer or publisher, there would be more calls for accountability. Instead, some in the gaming media proper are either complacent or just wary of the clear and present threat that anything (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) they write about this project and which isn’t glowing or positive, will result in hordes of extremist White Knights (aka Shitizens) descending (1, 2, 3, 4) on their communities to harass, attack, insult and abuse them. And if you happen to be a game developer speaking out, well you can expect Shitizens to review bomb your games on any service where they appear. This is how things are now.
And to cap it all, not only have leading game magazines (1, 2, 3) in Europe gone to visit Foundry 42 within the past three months, but as of now – not a single one – has seen any live game play of Squadron 42; the game they’re supposedly making. All they’ve been shown are the same smoke and mirrors cash grab stuff they’ve shown thus far at Q4/2015 events (CitizenCon, anniversary stream), while parading mocap and expensive Hollywood actors ahead of what’s important to GAMES: live game play.
Nobody gets to tell people how to spend their money. That’s not what this is about. What this is about is the impending and sudden collapse of a $100m+ project which will have far reaching consequences not only for gamers, but also for video game crowd-funding in general. It is easy to go to Indiegogo or Kickstarter and see the myriad of promising video game projects, some by very experienced developers, failing to get funded. The latest being a game by ex-SOE boss, John Smedley which he had no choice but to cancel (the reasons are largely irrelevant) less than two weeks in.
“I wonder if the backers realize how much they’re being bait-and-switched. Chris only ever wanted to make his fucking shitty movie, and he was always willing to sacrifice every other module at that altar. Now they’re near the end of their funds, all spent trying to build all of the modules like Star Marine, the PTU, and so on, but with Chris’s time-proven stupidity and mismanagement turning all that cash, and all that work, into a fine mist of piss on a summer breeze.
So now here we are, with all of the remaining funds being poured into the shittiest single-player space game we’re ever likely to see in our lifetimes. Why do people think they need more bug-testing on Arena Commander? Why the sudden laser-like focus on SQ42, when until now all the focus and all the fanfare was on the PU and Star Marine? Because with their remaining funds, Chris cannot complete SQ42 unless he diverts all resources to it. Every other module experiment is now a failure and a write-off. This is it – this is where the last of the money is going.
This is what Chris wanted to do, so he did it with the money given to him for another product, and another promise, entirely.
This was never about building a universe. It was about attempting to build a universe on the side, while fulfilling his personal desires as the main goal, front and center.
He could have chosen to scrap SQ42 and put all resources on the PU that all his backers want, but he didn’t. Backers got a hangar so they could see their ships and fantasize about their upcoming experiences, they got Arena Commander so they could better imagine what they would be like in combat, and they got the PTU, a barely-functional glimpse of how it would all tie together. Chris Roberts was not able to deliver both that universe, that the backers voted for with their dollars, AND the single-player mo-cap travesty he’s trying to shit out right now, before the funds started to dry up. So Chris Roberts had to make a choice.
Backers should never, ever forget that when the money got tight, and Chris had the tough choice on which part of the game to concentrate on, he chose himself. He chose to use backer money to build his personal pet project, and ignore the very project whose promise generated those funds in the first place.
It’s only January, but I’m going to nominate Chris Roberts for the Asshole of the Year award. Good job commando – you’ve earned it.” – Star Citizen backer, Jan, 2016
If nothing else, since my blogs started going up in July, I have asked people to pay attention, ask the tough questions, call for accountability. After all that has happened in the past six months, it should be painfully obvious by now that I have taken this very seriously and that most – if not all – of my predictions, estimations and analysis, have played out as expected.
From what we’ve seen thus far, they do not yet have the tech to build/power what they promised for Squadron 42, let alone the lofty goals of Star Citizen. Given all the engineering debt (take a look at the ship progress!, not to mention the game galaxy of 100 promised systems of which not even a single one has been delivered complete), financial drain etc, and the fact that even at $107M, they are totally tapped out on selling concept JPEGs (for a game that doesn’t yet exist) the push for SQ42 and the subsequent split of the project, is designed to make SQ42 another cash cow, while trading on the goodwill of gamers.
Don’t fall for it.
At the end of the day, as a crowd-funded project, you the gamer gets to decide when enough is enough. So, it’s your call. The pledge (above) has thus far proven to be largely meaningless.
UPDATE: No sooner had this blog gone live, that we got word of yet another collapse of a crowd-funded video game project.