STAR CITIZEN – EARLY 2017 UPDATE
The year has barely started, but the clowns over at CIG/RSI are making waves again, even as they come up with new and inventive ways to piss off their backers who have so far given them $141 million to make a pair of games (neither of which is even near completion). So, let’s see where we are barely two weeks into the New Year.
THE LUMBERYARD NON-SWITCH
You probably know by now, as I wrote in my last blog, Irreconcilable Differences, that after several months of delays, they finally rushed out the 2.6 patch in late December. Not only has it been confirmed that in 2.6 the switch was basically restricted to their use of Lumberyard’s abstracted access to EC2, hence the need for displaying the logo, but also that aside from some network performance improvements due to the switch from Google Compute to Amazon EC2 cloud servers, it had zero impact on the game. Same game. Same custom engine. Same bugs. Same performance & networking issues. Which pretty much explains why they didn’t even bother mentioning that – for almost a year – they were considering this switch, but never once mentioned it to the backers.
As one joker put it: “The development is so transparent and open, that you can’t even see it.”
STAR MARINE. TOO LITTLE. TOO LATE.
Some backers were rejoicing that – after four years of promoting it – CIG managed to release a stand-alone fps game module built with an engine designed specifically for fps games. The end result? It’s generic, lackluster, buggy (hey pre-Alpha!), and uninspiring in every way. Needless to say, this one won’t be saving PC gaming any time soon. And if you believed Chris Roberts – even for a second – when he said that “it would be more lethal than Call Of Duty“, congrats; you’re a fool.
Basically, this was just them ticking off another check mark in the list of documented promises, and which joins the hangar, Arena Commander, and persistent universe modules in their mediocrity (at least for a $141 million project). And if those other modules are anything to go by, this first release will also lack any meaningful content and updates for quite some time.
Case in point, people are already using hacks to cheat. For a game that is in pre-alpha, you would think that these reports would be useful to CIG in order that they be identified and fixed. But no, that’s too easy and logical. So instead, they’re threatening to ban accounts. For cheating in a pre-alpha game. Yeah.
And speaking of Arena Commander – which first appeared in 2014 – after all this time, not only do they still not have a plausible flight module, but in 2.6 they somehow managed to make it worse; if you can imagine that.
SQUADRON 42. STILL MIA
This single-player version of the game, and which was to tie into the larger Star Citizen (aka Persistent Universe), is still a no-show; and all bets about it even being released in 2017, are off. In fact, in a recent issue of German magazine, Der Spiegel, Chris was quoted as saying that it would “probably be finished in 2017“.
Rumors have been swirling for months that not only is that module itself in serious trouble, but that it doesn’t even exist as a cohesive game. Just think, it was supposed to be coming in 2014, then 2015, then for real, in 2016. But so far, aside from the godawful Morrow Tour video from CitizenCon 2015, nothing of it has been shown. Not even a trailer or a demo.
After seeing the likes of the recently released Call Of Duty Infinite Warfare and the upcoming Mass Effect Andromeda, anything less than a spectacular showing of SQ42 – the game that Chris mostly cares about – will be devastating. But let’s not ignore the fact that Chris had gone on the record and stated that they had a demo “ready to go” for CitizenCon 2016, but they opted not to release it due to time constraints. I wrote about that in my Shattered Dreams blog.
Other rumors say that only a prelude (aka demo) – not the full Episode 1 – will be released sometime in Q1/17. Seriously, we can’t wait. Though with some top level team members (e.g. Tom Johnson, Todd Pappy) on that project rumored to have either left or on their way out, one has to wonder how far along that module is at this point.
A recent rumor that’s been floating around also suggests that SQ42 will probably no longer exist as a separate game as previously planned. Instead, the missions will be rolled into Star Citizen, thus making it just another game mode like Arena Commander and Star Marine. Yeah, it’s hilarious. Especially when you consider that they split it into a separate product earlier this year; no doubt in order to maximize sales, as well as spin it off as its own title; thus justifying a console port, as well as DLC (episodic content etc).
To be honest, as a developer, and given the structure of the what they’ve built so far, I think making it a game mode and accessible via the Star Citizen menu, is probably a good call. Though it is mission based single-player, but originally billed to support co-op (which requires networking support), it makes sense. In fact, doing that could also enable them to bring back co-op play. But that would require revisions to the missions of course. And if nothing else, it would be consistent with the other game modules (hangar, persistent universe, star marine, arena commander).
None of this matters anyway. Now that they are switching to Lumberyard – five years into development – they have bigger problems to worry about.
