“Thus the expert in battle moves the enemy, and is not moved by him” ― Sun Tzu, The Art of War
The TL;DR recap on how I got involved in this farce and why I’m going to keep going until the very bitter end.
THIS WAR OF MINE
For the record, I didn’t start any of this. I asked CIG to issue an apology to me for what they did last year. They didn’t. Then they doubled down. I asked Shitizens to stand down, and focus their attention on getting accountability from CIG/RSI. They just loled and continued. Then they proceeded to “review bomb” my games in retaliation.
And so, war it is.
Here we are; one year later to the day since I wrote that first Interstellar Citizens blog which caused CIG/RSI and their Shitizens (the anti-social Star Citizen fans who engage in protracted attacks against anyone expressing dissent against the project) to declare war on that one person who never saw a battle he didn’t like.
A lot has happened this past year; all of which point to that whole “Derek Smart was right” thing going around. For starters, I was right a year ago when after evaluating their reports, progress, deliverables, shenanigans etc, I determined that the game as pitched could never be built. Since that time, in line with what I stated, not only have they removed promised features, but the game – even for a “pre-Alpha” – remains a horribly broken mess. Five years, and $117 million later.
Since I wrote that first blog, they have raised over $32 million. Fueled by JPEG concept sales, hype generated via the creation of canned (e.g. in Cinebox) content which neither looks like the game, but most of which never even made it into the game. The Star Marine fps module? Non-Existent. VR? Non-Existent. Large game world? Non-Existent. I could go on and on, but seriously, why even bother at this point? Heck, even now, despite the fact that simple gameplay mechanics aren’t even implement yet, they’re hyping and touting procedural generated planets, even as they focus on shopping mechanics. And female play dolls. Everything they have been doing this past year, has been geared toward one thing, and one thing only: extracting money from backers – who already paid for the game in full.
Think I’m kidding? This is what the much touted Star Marine fps module looked like back in 2014 (!). The same one that Chris Roberts a few weeks ago said was already in the game backers were playing. See this video? That’s not in the game. At all.
This is the Nyx landing zone they used to hype procedural generated planets which they showed off in August 2015 (!). Again, a canned environment. No such thing exists in the game.
Which brings me to the epitome of non-existent-shit-they-hyped-and-can’t-deliver-on..
Get this. In Dec 2014, a fan grabbed all the released CIG/RSI promo materials and the dreams, then made a video based on what backers had been led to believe would be Star Citizen. Then, having completely missed the promised Nov 2014 release date for the project, CIG/RSI themselves contributed to, endorsed and released an updated version. Exact CIG/RSI quote:
“The Imagine trailer was originally created by Star Citizen backer years1hundred. We thought it so perfectly captured our hopes for the game that we decided to work with him to create this new version as the new official Star Citizen trailer!”
The video was released on Dec 19th, 2014 on which they made about $76K. On the 20th, in concert with this trailer and Arena Commander 1.0 releasing, along with a bunch of ship sales, funding shot to around $571K. And nope, none of that crap exists. And never will. Like ever. And at 1.6 million views as of this writing, the Imagine trailer is the most watched video on their channel; and which all things considered, represents the biggest lie they ever told.
Would you like to know more?
The exodus of key talent from the four studios around the world, has also been an on-going event this past year. To the extent that the project is so toxic, that at this point, anyone working on it has basically earned themselves a Black mark on their resume. Ridicule aside. But, in an unprecedented move, that hasn’t stopped two (John Dadley, Darian Vorlick) recent departures from immediately taking to social media to stress that the sky isn’t falling. Because, you know, it’s perfectly normal to bail on such a high profile project just as the general outlook is that it’s all falling apart, gamers are being screwed etc. A project which, as of this writing, has over 60 positions that it can’t fill. And this month alone, there are rumored to be at least four more high profile people looking to leave. But everything’s fine though. That’s just normal game development turnover you know. The thing about this industry is that we never – ever – forget.
