Culture 10 min read

How Crowdsource Prodigy Star Citizen is Changing Game Development

Dima Zel |

Dima Zel |

Recent game development has been controversial, with big publishers like EA and Activision emphasizing micro-transactions, which has created millions of disappointed fans.

Traditional game development includes developers, a publisher, and a production pipeline. Many studios are not very transparent about their process for various reasons.

On the other end of that game development spectrum is Cloud Imperium Games.

The FPS/MMORPG conglomerate of a game, Star Citizen, has been in development by CIG since 2011. Roberts Space Industries is the company behind CIG and Star Citizen.

Led by Chris Roberts, the video game Star Citizen is a crowdfunding success story. The game is in late-stage pre-alpha with almost 2,000,000 “Star Citizens”.

How did CIG use tech to change the game development process?

Star Citizen Redefines #GameDev With TechClick To Tweet

A Brief Intro to Star Citizen’s Origins

Star Citizen became the largest recipient of crowdfunding in games of 2017 through commercials. Well, not the kind you’d find on tv. They mimic car ads and Top Gear. This one, for the M50 gets the top shelf treatment and resembles an F1 car.

Along with the M50, The Reclaimer (pictured above) is one of many Star Citizen ships available. Other Star Citizen Ships include the Consolidated Outland Mustang. It resembles the ship of Faye Valentine in Cowboy Bebop.

This one kind of looks like Serenity from the cult hit Firefly. Other Star Citizen ships can be found on this new size comparison chart released this month.

These unique, niche Star Citizen ships designs and commercials do more than advertise and provoke nostalgia. They served as a direct revenue source for crowdfunding. Users could pay real money for ships they would get later with full functionality.

Read More: When Will Fallout 5 Come out? A Prediction

As of February 2, 2018, the game has raised $177.8-million USD completely independent of a big name publisher.

One of the reasons for this is Chris Roberts’ experience on past games with EA. Experience on his title Wing Commander left a sour taste in his mouth. By having financial independence, Roberts, CIG, and RSI can have total creative freedom.

But they can also interact with the community to listen to their needs and wishes. This is evident in the “Around the Verse” updates the team posts on YouTube. CIG is very transparent about the game development and even walks through bug fixes.

Beyond non-traditional funding, Star Citizen pushes the boundaries of tech for a better gaming experience.

Who Needs VoIP When you Can FoIP Instead?

Though many promises were vague in the crowdfunding process, CIG had lofty goals. Among those goals was something called “Faceware”.

Roberts spoke about the “Face Over Internet Protocol” feature in 2017 saying:

“Our players’ facial expressions will be translated onto their avatars’ face. Combine that with a player’s voice correctly positioned in the virtual world, and you have the most lifelike player-to-player communication ever.”

This means that you can communicate in real time with your own face in-game. It’s 2018 y’all; this stuff is wild!

While some, like Polygon’s Allegra Frank, found the experience a bit unnerving, I think it’s fascinating. Unfortunately, FoIP is slated to release on patch 3.1, but this may change. Still, this kind of futuristic tech is not showing up as robustly in other video games.

The procedural generation of planets is also something other games sought to do. Most notably, No Man’s Sky attempted this feat but fell short. It is also rumored that Mass Effect: Andromeda wanted something similar to this, but had to scale way down.

I do have to echo Kotaku’s Mike Fahey on this: the transition from planet to space is so cool. The “Planetary Landing” module only launched in Star Citizen 3.0. But it portends great things yet to come.

Score one for Star Citizen. Apart from one of the most successful crowdfunding campaigns of all time. Oh, and the super cool Star Citizen ships and hilarious commercials. And the insanely cool lore you can find on this website. I could go on.

The Tech Underneath Squadron 42 and Those Graphics

Originally called into question by a high profile refund bid, the single player Squadron 42 trailer dropped in 2018. User Philip Schulz requested a refund of his $25,000 USD saying in Dec. 2017 that Squadron 42 was not on CIG’s radar anymore.

Star Citizen has since provided further transparency with Squadron 42 updates. But when everything is working as intended, the game defies logic. The graphics are unreal and the world feels truly open and alive. Sometimes, disturbingly so in the void of space.

As Reddit user Firebird242 suggests, Roberts must have access to advanced tech.

image of comment from Firebird242 on Reddit for article How Star Citizen Uses Tech to Change Game Development
Reddit user Firebird242 | Reddit

The reference to Warhammer 40K is difficult to explain, but you get the scope of the question in context. How to heck does CIG get those wonderful graphics?

