Sep 23

Drilling to the heart of Kotaku

Greetings fellow Citizens!  Today I will discuss my thoughts on today’s Kotaku article and Star Citizen development as a whole.

First off I would like to take a moment to be clear about something.  I am a fan of Star Citizen and I believe in the project.  You might think that is obvious but it’s also relevant.

Today, September 23rd, Kotaku published an article titled, “Inside the Troubled Development of Star Citizen“.

First off I would like to express some irritation with Kotaku’s continued insistence on clickbait titles.  A much better, more accurate title would have been “Star Citizen:  Inside the Development of the World’s Most Ambitious Game” or simply “A View Inside the Development of Star Citizen”.

Regardless, I am much more interested in discussing the content of the article.

The Kotaku article is long, well researched, and balanced.  It certainly has a skeptical spin but not in a way that was unfair.  They had plenty of comments from Chris Roberts, Erin Roberts, Tony Zurovec, Paul Jones, and others.

When you drill down through the article you find some key, condensed, conclusions that can be drawn:

  • CIG took time to become properly formed as a global group of well-operating studios since the company had to be built from scratch.
  • CryEngine has taken a lot of work to take it from FPS engine to an engine that can actually work for Star Citizen.
  • Chris Roberts is a demanding leader who expects the best from the people working with him.
  • CIG has assembled an incredibly talented and driven group of developers.
  • Star Citizen’s development has been full of fits and starts but appears to be going consistently in the right direction now.
  • Building Star Citizen is hard and things haven’t always gone to plan.

Some comments I would like to make about the article’s content:

  • I give Kotaku a lot of credit for taking what could have been a biased article and balancing it with quotes from the leadership at CIG and current CIG employees.
  • Using former employees as sources leads to getting a very specific type of answer.  Those employees are no longer working for the company and are very likely to be negative on it, often in unfair or undeserved ways, because of the circumstances of their departure.
  • A lot of effort is expended in the Kotaku article to go through things that are pretty well understood by the majority of the Star Citizen community:
    • CryEngine is not ideal but no other suitable engine existed at the time Star Citizen was born.
    • Global production and the formation of a new gaming studio are difficult things that have taken time to get into a good state.
    • Star Citizen is not other games.  Elite: Dangerous is mentioned as a success in the article and it is suggested that Star Citizen should have followed its development route.
      • Elite: Dangerous has been criticized by its player base and some in the gaming media for its lack of content and gameplay.  I believe that this deficiency resulted from the development process that Kotaku praises.
      • Kotaku also praised Frontier for getting a game out and for patching and improving it as time went on.  However, it should be noted that the base game for Elite was expensive, as were the betas, and the ongoing expansions are each expensive as well.  Often this patching and expansion is to add features that the game should have had in the beginning, and many players are upset that they are being charged an exorbitant cost to get what they should have had in the beginning.
      • Star Citizen is constantly criticized for its business model but at the heart of it, it’s still just $45 USD for the game.
  • A lot of criticism is leveled at CIG in the article for trying to build a singleplayer game, a massive online universe, and operate a live product demoing the project all at once.
    • The fact is that Star Citizen couldn’t be built any other way.  There are suggestions in the article that the singleplayer part should have been built first, released, and then used to build the online universe.  This would have created a game that was built very specifically and narrowly for singleplayer and would have led to its own set of massive headaches trying to fix everything that was specifically built to work in singleplayer but would never work in multiplayer, and would likely have limited the long term scope of the online universe.
    • The other main topic being the live product.  Yes, it is difficult having a live product and full scale development simultaneously.  However, that $124 million doesn’t exist without it.  This is a massive crowdfunded project but Kotaku seems to gloss over this.  The money, this huge amount of money that no publisher would ever have given for this project, is contingent on a community that needs to be kept in the loop – just like a publisher would be.  The benefits to this being a constant income that supports development without needing to take on significant debt, a large group of fans who will thoroughly play test for you allowing your QA resources to go further, a group of people who act somewhat as a publisher but also actually understand what you are trying to do and want to help.
  • A lot of criticism is leveled at Chris Roberts in this article for being overbearing, difficult to work with, and stubborn.  Remember when I mentioned the issues with using former employees as sources?
    • My view of Chris Roberts is that of a visionary.  Not a saint.  He is an incredibly talented game developer and director with a clear and unwavering vision of the universe he wants to create.  His insistence on high quality, pushing the boundaries, and getting the most from people has led to groups of people, such as former employees, who view him as a tyrant.
    • I would much prefer someone who pushes people to do their best work, and often to try to accomplish things no one else has, over someone who gets along well with everyone but also accepts a lower standard of work.
  • This is addressed in the article but it needs to be reiterated:  Star Citizen is a project being done not because it is easy but because it is hard.  Star Citizen is attempting to do things other games have never done, or never all in the same game.  This is difficult, it causes tension and stress among the people doing the work.  It leads to a long process of weeding out those people who can not or will not strive to consistently raise the bar for the quality of their work, or will not work with others effectively.

