Posted Wed, Jan 08, 2014 by ricoxg
Chris Roberts formally announced last month that the dogfighting module for Star Citizen would be delayed, and if we’re honest about it, we really sort of saw it coming. So you might have expected me to pretty much have something ready to send out about it the moment the news went public. The honest answer is that I didn’t have anything prepared because I don’t think the delay is really the story in this situation. I think the reaction is the real story here, and that’s what I wanted to give time to develop.
The reaction this far has been pretty well along the lines of what I expected, and what a number of folks in the industry were not hoping to see. Specifically, that reaction would be something along the lines of a frustrated acceptance. We’re going to examine that reaction in some detail today because I think it’s a fascinating delve into the sort of gamer this project is collecting. Understanding that frustration a little and why we see it paired with so much acceptance is part of the story here, but then I’m going to tell you why I think the delay might be a good thing and why the big publishers probably aren’t too happy about it.
When the French aristocracy failed to feed the country’s peasants and Marie Antoinette was approached for help on acquiring bread, she supposedly uttered the now famous phrase, “Let them eat cake.” What followed some years later was a lesson in why a disappointed crowd can be distinctly unhealthy for those they feel let down by. Video games are no different, as we’ve seen several times in the last year alone.
Reading through some of the comments in the recent Letter from the Chairman on the Star Citizen website, you see a certain level of justified disappointment. While the team has rolled out a number of patches for the hanger module, everyone’s been waiting on the dogfighting module, which is when they could actually start to get a genuine feel for the game. It’s like ordering a new Murcielago from Lamborghini. The picture they sent you of what you ordered serves to get you excited and works for a short while, but then when you hear the car’s been delayed, the disappointment is somewhat understandable.
CIG hasn’t promised the car for another couple years or so, but they’ve promised a chance to test-drive it and that’s been delayed. On the tail of concerns about feature-creep, there’s even a bit of fear mixed in that the whole game may be moving more slowly than hoped. There really hasn’t been a tremendous amount of apparent growth in the hanger module either. No new ships having been added in some time, for example.
You find yourself reading comments about being disappointed, and you’re not really that surprised about it. As you scan down through the posts, what may be somewhat surprising is that you don’t see much more than mild disappointment. Maybe the community manager at CIG is doing a great job of sanitizing the page, but I’m not seeing near the number of raving posts or hot-heads that you really might have expected. It’s not like there isn’t some justification for being a little irate since most posting are also technically investors, yet the general attitude seems fairly reasonable. You can typically tell when an admin has been killing posts from the odd leaps in conversation, so I suspect what we’re seeing here is genuine and hasn’t been sanitized.
There’s an old World War II poster we still see rolling through the internet today, and it fairly well sums up the response we’ve seen by the community to the latest announcement by Roberts. The mantra on that old poster was to “keep calm and carry on.” No one was shocked at the disappointment, but I think a lot of people are somewhat surprised to find the backers taking the news with so much aplomb. It helped that there was no sense of panache in the public letter that Chris Roberts wrote to fans explaining the situation, however more than that, I think it shows a quality to this gaming community you might typically take for granted.
In post after post under Roberts’ apologetic letter on the website, fans and backers post that while they’re disappointed at having to wait, they’d rather wait for the module to be done correctly. The interesting bit is that Roberts’ choice is sort of counter to what you typically see elsewhere in the industry. Everyone says that they’re not sacrificing quality to hit a date, but every year we see a laundry list of games shoved out the door before their ready because the publisher or financial backers insist on it.
Strangely, commonly toted excuse is that it’s done because the target audience won’t wait, or that by delaying they’ll somehow alienate a sizable chunk of the market. What we’re seeing with Star Citizen is that the market actually cares more about quality than what the big and established industry seems to believe. Of course, it’s entirely possible that what we’re seeing here is just something unique to the Star Citizen community.
I’m sure you could make the point that the low-brow audience of consoles and games like World of Warcraft who can hardly spell “port forwarding” (much less understand what it is), obviously couldn’t care less about quality as demonstrated by their choice of entertainment. However, those of us with more discriminating taste who require a bit more of our games, have been left picking through the junk food of digital entertainment because there are a lot more of them than there are of us. Though, I actually suspect that there may be a lot more of us getting tired of shovel-ware than the big gaming industry would care to believe.