Another user, Bagimus, goes onto explain the mysterious tech of CIG.

image of comment by Bagimus on Reddit for article How Star Citizen Uses Tech to Change Game Development
Reddit user Bagimus | Reddit

As Bagimus points out, if you want to experience Star Citizen, you better have a great rig. Optimization is usually something that comes during the “Beta” phase of a game release. But patch 3.0 saw more stability than previous patches. I only crash every 30 minutes now.

But that’s the joy of playing a game in alpha: being a QA tester of sorts. You also get an inside look at the developer changes if you play AND watch “Around the Verse”. Thanks to their transparency, you can see real-time changes, build by build.

In tandem with their FoIP, the choice to switch to AWS’s Lumberyard engine means leveraging new tech. Lumberyard’s royalty free engine model is built on the same code base as their old engine, CryEngine.

Digital Trends got in touch with CIG’s Carl Jones to talk about the change. Jones spoke cryptically about how CIG would use AWS services.

“We have built our game since day one to take advantage of cloud computing and have always run our platform and game environments on cloud platforms. We’re live on AWS now and taking advantage of AWS features in many ways.”

V useful, my guy.

Modular Development, APIs, and Optimization

CIG engaged in modular development for Star Citizen. This means that the development team targeted specifics areas of the game before moving to another objective. Bit by bit, the game came into focus with the Hangar Module first.

What followed was the Arena Commander and Star Marine modules. The 3.0 patch saw the release of “Planetary Landings” which debuted exactly that. This module also allowed for mining for resources on said planets.

By breaking things down into digestible bites, the teams can better tackle Roberts’ evolving vision. This also allows for more cool Star Citizen ships to emerge from the dev team.

CIG also uses APIs, or Application Programming Interfaces, which can do many things. For Star Citizen, it could mean improved performance which, mentioned above, is a concern. The developers plan to incorporate the Vulkan API over DirectX12 or DirectX11.

The inclusion of the Vulkan API could open up mid-range PC owners to the Star Citizen experience. This forward thinking toward future optimization is something I, as a gamer and techie, would like to see other devs incorporate.

Are you thinking of Bioware? Because I’m thinking of Bioware. And maybe Firaxis Games XCOM 2 is STILL buggy as heck on my GTX-1060 with 16 gbs of ram.

Is Star Citizen the Future of Gaming?

Despite its transparency and future-oriented mindset, Star Citizen is not without its drama.

Perhaps due to its high profile development, Star Citizen has drawn some ire. Derek Smart, a known enemy of Chris Roberts, has repeatedly targeted the project. Other users exaggerated their refund amounts to the tune of $45,000 instead of the real $330.

Many backers have become dissatisfied with the progress on Star Citizen. Similarly to Elon Musk, Roberts is uncompromising in his vision. Despite the transparency of the studio, any fan would grow frustrated after years of seeming inertia.

Other outlets have also written about “Star Citizen’s troubled development process”. On top of these concerns, Crytek, the old engine, sued the game company. This relates to the fact that CIG transferred from CryEngine to Amazon’s Lumberyard in 2016.

Despite this “bad press”, Star Citizen still receives consistent funding per their live stats. Almost 2-million “Star Citizens” (including myself) have contributed to the game, believing in Roberts’ vision and methods.

The same cannot be said for other recent AAA games such as Destiny 2 and Star Wars: Battlefront II. Even Monster Hunter World has valid criticisms of inherent mechanics and game design.

But beyond how grindy a game is or how underwhelming its loot boxes, Star Citizen illuminates something lost in games lately. That thing is wonder, excitement — hope. It’s a cheesy thing to suggest, but search your feelings. You know it to be true.

image of Star Citizen ship glitching into landing pad for article How Star Citizen Uses Tech to Change Game Development
lordlasagna ship glitch in Star Citizen | CIG, RSI, and Chris Roberts via Imgur

Forward Momentum & Potential Diversification

Independent studios such as Larian Studios, NinjaTheory, and formerly Respawn Entertainment courted many fans. Their projects, not backed by big publishers, saw immense success in 2016 and 2017.

Unlike these, however, Star Citizen is still a crowdfunding project. The Star Citizen ships and other various “buy-ins” continue to be a revenue stream. As a result of the fan dedication, CIG responds in kind with new updates.

