When Star Citizen was publicly revealed via Kickstarter in 2012, it felt like a dream come true for many gamers. Led by Wing Commander creator Chris Roberts, Star Citizen’s record-breaking crowdfunding campaign seemingly left it in an ideal position to fulfill some ambitious promises by becoming not just the ultimate sci-fi gaming experience but a title funded and developed outside what was seen as the traditional studio systems.
Years later, though, Star Citizen‘s journey has practically become defined by its controversies. As the debate rages on regarding nearly every aspect of this title, it becomes increasingly clear that the quality of Star Citizen as a video game has almost taken a backseat to the discussion about the title’s history, funding, where its development stands, and what the final chapter on Star Citizen will say.
While it’s nearly impossible to summarize every complaint, concern, and fear raised about this game thus far, these are the primary controversies that we’ve come to think of whenever we think of the name Star Citizen.
Star Citizen’s Roadmap and Development Timeline
If you had to summarize the history of Star Citizen‘s development troubles in one moment, it would almost certainly have to be this 2020 statement regarding why Star Citizen didn’t have (at that time) a traditional development roadmap:
“When we first embarked on this Roadmap journey two years ago, our goal was to make communication more transparent, specific, and insightful for all of you who help make Star Citizen and Squadron 42 possible. While this goal remains unchanged, we’ve found that the format in which we’ve attempted to visualize our progress linearly does not match the approach we’re taking in the development of Squadron 42.”
Since that statement was released, the Star Citizen team has published roadmaps that offer a bit of a better idea of what is actively being worked on, but even with those updates, we’re still dealing with the same concerns many fans have had since 2012. Namely, many Star Citizen fans, backers, and onlookers are still unsure when Star Citizen will ever be “released,” what a released version of the game even looks like, and whether the title will ever be able to live up to some of the highest expectations in the history of gaming.
Communication regarding Star Citizen’s development has gotten somewhat better over the years (or at least slightly more frequent), but the game’s development process is still often defined by often unexplained or poorly explained delays.
The Saga of Squadron 42
Squadron 42 has been described by Chris Roberts as Star Citizen’s story-based single-player campaign and “as fancy as any Wing Commander would be.” It will reportedly feature a massive story as well as voice acting contributions from talent such as Gary Oldman, Mark Hammill, and Gillian Anderson.
As is the case with many aspects of the Star Citizen development process, the biggest Squadron 42 controversy concerns the campaign’s many delays. The earliest suggested release date for the campaign was late 2014, but that obviously didn’t happen. Subsequent updates to the game included the release of a cinematic trailer and the mention of an eventual episodic release structure, but we still don’t know when one of the most ‘structured” elements of the Star Citizen experience will be released.
In a 2020 statement, Roberts noted that he “decided that it is best to not show Squadron 42 gameplay publicly, nor discuss any release date until we are closer to the home stretch.” Delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic inspired other developers to make similar statements regarding the state of their projects, but Squadron 42’s prolonged development cycle has additionally raised questions regarding the current status of the campaign and what even a snapshot of the final version of the project looks like.
Star Citizen’s Toxic Work Environment and Harassment Claims
Numerous people close to the Star Citizen development process over the years have shared stories regarding what could certainly be described as a toxic work environment.
Some of the earliest examples of those claims can be found in a 2015 article published on The Escapist in which unnamed Cloud Imperium Games employees shared horror stories about the company’s culture. Along with general concerns regarding the project’s management, some employees talked about specific times they were harassed by executive team members. Many of those claims focused on Chris Roberts and Sandi Gardner who would not only reportedly use slurs to insult employees but allegedly even argued against potential hires on the basis of their race.
A recent report also suggested that Star Citizen team members were asked to continue working during the recent snowstorms that hit Texas and left many employees without power and heat. Some employees claimed they were even initially informed that failing to work during that time could force them to use vacation days.
Star Citizen’s Microtransactions and Pay-to-Win Claims
Microtransactions and outside purchase opportunities are generally pretty controversial, but the debate about Star Citizen’s transaction systems is somewhat unique in their scope and implications.
