Should You Back Star Citizen?

Star Citizen STILL isn’t finished, so you definitely shouldn’t spend money on it…or should you?

Star Citizen is a controversial topic in gaming.  To some, it is the game that dreams are made of.  To others, it is simply known as “Scam Citizen”.

Development on Star Citizen, the spiritual successor to Freelancer, started back in 2011, before being announced through a successful Kickstarter campaign with the promise of a 2014 release.  Fast forward to today and Star Citizen remains not only unfinished but still in an alpha state despite having raised well over half a billion dollars from eager backers at the time of writing.

I made the decision to steer clear of the project years ago, having read that ships were being sold, sometimes even just as concept art, for hundreds and thousands of dollars despite the game showing no signs of being completed.  There was even the option to buy every ship in Star Citizen for $27,000 at one point.  Heck, one Star Citizen player has spent over $30,000 on the game.

“Madness”, I thought and stopped looking into the game entirely.  I rarely pay £50 for a game on release day, let alone paying that amount for one in alpha that may or may not ever come out.

Goodbye, Star Citizen.  See you never.

Well, that was until a free fly event, which opened the Star Citizen gates to everyone for free for a week.  Having seen a few tweets from ever-eager backers about recent developments, I decided to check it out knowing that the worst-case scenario was that I’d waste an evening and uninstall it.

A Baptism of Fire

The trouble started immediately.

A 16007 error prevented me (and a lot of players) from even loading into the game.  Reading the support area, the advice was to basically exit out and wait an hour.  Thanks a lot, RSI.

After rebooting a bunch of times and even resorting to reinstalling Star Citizen, I was eventually able to load the game.  I created a character and was finally in the game.

And, then I wasn’t.  A crash.  Great.

Another PC restart and a few more reloads and I was back.  I recreated my character and jumped into the game.  After loading into the starting room, I spent a few minutes looking around before brewing myself a coffee that I couldn’t figure out how to drink.  I spent the next 5 minutes trying to get out of the room in third-person, my preferred perspective.

Spoiler: you can’t.

After finally realising that you must be first-person, I pressed F to switched from third-person and let me select the option to open the door.  Sweet.

I went out into the corridor, took the elevator down to the ground floor, navigated to the nearby train platform and headed off to the next station.  It was awe-inspiring.  I couldn’t wait to see what would come next.

Except, I did have to wait to see what would come next.  The game crashed again.

After another 45 minutes of trying to get in, even doing an account reset, I gave up for the night.

The taste of what Star Citizen had to offer had piqued my interest, but the frustrating crashes had soured the experience.

A patch the next day promised to resolve some of the issues, so I jumped in again, recreated my character yet again and was able to play the game for about 30 minutes before I experienced my first crash of the night.

After that, I had the 16007 error at least 20 times, had a dozen crashes, had to recreate my character twice, had to re-ride the initial train 5 times, and was able to actually play the game for about 6 hours over 4 sessions.

And yet, after it all, I still decided to back Star Citizen.  I know, I know…sucker. But hear me out.

The Star Citizen Dilemma

For all of Star Citizens numerous, significant, irrefutable flaws, it is truly astonishing.

Everything in Star Citizen has been meticulously put together with an exceptional level of detail.  Nothing feels like it has been copied and pasted a few dozen times to flesh out a room.  Instead, each room, building, planet, space feels like a real living, breathing location somewhere out amongst the stars.  The various stations already in the game have been designed to feel like they have been created by different corporations during different periods, with each having various levels of wear-and-tear in line with their location and purpose.

The ships are just as impressive.  Each of them is strikingly different and their scale can be intimidating.  One was so large that I spent 10 minutes lost inside it, trying to navigate out of the spiralling corridors and room after room, each designed with a different purpose in mind, which one presumes will one day have crew members fulfilling their duties.  They’re also great fun to fly and each feels different.

The controls become second nature after some time, too, despite using just about every key on the keyboard.  They are far from intuitive and could benefit from some simplification, but over the course of my time with Star Citizen, I Googled how to do each action when I needed to and gradually built up my repertoire.  There is still no doubt much still to learn, but that is a testament to the amount that characters can do.

People often say there is nothing to do in Star Citizen.  I thought that meant there would be a handful of ships, a few landing pads and all players could do after all this time is to fly around pretending not to be bored.  That is not the case.

I have been massively impressed by the various planets, cities, and stations already in the game.  Players can bounty-hunt, mine, haul cargo, fight, complete missions, or explore while they earn the in-game credits required to upgrade their ships, buy clothes, armour, weapons, food, and whatever else there is that I have yet to discover.  While more locations and missions are undoubtedly required in the finished game, it is far from the barren mess devoid of fun that I’d believed before going in.

Star Citizen can be frustrating.  There will be crashes.  A lot of them.  Credits will be lost.  You’ll experience bugs – some minor, some more significant.