Meanwhile, Sandi Gardiner, wife of Chris Roberts and “head of marketing” (<— lol!) was recently posting pictures of staff at the LA and UK studios on social media. Funny thing, some people (including the two aforementioned people) in those pictures are actually gone. And at least four are on their way out. I guess the teams over in Frankfurt and Austin, for all the hype they get for being key parts of the game’s development, don’t get their pictures taken.
Also in the past year, most of the media hype around the project has all but died down, as most (even those gamestar.de Shillizens over in Germany are heading South with their narrative) have started hedging their bets since all of this – sadly – has all boiled down to a “Derek Smart v Chris Roberts” narrative this past year. Even as they completely ignore the plight of gamers who unwittingly put their money into this crowd-funded project, and who previously had the security of refunds and financial accountability. Heck, even with the unprecedented ToS change that happened last month, very few in the media even wrote about that. And as a media contact said to me, simply put, nobody wants to deal with Shitizens descending on their sites and turning it into a war zone. Which to me begs the question: what about when the final collapse comes?
CIG/RSI has fermented so much ill will toward most of its very own backers, that when the Feds finally come calling, it won’t be because of anything that anyone has written, but from the many complaints that are being filed with various consumer protection agencies here and in various countries (Australians have it easy, nobody messes with consumers over there – get a refund!) where backers are frantically trying to get refunds and not succeeding.
And if your warning alarms haven’t started going off yet, recently in a new refund rejection letter template to backers, they have started saying that CIG is no longer the entity that should be reported to agencies regarding this project and/or refunds. They’re saying that RSI – a shell company before the past month – is now the one carrying the liability. This despite the fact that almost every single backer prior to the new ToS of June 1st, 2016, has a receipt for goods sold to them by CIG or one of the other many shell companies associated with this project. Yup.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE MONEY
In my recent June The Fidelity Of Failure blog, I wrote extensively about their latest attempt at shafting backers when they decided to change the ToS, thus completely stripping away the ability to get refunds, as well as financial accountability for where all this money has gone.
In the past year, there have been two issues of many a heated debate. i) the real Star Citizen (aka backers) count, ii) the real funding amount. Despite touting “open development”, while paying lip service to backers, CIG/RSI have still refused to provide any insight as to the accuracy of these two very critical statistics. Despite the fact that backers are in fact entitled to them.
In Oct 2015, Chris Roberts (who clearly suffers from Liarbetes) declared that the project was one million citizens strong. And now for the regularly scheduled horseshit excerpt:
“As I was saying before I was interrupted: one million Citizens! The stars of this game aren’t all Hollywood actors or big name game developers… they’re those you who are making the game possible in the first place. Our one millionth Citizen is Edenstar. Appropriately, he, like so many of you, were introduced to Star Citizen by a friend who was passionate about the game… in fact, he says he joined because he was worried he wasn’t going to see his friends anymore after the game launches! I’ve said many times that backers are our best marketing, and here’s some pretty solid proof! Edenstar, Pikes-zen, we’re going to go ahead and give you each a brand new Sabre to explore the ‘Verse with. Enjoy!“
It got widespread media coverage – amounting to more hype. Anyway, in that declaration, he named the star, none other than Edenstar – who, as it so happens has neither entered the game, nor posted in the forum since then. Wait! What do you mean that’s suspicious – or fake even?
Here’s the thing. When the likes of Twitter, Facebook, any MMO game etc tout engagement numbers, they don’t say how many are duplicated or dead accounts. That’s normal, and it’s expected. But in the case of a crowd-funded entity in which accurate numbers are critical, you’d expect them to be near accurate. And despite numerous calls for clarity, the closest that CIG/RSI has ever come to addressing these numbers, is to say that the citizens count is the number of ships – not the number of backers. Yet, CIG/RSI have had no qualms about interchanging the two in their quest to give the appearance of health, strength, and interest in the project.
It’s all pure – and utter – bullshit.
A word from our laugh-riot sponsors…
In fact, a few months ago, I commissioned a data analyst to assist in interpreting (similar to what some guy is doing with the funding tracker) some numbers before I even started calling them out on it – because you know, that sort of thing can get you sued during times of war. The numbers confirmed every suspicion I had that the backer count was nowhere near one million, and that it was pegged at around half of that. At best.
