Just when I needed a developer to stand-out and aspire too, Chris Roberts accomplished world records and his journey has been summarised in his recent communication. Chris Roberts (Chairman of Cloud Imperium Games) published a special fourth-anniversary “Letter from the Chairman” and it sums up years of development on the biggest crowdfunded project in history.
Roberts’ brain contains the blueprint of a Universe he dreams of living in and he has hired over 300 games developers to create that Universe in two separate PC games we know as Star Citizen (online persistent universe) and Squadron 42 (offline single player, story driven campaign). The project has frequently made the news, beginning with a crowd funding campaign that raised 5000% more money than asked for and hopefully ending with an online game that changes the gaming industry. Roberts long history in the gaming and movie industry is the main factor a million people from all over the world felt confident enough to invest their money.
The Star Citizen Project
Followers of the Star Citizen project have been giving almost unlimited (but controlled) access to the game’s development and it’s down to Mr. Roberts determination to include the every backer. The entire approach is unorthodox compared to generations of gaming industry habits. The power of crowd-funding and wide use of social media combined. Meant that transparency was not only the right thing to offer backers but it was a sensible business decision. The power of social media is still underestimated and under utilized in new projects today (including CIG competitors) but not by Cloud Imperium Games. I cannot speculate to how much advice came from other members of the team led to the maximum use of social media to expose the game but I do know Chris Roberts gets the final say. I’m impressed by what CIG has offered the world of student developers wishing to learn from the best or new developers seeking a better way. I’m in awe of Chris Roberts bold moves to try everything in a different way which is only possible because the project is funded by players and not a publisher.
Letter from the Chairman
Chris Roberts has posted almost monthly letters as part of the “Letter from the Chairman” series and this is only a small part of the entire monthly communication from staff to customers. He sometimes expresses thoughts, feelings, concerns, joys, progress, ambitions, explanations, and hopes. In his recent post, Mr. Roberts summarises four years of tough decision making and is essentially responded to a section of gamers that complain whilst being unaware of real-world challenges that make their demands unreasonable. In my own opinion through years of observation, Chris Roberts decisions have always had the objective of making the community happy but in his recent letter, he is clear about it being impossible. Let me take some good quotes and ask you to read this with a developers point of view, not just as a gamer.
Chris has always thanked his “space sim fans” through every letter and video published. Even under attack from trolls and click bait bloggers and people like Derek Smart. Chris has stayed grounded and in control of his emotions. His composure has never been an issue and his time has never been spent making public comments aimed at those who doubt him enough to make serious challenges.
“I am always humbled by the incredible response that Star Citizen received from space sim fans and PC gamers. The groundswell that swept up the project from its announcement and carried it forward ever since has been something the team and I have never taken for granted.”
Chris goes on to thank backers (that includes me) and explains an epic game in a single paragraph. Whatever a person’s opinion regarding possibilities in computer science or gaming. Respect has to be giving for the goals CIG are faced with and the challenges they make for themselves to create something millions will enjoy. Many don’t just fail to give respect but they take advantage of a small chance of failure and go as far as predicted the failure of the project. The web can be a wild place for one to expose themselves.
“Thanks to all of your support, we’ve been able to expand the scope of Star Citizen to create a living, breathing universe. No other game tries to deliver the scale and fidelity that Star Citizen does with its detailed worlds that can have you walking through a dense jungle, wandering the dark alleyways of a futuristic city, landing on a space station orbiting a moon, or piloting space ships across vast star systems teeming with activity, all from a seamless first person viewpoint.”
It’s no surprise that Chris goes on to mention money matters and mention “delays on big name titles from publishers” as a normal part of development. Recently there have been a lot of speculation about the team reason for putting certain ships on sale. This spotlight post isn’t about the gaming aspect so I won’t go into details. What I will say is that CIG takes a lot of flak for changing prior decisions despite the project being in the alpha stage. Sometimes it’s their own fault for making decisions or airing their decisions. Sometimes they tell too much in their effort to give the community all the information it keeps demanding. It’s often a dilemma and he does well to educate.
“With this ambition comes a price. Not just in the salaries of the hundreds of people pouring their hearts into the project, but in the unpredictability of the groundbreaking technology that we need to develop to achieve a game of this scale and detail. We have taken a lot of flak over the last couple of years for the extending timeline of Star Citizen, but the simple fact is that game development, especially game development on the scale of Star Citizen, is complicated. If you talk to any developer that works on large titles they will tell you that schedules, especially early in the development cycle, move all the time. Most people never see this because a publisher won’t announce a project publicly until it is very far along; normally at least in Alpha, with all the technology and gameplay R&D completed. Even then, the timelines can be unpredictable as can be seen in the delays on big name titles from publishers.”
Possibly the most important quote to take away from the entire letter is this. This quote is first reason I follow Chris Roberts, Cloud Imperium Games, and the Star Citizen project. It’s the reason I’m typing this Developer Spotlight post. I’ve enjoyed endless hours of transparent development to a point I feel more educated and inspired. They are a service to students especially.
“Our monthly reports have more information than any monthly report I had to do for Electronic Arts or Microsoft when at Origin or Digital Anvil.”
He goes on to explain what we all know about communities: the sub-communities who disagree on issues basically. This is where his letter tries to gain more understanding from people. But he continues to be professional despite much of those people being impossible to reason with. He surely spends little time worrying about their irrational accusations. This is something users of the web can learn from. By the way, “Kobayashi Maru” is a Star Trek reference to a training scenario which has no conventional path to a win.
“one section of the community gets annoyed because things are perceived as late while another gets annoyed wondering why we shared dates at all if they aren’t solid. Of course, even when we don’t give dates we have yet another part of the community getting annoyed because they feel left in the dark and have no idea when the next build will drop.
Basically, it is a Kobayashi Maru.”
Chris obviously listens to his team and allows opinions to influence how far transparent the project is. Keep in mind the large team have spent years working in a certain way and Chris is changing many of the normal procedures. Even removing what a publisher would probably see as safeguards.
“Whether or not to share this kind of information has been a long-running debate among the team here at Cloud Imperium Games. Target dates aren’t releasedates, and everything you see will shift at some point, sometimes slightly and sometimes wildly. The danger in doing this has always been that casual observers will not understand this, that there will be an outcry about delays every time we update the page.”
Chris makes another decision that will raise eyebrows in the gaming industry but that doesn’t mean he is wrong. He is trying something different and giving his more loyal fans material to educate others with. It may be impossible to tell how much confidence is created and how many sales are a result of this action. It may be just as impossible to gauge how many fail to understand that the schedule is not set in stone and how many react to their expected dates not being met. This is something I will try to witness within the communities discussions and maybe I can return with an opinion.
“So for Star Citizen Alpha 2.6 we’re going to share our internal schedule and its breakouts on a weekly basis. These are the very same schedules we update daily and are circulated internally on our intra-studio…”
“Game development is, at its very heart, a process of constant improvement. We view our communications as part of this process, whether that means improving the quality of our videos or finding new ways to share information with our community.”
The Verse Grows
So the Star Citizen uni…verse continues to grow and I continue to follow a game that I may never play. As a father of four young children and working from home. I doubt I will ever have the time and couldn’t afford to play the game in the way I’d wish. I follow the project because I keep learning from it. I like the artwork because I love space. I enjoy Star Trek so I can see the potential SC offers to bring classic sci-fi scenarios to life, with anybody playing the cast. But my goal is to better myself as a developer and I spent my free time following a games project rather than playing one. I have honestly learned a lot from this team and have Chris Roberts, plus his team to thank. You can read more about him and see his list of games/movies on Wikipedia.