CIG shows continued progress moving into 3.1 with a new roadmap for objective completion. Bigger than the question of future game development is what else could CIG do with their tech?

Maybe they could license their FoIP or game structure to other people/companies. Similarly to how Musk diversified into batteries, Roberts could find unique ways to further his Star Citizen vision.

Regardless of trajectory, the crowdfunding and tech focus will carry CIG and Star Citizen into the future.

An Update From the Edgy Labs Team to its Audience

Update: This article originally misreported Star Citizen news by omitting the word “Trailer” in the sentence: “Originally called into question by a high profile refund bid, the single player Squadron 42 trailer dropped in 2018.” This kind of lapse is not acceptable and this writer vows to perform better for the Edgy Labs readership in the future.

I was also unclear when I said that “mining” had been implemented. NPCs are currently the only way to access “mining” features. Player-based mining is yet to be incorporated into the playable version of Star Citizen. This lack of context misrepresents the game’s development and features. When reporting on an in-development project, this is unacceptable.

Also, many have commented about development inaccuracies reported in this article. I’m always down to have more information presented to me! I reported what I found in my research both on the RSI and CIG websites, Star Citizen Reddits, and other outlets such as Polygon, PCGamer, and more.

I also found several tools to follow development in that research. A few can be found on the RSI website, but these may not be neutral enough. You can follow an independent, crowdsourced “Star Citizen Tracker”.

Developer Tracker also has one that operates similarly to a forum.

Thank you for your passionate responses and comments. We will always welcome them and move forward in collaborative and responsive ways!

Is the Roberts Space Industries approach using crowdfunding better than working with a publisher like EA or Activision? What other ways could video games push the development of real-world tech? Which Star Citizen ships are your favorite?

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Comments (31)
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  1. FUD Buddy February 25 at 11:48 am GMT

    > Despite its transparency and future-oriented mindset

    If you want to see how transparency worked then look at the Double Fine Adventure Kickstarter in which all the information was shared with the backers from monthly studio reports to quarterly financial statement.

    CIG is running a Marketing campaign not a transparent development.

    > CIG shows continued progress moving into 3.1 with a new roadmap for objective completion.

    They have changed their roadmaps every year and failed every time. The network upgrade is a good example that has been promised to improve performance was in a “roadmap” since version 2.6 in 2016 and just got move back again from 3.1 to unknown.

    > Maybe they could license their FoIP or game structure to other people/companies.

    The FoIP is a bought solution from a 3rd party.
    They can not sell anything engine related according to the Lumberyard TOS.

    This article reads like it was written by a 5 year old with no understanding of the real world.

  2. Pauno Mohammad Fagerholm February 25 at 12:10 pm GMT

    > Who Needs VoIP When you Can FoIP Instead?

    People who enjoy immersive VR experience for one.

    Seeing the game is now 4 years late of the kickstarter estimated release date of 2014, Star Citizen’s development is plagued by controversy and broken promises. The game is poised to be the largest crowd funding failure of all time.

    Funnily enough the article starts with mentions of big publishers and microtransactions, but fails to mention that the primary, and to be honest only business model of CIG is selling imaginary concept art spaceships with prices ranging from 50ish dollars to thousands of dollars. There is a “completionist” package on sale with nearly $20k price tag, which funnily enough does not contain nearly all the concept ships.

    • Mtom February 25 at 7:19 pm GMT

      They asked the supporters if they should finish teh game as originally planned or use the additionalfunding to build a bigger better game, the community choose the latter…so no its not 4 years late as you said.

      • Pauno Mohammad Fagerholm February 25 at 10:50 pm GMT

        Nope. This is what they said in that poll:

        > Finally there is one very important element – the more funds we can raise in the pre-launch phase, the more we can invest in additional content (more ships, characters etc.) and perhaps more importantly we can apply greater number of resources to the various tasks to ensure we deliver the full functionality sooner rather than later.

        CIG said additional funding would ensure the game would come out SOONER rather than later.

        The game is 4 years late.

        • Matt V Malone February 28 at 8:22 pm GMT

          You’re an idiot, Pauno. A poll was posted once CIG surpassed their money goals asking if people wanted to expand the game, knowing development would take longer. The majority said yes. So here we are.

          Additional funding while NOT expanding the scope of the game would have made the game come out sooner, but that’s not what happened.

