Thanks to crowd funding, several great games have surfaced. Divinity: Original Sin and Pillars of Eternity are high-profile examples. However, Kickstarter has also given rise to a seedy side of crowd funding, the kind that borders on theft and highway robbery, such as Godus and Starbase DF-9. 22 Cans, led by Peter Molyneaux, and Double Fine, under the leadership of Tim Schaefer, traded in on their reputations in the industry to gather funds from trusting fans and then delivered unfinished products that fell far short of the promises made. A common refrain in failed Kickstarter projects has been a lack of money to deliver the game as advertised. Backers of these stillborn travesties were left with broken, unfinished games and empty apologies.
Star Citizen is poised to be one of the greatest money grabs of all time. A recent vocal critic has been game industry legend, Derek Smart. After publishing a blistering manifesto regarding the state of the Star Citizen project, Smart announced that he had been refunded his contribution to the project. Mr. Smart’s own travails over the years with publishing Battlecrusier 3000 AD and variant off-shoots leaves him as somewhat singular authority on the genre and the issues with being able to implement features on the scale Star Citizen has promised. In his July 3rd blog entry questioning the viability of Star Citizen, Mr. Smart wrote the following:
“Without disrespect to anyone, I’m just going to say it: it is my opinion that, this game, as has been pitched, will never get made. Ever. There isn’t a single publisher or developer on this planet who could build this game as pitched, let alone for anything less than $150 million. The original vision which I backed in 2012? Yes, that was totally doable. This new vision? Not a chance.”
You can view the actual receipt of the refund here. Neither Chris Roberts or Roberts Space Industries, the developer of Star Citizen, have commented on the matter, but at the recent San Diego Comic Con event, Robert’s panel covered a list of new features on story elements he claims are coming to the game. The Star Citizen’s current features-list make Peter Molyneaux’s game project outlines look like Ms. Pacman design notes. While these goals excite every avid gamer out there, one has to wonder how will this be possible? Star Citizen backing has been astronomically high, with sales of non-existent game access ranging between $40-265. The only information game buyers have regarding their purchase, some specs, and nice picture on Robert’s ecommerce page. That’s it. $265 and go watch the old E3 videos of Star Citizen because there’s not much else to talk about regarding this project.
Crowd funding, while it can be an avenue for gamers to fund projects traditional publishers have refused to back, can also be a bitter disappointment. Do Kickstarters and other crowd-funding platforms need more regulation to protect backers? As it stands, it seems the current safeguards are inadequate. How many more developers will walk away with backer funds while failing to keep their promises? Few outlets have been critical of the scope of the Star Citizen project. Derek Smart’s blunt assessment might be the first major warning to the gaming community. How real is the possibility that Star Citizens crashes and burns, leaving a trail of broken stretch goals and smoldering backer pledges?