Escapist Video Spurs Debate About Star Citizen’s Legacy

The video above has resulted in a bit of a kerfuffle on the forums for Star Citizen. It features The Escapist video game review editor Jim Sterling going off about early access games, which are invariably linked to the entire crowdfunding movement. At the core of his thesis is that if developers are going to charge for early access games, those games should actually be playable. Furthermore – and in light of his position with The Escapist – he believes video game reviewers should review early access games as if they are finished titles, because they’re charging as if they’re finished titles. He admits a bit of facetiousness, but the point is made.

This video made its way to the Star Citizen forums and led one backer to agree with the premise while framing it in the context of the game…

Ay, there’s the rub; We gave CIG 36 million dollars for nothing at all. A vague promise leveraged by a trustworthy name. Whether that trust will pay off or not is irrelevent. The industry saw. The industry is watching this game with keen interest. What if publishers get the wrong message? What if instead of fear that developers will seek their own funding, they themselves are taking notes? What if they start pitching crowdfunded games themselves? Want to make the next Battlefield not suck? Contribute to it’s development! If we receive 15 million, we’ll make this game in a better engine! 10 million dollars and we’ll port Assassin’s Creed 12 to PC!

Do you think publishers will learn from Star Citizen, and get gamers to do their job for them?

What results is a lot of hand-wringing about the legacy of Star Citizen as a game. A selection of comments…

The idea that Star Citizen’s massive success will influence other developers to behave the way CiG is behaving should excite your pants off, not frighten you. The funding goals don’t work without the spirit of transparency, sincerity, and inclusion that comes with the crowdsourcing philosophy.

Right now, the gaming market is oversaturated with largely forgettable cookie-cutter games. This has player loyalty at a relative low, and developers and publishers both risk-averse and unsure of where their numbers lie (perhaps to as great a degree as the motion picture industry). F2P has largely (but not entirely) killed subscription models, but since F2P hit (and arguably even before) developers and publishers have found new ways to make sure that every part of the game experience can be monetized – including the now all-important buzz leading up to another over-sold game’s release, inevitable customer disappointment, and still more inevitable collapse. And none of that has been caused by Star Citizen.

I don’t think that games being released unfinished, is specifically related to the crowdfunding model at all. It has more to do with digital distribution. Look at an old game like Mario 3 for NES. There are hints there of things they wanted to include in the game but never did. In those days, when a game was finished it was finished. Granted, they worked harder to make sure the game was playable upon release, but any additional potential was forever lost.

star-citizenSo, who is right? The truth inevitably lies in the middle, but in reality there are two issues at hand here: the role of early access in gaming and Star Citizen’s legacy.

Both are still a work in progress.

On the subject of early access, I must give Sterling credit. I love his point on reviewing early-access games. If you want to charge for it, why shouldn’t it be reviewed as a final product? This is the primary function of the press: to hold who we’re covering to account. (Easy to forget in a post-Snowden world.) By reviewing games in this manner, it forces devs to make sure the games are at least playable before taking a gamer’s hard-earned $30-60. Do they have to be 100% representative of the final product? No. Should the game work and give an idea of what the final product will be? Inarguably, yes.

Having said that, early access is here to stay and I’d venture to guess that Sterling would be hesitant to give it up if it came at the expense of the current groundswell in smaller, boutique developers. It’s good for the industry and it is good for gamers. Perhaps early access just needs tweaked a bit.

On the subject of Star Citizen, it seems safe to say that if Chris Roberts and friends can deliver on the vision presented in the crowdfunding campaign, the legacy will be cemented and it will be impressive. However, let’s consider the possibility that the game fails to deliver a game up to par with what has been promised. $30-some-odd million (and counting) doesn’t go toward a substandard product without some serious repercussions. It’d probably ruin Chris Robert’s career, and I’d venture to guess that every early access model for gaming today would feel the shock wave.

Is that going to happen? With what CiG has in the coffers and considering Roberts’s experience, it’s unimaginable.

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