You know I’m a nostalgic, retro kind of person right? And I’m a gamer. So I fondly remember the days of “Wing Commander” I & II, the space fighting but most of all the story and the interaction with the crew. And I very fondly remember “Wing Commander III” with Mark Hamill and Tom Wilson and the rest of the cast. And I very very very fondly remember playing “Wing Commander IV” for days, weeks even months. I really wanted to see every possible way that could go, the “evil ending” and everything in between. I absolutely loved it – not for the space combat but for the story. The dialogue is cheesy and the plot quite simple by today’s standards but still, for a computer game it was awesome!!
So in 2012 when I heard that Chris Roberts is coming back with a “spiritual successor to Wing Commander” I got excited. It couldn’t be called “Wing Commander” since EA owned the rights to it so it was called “Star Citizen”. Or “Squadron 42”.. at first it was a mess what was what but that’s to be expected when a small group of people get together to try to do something great. But this time Chris didn’t want a big publisher telling him what to do. He didn’t want a publisher that demanded the game be released at this date, finished or not. He didn’t want a publisher to tell him to make the game so it can be ported to consoles. He wanted to do the game his way, released when it was ready and for PC only. So they started a crowdfunding campaign that got so much attention their initial web server couldn’t handle it and they had to take to Kickstarter for crowdfunding. I happy bought into it at “Colonel” level which then was $125. That’s quite a lot for a computer game I agree but I thought it was worth it considering how much joy his previous titles had given me. I’d gladly paid that for “Wing Commander IV” any day!
Back then they set the “estimated release” at November 2014 but I’m actually pretty sure that’s because Kickstarter forced them to set an “estimated delivery” date and the max they could set was “2 years from now”. So I actually never expected them to deliver that. As a matter of fact, their “Terms of Service” agreement was even altered in 2013 to give them a 12 (then 18) month delay window.
After the initial crowdfunding campaign they kept promising more and more stuff. Not only had the game gone from being the “spiritual successor of Wing Commander” (a single player game), it was blowing up to be a full MMORPG. And I was fine with that. At first. I was so fine that when they showed off the Retaliator bomber I loved it and dished out $225 for one. And the idea of being information smuggler sounded cool so I dished out money for that too. But then as they continued to get millions of dollars every month I kinda saw it getting out of hand. I fully realise I know very little of what it actually takes to deliver a game and I know it takes a lot of time to make a game. A delay can easily be a year. But when they were promising new features, new ships without actually releasing much I kinda saw the problems of this ever being released. If they take two-three months to get a ship to “flight ready” and they keep coming up with 7-8 new ships every year, how are they ever to get done? If they add new feature to the scope before releasing the basic ones promised during Kickstarter like trading, how are they ever gonna get done? This picture to the right pretty much sums up what I felt all throughout 2015. And during July of 2015 Derek Smart happened. He’s a game maker who has tried to pull off these grand space games for years and never really made it. Which means he knows some of the pitfalls of even trying. He started criticising the “Star Citizen” project – very vocally, bullyuishly, annoyingly, contrived, “deliberately wanting to turn everything into a bad thing” way. And he got very personal against Chris Roberts, his wife and his lawyer (that all co-founded the studio) in a way that was really uncool. But he always stopped right at the border of lying or making shit up. Yes, he twisted everything into a negative thing. And I was right there to point out the actual facts. But the problem of trying to argue with him was the fact that “CIG” (the studio making the game) never managed to prove him wrong. They never managed to shut him up by stepping up to the plate and deliver. Instead, they made his case stronger by coming up with more irrelevant features (plants anyone?), more subscriber flare, more ship-concept sales, more of everything except actual game content. An all this while constantly missing “estimated” release dates that they themselves estimated and set.
Then they went ahead and wrote a new Terms of Service that we have to accept. Which is fine, Blizzard does it all the time. But I actually read those things, it’s a result of working with lawyers for 8 years – I actually read before I sign. And in this Terms of Service they had removed any accountability what so ever, every chance of demanding a refund. It was basically a carté blanche for them to sail away with the $117+ million they had gotten from backers and as long as the company CIG was still “active” and stating the game was still being worked on (without ever actually delivering anything) then we had no rights at all as consumers. I really wasn’t OK with that. So I refused to accept the terms of service. That had the side effect of me not being able to login to the so called “game”.
And what they call “the game” (as it was the last time I checked) consist of
1) running around my hangar looking at the static non functioning ships that have gone from concept to “hangar ready”.
2) Fly around in a very gorgeous but limited space environment fighting against enemy ships without ever feeling like “I’m so into this battle”, it’s rather plain but a totally acceptable test bed for flight mechanics.
3) Run around one planetary landing zone. Think of Orgimmar in World of Warcraft. But about half the size if that. And never being able to go out the gates.
4) Run around a station, call the ships I “own” that are “flight ready”, getting on board, flying around trying to repair comm relays, exploring a small little station for clues about corporate evilness
.. and that’s it. And it’s all full of game breaking bugs as you can expect from alpha. But compared to what was promised even in Kickstarter, before they even had $20 million, this simply won’t do. There is no exploration, there is no trading, the space combat is mediocre at best, there are no systems to travel between (so no jump points with that mechanic), there is just this. And that’s at “estimated delivery + 18 months”. And there is nothing to indicate that is about to change, that there is a magic key that once implemented will unlock all the missing features and mechanics.
At the end of last year they came up with a trailer for the single player game “Squadron 42” that promised released in 2016. It was freaking amazing! The “admiral” speech was precisely the classic cliche dialogue I know from “Wing Commander IV” and the visuals, oh man… but there is nothing to make me believe that it will actually happen. The space combat right now is way to limited to be close to what has been promised. The cutscenes may be breathtaking but it all needs a space combat simulation to build on, or I might as well see “Wing Commander The Movie“.
I really do hope I’m wrong and that they do actually release “Squadron 42” this year, or maybe even next year. I really do wish that they actually release the game they’ve promised. But right now I don’t see anything that suggests they will.
So where does that leave me? Since I haven’t accepted the TOS I can’t login to the “game” that I’ve spent well over $600 on (not counting merchandise). I was fine waiting until 2020 to see the game develop into what was promised, I really was. But when I’m banned from the game for simply not accepting the most consumer-hostile terms of service I’ve ever been presented with, that becomes impossible. And since there is very little to support the idea that the game will be done anytime soon I find my only recourse is to demand a refund. Although I fully accept that backing a Kickstarter project can go either way and is a bit of a gamble, when they were successfully funded and kept bringing in millions it goes from a gamble to being a downright fraud. My first attempt was denied. But I’m not giving up. Even though I’m fortunate enough to be able to write these $600 off as a dream that didn’t happen, it doesn’t mean I have to accept it without a fight.
And this is not on Derek Smart – this is on CIG failing to deliver. Piling up the “to-do” list of ships and features to get into the game, wanting to release a perfect and fully featured product, delays and now not taking any responsibility for it in their TOS. And I’m not putting the project in jeopardy by requesting a refund. This is a $117+ million project, my ~$600 of that should be less than a fart in space. Think of this as a customer cancelling a preorder because the game changed too much since I made the preorder – which is exactly what I did with The Division & the new Deus Ex when those publishers changed things. Because no one can honestly say that what CIG are pushing today is what they tried to sell during Kickstarter!
To be continued – unfortunately.