Massively's Justin Olivetti and I were talking MMO communities recently. Star Citizen came up, and my esteemed colleague mentioned that the constant hubbub surrounding the crowdsourced space sim sandbox has made him a bit wary of getting invested in the title for the time being.
From the inside looking out, I can see how the game's community sometimes seems like a roiling mass of internet rage and entitlement, but I think it's worth mentioning that -- like the game itself -- it's also what you make of it.
Firstly, I'm defining Star Citizen's community as both the denizens of the official forums and third-party hangouts like Massively's comment section and other heavily trafficked discussion outlets. And like that of most other internet communities, Star Citizen's signal-to-noise ratio is considerable.
Star Citizen is of course a unique case in terms of pre-release games because no pre-release game has ever shared as much as early in the development process. The community doesn't know everything that's going on behind closed doors at Cloud Imperium, but it knows a whole helluva lot thanks to dev diaries, dev forum participation, behind-the-scenes videos, frequent wall-of-text updates from Chris Roberts, and of course the playable work-in-progress game modules themselves, which currently include the hangar and the Arena Commander dogfighting joint.
Some days I feel like the community knows too much at this stage. A substantial number of the people posting on the official forums are completely ignorant not just about the game but about business development, software development, and life as an adult in general. While hindsight is always 20/20, I wonder if Roberts and company had it to do over again whether or not they would a) restrict the information flow to help public perception or b) restrict forum access for similar reasons.
Maybe not; any game developer would probably be happy to deal with SC's community issues if they came alongside a $50 million warchest and complete creative autonomy.
Either way, that ship has sailed. CIG is in fact letting everyone see the dirty details, but I bring it up to point out the fact that you should take most of what you read on the SC forums with a grain of salt unless it's from a yellow name. Few of the people talking know what they're talking about, and even if they're both informed and lucid, what they're correct about today may change next week simply because the game is in such a malleable pre-alpha state.
That said, I'm still grateful for the open door approach. Speculation is fun, and as I've written before, Star Citizen is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for muggles to see game development laid bare. That warts-and-all honesty is lost on people who don't understand iterative creativity and the realities of game monetization in 2014, which leads to a lot of "SC is a scam" whining and that skewed signal-to-noise ratio I mentioned earlier.
The open door also provides trolls with plenty of ammunition, and SC's community does unfortunately feature a lot of these guys. There are plenty of differing opinions now that the citizen ranks have swelled north of 500,000 souls, and there are various factions bent on nudging the game toward their personal visions on any number of divisive issues (PvP vs. PvE and many others). Fertile troll territory indeed.
But in that respect, it's no different from any other MMO community. If forums in general turn you off, you probably won't enjoy Star Citizen's pre-release community even though you'd learn more than you have time to digest about the game itself if you lurked and listened. I find that it's worth sifting through all the grandstanding and the b.s., but you're not missing any crucial bits of info that will affect you post-release if you opt out of the pre-alpha shenanigans.
Justin also wondered aloud about the aforementioned player groups influencing the game's development, and as such, its post-release community. This is a pretty common concern amongst the people I know who are mildly interested in Star Citizen but who don't keep abreast of things on a regular basis. Many of them are wary of the game turning into EVE 2.0, both because of the guilds involved and because of Star Citizen's player-driven sandbox stylings.
While it's too early to give iron-clad assurances, I'd be pretty surprised if SC looked anything like EVE or insert-FFA-PvP-sandbox-here when it finally goes gold. It's heavily instanced, for one thing. CIG is spending a ton of time and resources on story and a solo campaign, for another. The world is hand-crafted to an insane level of detail, and given Roberts' history of immersion-centric design and his love of Star Wars-style escapism, it's difficult to conclude that he'd allow his dream title to devolve into a gankbox that the vast majority of MMO players outgrew years ago.
So, should you be put off by Star Citizen's community? Nah. It's no better or worse than any other large-scale MMO community, with all of the good and bad that said communities typically entail. There is also plenty of evidence that forum posters make up a tiny, tiny percentage of an MMO's actual playerbase, and that percentage is bound to be even lower here since SC is so far from release.
If you're the type who avoids MMO forums in general, you probably won't find a compelling reason to change your mind in Star Citizen's pre-release community. If you've got thick skin and you're bored with all the feature-deficient fantasy grindparks passed off as MMOs these days, CIG's pre-launch buildup is both informative and endlessly entertaining.
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 Sunday during the run-up to alpha, beta, and beyond.