Chris Roberts has walked back a plan to charge fans of long-delayed, massively-overfunded space-'em-up Star Citizen to stream live video footage from the game's annual CitizenCon event, despite having penned a lengthy defence of the plan.
Originally announced as a single-player spiritual successor to Chris Roberts' earlier sci-fi titles Wing Commander and Freelancer, Star Citizen took to crowdfunding site Kickstarter to raise a modest $500,000 with a view to releasing the game in November 2014. By the time the campaign closed, Roberts and colleagues had raised over $2 million - and the cash kept coming in. Star Citizen has, to date, raised more than $193 million from a combination of traditional crowdfunding and the sale of in-game items - items for a game which has still not left alpha, approaching four years after its originally-planned launch date.
The game has now split in two, with the original vision rebranded as Squadron 42 and Star Citizen itself reimagined as an expansive massively multiplayer game in a persistent and wholly-explorable universe. Despite already having nearly $100 million to commit to each side of the game, Roberts has continued to introduce new ways for fans to hand over their hard-earned including a $27,000 bundle of in-game ships, the majority of which do not actually exist yet in the game's early alpha builds, visible only to those already on the hook for at least $1,000 in funding.
Roberts' latest attempt to rattle the collection tin, though, appears to have been a step too far for all but the most ardent of fans: the sale of 'digital tickets' for the game's CitizenCon event, without which most community members can't access live video streams of the event, on top of the existing monthly subscription backers can pay to support conventions and content creation outside the core game.
The idea, Roberts claims, came from the very top. 'This was my idea,' he writes in a lengthy defence of the plan posted to the official Roberts Space Industries forum. 'This year's CitizenCon is much bigger than last years, with two separate stages and tracks. We did this because we felt the format we tested last year was a success and because of this we wanted to expand it to allow more people to attend and provide more opportunities to hear from and interact with the devs.
'With a venue and planned attendance three times the CitizenCon in Frankfurt, with more panels (so more devs needing to travel), more food and drink options for everyone the proposed budget for this year's CitizenCon was almost double last years. And this was without any video coverage, let alone streaming of the second stage, and a plan to just stream the opening keynote from the main stage.'
Claiming that plans to hire in a specialist streaming company 'adds a low six figure amount to the cost of the event' and that 'we really try to spend the money we raise on game development and not community content or events,' Roberts says that 'we're not likely to cover the costs of the additional coverage and live-streaming but I felt we should be fiscally responsible and try to defray at least some of additional costs, which is how the current plan came to be.'
Sitting on a $200 million pot for a game which was originally to be completed on a $500,000 budget, though, doesn't sit well with everyone in the community - and despite Roberts announcing that he would magnanimously allow for opening and closing keynote speeches to be viewable live by anyone with or without the paid-for passes, the plan has been withdrawn in the face of considerable consumer backlash.
'After sleeping on this, I am going to chalk this one up to experience,' Roberts writes in a considerably shorter update to his original post on the matter. 'We're going to cut back on the live-streaming crew/costs but have both stages streamed for anyone with a Star Citizen user account. Star Citizen Content Creators are welcome to rebroadcast our stream live. If you would like to support the additional costs of streaming all the presentations, you can support the show by purchasing the CitizenCon digital goodies package.'
Star Citizen remains in alpha status with no sign of progressing to beta any time soon. Roberts, meanwhile, continues to seek additional funding for the game.
February 24 2020 | 12:00