As an aside, I have noticed a lot of parallels between Chris Roberts and Elon Musk.

  • For the uninitiated, Elon Musk is the founder of Tesla Motors and SpaceX.  He is often criticized by those in the industries his companies serve (automobiles and rockets) for trying to do things in ways that are new/foreign or difficult.  His companies tend to have an atmosphere of incredibly talented people working incredibly hard to do amazing things that no one else has done.  There are also lots of former employees who complain that Tesla or SpaceX are too high pressure, too demanding.  Seem familiar?
  • I can already hear people telling me, “But SpaceX and Tesla have actually done things!  They have launched rockets, landed rockets, and produced incredible electric cars.”  SpaceX formed in 2002 and Tesla in 2003.  Both companies nearly collapsed entirely in the interim.
  • Elon Musk is involved in basically every design and engineering decision for Tesla’s vehicles and SpaceX’s rockets and spacecraft.  Again, seem familiar?
  • Amazing things are hard and take time.

I would like to say, to sort of cap off my ramblings, that I am 100% confident that Star Citizen is possible to build.  Will it be easy?  Will it be done quickly?  Will things always go smoothly?  No, no, and no.

What Star Citizen promises to be, if it even comes somewhat close to its goals, is a universe whose like has never before been seen in gaming.  The really cool thing is that we get to watch it happen.

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23 comments

  1. HatBlappington

    I think the title got people to read it probably more than would have done with a fluffy title and honestly I had no issues with the article

    • Jason

      yeah the title may seem like click bait at first, but after you read the content, the title is totally justified. To say that development has not been “troubled” is lying to yourself. Life is all about learning from mistakes.

      What is the purpose of a Title? To convince the reader to read on. and it accomplishes this while being relevant to the content.

      • Viking

        Well, you also have to take into account that much of the “trouble” has been created by media, dissatisfied backers wanting refund, and haters around Internet. Common for these are most often that they don’t understand where the project is going so they picture something in their heads and compare that to what they see CIG is doing. That’ll always fail if you’re not understanding what CIG is doing in the first place.

        About the haters – It’s kind of silly to label a project “troubled” because, for instance, some people are shouting SCAM and PONZI SCHEME, labels key personel racists, or similar things that are clearly untrue. It doesn’t get more true because some say it and others repeat it many times. But this is what the haters want, they spread FUD to try and convince others to steer away from the game.

        The truth is IMO that the project has had some setbacks in terms of missed (estimated) dates, code that had to be rewritten (such as the Illfonic thing), people that quit because they didn’t believe in the project (minor importance for setback), and a few others things (such as lowered morale and mood because of personal attacks on persons). But nothing to justify the label “troubled” IMO.

    • Scubi

      Agreed.

      I found it pretty well balanced and never had a, “Hey! That’s not fair!” moment.
      Thanks for sharing your view with us INN dude. :)
      Also a good read if maybe a little (just a little!) over protective of a game I also believe in and have enjoyed seeing develop of the last few years.