THE DEV SCHEDULE
Back in Dec, following the disastrous CitizenCon 2016 and anniversary community events, they released a dev schedule. Most of us – after we finished laughing – remained skeptical, seeing as we already knew that they did that only to boost backer confidence in the name of “open development”. Of course, aside from the fact that the schedule was just rubbish, they missed every single deadline contained within. Finally rushing to release a broken 2.6 patch, of which various promised items were removed. Which begs the question. Why bother? They are already notorious for missing deadlines; so how does releasing a schedule in which they continue that trend, change anything? It doesn’t. They only did it due to the backer uprising.
So here we are, week two of the New Year, and the first problem (shocker) was just made public via the latest communication to backers from Chris. They’re now talking about delivering 3.0 (aka The Jesus Patch) in 2017. The same 3.0 that Chris, according to these slides, said would be released before Dec 19th, 2016. No talk of 4.0 coming in 2017 now. The Reddit thread that popped out around it, contains the usual hilarity.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="726"] Star Citizen 01/06/17 newsletter[/caption]
FOR SALE, ONE BARELY FUNCTIONAL FLAMETHROWER
Quite a number of backers continue requesting and getting refunds. Some have made it public, while others are doing it quietly in order to stay out of the on-going fray. Even the hardcore backers who were once convinced that I was wrong about all this, that my sole purpose was to kill (yeah, hilarious, I know) the project etc are getting refunds. In the last 24 hrs, two made public that they had requested a refund. In fact, when this hardcore backer posted that he put in for a refund, he got attacked; prompting another backer ($7.2K) to put in for his refund.
CIG have in fact been granting refunds – as indeed they should – or face the wrath of State and Fed officials who are long aware of what’s going on with the project. However, in the New Year, there have been some reports of refunds being rejected. We’re still looking into it; but it appears as if either they’ve stopped doing refunds in 2017, thus only doing those who filed before the end of 2016, or they’re enforcing the 2016 ToS refund criteria now.
They’re rumored to be quite low on funds (it’s expensive to fund 4 studios and almost 400 people around the globe), so we already expected this to start happening eventually. With this much money at stake, all things considered, CIG is basically robbing Peter (new backers) to pay Paul (refunds). Which is how a Ponzi scheme collapses once the amount of money needed to give to Paul, exceeds what was taken from Peter – and spent.
If after all these months of being warned you didn’t get a refund, well, you only have yourself to blame.
Across the web, and on the official forums, many a heated thread has either been closed or flat-out deleted. A lot of the hardcore backers, already fed up with what is going on, are voicing dissent on a daily basis; even as they face incessant attacks from the anti-social Shitizens (the backers who are waging an Internet war of attrition against dissent).
And even long-time backers are facing attacks and ridicule for even questioning what is going on. This thread popped on Reddit after a long time original backer ($8K vested!) was censored on the CIG forums for basically doing nothing wrong. So he got even and put in for a refund.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, in the past 24 hours, yet another original (2012) backer, Badger, a Golden ticket holder and the second or third oldest documented backer, also faced similar derision. Get this. A CIG staffer even threatened to close his account if he leaked the plot to Star Wars Rogue One movie. Yes, something that has nothing to do with Star Citizen.
If you have been following my Star Citizen writings, then you should know that this won’t be the first time that CIG have taken action against a backer for something said outside of CIG forums. There was a media article about it as well. Anyway, the backer wrote an entire missive about it up on Google Docs; which he then posted in this Reddit thread. Well, go look and see what happened next.
Basically, the backers – who just wanted a game they paid for and who are now seeking accountability, while voicing their dissent, are in an all-out war with Shitizens (who are fighting a proxy war for CIG), and even CIG community staffers.
Aside from the wars going on in the backer community, CIG has also been scaling back on community activities. Last year they canceled the popular 10 For The Chairman programming (in which Chris answered questions from subscribers and backers), while scaling back on a number of other broadcasts. This new year has now seen the cancellation of the Reverse The Verse (weekly updates from the community teams) programming as well. And – get this – that has now been replaced with a Happy Hour broadcast in which CIG community members get to play the game on a stream. No, I’m not making that up.
SHOW ME THE MONEY!
Having failed to deliver the games promised and within the 18 month grace period following the Nov 2014 promised date, CIG have not only failed to release financials to backers as promised, but they also changed the ToS in June 2016, removing that requirement for new backers completely. That single action alone sparked a refund cascade, and which I wrote about extensively in my Refund Debacle blog. Since that time, seeing as the UK laws, unlike US laws, require companies to make their financials public, we’ve been paying close attention to the money being funneled into the UK from the US.
