The Star Citizen Dilemma: To Back or Not to Back in 2021?
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The Star Citizen Dilemma: To Back or Not to Back in 2021?

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 2021 and Star Citizen remains not only unfinished but still in an alpha state despite having raised $347,743,980 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.  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 recent free fly, 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.

The Star Citizen Dilemma: To Back or Not to Back in 2021?

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.  After realising that you can’t do that (you must be first-person despite there being a third-person perspective), I pressed F which switched to first-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.

The Star Citizen Dilemma: To Back or Not to Back in 2021?

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 frustration I felt with the 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 a level of detail that I have never seen in a video game.  Nothing feels like it has been copied and pasted a few dozen times to flesh out a room.  Instead, each 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 different levels of wear-and-tear in line with their location and purpose.

The Star Citizen Dilemma: To Back or Not to Back in 2021?

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 which lead to rooms 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 Google’d 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 nearly a decade is fly around pretending not to be bored.  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.

The Star Citizen Dilemma: To Back or Not to Back in 2021?

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

You’ll occasionally be swept up in the universe one minute, only to have your immersion broken by something that is ultimately small, but 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 also the backers.  It is the 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 be able to 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.

The Star Citizen Dilemma: To Back or Not to Back in 2021?

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.

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 implementation of more content, more locations, an improved user experience, and fixing bugs and errors, plus a 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 bringing that back.

The Star Citizen Dilemma: To Back or Not to Back in 2021?

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

Decisions, Decisions

All of these issues have formed into the reservations about the project that continue to weigh down in the back of my mind.  Despite that, I backed Star Citizen.  I love being within the fractured universe that already exists and I want to see how it develops with each quarterly 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.

The Star Citizen Dilemma: To Back or Not to Back in 2021?

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 those of many 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.

The Star Citizen Dilemma: To Back or Not to Back in 2021?

Should YOU Back Star Citizen?

Probably not.  You’d have to be crazy and an extremely over-optimistic person to back it.  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 through to fruition – 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.

The very confusing and contradictory TLDR is: I backed TLDR, you shouldn’t but then again maybe you should.  Yup, it is that clear cut.

8 Comments

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  1. That’s like asking if you should put your wallet on fire or not…This game is a scam, instead of releasing they just keep it in this alpha/beta mode and people keep donating more than they would make in sales if released. So of course nobody should invest a single penny into the scam.

    • I appreciate the comment! I definitely can’t see the project fulfilling everything what they are promising, but I made the decision to back it throughout the article (I was undecided until I’d reached the end). I had a lot of fun in the free fly week and a lot of the connection issues have been resolved now that there is less pressure on the servers.

      It is still a buggy mess and there is obviously a lot more content needed, but I’ve already had easily 20 hours out of it and if I can get another 25 in the coming weeks, I’ll feel like I’ve got my money’s worth.

      Backing Star Citizen certainly isn’t the smartest gaming purchase I’ve made, but I enjoyed the sample I had and wanted more. It isn’t for everyone so may not be for you, but do give it a try next time there is a free fly event. It is fun.

      Have a good weekend.

  2. [Disclaimer: I have followed the development of “Star Citizen,” since its earliest of days–but, have not, and will not spend money on it.]

    Giving Roberts more money does not encourage him to rein in his poor development habits. To continue to give money to a man who has yet to deliver on a cohesive product – let alone “Early Access” product (even by standard expectations of “Early Access” titles of ~5-10 years past) provide him no incentive to change his behavior. It also sets a bad precedent for other Devs, who might see Roberts’ approach to funding/development and think “Hey – I could do that, too!” And, so, the Overton window would shift.

    Star Citizen is a great proof of concept, but that’s all it is.

  3. You should wait. I bought in at launch and have about $150 invested. Had it sit aside for a year and last week I updated and tried out the new version. Crash after crash. Disconnections galore and crashes. The Alpha is so unstable that I could only complete 3 package runs over 7 days. It’s like insanity. Me trying to get the game to work correctly and …..Server disconnect. Will have to put it aside for another year or two. Back to Elite Dangerous.

    • I appreciate you dropping in with this, Little Bill.

      I actually did buy it soon after writing this post – I spent about £60 in total (got a ship one level above the starters, the name escapes me now) so that I could do the majority of the things that are available in the game. I’ve got about 20-30 hours out of it so far and enjoyed my time with it.

      My approach to Star Citizen is, I’ll dip in every year or so to see the progress that has been made (avoiding free fly events, because the already unstable servers turn to mush) and then move onto other game in between times.

      I think there is plenty to do for groups of people who want to make their own fun, assuming you can get a consistent connection. But there isn’t a lot to keep solo players playing other than the drive to do one more of X for no real reason other than some extra credits.

      I can see why you keep returning to Elite Dangerous. Elite has none of the connection issues, has all those extra star systems, has a good collection of ships for all purposes, looks nice, and has a decent sized player base. You have the best of both worlds (or best of both universes).

  4. I don’t think Roberts is consciously scamming anybody. The thing is that Roberts is just not a super focused guy. He tends to want to shift to the next shiny possibility before adequately polishing the stuff he was working on already. I can well imagine a scenario in which the money started rolling in and he would begin saying to himself, “Wow! Now we can do this too, and maybe even that!” So he shifts some assets to work on the new ideas and leaves a lot of the problems with previous builds poorly addressed, so they end up being imported into newer builds. The result is that the game stays in alpha/beta mode for years longer than it should, and my guess is that delay will continue to be a feature of this project so long as significant investment money continues to come in. If anything, it is a flaw in his leadership style and perhaps his overall business model, because vision he has got. Between the two, Garriott was the one who was always better focused.

  5. I bought the game three years ago. Every six months or so I log in and see what has improved. And nothing much has improved since i bought the game. Long load times, mesh problems. Crashes. But hey at least now, the NPC’s actually move in the station, even if they walk through walls, walk backwards, dissappear and reappear randomly.

    My spouse said I wasted money on this game and i agree. It’s a scam. Fanboys will defend regardless of the obvious flaws. They have taken the Star Citizen kool aid.

  6. Kind of my thoughts as well, there still in business and that is a good sign, and made progress since it started, maybe slow getting up the mountain but its coming along, I’m a backer, I was suckerd with the SQ42 Kool-Aid was lead to believe it was right around the corner, NOT! so bought a ship just to play- love the graphic crack – not into the social part of the game- prefer solo – I treat everyone as npc, works for me, best game out there in my humble opinion

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Written by John Santina

I'm a 33-year-old gamer, clinging onto the gamepad despite real life responsibilities trying to pull me kicking and screaming away. I created GrownGaming to meet other adult gamers. Nice to meet you.