The funding chart itself has its own issues with discrepancy; namely the fact that it never – ever – goes below a certain threshold. And even when backers melt (the process by which they convert assets to credits) their ships to buy different ones, the spike is not only inconsistent, but even when those amounts go back into the cash register, nobody knows if they are reconciled as new or old money. Then there’s the issue of refunds. Again, we know that a number of people (including some high profile backers who were able to get thousands back) have large amounts refunded which should cause a huge dip in that chart. But thus far, there is no evidence of that.
But wait!! There’s more!
Then there’s the issue of backer funding, versus other types of funding e.g. investors, loans, lines of credit etc. By their own statements, and public govt records, we already know that they have all three of the latter. What is not known is whether or not those amounts are also part of the funding chart. I don’t think that they are, since the chart is purely the crowd-funded backer amounts.
All of this begs the question: Has CIG/RSI in fact raised over $117 million dollars from backers, or is this just more obfuscation of data points to show the appearance of healthy interest? And even if that were the case, are we to assume then that the complete financial picture of this project is of magnitudes higher than that when other sources of funding are taken into account? Assuming the latter to be true, and all things being equal; people, we’re talking about a project which, five years and over $117 million later is not even 10% of the way to completion. And to even consider that they quite possibly have raised well over this amount should be cause for some serious concern. I mean think about this, what if – even with tax breaks and such – they have raised even $10 million above what’s shown (regardless of accuracy) to the backers; there’s still no game.
In one of my 2015 blogs, I said that the game Chris Roberts pitched was possible but not for less than $150 million – assuming the right talent and technology. I mean, just think about that for a minute. When you consider the likes of Call Of Duty: Infinite Warfare, Mass Effect Andromeda – competing titles (which are rumored to cost less btw) – all heading out within the next six months; then you look at the pure and utter shite that is Star Citizen/Squadron42 clusterfuck, go ahead and tell me you’re not wondering wtf they’ve done with all this money. Seriously, this is just a paycheck now. Keep it going for as long as is possible seems to be the goal. I mean, if my lawn guy came twice a week to cut the grass – and was paid both times – when in fact he can do it in one visit, he’s totally fired. Alarmingly, compared to what’s left to do, the game has made very little progress since the 2.0 update was released in Dec 2015. And that’s precisely why Chris Roberts started talking about shipping a Minimum Viable Product just this past April. And I quote (verbatim):
“…and, awh, wuh… we’ll have what will sort of determine a sort of… MINIMUM VIABLE PRODUCT FEATURE LIST for what you would call STAR CITIZEN the COMMERCIAL RELEASE, which is basically when you say, “OK! Ah, we’ve gotten to this point and we’ve still got plans to add a lot more COOL STUFF and MORE CONTENT and MORE FUNCTIONALITY and MORE FEATURES”, which by the way includes some of… the LATER STRETCH GOALS we have cos not all of that’s meant to be for ABSOLUTELY RIGHT HERE, on the commercial release… “
Hang on!! There’s even more!
When they released the long awaited and largely derided 2.4 patch (the Trojan horse for the new ToS), they had started pushing for more paid subscribers. In fact, in what was – at the time – the most brazen move – they actually allowed access to that patch to subscribers before the regular backers. Guess what happened? Yup; backers who didn’t previously have subs, signed up just so they could get access to the patch without having to wait. For a game they already paid for. Naturally, the fine folks at CIG/RSI figured that amid dwindling revenues, using the subscriptions was another way to nickel and dime backers.
But don’t forget though, Star Citizen is totally not a subscription based game. At all.
They keep pretending as if there is somehow some separate pool of cash where all the sub money goes. This despite the fact that, even though they’re all getting pay checks, they keep pushing the flawed narrative that subscriptions make it possible for them to be creating content for shows that barely a fraction of the backers even watch. Heck, I was made privy to an entire email exchange between Sandi, and prolific backer Beer4theBeerGod which took place back in 2014 (!) in which he too was asking some questions about subscriptions and how they related to funding. This is Sandi’s response to the money part of that discussion:
“What I am saying is that I for example, am paid a salary to do my job and I spend part of my time at the moment on TNGS. Part of my salary is not allocated by subscriber money, that wouldn’t make sense. There are other CIG staff in my category.
