Hey all, I've written up my personal thoughts on CitizenCon. Being a writer, I tend to be a bit long-winded and article-focused, so I have written this as I would if I was writing an informative/opinion piece for a news site or blog. Feel free to read and express your thoughts, but please don't turn this thread into a flame-fest.
CitizenCon Post-Event Analysis: Success or Missed Opportunity?
By: Aaron McGill
Fresh off of an impressive Gamescom presentation, and beginning to benefit from largely positive press after the debacle that was “No Man’s Sky”, Cloud Imperium Games (CIG) went into its fourth anniversary CitizenCon with a number of questions that needed answered:
What do you do when you have built up extreme hype and expectations around your game? What do you do when even gaming media, which had been highly critical of you for years, begin to admit that maaaaybe they’ve been mistaken? What do you do when you’ve had a marketing coup that leads to the single best day in Star Citizen’s crowdfunding history?
The obvious answer is that you try to deliver a massively impressive show during your namesake convention. Such an impressive show that you give your community and the world the confidence that your game is worth the hype and expectations.
The question now is, did CIG deliver that knockout blow, or did they possibly miss an opportunity to silence a majority of their critics?
The general consensus among most backers on a multitude of forums and social media seems to be “both”. So let’s take some time to break down the criticisms and positive reactions to some of the key parts of the presentation and see if they are valid, or if there are reasonable explanations for CIG’s actions.
If we look at the presentation, there are three areas that many backers have criticized CIG for: major criticism of the length of pre-presentation time spent on “history of the game”, development updates, and community “fluff”; mixed feelings about the Spectrum community reveal; and extreme criticism of the lack of a Squadron 42 reveal and the delay announcement. However, there was a general positive reception to the “direction of the game” discussion, and a massive level of excitement for the 3.0 v2 reveal. Let’s take a look at these one at a time.
Over an hour of pre-presentation “fluff”.
This has been the second-most negative complaint that has been voiced against the entire presentation. While it can be understood that backers and CitizenCon goers would want to see the “meat and potatoes” as soon as possible, there are a few factors to consider.
1. While the community is large, and many backers have been around for at least 1-2 years, there have been over 500,000 new accounts created since the last CitizenCon. That’s over half a million people who may not know the full details, or may be a bit fuzzy on what the “official story” of Star Citizen development looks like. This would definitely make a “flashback/history” part of the presentation worth it, especially given recent gaming news articles.
2. Speaking of recent articles, a multi-part “several month long” investigation article into CIG was released by Kotaku UK just before CitizenCon. With Kotaku being one of the most viewed gaming “news” outlets, and given the negative press that has stalked Star Citizen in the past, it would make sense that CIG would want to set aside part of the convention to “set the record straight via facts”. Glaring errors in the article, such as incorrect length of time of development, to the number of offices and staff were key parts that the Kotaku - and other - gaming articles got wrong. Setting this record straight not only would help CIG address the errors, but also serve as official responses in the public record for the future.
3. Acknowledging the community is an absolute necessity. CIG has very little in the way of marketing or advertising outside of the actions of the fans. From Twitch streamers to digital radio, Star Citizen has grown largely on the back of the fans’ word of mouth, and very little from things like short advertisements for Comcast or partnerships with AMD and Intel. To not acknowledge this and devote some time to giving facetime to the community and some of the streamers would be tantamount to blatantly ignoring their biggest fans and advocates who have helped them grow to the level of unbeatable in crowdfunding.
4. Finally, CIG has done segments of this nature before. While they haven’t been quite as LONG as before, or featured as many members of the community, they still have a precedent for having this as a standard part of the program.
When we take these factors together it appears that while the pre-show was inundated with “fluff”, all of it has a fairly legitimate purpose. What most people appear to question is the length of time, which was definitely much longer than previous ones. There is a probable explanation for this, but it will be discussed later in this article. Now, let’s take a look at the community side of things and the “Spectrum” reveal.
Is this Discord or what?