  2. TheyWillSayItsAGoon

    That is some kotaku level article here.

  3. Agathorn

    The thing that came across to me several times in the article is how Chris is demanding to push the bar higher. It is touted as a “bad” thing in the article which I think is just ridiculous. Former employees complaining because they said something can’t be done and Chris insisted on trying it anyway. That is a bad thing? What is this world coming to when we accept mediocrity and shun those who try to do better? We live in a society now where it is *unpopular* to be good, to strive to better yourself and your environment and that drives me crazy.

    So yeah that is one thing that Chris Roberts and Elon Musk have in common and is a reason I look up to both of them. They aren’t afraid to ask for more and strive for more.

    Good enough is not good enough. Always try to do more.

    All those former employees claiming “You can’t do that. I have X years experience in the industry so I know you can’t do that. Chris has been out of the industry too long to know you can’t do that.”. Honestly, that just is indicative to me of the whole problem with the games industry these days. All they want to do is ship “good enough” so they can get their paycheck. It is why indie games with actual passion are growing faster and faster.

  4. Max

    Re: Chris Roberts / Elon Musk management style: apparently these days the only way to accomplish extraordinary things is to drive your workforce into the ground. We’re not talking “working hard” here – any honest worker can do that, and millions of people do it daily just to get by – rather I get the impression we’re talking “if there’s anything other than your work in your life, you’re not fit to work here / all your life-force are belong to us” levels of inhuman grind. You shall be sucked dry of anything useful you might still have to offer and when you have nothing left to give your shrivelled husk will be ejected without a second (or first) thought, like nothing more than a spent matchstick. You’re NOT a person. You’re merely a cog. Are you missing a tooth? Well now you’re just landfill.

    As an outsider, I admire the results they both get. But there would be absolutely positively nothing in the whole wide world you could possibly offer me to get me to work for either of them – whatever sad remnants of a life I do still have I am nevertheless quite fond of, thankyouverymuch. It’s not for sale regardless of the prize.

    • Agathorn

      Max, work hard play hard. I work in the VFX industry and there are times when I am working 70-80 hours weeks for months on end for a contract but then I take 6 months off and enjoy life before diving back in.

      I once worked 7 days a week like 15 hours a day for about 6 months straight. I worked and I slept. I ate meals at my desk. Then I didn’t work for like a year.

      Once a million years ago when I worked for Sony online I spent 3 days at the office straight. Slept for a few hours under my desk.

      Granted it isn’t for everyone or even most. And I have nothing personally against those that would choose to just do enough to get by. There are times when I sometimes regret the amount of work, especially as I get older, But in the end I just absolutely love what I do.

    • Sverebom

      You forget one thing: Talent! And maybe obsession. Chris Roberts and certainly Elon Musk don’t want people, who might know their trade but can only work and think in the narrow scope they have learned and don’t have the drive to expand their abilities and knowledge into unclaimed territory. I have to admit that I might be one of these people. I know my stuff, and I constantly learn and improve to remain qualified for my field of work, but I don’t have the drive or the talent to expand or knowledge in the field web-technologies and develop new solutions now one has thought about before. But these are the people that you need when you build a next generation rocket, or the breakthrough in electric mobility, or the biggest and most ambitious videogame ever. People who love what they do, who can’t get enough of it, who don’t worry about working hours and overtimes, and who have the talent and the motivation to develop something new beyond what has been achieved. I’m sure that the people who have developed the prcoedural technology or the unified animation rig currently have the time of their working lives (so far) and don’t even notice that they are doing overtimes.

      P.S.: And I’m sure that this has always been the case. Do you think that Apollo 11 has been nine-to-five-job for ordinary engineers, who would have otherwise designed AC units?

  5. Prometheus

    Great Article , great Answer !

  6. rythmshifter

    Nehkara,

    Thanks for writing this up. It took my mood from sour over the article, to some level of peace over the matter of star citizens development entirely.

    Word Up.