FYI, the TNGS part of that exchange has to do with the since shit-canned “The Next Great Starship” a CIG reality show which backers were apparently paying for. They did the first series, then nothing. Just like that. No warning. No explanation. No notice. And no competition.
So, once they figured out that they could get more backers to pay for subs in order to access a game they already paid for, like sharks to fresh blood, they started the new narrative of building up subscriptions via shitty shows nobody is watching.
Then earlier this month, they started sending this out to subscribers, as well as standard backers, trying to get them to buy subs.
To the extent that this past week, they’ve announced that they are killing some of the shows, while revamping others. And they made a big deal about that because, you know, they bought new – expensive – Canon cameras just for that. And as part of this new and exciting direction, the past two weeks they were heavily hyping a new 104TC show with Chris Roberts and Sean Tracey. A broadcast which I had posted on social media that they were going to show either the previously shit-canned “Star Marine – The Resurrection”, or some procedural planet generation – again running in a controlled environment as they’ve been doing these past years. Seeing as sources tell me that nothing they planned to show even runs for any length of time, it would have been a complete disaster; not unlike what happened when Chris Roberts tried – and failed – to play his own game in a live broadcast. So they canceled the show.
Then Chris fucked off and went back to the UK to shoot more Squadron 42 mocap, and bar hop. Again.
I won’t even get into the $35 (!) Star Citizen branded tee-shirt that appeared this past week, and which they were also pushing heavily. This despite the fact that – as I type this – there are promised backer items which, five years later, are yet to be fulfilled.
A word from our laugh-riot sponsors…
Again about the money – and the delusions – recently a thread popped up on Reddit, and a guy (who claims to be in the VC sector) who neither owns the game, nor has any connections to it, posted this anecdote in response to the most ludicrous post yet:
“Shitizen:People already have bought it, so that 117 mil is both budget and profit. It would be impossible for it to fail because no one knew about it; if no one knew about it, it wouldn’t have made as much money as it has.
VCGuy:I see your point, yes, they have reached a lot of people already. But there are caveats and it’s still entirely possible for a project to fail regardless of its level of funding — as evidenced by APB, etc. — if the $117M is blown on up-front development with no attention to longevity.
The 1.4M “Star Citizens” quoted on the funding page is not a count of backers. It’s simply a count of registered accounts — whether or not that account has pledged. We know that some (many?) people have blown an incredible amount of money on this game, meaning the number of actual backers is potentially much smaller. Anyone who is registered but not a backer cannot be considered a reliable prospect. People register and then forget about/lose interest in games all the time.
MMOs require ongoing investment, promotion and interest from players after launch. It’s not a one-time deal. They rely on having large, active playerbases, constantly attracting new blood to replace people who burn out or lose interest.
Simply managing to launch a game doesn’t automatically mean that game is a success. Many MMOs have made it to launch and shuttered within weeks or months due to foundering playerbases: players who had similarly shelled out $60 or $80 or $100+ for the game.
Moreover, the criteria for “failure” are different between developers/publishers and players.
You say the $117M is also profit? In that they’ve exceeded their development budget? So then you would not consider the game a “failure” if it were released today in its half-developed state and then abandoned by CIG and shuttered within 12-18 months, because they’ve already profited?
No, of course you’d consider it a failure. Because, as a player, you aren’t looking at financial profit as a measure of success. You’re looking at longevity, playerbase activity and interest, the effectiveness of game mechanics and absence of game-breaking bugs, community involvement.
Regardless of whether the $117M is 75% profit and has made millionaires of every CIG developer already, the game will not be “successful” for any backer unless the final product is a solid MMO with continuing popularity and activity and development at least several years into the future past launch. And right now neither you nor I really know whether that will happen.
It’s detached from reality.