          • InfiniteWeasels February 28 at 8:40 pm GMT

            Matt, he quoted the poll itself. As in he posted what they promised, you cannot say he is an idiot when the proof is right there.

          • Matt Malone February 28 at 8:57 pm GMT

            Infinite, clearly that quote went over your head as well.

            They never promised anything. All they said was that more money=more features, and that it would help make the process go faster. Puanois complaining that the development is “late”, yet CIG expanded the development.

            Learn to read, guys.

          • InfiniteWeasels February 28 at 8:57 pm GMT

            “Finally there is one very important element – the more funds we can
            raise in the pre-launch phase, the more we can invest in additional
            content (more ships, characters etc.) and perhaps more importantly we
            can apply greater number of resources to the various tasks to ensure we
            deliver the full functionality sooner rather than later.”

            Read the last 8 words in that quote.

          • Joe Blobers March 01 at 7:15 am GMT

            The pool comments: “Option C of pool:
            C. Keep it up through development and continue to
            offer stretch goal rewards in addition to extra features and development milestones”

            Approved by 88%.
            Now pretend that “extra features and development
            milestones” does not means time to perform the agreed C option or even better,
            that the +110M$ added since this pool does not exist.
            Clearly even
            backers who did not participated to this pool strongly disagree by throwing +20’s millions in CR’s face… every single year:)

        • Joe Blobers March 01 at 7:01 am GMT

          False. You jsut extracted a sentence out of context avoiding on purposes all others communications with backers. The game scope chnaged with Backers approval mid-2014. You can jump in all direction denying it 🙂

      • Joe Blobers March 01 at 7:00 am GMT

        Precisely. And for Readers sake, the tema at end of Kickstarter in Nov. 2012 was 12 guys and 6M$. With a game engine to be tweaked heavily, no pipelines, no uptodate tools, no studios. They satreted from scratch compared to EA or others which do have thousands of dev;, all tools and almost unlimited budget with more than 4 Billions of revenues every single year…

        No CIG is not late.

        • Profile Image
          TooFondOfWar **** October 21 at 4:48 pm GMT

          Good to see Joe Blobers make an appearance as always. CIG’s web-crawler extraordinaire! The first to comment in any comments section on Star Citizen articles. It’s his job you see, trawling the internet all day every day to comment on Star Citizen articles with CIG corporate spin. Keep it up mate – you provide hours of entertainment. Like Tokyo Rose and Lord Haw Haw. 🙂

  3. Beet Wagon February 25 at 6:25 pm GMT


  4. Richard Warnick February 26 at 9:09 pm GMT

    Creative freedom in practice seems to have translated into feature creep and a lot of energy devoted to non-essentials. Did anybody ask for a fish tank in a spaceship hangar, before the developers provide a way to, you know, open the doors and fly a ship out of the hangar? Now CIG is selling real estate(!) on virtual planets in a game that currently has no release date.

    • Joe Blobers March 01 at 10:02 am GMT

      Real estate on virtual planets…. as any game around. Ever played WOT or War Thunder or WOW? The day they decide to stop servers, yours hundred $ (if not thousands) of subscription and virtual tanks/mount bought will vanish in the void for ever.

      Everything is virtual I hope you do not discover that today 🙂

      Beside that Star Citizen is crowdfunded which mean you pledge for a future product… CIG do communicate every week if not every day and release date will be provided based on a fully playable candidate not an Alpha.

      • T_0_m March 03 at 5:16 pm GMT

        Talking about crowdfunding:

        • Joe Blobers March 03 at 5:23 pm GMT

          Talking about troll’s talking about crowdfunded game they hate:

          • T_0_m March 03 at 5:42 pm GMT

            FYI the guy who made the video was an early investor who got to know the guys at CIG.

            Perhaps you ought to watch the series so far.

          • Joe Blobers March 04 at 9:46 am GMT

            There is no investor. Only backer. And this guy is nothing but precisely one of the few that don’t understand crowdfunding at first, pledged… and don’t either figure out what Alpha is.
            A blind Yes-Sayers which without surprise become a nay-sayers… The usual an trivial Love/Hate story. Old like the humanity.

            Who care about blind trolls while this project is about vision… 🙂

            Vision encompasses the big picture and envisions where the company is heading long term. Followed by execution: Alpha + quaterly patch.

            You few, keep asking publishers for yearly copy/paste… don’t worry, you will get it.
            Keep your uneducated battle for the same crap.
            We Backers are building something.