The core of this particular controversy is the very idea that Cloud Imperium Games is using microtransactions to acquire more funding for a game that has already smashed crowdfunding records and ranks high among the most expensive games ever. Some fans are concerned not only by the price of the individual transactions (some Star Citizen ships can cost over a thousand dollars) but the ethics of selling such expensive content in a game that isn’t completed and sometimes doesn’t allow players to use the things they buy at the time they purchase it. The most infamous example of the latter instance is the time that Star Citizen offered the chance to buy plots of digital real estate which didn’t yet exist and wouldn’t be accessible.
Recently, fans have also raised concerns regarding the idea of Star Citizen becoming a “pay-to-win” experience. These concerns gained steam in 2018 when the Star Citizen team announced that they had removed the in-game currency cap. Chris Roberts noted that this wasn’t an example of pay-to-win as there is no “specific win state” and that you “ win by having fun,” but some fans wonder how these systems and an apparent lack of safeguards will impact PvP mechanics and community-driven features.
Star Citizen’s Money Mismanagement Claims and Feature Bloat
This is a broad controversy (to say the least), but the bulk of this entry can be traced back to a 2019 Forbes article which offered a little more specific information on Star Citizen’s money mismanagement concerns.
The article focuses on how the Star Citizen team has spent its resources so far. While concerns over said resources involve how developers were spending their time (one source said Roberts was obsessed with micromanagement and continuously starting new ideas before old ones were finished) the bulk of the report is about the game’s finances. From uncertainty regarding the compensation executives have received to the influence of outside investors who bolstered the game’s marketing budget, there have been numerous claims that Star Citizen’s budget hasn’t been properly overseen in ways that best benefited the actual development of the title.
Considering that a new update reveals that Star Citizen has raised over $350 million so far, questions regarding how the Star Citizen executives are handling all of the money that has come their way will almost certainly continue.
Star Citizen’s Terms of Service Updates and Fan Lawsuits
Various updates to Star Citizen’s terms of service and refund policies over the years have resulted in debates over consumer service ethics and even lawsuits from dedicated fans.
One of the most significant updates to Star Citizen’s terms of service occurred in 2016 when the language of the terms was updated in such a way that severely limited the size of the game’s refund window. A similar TOS update published in 2018 utilized language that included (among other things) the controversial line: “You do not purchase anything, you make a pledge towards the development of the Game and the other RSI Services.” This led some to question how the Star Citizen team (or at least the legal teams) were discussing and classifying their game.
Many of those updates have essentially “locked” backers into their donations and made it difficult for them to acquire a refund for a product that some argue doesn’t really exist. In 2018, for instance, a backer unsuccessfully tried to sue Star Citizen‘s publishers for a refund on the basis that unexpected updates to the game made it difficult for him to continue playing the working version of the project due to his physical disabilities.
The Crytek Lawsuit
Although it wasn’t as prominent as the more “fan-focused” controversies, one of the most impactful Star Citizen controversies to-date occurred in 2017 when Crytek sued the Star Citizen team over the use of the CryEngine.
We’ve spoken about this lawsuit in greater detail before, but the gist of the story is that Crytek argued that the Star Citizen team had broken their agreement regarding the use of the engine by effectively separating Squadron 42 and Star Citizen into separate projects. Furthermore, it was suggested that the Crytek team had licensed the use of the engine to the Star Citizen developers at a “below-market-rate” on the basis of terms that had not been satisfied or were otherwise breached.
This lawsuit was settled out of court in 2020 under undisclosed terms.
Star Citizen’s Code and Server Problems
With all of the talk about how much of Star Citizen remains unfinished, we don’t always get to hear about the sections of the game that have been made playable thus far. While there are certainly positive reactions among fans regarding what they’ve been able to play of the project, recent years have seen an uptick in concerns regarding the game’s code and server problems.
It’s hardly a surprise that an incomplete game has technical problems, but in the case of Star Citizen, some fans have questioned if the game is being built on fundamentally broken code that is just being added to rather than addressed. This Reddit post from a user that identifies themselves as a “CTO/Senior Software Dev” does a nice job of highlighting the finer technical points of this particular controversy.
Generally speaking, though, the basis of this concern is a debate over whether or not the Star Citizen team should be making more of an effort to improve the parts of the game that are playable or if they should be focusing on the completion of the “final product.”