According to this Wikipedia list, it’s not only the 6th most expensive game ever overall, but 4th in terms of sheer development cost — behind monster IPs like SW and GTA.
The thing about those other titles topping that list?
They all had massive marketing budgets.
And/or were associated with existing massive IPs: CoD, GTA, SW, Final Fantasy, etc.
And/or were associated with well-established, big-name developers and publishers who already had track records with other huge and profitable productions: Rockstar, Infinity Ward, Square Enix, Bungie, EA, BioWare, etc.
CoD, GTA, Final Fantasy, Star Wars. These are IPs and games that even non-gamers know about. They’re modern social references, they’re memes, they’re in the public consciousness.
Nobody knows about Star Citizen. Nobody.
Even many gamers don’t know about SC. Console gamers don’t know about SC. Console gaming is how many/most popular games cross the boundary from gamer knowledge to public knowledge. Certainly nobody outside gaming has ever heard of Star Citizen.
Even with the rare, oblique coverage of SC that I’ve caught on mainstream outlets like CNN, the name “Star Citizen” is neither catchy nor unique. Nobody is ever going to remember it after leaving the article, or recall and make the connection if they hear about it somewhere else later. The only reason it gets coverage is because of its insane funding: the coverage is more about the concept of crowdsourced funding than the game itself.
The more money gets funneled into pure development of SC, the more likely it is to be mismanaged. The more likely they are to blow stupid amounts of money on fluff like extra voice or likeness cameos, or spending hours refining tiny animations and textures without addressing big picture problems. The more likely they are to waste time and money on pie-in-the-sky ideas that don’t pan out. The more likely they are to commit to overly expansive ideas and mechanics and gameplay concepts that are completely out of practical reach.
The best thing CIG can do with that $117M is to allocate a moderate portion to development — staying within current boundaries and without increasing scope — and then throw the majority at a colossal, multi-channel marketing campaign.
You could make the greatest, most expansive, most flawless, most bug-free game in the world… but if nobody knows about it, nobody’s playing it.
Moreover, even huge development funding in no way guarantees a good game.
You only need to look as far as #8 and #9 on that same Wikipedia list to find examples. Too Human and APB: $100M+ apiece for two unmitigated failures. Both developed by relatively small, relatively unknown, independent studios. Both of which collapsed shortly after releasing said games.
Somehow we’re meant to believe that CIG — an independent developer with literally no history or track record, now in control of a project budget larger than the national debt of some small countries — is going to be different. Simply because it’s the fans paying for development out of their own pockets this time.
We all want to believe that. I want to believe that. But at the same time it reeks of the modern of “just throw more money at it and it will automatically be better” mentality.“
This being the Internet, and this on-going train-wreck supplying the lols in spades, everyone is now paying attention. And so, yet another data analyst has put together one of the most compelling analysis of backers and the project to date. Below – without any commentary from me – is the entire thing. Reprinted with permission. If you’re into this sort of thing, you’re about to have a spazgasm.
AN ESTIMATE OF STAR CITIZEN FUNDING DEMOGRAPHICS
Star Citizen is the most successful video game crowdfunding effort ever in terms of total dollars raised, such that the continual headlines trumpeting the achievement of the next million dollar milestone don’t even seem that newsworthy anymore. However, CIG has offered little public transparency into the details of their funding, other than the funding tracker on the RSI web page. To get a more complete picture of Star Citizen’s backer base, I studied the metadata of all RSI forum accounts in late June 2016. I did not look at actual post content, usernames, etc. Metadata that were included are as follows:
- date of enlistment, date of joining the forum, last active date
- numbers of discussions (threads started), comments (thread replies), visits
- banned or not, probated or not (and probation date if so)
- backer title in forum profile and user dossier
- UEE citizen number and forum profile ID number
The most important piece of data for our purposes is the backer titles, because in most cases these correspond to approximate funding levels — if your total spending is in a particular band, you get the appropriate title. It is possible to manually adjust your title downward. I have no way to correct for this phenomenon, so we will simply take the numbers as is and accept that there is an unknown degree of uncertainty due to manual title adjustment. For details on (most of) the backer titles, you can consult the list at wikia.