  7. Desmarius

    Extremely well written article, Nehkara. I loved the breakdown and the comparison to Elon Musk. <0

  8. Toysrme

    As a gold-ticket backer (That means BEFORE the kick-starter campaign!); let me state for the record that we ALL knew the “history” of Chris Robert’s, his success and LARGE failures over the years.
    This article, for potential SC backers. Is nothing more than a history-lesson of events.

    This was a Swedish article written for LEVEL Magazine. The English translation was shopped and Kotaku bought it.

    • Jason

      how do you know this? because the writer says he’s the one who interviewed them, and this is kotaku.uk, not .com so they are right there in the thick of it.

  9. Bleep

    Don’t forget Apple in the Steve Jobs heyday. Same story, same complaints. Visionaries are rare and even fewer can handle working with them.

  10. Longscope

    A well written companion/rebuttal to the article. Well done.

    It’s not a bad article, it just needed clarification on some points… particularly the “former employees” responses.

  11. Malcolm Griffiths

    Overall I liked the Kotaku article in so far as it shed some light (for me at least) on the issues with Star Marine and Illfonic. It is a bit skewed towards the negative but it is a fair reflection of what I think most of us thought was going on behind the scenes. Certainly there was nothing in it that sounds scary just the normal operation of a business going through growing pains. More importantly it does highlight one thing and that is Erin has always said that he is not afraid to talk back to Chris if things need to be said. It sounds like Erin has had that chat with Chris and overall SC has benefited from it.

    Moving onto the editorial I want to comment on this part “The fact is that Star Citizen couldn’t be built any other way. There are suggestions in the article that the singleplayer part should have been built first, released, and then used to build the online universe.” To a very large extent this was exactly what Chris wanted to do as he has said in some of his first interviews when SC was getting started. That means the original business plan took account of that and I suspect lingered when the funding coming in allowed for the full suite of Squadron 42 and Star Citizen to be developed. The vestiges of that was the way that the ‘modules’ were released. Now, of course, they’ve moved on but for 2013 and 2014 much of what we got was from that ‘develop one part first for release and build the rest’ way of developing.

    So its not that that was not the model that was never going to happen it did not happen because of the amount of funding which freed Chris from the need to get funding by releasing a fully developed part of the game and then move onto other parts. In many ways the change in business plans has not helped but at least it did not bring about the failure of SC just slowed down development.

  12. Mavseckz

    Great article. Seems to me a lot of people find the Kotaku article “unbiased”. I find it underhandedly biased, almost worse than an outright hit piece as it poses as “reasonable” yet as pointed out by your article leaves things out, isn’t totally accurate etc. to portray a “troubled” development. To me it’s quite an accomplishment that CR has created a global company from scratch and done what he’s done so far. Also why do people keep saying SC has taken so long, do they not know how long video games take to make?!

  13. King George

    I am sorry but this INN article does sound more biased than Kotaku´s, fanboyism comes to mind.

    You state that “Chris Roberts is a visionary. Not a saint. He is an incredibly talented game developer and director with a clear and unwavering vision of the universe he wants to create. His insistence on high quality, pushing the boundaries, and getting the most from people has led to groups of people, such as former employees, who view him as a tyrant.”

    Beg your pardon but there are some phallacies and some obviousness in that statement which could be applied to any other talented game director or business man.

    Is no secret that C Roberts made lots of big mistakes in the past 3 years, no need to hide it. And that the game is still alive thanks to the economical support of the legions of Star Citizens, which are the trully heros in this story.

  14. Sir Clive

    It is one thing to be a demanding CEO but another to be one who is a micro manager. One that does not empower his managers/leads to make creative decisions. If anyone here has ever worked for a micro manager then they will understand how frustrating the experience is. Everyone suffers including development. There will of course be important decisions that CR has to be involved in, others that he is kept informed about and finally others that have little bearing but do allow Devs some artistic freedom.

  15. Siel

    It’s Not only Elan Musk ^^
    I See parallele between Steve Jobs and Chris!
    Not the best Bosses but Visionarys ^^

    Ps.: sorry for the Bad english ^^

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