As CIG surprised everyone with the reveal of Orgs 2.x, now known as “Spectrum”, one of the most common observations from viewers and attendees was something to the effect of, “Isn’t this Discord?” Turbulent outlined the revamps of the Orgs system and the way that the community would be able to interact and communicate with each other through RSI, but the reactions were mixed. Much of the material shown looked very much like a mishmash of Discord, Twitter, and Facebook, with a huge emphasis on the front end of the new tool. There was very little said about any improvements to organization management aspects of the tool, and none of the criticisms of the current Orgs system were addressed in any way. *(See Special Note)
To be fair, this is the first iteration of what is supposed to be an evolving system. It’s designed to make good on the “mobile ap” stretch goal, integrate voice and text into the RSI site and systems. Future iterations are supposed to allow a user a large amount of capability for managing their in-game even when they aren’t logged in, much in the way Assassin’s Creed IV allowed people to manage their pirate fleets even when not playing the game. However, none of this actually addresses the flaws with the current systems.
That being said, this entire segment of the presentation seemed a bit half-done. The presenters seemed underprepared and the information provided would’ve had a better place in an ATV or RTV video. It hurt the overall flow of the presentation, and for an audience online and in-house of over 30,000 people, it dampened the enthusiasm quite a bit for the upcoming segments of the presentation. Even the “plan for the game” segment generated muted enthusiasm from viewers and audience members alike.
After a rousing reaction to the “Militia Mobilization Initiative” sale trailer, and the varying to negative reactions to SQ42 segment that will be discussed later, Chris Roberts began discussing the future of the Star Citizen development cycle. There was a generally positive, thought muted, reaction from viewers and audience members alike when the reveal plan for the future iterations of 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, and 4.0 were unveiled. While specific sections related to Mining, the Banu Merchantman, and a few others seemed quite positive, the previous two segments had really dampened a lot of the enthusiasm at this CitizenCon.
A lack of a schedule of release for the different iterations, as well as a non-release date for 2.6 also added to the dampening of enthusiasm. However, the audience and many viewers kept positive attitudes and listened eagerly to Chris Roberts explain the different phases and what they would bring to backers before finally getting to the big reveal of the night, 3.0 v2.
HOLY PROCEDURAL PLANET, BATMAN!
The beginning of the presentation seemed very scripted and staged, but given that it was meant to showcase planet-sized procedural generation of detailed environments, that was to be expected. People cheered and laughed as the camera passed a man on a mountain top who shouted, “Happy CitizenCon!” Gasps of awe and cheers were audible as the detailed procedural lighting and environments, ones to rival most pre-crafted AAA games began to come into view. The dynamic weather system awed this author the most, as detailed clouds, storms, and weather systems were shown from first a space-eye view, and then carried through as the camera and Constellation navigated the air. The reveal of the rover, and the subsequent sequences showcasing the size, space, and detail of the procedural environment were breathtaking. Sequences of combat, and the reveal of the massive alien at the end were amazing.
The feat that CIG has made with procedural generation and planets is astounding and CIG should be celebrated for it. They only began experimenting with procedural generation in the last two years, and they have come up with planetary-scale procedural generation including plants, trees, terrain variations, weather patterns, lighting patterns, and more in levels of detail that are unparalleled so far. People have no idea what it takes to make something like that work and work well, and because of recent “procedurally generated” games that have been real flops, a lot of people don’t put much thought into the achievement and the effort that it takes to get something like what CIG revealed for 3.0 v2. It also doesn’t help that this seemed like just a furthering of the same content that was shown at Gamescom, so the attitude of “seen it” abounded throughout much of the community. This reveal, while it was unbelievably awesome and deserved a much better response, was given a very lukewarm reception because CIG fumbled in a very, very big way with Squadron 42, and they will need to figure out what they need to do to fix the mess they put themselves into.
The great disappointment.
The elephant in the room has been left until last for a reason. The Squadron 42 segment and delay cast a huge wet blanket upon the entire event. CIG had spent the last months building up the hype for Squadron 42. It was implied and stated by multiple CIG staff, including Chris Roberts, that Gamescom was for the Persistent Universe, and CitizenCon would be for Squadron 42. The reality was, not only would there no Squadron 42 reveals, there would also be confirmation that delays for Squadron 42 were no longer rumors. While a delay has been rumored about for several months, the fact that CIG chose their signature event to announce the delay, after having built up hype specifically for Squadron 42 in the weeks and months prior to CitizenCon, was a one-two punch that many backers are still reeling from. Not since the days of the Arena Commander delay has there been such a level of distress from backers.