It should be stressed that using the forum accounts is not the same as taking a random sample of UEE citizens. This is because after enlisting, a separate action is required to create a forum account. However, the barrier to entry is relatively low: you only have to click on the forums, or on the link to your own forum profile, while being logged in to the RSI website. Moreover, the total sample considered in this analysis is 617,363 forum accounts, out of a total of 1,401,608 UEE citizens at the time of data capture. So while the dataset is not perfect, it is likely to be as good of a sample as one can get unless CIG publishes their own internal data.
USER TITLES AND OVERALL FUNDING BREAKDOWN
Since users have titles in two places (the profile and the dossier), I used the title that implied a higher funding level, if applicable. The raw counts of user titles thus obtained were as follows:
The titles that give funding information, along with the abbreviations I’ll use henceforth, are as follows:
- ‘com’: Completionist, $15000+
- ‘wc’: Wing Commander, $10000-$14999.99
- ‘smlc’: Space Marshal OR Lt. Commander, $5000-$9999.99
- ‘ga’: Grand Admiral, $2500-$4999.99
- ‘ha’: High Admiral, $1000-$2499.99
- ‘va’: Vice Admiral, $500-$999.99
- ‘ra’: Rear Admiral, $250-$499.99
- ‘fc’: Freelancer OR Colonel, $125-$249.99
- ‘bh’: Bounty Hunter, $60-$124.99
- ‘mer’: Mercenary, $40-$59.99
- ‘sco’: Scout, $30-$39.99
- ‘civ’: Civilian, $0-$29.99
Certain other titles are not directly associated with a funding level but are strong indicators of user engagement with the game and the community. Examples include ‘Fooled!’, ‘Aggressor’, and ‘Apex Predator’. Since spending is strongly correlated with community engagement (details below), I wanted to recover information for as many of these accounts as possible. Therefore, I used a previous forums snapshot (taken in late March 2016, covering only posters in RSI forums General Chat) to supplement the data. The user title was now taken as the highest-ranking of the four possible titles (March profile and dossier, June profile and dossier). The resulting graph of user title distribution is provided below.
Because of the vast difference in potential spending levels between the highest and lowest user tiers, it is instructive to look at the total implied spending level given the user title distribution. Here we will present the funding under three scenarios. Under the ‘min’ funding scenario, users spend the minimum possible amount given their tier. Under the ‘max’ funding scenario, users spend the maximum possible, and under the ‘mid’ funding scenario, the average user spending within a tier is taken to be exactly halfway between min and max. For Completionists, who do not have a defined max funding level, I arbitrarily assigned a max level of $50K, based on the example of multiple known completionists in the mid to high $30K’s.
The total funding accounted for under the mid funding scenario is $54M. If we extrapolate out to the entire 1.4M UEE citizenry assuming that the forum userbase is a representative sample, then the mid funding scenario extrapolates to a total of $123M, which is fairly close to the current funding tracker level of $117M. So unless otherwise stated, we will limit ourselves to the mid funding scenario as a reasonable guess at the true situation.
Looking at the mid funding scenario, we can immediately see that concierge-level backers (High Admiral and up) contribute well over half of the total funding.
USER ENGAGEMENT BY TIER
Unsurprisingly, higher tier users have higher average daily numbers for visits, comments, and discussions. They are more likely to have made at least one post, and their median account inactivity time is lower.
Given the high engagement of high-tier users, one can call into question the representativeness of the current data sample. It seems that high-tier users should be more likely to be sampled by this methodology. Presumably this means that the unsampled portion of the UEE citizenry consists of lower spenders on average, and thus it follows that the forum userbase may be spending more than the mid funding scenario suggests.
