Okay, let's get this out of the way up front. Here in the office, pretty much all of us have invested in Star Citizen, and we all really, REALLY, want the game to be good...
There's no point ignoring what has been a very tumultuous few days in the 'Verse.
First up is the ongoing and fast-escalating legal stoush between CIG and a man who knows a thing or two about failing to deliver on promises, Derek Smart. Smart famously starting badmouthing Star Citizen's apparent bloat and delays some months ago, before being given a refund on his investment in the game. Now Smart's aiming to bring a Class Action suit against CIG on behalf of all the gamers who have yet to see a return on their own investment.
CIG's lawyers have struck back, revealing that - according to internal reports - Smart never even downloaded what was available of the game. So what right does he have to quibble?
Well, in his latest (as my colleague Ben Mansill calls it) MEGABLOG, Smart essentially out and out declares that Chris Roberts is a conman, and that Star Citizen is just one long con.
In response, SC fans have started a rather curious petition calling upon Smart to basically shut up. I'm not sure what anyone thinks this might achieve - apart from energising Smart's anti-Chris Roberts stance even more.
But that's not all that's wrong in the 'Verse!
As rumours circulate of possible layoffs/restructuring at the seemingly still growing company, one ex-employee has had a letter he sent to other employees leaked, and it's ended up in the hands of Smart - who of course published it. In the letter, David Jennison admits that, despite some great guys in the art department - where Jennison worked - the source of all the troubles in design, creep, and lack of visual coherency is just one man.
Yep, Chris Roberts. Here's an excerpt, but you can find the full thing here.
It became clear within a matter of weeks of working at CIG, that all the decisions for the character pipeline and approach had been made- by Roberts. It became clear that this was a company-wide pattern- CR dictates all. Instead of articulating the standard for approval and allowing the team to develop the best methods to meet this bar, Roberts dictates what the method is, usually with a fraction of the knowledge that the employee has over their particular field. Then, when the plan or method fails to produce the results CR wants, the employee inevitable takes the blame, after all they are responsible for their corner of the game.
Essentially, Roberts has a Go/No-go on everything, and that's not only causing a bottleneck, it's resulting in a lot of poor design executions. And more than a few people on Reddit are corroborating what Jennison apparently has to say.
So. Is Star Citizen in trouble? Is it (and after the internet rage our last gag got, I am loathe to say this) as Smart intimates, a scam?
Well, that's hard to answer. I've met Chris Roberts a couple of times, and you will not find a more passionate, excited fan of the games he likes and wants to make. I truly believe that Roberts believes in Star Citizen, and believes in what he is - and so far is not - delivering to his customers.
But passion isn't everything when it comes to game development. At some point, you need to let the experts in your company truly shine; micro-management and constantly shifting goal-posts is not the way to get that process flowing. Nor is fostering a culture of fear and reprimand ideal; that's another claim that Jennison makes.
And it is all too easy to believe that Roberts' passion could well turn him into a tyrant at times. This is his singular vision, to be executed his way.
But as to our first question... I wouldn't say the game's in trouble, per se. It is going to take a LOT longer to release in any holistic form than anyone realises. The flight model is still being nailed down, we have a single shopping center to walk through, and soon what will likely be a very laggy and feature-lite FPS module to look forward to. All at a time when we should have had the original game completed.
I remain, however, hopeful. I think there's a dream here; a dream that not only Roberts has, but nearly everyone who has invested in the game shares with him. That of the perfect space sim, one that lets you fly your ship, walk around your ship, share you ship with others, and then disembark and explore new locations. All while a living breathing galaxy exists around you.
It's essentially the most perfect Star Wars game we could ever imagine. Since the days of Dark Forces and X-Wing Versus TIE Fighter, everyone's dreamed of a game that melds both play types, and I think, when it eventually arrives, Star Citizen could well be worth the wait. It could become the defining game experience of a generation of gamers.
But that is many years away, and the longer the process goes on, the more polarised the community - of both players and developers - will get. I think that's the greatest risk to Star Citizen right now; that it might somehow not collapse because of an excess of scope, but because of rancour and spite, in a future where a passionate community tears itself apart, and developers point fingers at each other.
All while Chris Roberts continues to fiddle, Nero-like, as his game burns around him.
It's the not the future I expect for the game; but it is the future I fear.
UPDATE: We had incorrectly attributed this letter to Jennison's LinkedIn page, but he contacted us to clear up the matter and confirm it was a leak. We apologise for any confusion.