It didn’t need to be this way, and it most likely wasn’t meant to be this way. Everything leading up to CitizenCon was aiming toward a Squadron 42 reveal of some sort. Even the commercial for the Militia Mobilization Initiative fit into the theme of Squadron 42. Whether the reveal would be coupled with a delay was not an unexpected outcome, but to have nothing more than a couple of slides in the middle of a largely lackluster presentation was a slap in the face for many backers. It didn’t feel right, and it didn’t seem right whatsoever to have had so much of a build-up to such a crashing disappointment.
The following is speculation, but educated speculation. What is most likely the case is that CIG planned everything as the hype led backers to believe. Squadron 42 was going to be showcased at CitizenCon, and it was going to be the follow-up explosive reveal to capitalize upon the positive-leaning press and the massive hype that Gamescom brought to CIG. Unfortunately, something went wrong with Squadron 42 to the point where it was most likely determined that CIG needed to revert to a “Plan B” scenario. Everything, from the over-long fluff content, to the out-of-place Turbulent presentation, to the odd pacing of the different segments, to the jarring and disjointed way the delay announcement was handled all point to this being a last-second change to a well-crafted event. Unfortunately, that’s not the part about this entire affair that is the most disheartening for backers.
What has disheartened backers the most is that CIG, despite the community’s past showing of how understanding and forgiving that it could be, didn’t communicate with the backers. In a time where the gaming world is still reeling from the massive disappointment that was “No Man’s Sky”, and with Hello Games complete silence on the matter of the speedy rise and fall of its over-hyped game, gamers are leery when developers over-hype and then don’t deliver. CIG would have had a much better reception to the entire event had they communicated early on about the challenges and problems that Squadron 42 was facing. Choosing to use CitizenCon as the place to announce a delay to the very part of the game that was supposed to be the event’s showcase was a massive misstep on the part of CIG and their PR department. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time that CIG’s PR has been less than adequate, and it sadly won’t be the last, but that doesn’t help backers who are feeling put out by the way that everything was handled for this event. Even with this disappointment though, there is hope for the future.
The future is...SoonTM.
While there are many valid and understandable reasons for the ups and downs experienced by CIG regarding this CitizenCon, it’s pretty clear that this was a missed opportunity in many ways. It was a missed opportunity for CIG to maximize their hype levels for the game, while also showcasing their oft-touted transparency by revealing before CitizenCon that the main event would not feature Squadron 42 as its centerpiece. This was an avoidable PR mess, yes, but we backers still have been shown more than we could’ve dreamed would be possible all those years ago. Disappointment is understandable, but not the levels of vitriol that are being seen on some sites. Chris Roberts has stated we will see more on Squadron 42, 2.6, and 3.0 before the end of the year, and CIG will very likely deliver on that soon.
That being said, the community needs to understand one fundamental fact: Chris Roberts has a vision for this huge and ambitious game that leads to a game done right. This is his legacy, and he will do everything in his power to see it successful. The achievements in technology and gameplay showcased at Gamescom and Citizencon that CIG have reached are leaps and bounds above what we were expecting when we first backed this project. These achievements are all thanks to we backers’ belief and continued support in the project. As we pass the fourth anniversary of the beginning of this incredible journey, don’t get stuck on a PR mishap and disappointing convention; instead, celebrate that we’re one year closer to living our dreams of space exploration and adventure that this game will deliver!
Special Note: This author was a part of a feedback group for Turbulent following the release of Orgs 1.0 and 1.5. The organization I am a part of, as well as several other large organizations were asked to provide feedback, criticisms, and suggestions to Turbulent on what we would like, want, and needed. An overwhelming amount of the feedback expressed an urgent need for management tools to allow for easier managing of large numbers of members, and additions of ranks or roles, modifications of permissions beyond the limited values shown, as well as a list of things that were less urgent. After submitting that feedback, we never heard from Turbulent again, and attempts to reach out to Turbulent were met with silence.
Sorry about the weird spacing folks, copy-paste did weird things...
Hey guys. I wrote a thing. It's about Star Citizen. I'd love it if you read it, it's posted over on The Base's website: http://radio.starcitizenbase.com/star-citizens-unexpected-space-opera-an-editorial/