Even when avoiding game-breaking crashes, you’ll occasionally be swept up in the universe one minute, only to have your immersion broken by something minor that lets down the overall premium-feeling that Star Citizen otherwise has in spades.  For example, you might walk into a stunningly designed neon-lit bar only to find that half of the patrons are standing on chairs, something that YouTubers mention is “an old, known bug” as though that is okay.  It isn’t okay.  It is distracting from the thousands of other incredible details that would otherwise form a completely immersive, enjoyable experience, doing a disservice to the designers and the backers.  It is the wheel-less Ferrari propped up on bricks while the salesman tries to sell you a branded leather jacket and cap.

After all this time in development, backers should reasonably expect those sorts of bugs to be long gone and that the developers should be focusing on the home stretch, polishing all of the content ready for release.  Not so.

I can’t understand why the developers continue to grow the scope of the Star Citizen project without ironing out the bugs and errors that persist from the other parts of the game which are at various points of completion.  New ships, with accompanying marketing videos, are created and immediately sold while many of the foundations that Star Citizen is built upon are developed at half the speed.  Then there’s Squadron 42, which must be sapping away at significant amounts of money and development resources behind the scenes.

In my mind, there are enough ships in Star Citizen now.  Add more later as DLC if you want to, but the resources being used to squeeze more money out of backers for new shiny ships should instead be redirected to speed up the development of refining the existing content, fleshing out the existing locations, providing an improved user experience, and fixing bugs and errors – not to mention the plethora of other things that were promised to backers long ago.  Heck, a whole, finished planet was removed because the infrastructure couldn’t take any more improvements without losing something first – divert funds to bring that back.

It is a bit of a mess.  But, what a mess.

Decisions, Decisions

If you have reservations about Star Citizen, then you’re right to have them.  I have them too.

Despite that, I backed Star Citizen.  I love being within the fractured universe that currently exists, and I want to see how it develops with each update.

I have my reasons for frivolously investing money in a far-from-finished game being produced by an inconsistent and wasteful development team.

Frustrations aside, I felt a sense of belonging while playing Star Citizen.  The community are enthusiastic, friendly, and welcoming.  The futuristic setting is everything I’d wanted from Elite Dangerous, a game I’ve sunk 60 hours into but felt was missing a bit of magic that would make it something really special and scratches the same itch that Cyberpunk 2077 does.  Flawed as it may be, Star Citizen is quite literally breathtaking at times and when everything is working as it should, it feels like a polished AAA title.

Choosing whether to invest in Star Citizen came down to heart vs. head.

Alarm bell rang and still continue to ring.  Star Citizen has been in development for a long time and that looks to continue for several years to come.  I’m not entirely convinced that the money from backers is being utilised as well as it could be, or that the management team is effectively identifying and prioritising areas to improve.  It is a project with seemingly unrealistic aspirations and a scatter-gun approach to development.

But, however slow, expensive and over-scoped the development of Star Citizen has been, it is also awe-inspiring.  Since backing it, I’ve spent another few dozen hours in the universe and it has given me moments that eclipse some of experiences I’ve had in fully released games by big-name developers.  Knowing that there are several more of those moments in the game as it stands and thousands more to come is an exciting proposition.

Should YOU Back Star Citizen?

Probably not.

You’d have to be crazy and extremely over-optimistic to back Star Citizen.  Thinking rationally, Star Citizen is not worth the money as it is and there are red flags all over the place.

But then, backing Star Citizen is not the same as buying a finished game.  Backing Star Citizen is making the decision to support the project – whatever that may ultimately look like – and to go on the development journey with a legion of other passionate players, experiencing the new additions as and when they are implemented.  It is acknowledging that you may never get more than exists today, and I’m okay with that.  I’ve had enough time from Star Citizen today to feel content with my purchase.  Knowing that there is potentially much more to come just sweetens the deal considerable.

If you are tempted by Star Citizen, then I’d suggest waiting for a Free Fly event so you can experience the game for free before parting with your cash.  The servers will no doubt be buckling under the strain of the influx of players, but you’ll be able to get a glimpse of what Star Citizen is and could become.  You’ll then be in the best position you can to determine whether you want to back the game or not.

If you do decide to spend your money on Star Citizen, I urge you to spend the minimum.  Spend enough to get a starter ship that you like and refrain from getting sucked into buying more and more ships with your hand-earned real-world money.  Building out a fleet of ships with real-world money is a slippery slope that can cost thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars.  I strongly recommend sticking with your starter ship and earning your way to other ships in game, then if you wish, investing more money in the future if Roberts Space Industries ever releases a finished product.

What is the TL;DR?

I backed Star Citizen.  You probably shouldn’t.  Or maybe you should, after checking out a Free Fly event.  But, if you do, spend as little as possible.

Hey, no one said that the summary needed to make sense.  I spent money on an unfinished game that might never come out and I’m not even mad about it.  Your mileage may vary.