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.