Chris Roberts formally announced last month that the dogfighting module for Star Citizen would be delayed, and if were 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 didnt have anything prepared because I dont think the delay is really the story in this situation. I think the reaction is the real story here, and thats 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. Were going to examine that reaction in some detail today because I think its 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 Im going to tell you why I think the delay might be a good thing and why the big publishers probably arent too happy about it.
Qu'ils Mangent de la Brioche
When the French aristocracy failed to feed the countrys 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 weve 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, everyones been waiting on the dogfighting module, which is when they could actually start to get a genuine feel for the game. Its 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 cars been delayed, the disappointment is somewhat understandable.
CIG hasnt promised the car for another couple years or so, but theyve promised a chance to test-drive it and thats been delayed. On the tail of concerns about feature-creep, theres even a bit of fear mixed in that the whole game may be moving more slowly than hoped. There really hasnt 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 youre not really that surprised about it. As you scan down through the posts, what may be somewhat surprising is that you dont see much more than mild disappointment. Maybe the community manager at CIG is doing a great job of sanitizing the page, but Im not seeing near the number of raving posts or hot-heads that you really might have expected. Its not like there isnt 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 were seeing here is genuine and hasnt been sanitized.
Keep Calm and Carry On
Theres an old World War II poster we still see rolling through the internet today, and it fairly well sums up the response weve 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 theyre disappointed at having to wait, theyd 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 theyre 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 its done because the target audience wont wait, or that by delaying theyll somehow alienate a sizable chunk of the market. What were 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, its entirely possible that what were seeing here is just something unique to the Star Citizen community.
Im 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 couldnt 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.
Like myself, I think a fair number of those who are fans of Star Citizen or have chosen to become backers have more than a passing familiarity with programing or software engineering. I think its pretty likely that this is one of the big reasons so many seem to be okay with delays based on the recent reasons given by Chris Roberts.
Those of us who have worked on software projects understand that you sort of have a couple modes you develop from; the cost-saving, do-what-it-takes mode, and the do-it-right mode. The first is usually pretty quick and doesnt require much spin-up time to start churning out results, where the latter often requires more thought and structure. You have to lay out the groundwork to build from when you have the option of doing something correctly from the start, and that often means theres a perceived lack of progress early on.
Mr. Console Gamer over there likely doesnt understand the difference, but I believe we more enlightened (being experienced in that form of hackery) are glad to see it. One thing Ive always complained about, and Im sure a number of you as well, is how stupid it is that we have to do dumb things to show progress and keep management happy while we struggle to develop something were not actually ashamed to have our tag in. How awesome is it that someone is actually working for management (ie Chris Roberts and we backers) that understand that?
Now I dont want the non-coding members of our fellow intellectual-elite to miss me here by thinking Im just trying to make warm fuzzies for a game Im excited about. Theres a reason beyond just cheering for fellow code-monkeys that Im actually glad to see this call, a couple of them actually. First, Im glad to see some integrity in a development team. Coming out like this and telling your community, not that you cant deliver, but that you wont deliver because it wouldnt meet your standards is ballsy. I like that. Dont sugar coat it, just tell me youre not delivering and why. Contrary to how all the other publishers treat us, a lot of us are big kids and can handle it.
More importantly, I like what it says for the future of the game long-term. Remember, the CIG guys intend to give out developer handbooks when theyre done with initial development that will allow modders to have a blast adding things to the game on down the line. A little extra effort making sure things are written correctly now will make modding the game later that much easier. Obviously its good for speeding up the internal development going forward as well, but I suspect this will be one of those games that draws a whole lot on community-produced content eventually. I think thats a good thing, and one of the strongest draws to Star Citizen for me personally.
Of Birds and the Industry
Theres another reason I like what happened here a lot. As a gamer who feels fairly abandoned by the major developers and publishing companies in the industry over the last decade, Im cheering for anyone who throws a rude salute in their direction. Make no mistake, thats exactly what weve seen here with Star Citizen.
Roberts has effectively told all the big-money players in this industry that this market isnt made up of idiots and that hes not going to treat us like it. He made his decision, and shockingly enough the community has thanked him for it. Mostly by throwing more money at him, but I think Ive heard a few cheers at the local coffee shop as well.
Whether SC succeeds or fails beyond this point, the team at CIG have just demonstrated that you can deliver the worst news and still not lose people if youre on the right track with what youre community wants. Funding has passed $36 million since the initial announcement, which demonstrates not only an acceptance of the news, but actual appreciation at being treated like an adult for a change.
Now, I have to be frank on one point. Im not sure this would actually fly with most other games. CIG is way closer to their community than most other game developers can be, and that allows them a flexibility other developers may not enjoy. So I dont expect a dramatic shift in the way other developers handle future course adjustments like this. What I do believe is that it suggests that a change in this direction may not have the dire consequences many folks previously expected. Because of that, I hope it helps to initiate at least a small change in how we fans are treated by other developers and publishers moving forward. If nothing else, it helps move the needle in that direction.
The Executive Summary
Its a long time until the games supposed to be complete, so theres no telling whether or not well get there. I dont see this recent news as being catastrophic in any way, but rather more encouraging in a lot of aspects. More significantly, it seems there are a lot of other people backing the game who feel the same way, and I find a great deal of pride in that fact.
The gist of this article is basically that Im just a fairly proud guy as Im writing this article. I saw news delivered that had the potential to be catastrophic and Ive seen a community accept the situation and even find an odd encouragement in it. he coffee shop collective and I believe it tells us a lot about the quality and maturity of said community in particular, but also I think proves several important points about gamers in general.
It demonstrates that despite all the damage kids playing Halo on Xbox Live have done for our image, the average gamer is more mature than they once were. There probably was a time were most of us were kids and had to be treated as such, but those days have passed. The new gamer is older and certainly more cognitively developed. Theres also at least one developer that recognizes that fact and treats us like it. Last month CIG allowed us to show that we have standards, and that we will stand behind those who promise to uphold them.
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