Roberts Space Industries, the developer behind the long-and-still-awaited Star Citizen, has announced it now offers players the opportunity to buy a land-claim license to help fund development. For $ 50 or $ 100, you can buy the rights to a 4km-by-4km lot or an 8km-by-8km estate, respectively. That’s enough to raise eyebrows, given Star Citizen has already raised $ 168 million since its Kickstarter campaign began. But the situation gets even stranger as you dig into it.
According to RSI:
These claim licenses are being made available for pledging to help fund Star Citizen’s development. The ability to obtain these claim licenses will ultimately be available for in-game credits and/or otherwise earnable through play in the game. Pledging for these claim licenses now allows us to include deeper features in the Star Citizen game, and is not required for starting the game.
But you aren’t actually buying a specific patch of dirt when you buy a claim license. Instead, a claim license gives you the right to slam down a staff-shaped piece of hardware, dubbed a claim beacon, in a specific area. You detach a module from the clan beacon and carry it to a UEE Planetary Development office, where your claim to the specific bit of land is checked against a database of who owns what in that specific area. If the land is available, congratulations, you’re now a land owner. This seems a touch odd for a game universe in which space travel is so easily accessible. Couldn’t the UEE just distribute an app to allow players to check land availability without having to return to a physical office?
According to RSI, this new plan has literally nothing to do with Star Citizen needing funds. Star Citizen, it must be noted, doesn’t currently include any features or capabilities that support this new game mode. They’ve all got to be built in. If you buy one of these land claims today, you’re literally paying for a system that doesn’t currently exist, and that will inevitably add more development time.
The Duke Nukem Trap
Before I dive into my own thoughts on this, let me make something clear: I love Chris Robert’s Wing Commander games. I love space fighter combat sims in general, and his in particular. I was thrilled to hear Star Citizen was being made, and to this day, I’d love to see Roberts revitalize the entire genre and bring back story-driven space combat. I’d probably buy a flight stick to play it, if the game were good enough.
But the biggest problem I have with Star Citizen is that Roberts appears to once again be planning to add yet another layer of complexity to a game that’s stuffed with it. It’s a single-player campaign fused with a persistent-world MMO, combined with a base-building and resource management section, in addition to an FPS. It’s supposed to offer a myriad of game modes, from solo exploration to trading, to pitched battles between players. And while it’s true that players will have the option to buy or not buy some of these modes, that doesn’t change the fact that Star Citizen needs to offer them all as plausible methods of play come launch day.
Change the vehicle a bit, and this could be one of the Mass Effect planetary expeditions, jazzed up in a new engine.
That’s a lot. And it reminds me of what happened to Duke Nukem Forever. After the huge success of Duke Nukem 3D, George Broussard and Scott Miller had hit it big. Duke Nukem Forever was announced in 1997 and the problems started almost immediately. Broussard spent half a million dollars acquiring a Quake 2 engine license. Then Unreal came out, and suddenly Quake 2’s engine wasn’t good enough. The game was rebooted from scratch in June 1998 to use Unreal. The game went through repeated development cycles, many linked to Broussard’s desire to always tap the latest and greatest technology rather than building a better game.
The circumstances are different here, of course — for one thing, much less time has passed — but there are uncomfortable parallels. Chris Roberts has repeatedly promised to deliver more: more planets, more spacecraft, more game modes, more stunning technological innovations. Meanwhile, the game and its various modules have no launch date, the company continues to raise money, and while Star Citizens’ alphas have generally been well received, they don’t include huge chunks of content and capability now supposed to be baked into the final game.
I hope Roberts can pull this off, I really do, but I have to wonder how many SC backers are tired of seeing new pleas for donations attached to yet another gameplay expansion. At some point, Roberts would have better luck just offering to ship the game if he hits a fundraising milestone as opposed to promising more stuff.
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