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Star Citizen development reportedly troubled by mishandled money, micromanagement

Cloud Imperium Games has raised $288 million so far over a nearly eight-year development, but the end still isn't in sight

The fraught, eight-years-and-counting development of Star Citizen from Cloud Imperium Games seems to have no end in sight, and it seems one of the many reasons for that may be a mix of "chaotic" leadership practices and money mismanagement.

A detailed Forbes report from earlier this week tells the story of the multiplayer space trading, combat, and exploration game that has been in development since 2011. The game has had a messy history already, having raised a total of $288 million so far, $242 million of which having been crowdfunded by fans.

Star Citizen was originally planned for launch in 2014, but has since been delayed and now has no projected release date. Based on playable alpha modes and footage, it still seems a long way off. Not one of the promised "100 star systems" has been finished so far.

The reasons for Star Citizen's prolonged development and its constant pursuit of more funds (including a $46 million investment last year that was almost entirely dedicated to marketing) is not something that can be chalked up to a single issue. But a major component of the situation at Cloud Imperium reportedly involves the management decisions of the company's founder, Chris Roberts.

Speaking to 20 former employees of Cloud Imperium, Forbes presents a picture of Roberts as a "micromanager and poor steward of resources" in a "chaotic" work environment. Cloud Imperium has 537 employees at five separate offices, which in 2017 cost the company $30 million in total salaries - the company's largest expense. Though there is no indication of how much was paid specifically to employees at the company's various levels, the report notes that Roberts purchased a house for $4.7 million in LA in September of last year. Robert says that the money for the house came from his own success prior to Cloud Imperium, having been a partner at Origin decades ago and the majority owner of Digital Anvil before the Microsoft acquisition.

The report contains stories of Roberts directing those employees in inefficient ways, focusing excessively on tiny or unimportant details at the expense of more key elements (and this is not the first time the company has come under fire for poor management or a toxic workplace). One senior graphics engineer spent months working on the visual effects of ship shields correct across multiple iterations. One lead character artist who quit in 2015 said he finished creating five characters in the span of 17 months due to approvals for the finished characters constantly being reversed, a problem he said was company-wide. Others report spending weeks making demos for the sole purpose of selling more spaceships and raising more money.

That money, the $288 million raised, has reportedly been nearly burned through (with Roberts apparently only having $14 million in the bank by the close of 2017), forcing the company to continue to raise money through selling spaceships for as much as $3,000 per ship. Of 135 total models, Forbes reports that 87 of them have been completed in the playable alpha, while of the remaining 48, some are only images.

The report uncovered 129 complaints filed with the FTC concerning Cloud Imperium, many of which involved refund requests up to $24,000. "The game they promised us can't even barely run. The performance is terrible and it's still in an 'Alpha' state," read one complaint from someone who had spent $1,000. "I want out. They lied to us."

On the same day that Forbes' report came out, Star Citizen began a week-long free-to-play event on PC in conjunction with its alpha 3.5 build. The update includes a new flight model, a female player model (a feature Roberts has called a 'huge undertaking'), a new character customization tool, and a new planet-sized megacity.

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Latest comments (11)

Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.7 months ago
How is this game still a thing?
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Ron Dippold Software/Firmware Engineer 7 months ago
What a flashback to 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018. It's comforting how some things never change.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 7 months ago
Star Citizen is not a game, it is an idea.

It is the idea that somewhere somebody is making a game that you will someday play to deliver you from all the evils that plague you today. I argue Star Citizen does not even need currently active players. It needs people who no longer have time to play games, but for some nostalgic reason buy into the idea that one day they might have time to play a game again and then it will be this game. Star Citizen is the perfect game for people who have too much work and too much family to afford a hobby. When they monetize, they get to dream for a moment that they will have a hobby in the future again and this time it is not just a thing they say, they put their money where their mouth is.

Other people have their midlife crisis too when they buy into something. But the selective advantage of Star Citizen is that it does not require to have time right here and now, like a sports car would. Star Citizen defers the dream to the future, $50 at a time.

And it is not just happening with Star Citizen, it happens all over with Microconsoles and WoW-Classic etc. Suddenly people will not shut up talking to you how they will play games again when Classic goes live, or Star Citizen comes out, or this or that franchise comes back. When put on the spot why they do not play 2h this very weekend with a couple of other people they already know, it is always "I do not have time". Sorry to say, but games do not need to change, you need to change, if you want time for a hobby that desperately.