USER ENGAGEMENT AND FUNDING BY ACCOUNT AGE
With the release of Alpha 2.0 in December 2015 and numerous sales and promotional events, CIG has greatly increased the influx of new UEE citizens in recent months. An overall look at the “fans” count from the public tracker tells the story:
To evaluate how this wave of new citizens compares to older stalwarts, let’s compare the rate of forum signups over time, compared to the number of UEE citizens. In the chart below, we compare the UEE citizen count at each date (given by the max UEE ID for a particular enlist date) to the number of forum users that enlisted on that day or earlier. Be aware that the UEE citizen count is corrupted before 2013 due to what appears to be manual database changes on RSI’s end. The corruption couldn’t be corrected using the public funding tracker, as that was apparently suffering from inaccuracies of its own in the early days. Nevertheless, the overall picture is clear: forum signups tracked the UEE population very closely at first, then started to decouple in late 2013 and have been falling further and further behind ever since.
Another way to present this data is to compare the daily rates of UEE signups vs forum signups. The time axis is set to avoid the problematic data before 2013. We see that the average ratio between signup rates was close to 1 early on and is gradually increasing; it is currently holding steady around 4-4.5 in 2016. If the proportion of forum signups can be taken a crude proxy for community engagement, then this indicates that newer users are not as engaged.
To see whether decreasing community engagement translates into decreased funding potential, we sort users by their tier and quarter of enlistment, then plot the resulting funding distribution. To be clear: we are not placing money in the quarter it was received by CIG, but rather in the quarter when the corresponding user enlisted. This should give us a picture of how much of the total comes from older users vs newer users. The “extrap.” version of the chart shows what happens if we extrapolate the sampled funding distribution in each quarter to the entire UEE population that registered in that quarter. The third plot shows the percentage breakdowns within each quarter.
It is evident that most of the money comes from older accounts. Also, it is evident that the share of concierge-level backers (the blue ‘ha’ and below in this chart) is decreasing over time. To be fair, newer accounts have had a shorter period to spend money — perhaps it takes time to get up to high tier status. Unfortunately we don’t have a time series of forum snapshots to work with, so it’s impossible to examine longitudinal spending habits directly. However, we can look at the graph of average user spending by quarter:
While we should be careful not to take this graph too literally, it implies that there is a soft ceiling around $200 beyond which the average user is much less willing to spend any more. As account age increases (going from right to left on the horizontal axis), the user spending increases superlinearly until reaching the ceiling. This suggests to me that in addition to having less opportunity to spend money, the newer accounts also simply have a lesser average intrinsic propensity to spend money. However, this is merely speculation: the current data do not allow any such putative phenomenon to be quantified.
SPECULATION: FUTURE FUNDING
CIG’s funding revenue in 2016 Q2, according to their funding tracker, was just shy of $5.6M. Of this total, we have estimated that well under $2M was supplied by users enlisting in that quarter. Unless trends drastically change in the near future, CIG must continue to rely primarily on monetizing its existing userbase. However, with older users nearing the soft spending cap and newer users being less inclined to spend, the current backer population will not continue to fund CIG indefinitely.
In order to counter the funding decline from the existing userbase, CIG must continue to bring in new users. Due to the low average value of the users currently being attracted by CIG’s marketing, CIG must either bring in new users substantially faster than even its most breakneck pace to date — a proposition that itself is unsustainable in the long term — or else must greatly improve the perceived value of its product.
SOURCES OF UNCERTAINTY
It should be re-emphasized that this analysis suffers from a great degree of uncertainty in many aspects, due to the imperfections of the publicly available data. While I believe that the general conclusions and trends I have presented are broadly correct, caution should be used when interpreting any specific numerical values occurring in the charts. For the sake of completeness, here are some of the more important possible sources of error:
- The vast majority of Civilian accounts are likely to be $0 forum-only accounts, which would have a large impact on the lower end of the funding distributions.
- The NA accounts, which could not be assigned a funding level, have average community engagement levels that are close to High Admiral-Space Marshal territory. Although the statistics are skewed by the presence of extremely prolific moderator/staff/etc. accounts in the NA category, it is likely that a sizable chunk of backer change is actually accounted for by this bloc.
- Backer titles can be adjusted downward, and are more likely to be adjusted by more engaged users, who are in turn more likely to be high spenders.
- Average spending levels within tiers are unknown.
- The set of forum users is unlikely to be representative of the broader UEE citizen population.
And there you have it…