After being late (like the other two entities) and paying fines each year, for whatever reason, CIG (UK) have recently filed their 2015 financials. Basically, CIG (UK) costs £15m (approx $18m) a year; which is almost 50% of the $35.9m raised in 2015. These financials are evidence as to why they need to keep raising money. Think about it. If this single studio cost this much to run in 2015; how were they planning to build a game for $65m, let alone $15m as they were saying merely two years ago?
And my guess is that this funding amount is going to probably be higher in 2016 due to the increased head count as shown in this slide during CitizenCon 2016 this past Oct.
Remember, for some reason, there are 3 (!) UK companies for this single project. Seriously. CIG (UK), RSI (UK), F42 (UK).
1) Cloud Imperium Games Corp, West Hollywood, CA
2) Cloud Imperium Games LLC, West Hollywood, CA
3) Cloud Imperium Services, LLC West Hollywood, CA <– The one is interesting. It is found on BBB, but is not in the CA Secretary Of State dB records
4) Cloud Imperium Games LLC, Santa Monica, CA
5) Cloud Imperium Games Texas LLC, West Hollywood, CA
6) Cloud Imperium Games Texas LLC, Austin, TX
7) Cloud Imperium Games UK Limited, UK
8) Foundry 42 Limited, UK
9) Foundry 42, Germany
10) Gemini 42 Entertainment LLC, West Hollywood, CA
11) Gemini 42 Productions LLC, Santa Monica, CA
12) Roberts Space Industries Corp, West Hollywood, CA
13) Roberts Space Industries International Limited, UK
14) Twin Brothers Production Inc, West Hollywood, CA
15) Twin Bros, Germany
The money flow for 2014-2015:
Also, similar to how some States here in the US give tax breaks and financial assistance to some companies (see the 38 Studios debacle) depending on investment, jobs etc, we’ve been trying to find out how much financial or tax breaks CIG received from the UK; specifically the city of Manchester. This is something that some of the local businesses are also trying to find out, amid rumors that CIG may have sucked up most of it. To that end, when we came across the 2016 Science & Innovation Audit report from Manchester, which listed CIG as having a £1 billion turnover, we immediately jumped on it seeing as we knew it to be factually incorrect. In fact, given their yearly fund-raising, not taking into account bank loans (e.g. the NatWest loan in the UK), and investor money, the entity is barely a $35 million company. Assuming you go with gross revenue and not P&L.
Manchester wrote back to confirm that it was in fact an error.
But they also indicated that the US parent company had a £150 million turnover. We have no freaking clue where they got those numbers from either; so another query has been sent to them. We’re just hoping that whatever it is they filed with the UK officials, is accurate, because when the final end game starts to play out in the coming months, this is the sort of data that’s going to be crucial to following the money and finding out how they could possibly have raised – and blown through over $141 million (not including loans and investments) in five years – and never shipping any of the games promised.
update 01/12/17: A response was received regarding the £150 million turnover amount. So basically they were just publishing data straight from CIG/F42 – with zero vetting.
THE ROAD AHEAD
If rumors and insider leaks are to be believed, not only are they now facing the prospects of doing layoffs (so far, we’re tracking over 20 people having departed in the past weeks) in order to curb spending, but even with SQ42 now a “maybe” for 2017, without additional funding or curbing their spending, not only do they stand a very slim chance of delivering on even 25% of what was promised, but they stand zero chance of delivering 100% of what was promised by Q4/2020. Back in July 2015, in my first blog, Interstellar Citizens, I opined that they simply couldn’t make the ultra ambitious game Chris pitched. And I further went on to say that even if they had the tech and the talent, they’d need $150m minimum to do it. That was at $85m. Clearly they neither have the tech, nor the talent; and even with $141m and five years in, by all accounts, they simply can’t build that game.
At this point, short of money laundering and similar shenanigans, anyone giving them money, knowing that they have zero incentive to complete, let alone ship the games promised, deserves to lose it. Enough is enough. And those backers fighting a proxy Internet war of attrition against dissent, are doing more to taint and tarnish the project and its community, than they can imagine. Even so, for those guys, no matter how this ends, the worst thing to them isn’t that Chris Roberts was wrong; it’s that Derek Smart was right.
How did I get involved in this on-going farce? I’m glad you asked. It’s hilarious; and the sort of dumb thing that only someone like Chris Roberts would do.