For developers that means it is time to stop worrying about new IP and turn the old one into a religion for midlife crisis people.
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Show all comments (11)
Joe.Blobers Surveyor, Satsuma Droid7 months ago
What is intersting about the "revelation" is that they give clear indication... that the project is under control and very well received by community:

- 1.1 million individual backers for a game in development,
- 30M$ every year, 2018 being the best ever,
- only 129 claims over 1.1Milion backer... and a judge in US did denied backer to get a refund,
- CIG is in close relationship with FTC since years, no drama, business as usual,
- The project is not delayed since 2014. This is pure misleading. Scope change for 2 Triple-A with agreement of the Backers community (+30M$ per year since then)

And last but not least, the so called poor management of CR bring a company with zero values 6 years ago to +460M$ as per independent auditors end of 2018, a beat in 5 quarters and two triple-A sharing assets and features none Publishers care about because cash first gamer... never...

They want (and do) people to buy endlessly their re-skinned version of past Triple-A, buy DLC's and subscription and just s..t Up. together with half baked game: Fallout 76, Anthem anyone ?

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Joe.Blobers on 5th May 2019 10:51am

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Fernando Marquez Developer, Blume Industries7 months ago
Star Citizen is the most advanced piece of software today. The Forbes article is an obvious hit piece that attacks crowdfunding. Developer driven AAA games are failing one after the other and stocks are plummeting. That's all. You shouldn“t be reproducing such stuff.
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Rob Cox Video Editor, After Effects Video Production 7 months ago
I mean taking that Forbes blog post as gospel (or, indeed, calling it a "report") is a bit much - yes, it's taking time to complete - which is fair game. It's pushing a lot of tech into areas never realised before, which is indeed a timesink - but worth pursuing.

The Forbes article criticising the game development taking "longer than usual AAA titles" is also more of a praise than a criticism if you consider releases such as Anthem or Fallout 76 to be AAA - rushed, mishandled and released far too early to critical and commercial contempt.
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Bob Johnson Studying graphics design, Northern Arizona University7 months ago
Don't try telling the beliebers that STar Citizen is anything but the best soon to be released game in history.
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Tom Keresztes Programmer 7 months ago
I supported star citizen back in 2012 (with £100), and the initial scope was much smaller than the current one. However, i am not disappointed with what has been delivered so far. It's a playable tech preview. Also different aspects (the key: flight models = game mechanics) are tweaked and live tested in arena modes.
The trouble is that SC is trying to something different, and new, and not something a thousand times rehashed for mass production. It's not a reskin of a previous game with minor changes, and new cutscenes. Nothing is streamlined for ease of mass production. If another iteration is needed, another iteration will be done. They are fairly open - with regular updates and interviews via youtube.
Yeah, its definitely not how the current mediocre games are made.
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Dmitry Nikulin UI & HUD Designer, Self-Emplyed7 months ago
Roberts has a history of projects that had good intentions, but the concepts went really bad. The guy has a so-called George Lucas syndrome - all the decisions has to go through him and only him.

Read on the Freelancer (https://rawg.io/games/freelancer). An old project of his, that was acquired by Microsoft.
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Joe.Blobers Surveyor, Satsuma Droid7 months ago
@Dmitry Nikulin: Beside a reputation the guy (CR) did ALWAYS delivered good to memorable games. So it is fine to copy/paste so called reputation while ignoring the reality. The Freelancer story is even better. Without Freelancer gamer would never had it from Microsoft. CR made Freelancer and kept doing supervision till launch.

back in hat time, no crowdfunding was possible. As per the "Forbes" article they do have 300M$ Best spend only 200. So this is 2 years ahead of cash plus pledges which keep coming at a +30M$ trend wile a Beta is at 5 quarters.
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As a long term backer of Star Citizen I can say many of the issues seen by the public with SC stem from a lack of communication about the big picture of the development, put simply the original game as designed in 2012 and put to kickstarter never expected to do as well as it does, it was a robust design for a game with intended development cost of somewhere between 4-20 million funding (if added via private investment), as things turned out they ended up getting way more then they expected and then continued to do so.