            Written for the sake of Readers passing by and not feeding nay-sayers 🙂

          • T_0_m March 04 at 10:29 am GMT

            Yet another rant with ideas far removed from the reality of the situation.

            For you, this isn’t a game, it’s a religion – because all you guys have is blind faith that your lord and saviour Chris Roberts will deliver on his vision of the promised land by making the best damn space sim ever.

            Amen – Join the cult, pledge MORE

          • Joe Blobers March 04 at 12:16 pm GMT

            Yet another rant denying reality.

            Amen – Keep your crusade of obfuscation. Hate More 🙂

  5. InfiniteWeasels February 28 at 8:38 pm GMT

    “Similarly to Elon Musk. Roberts is uncompromising in his vision.”

    However, unlike Croberts, Elon Musk has actually achieved things he has set out to do.

    • Joe Blobers March 01 at 7:19 am GMT

      How do you think CR did received such support? because he is a failed man? Quite the opposite. He is a senior developer with many successful achievments, many would like to just equal.
      So yes CR is uncompromising in his vision like Elon Musk and Backers share the same vision.

      • InfiniteWeasels March 01 at 9:24 pm GMT

        Because nerds have more money than sense.

        Star citizen has more funding than any videogame ever produced, is over six years in development, and has practically nothing to show for it.

        The wing commander games were from a different era, and CR is riding on the coattails of an accomplishment over two decades old, but since it appeals to the nostalgia of bored 30-something men with a disposable income, they’ve funneled ridiculous amounts of money into a game that has done little to prove it deserves such funding.

        • Joe Blobers March 02 at 8:15 am GMT

          Quote InfiniteWeasels: “Because nerds have more money than sense”

          Okay I got it. +600.000 Backers are all nerds with cash but no brain, driven by nostalgia like little kids begging for an ice cream…
          Guys with extra cash are stupid… that probably why they have more cash right? 🙂
          Quite the opposite indeed. The fact that the majority of Backers are not spending more than entry level package prove the opposite. All type of players do support this project.

          The whales are a fraction of those hundred of thousands Backers. Nostalgia have a part for sure but what drive community is the fact they know Publishers will keep delivering the same COD9, BF35 year after year and that those same publishers don’t care about Space game either.

          SQ42 is the modern version of Wing Commander. There is no differrence beside improved technology and features allowed by modern hardware and software. Star Citizen is the MMO version of SQ42.

          This community is building what they are looking for. And if you do not see what have been done (with only a fraction visible during last Citizencon and SQ42 vertical slice) you are just misleading yourself.

          (SQ42 vertical slice – extreme short version. 2mn versus 1 hour)

  6. T_0_m March 03 at 12:03 pm GMT

    Crowdfunding does work (there are always exceptions), Kingdom Come Deliverance is proof of that. However, I’d argue that Star Citizen is no longer using the tried and tested crowdfunding model: that being to raise X amount of money in a specific time period and then make the product without asking for any more cash.

    Instead Star Citizen have never stopped asking for money – as such they have very little incentive to actually “finish” the game: when you can sell a ship for $400 why bother selling an actual game for $40? At this stage I think rather than crowdfunding what will be a finished game, you’re crowdfunding the perpetual development: you’re buying into the Star Citizen “dream”, the reddit theory-crafting, the annual conference, the community, the Bar-Citizen events, and the endless developer interviews (because they never actually show the game being played on ANY of their youtube videos). Star Citizen isn’t a game so much as a massively multiplayer online meta-game played out in the forums and reddit, with added drama from Derek Smart and now Crytek’s lawyers. And it’s all much more fun that actually playing Star Citizen 3.0.

  7. Jean Jmanz March 04 at 12:53 pm GMT

    As often comment section get tarnished by one of those haters leaving their trails of lies and immature disillusioned spirit. Some can’t even refrain to name one of the most iconic incompetent indie dev around. It is beyong understanding how anyone with a brain can still mention this neurotic individual.

    Back to the main topic, a very good article about a game that defy all known crowdfunding lines. Keep providing clever article, far away of those click-bait only article around the verse.

  8. Dan Brown March 05 at 11:27 pm GMT

    Another error is that SC will use Dx12, it will not.
    It is using Vulkan only as there is no need for Dx12 as Vulkan can run all platforms and do everything that Dx12 can do.

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