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'Star Citizen' Lumbers Into 2017 With $141 Million In Crowdfunding

Forget Half-Life 3, Star Citizen is officially gaming’s most perplexing, compelling mystery release at this point. While HL3 is more a question if Valve ever feels like making video games again, Star Citizen is another animal entirely, a game that’s very publicly in development with a practically unlimited budget thanks to a never-ending army of crowdfunding backers buying virtual spaceships that either don’t exist yet, or can’t be used in a fully-fledged game.

There’s perhaps no real significance to Star Citizen’s latest grand total, $141 million, other than the fact that it’s what’s now in the warchest heading into 2017. But there’s something both impressive and perverse about Star Citizen’s funding at this point. It’s raised more than the budget of most AAA games and movies at this point, and the money has almost turned into its own little mini-game. Fans “win” and get increasingly excited the more money the game brings in, somehow validating their own decision to give (invest!) and maybe give a little more. There’s an interactive widget on the RSI site that lets you see the cash come rolling in almost in real time, and you can break it down by how many thousands are rolling in per hour, tens of thousands per day, or hundreds of thousands per month.

I’m not going to park myself in the “this is gross because people should be donating to charity, not a video game” camp because that’s a flawed argument that doesn’t make much sense. People don’t understand that Star Citizen backers don’t feel like they’re donating to a charity, rather they’re “co-investors” in one of the most ambitious sci-fi video games of all time. The money lets them lay claim to virtual real estate (a ship, usually) and makes them feel like they’re a part of something. “I'm proud to have helped alittle bit [sic]. Love this game,” says a random person on my FB news feed as they share news of this funding milestone.

With that said, from outside the bubble, things feel like they’ve gotten a little out of hand. Like most crowd-funded games, Star Citizen had fund-raising stretch goals once upon a time, but those were cut off ages ago, and yet the money keeps pouring in for…what, exactly?

CIG’s Chris Roberts released a sort of mini “state of the union” announcement as the new year began, but one so vague it almost seemed like a parody.

“Gameplay will get deeper as new systems come online to provide players the chance to do more than pew-pew,” he says. “I also expect exciting advancements as we integrate our revolutionary tech, like subsumption and procedural planets, into the game.”

“2016 was a noteworthy year in Star Citizen’s development. 2017 with Squadron 42 and Alpha 3.0 is looking to be even better.”

Star Citizen has so far missed every single full release date it’s set for itself, between SC itself and spin-off game Squadron 42. That’s become par for the course, and now the tone of this is more or less “we did great work last year, expect more great work this year” without any real indication of when this monster will actually come to life in earnest. The big Star Citizen story as of late is that the game has been changing its engine from CryEngine to Amazon’s Lumberyard, which seems uh, ambitious to say the least this far down the road, but this is what happens when you take this long to develop a game. The tech falls behind and you have to update, creating even more work and making things take even longer.

To me this all feels like a talented indie movie director who quietly tries to raise $1M for a passion project he wants to make. Instead, the concept is so good that it has Hollywood throwing a $150M blockbuster budget at him and suddenly, he has to throw out every plan he had and up the scope of his idea 100x over. That $1M movie he might have made in the first place could have been great and released in theaters already. But this $150M behemoth is a different sort of beast and is now stuck in development hell with six script variants and no release date. But the difference here is that there’s no Hollywood mogul breathing down his neck to finish, instead the funding comes from fans who are mostly content to sit back and say “take your time, make it good, we love you!” which isn’t exactly putting anyone’s feet to the fire.

My opinion has jokingly been that Star Citizen will either be the greatest video game ever made or a total disaster, but honestly I feel like it will land somewhere in the middle. The game has such a fervent following at this point that it’s most devoted fans will simply refuse to let it fail. No matter what the final product ends up being, they will play it religiously and claim it’s God’s gift to the genre. But will the finished product convert skeptics or those who haven’t followed this saga at all? I don’t know, that’s a much tougher sell.

This saga continues to be fascinating, promising and just a bit disturbing. Let’s wait and see if 2017 brings with it more than simply millions and in funding and new abridged alpha variants.

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