This came to ahead after alpha (actually pre-alpha) 2.0 and CR and co decided to re-design the game from scratch to take full advantage of the funding, this began to the long wait to 3.0 which has caused many of the misconceptions of the game in the media, partially as CR never announceed this in big bold letters, the original game was designed around using mostly built in cryengine features, from physics to networking the majority of the original design intended to do a minimal re-write of existing crytek codebase the games design being split into 4 "modules" with several of those modules offloaded to 3rd party studios.

However basically the first 3rd party studios hired efforts was to come up with the fps side of the game, unfortunately due to all accounts to a sizing mismatch, when it came time for the 3rd party studio to submit its first efforts, it would have required apparently notable work to re-do it to the correct sizing, whos fault this was is unknown but either way CR was so annoyed at the whole thing he decided to redesign the game from scratch as a result of this.

The 2015 Redesign of Star Citizen was a very different beast in many ways, the original was a fps with cockpit (using a special version of cryengine vehicle code) controlled space ship sim, whilst the game and ships were intended to be seemless any transitions were cut-scene to a regular fps level for both landing zones, space stations and so on, this can be seen looking at some of the earlier demos shown at star citizen events an example cut-scene being the constellation(ship) planetery landing.

The new design in lumberyard (yes cryengine fork so no retraining time needed) has entirely written from the ground up server/networking system they stripped out things like the engines default scripting system, added a vast number of new features to the engine (this aided due to crytek's troubles and many of their staff being laid off them hoovering up the majority of crytek's graphics engine developers) designed entirely in house in a bunch of studios accross the world.

The new game has procedural generated planets using a self-built solar system and planetary procedural generator which allows them to combine modular assets in a variety of different ways and compliments their own tailor made area's, to ensure the best of procedural tech whilst still allowing artist's to work manually on notable areas in conjuncture, the new game thanks to 64 bit address spacing supports extremely large maps allowing multiple stations, moons and planets hundreds to thousands of km in width to be supported in real-time in each map and using their own streaming tech.

There even allowing players to populate large portions of the less crafted planets with player craftable housing in the form of modular outposts, this added ground vehicles to be a notable addition to the new design as well, put simply to write their own client networking system and re-design the engine with their own item database system took longer than they expected so the 3.0 that was eventually released had little in common with the 3.0 originally announced hence the delay, since 2015 they have actually been ticking along in development nicely, especially considering the ambitious goals of development a 7 year development cycle is hardly a turbulent development if you assume as 2022 release date, the first 3 years could be considered wasted or could be considered setup time for a new company their practices and processes, Team Fortress 2 spent 12 years in development if memory servers and had 3 re-designs during this time, even taken from 2012 one may fairly argue a total of 10 years and 1 re-design isnt exactly bad going considering the sheer breadth of features.

The current buggy releases the majority of which are fixed within a couple of weeks of release of each major new version combined with ensuring the game is installed on an ssd (it doesnt run well on hdd's) has little bearance on the overall state of development, unlike the "alpha" and "beta"'s most companies hold primarily as a marketing tool on a release candidate version of their titles SC is a true alpha due to SC's unique open development, few if any companies have ever allowed their code to go out to players so early in the dev process so its hardly surprising due to constant new features being added the alpha suffers from regular new and old bugs.

Having said that all that extra testing will ensure by actual release (id estimate about 2022 for SC) the game will be rock solid due to a well tested network and server backend, and I hardly think given a significant proportion of the games ship combat arguably its biggest selling point will involve shield collisions ie a notable proportion of a players time will be spent viewing them a single senior engineer among many working on shield tech for a few weeks is an example of mis-management in the development of a space simulator

And whilst yes 5 characters in that time-frame is a little rotten, its worth noting that the time that particularly former rsi artist was working they were still in the process of establishing their processess in light of the re-design, its unlikely to be indicative of long term work practices, plus an argument is to be made, the whole reason SC secured funding in the first place was a promise on attention to detail that large game publishers would not permit, put simply if the game in 2022 turns out as designed in 2015, no one will be complaining long term and all the current apparent woes real and imagined will disappear into the history books in light of such an achievement.

Furthermore and in-closing is it true the games original funding was founded on to some degree on nostalgia for the dreams of youth, its continued funding however has come a great deal on its own merits, which is rather fortunate as 400+ staff tend to guzzle cash at a frightful rate for an independent developer and publisher, but they're funding model has frankly weathered the test of time thusfar with little indication its unlikely to be able to see it through till the 2022 release.
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