Man, I'm excited for next Thursday! Not because it's the day before Friday -- although that's pretty great, too -- but because we're going to get our hands on the first official release of Star Citizen. Chris Roberts called it the "baby Star Citizen" during last night's Gamescom love-in, which you should watch if you'd like to see the Cloud Imperium crew overwhelmed by the rock star treatment it received from the backers who journeyed to Cologne.
Anyway, the hangar module! The devs have been showing it off to fans and press, and if initial reactions are anything to go by, it's going to be a successful mini-launch.
It's still a risky move, though.
First, let me clarify what I mean by "mini-launch." Much of Star Citizen is still a year or more away from any sort of playable state. Cloud Imperium, though, is venturing into uncharted territory when it comes to AAA game development because it is releasing in-game modules to the paying public as the modules reach acceptable stages of functionality and polish. The current plan is to follow the hangar module with the dogfight module this winter, then a planetside module next year, a ship-boarding module after that, and finally the Wing Commander-style Squadron 42 single-player campaign that serves as both a gameplay and a narrative primer for the full persistent world.
Think Minecraft's iterative development and release schedule here and you'll get a pretty good idea of what's in store for fans of Roberts' newest space sim.
So even though Star Citizen as a whole is still in a pre-alpha state, backers will get to ogle their ships and a preliminary avatar on the live server in a matter of days. There are, of course, significant limitations, and my hope is that both backers and curious onlookers manage their expectations appropriately.
For example, the aforementioned avatar is currently male-only. And a few of the more desirable ships aren't finished or accessible yet. And really, there's no actual gameplay to speak of; we're basically going to be tooling around in our hangar spaces, crawling in and out of whatever ships we've pledged for up to this point, and taking a bunch of screenshots and video. Oh, and Roberts did hint at some light customization options via the slick holographic kiosks. Plus: the hangar buggy!
The screenshots and video may turn out to be problematic for CIG, though, depending on the actual quality of the build, the number of bugs, and so on and so forth. There's no NDA to speak of, so I expect to see plenty of hangar footage on YouTube next weekend, which could either convince more peeps to join SC's crowdfunding brigade, cause them to wait for a more polished release, or possibly turn them off entirely.
As Roberts explained on last week's Wingman's Hangar and again in this week's letter from the chairman, this is the earliest he has ever released a piece of project code in his career. And as we saw during the recent 24-hour livestream and the reveal of SC's new website, there's no real way to gauge user demand -- and thus, technical and infrastructure requirements -- until you throw something out there and throw open the doors.
But I'm thinking that the potential benefits far outweigh the potential risk, elsewise CIG wouldn't be doing it. This is a veteran team, after all, and Roberts' rationale for doing these staggered, pre-launch module releases seems pretty sound. I'll reference episode 34 of WH again here; during that episode he said that the constant feedback on live modules, plus what amounts to live and constant Q&A testing by crowdfunding supporters, will ultimately result in a stronger and much more polished final product than one built under the typical hide-in-a-cave-and-make-your-game-for-three-years model.
Still, it's a bit of a gamble given the impatience of the modern gamer, and one that I hope works out in favor of CIG and its backers. Crucially, a lot of industry types are watching this whole process, and it's my feeling that whatever happens with Star Citizen will ultimately set the bar for future crowdfunded game projects and possibly the game industry as a whole. Regardless of how the finished game turns out, CIG is already profitable, and Roberts' eliminate-the-middle-man approach represents a significant threat to both current business models and non-essential game industry personnel. And the threat grows larger as SC's seemingly unstoppable crowdfunding total keeps on climbing.
While last week's announcement that SC will be funded 100 percent by its community by the end of the year didn't make a lot of waves in the press, I'm willing to bet that plenty of developers, publishers, and financiers noticed. And they should because this is a massive and massively ambitious AAA game, really three games in one. It's designed by highly experienced devs, and it will soon be completely paid for by its fans, without any interference from focus groups, marketers, or executives who know nothing about gaming!
I'm both excited and a little bit apprehensive about the early release modules, but basically folks, this is one hell of an exciting time to be a gamer. Even if you're not thrilled about Star Citizen's mechanics, keep it on your radar because its continued success could quite literally change the gaming world.
Whether it's interviews with Chris Roberts and the Cloud Imperium team or tips and guides for pushing your ship's performance envelope, Stick and Rudder is your inside source for news and commentary on the world of Star Citizen. Join Jef Reahard every other week during the run-up to alpha, beta, and beyond.