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The fight over Star Citizen’s production delay is getting dirty

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A fake Reddit post dominated the news cycle yesterday, fooling one outlet entirely

A large starship eases into orbit around a blue world, ready to begin a salvage operation on an wreck.
The Reclaimer is a limited edition ship, sold for a time through the Star Citizen website as an in-production “concept ship.” It is not yet playable in the early alpha version of the game. It’s being sold second hand on eBay for around $450.
Cloud Imperium Games

The campaign to undermine the credibility of the team building Star Citizen is getting nasty.

Yesterday, an elaborate hoax was staged involving a staggering $45,000 in virtual goods. At least one major tech site took the bait, and the team at Cloud Imperium Games (CIG) spent the entire day trying to change the narrative online. The incident casts a spotlight on a dedicated group of trolls who spend much of their personal energy trying to smear lead designer Chris Roberts and his team at CIG.

The story began when an anonymous Redditor by the name of Mogmentum said that they spent the better part of five weeks working to get a $45,000 refund on virtual items purchased for Star Citizen. Various images and even a video were posted online as proof of the successful return. We tried to reach them for comment, but they never responded and have since deleted their account.

A representative from CIG told Polygon yesterday afternoon that the video was an elaborate fake. They admitted that there had been an associated return, but in the amount of $330. Ars Technica was forced to issue a correction, which is still flowing down to smaller sites that picked up the story.

starline_safety_card_wide
Materials promoting the sale of Star Citizen’s Genesis Starliner included this mock in-flight evacuation pamphlet.
Cloud Imperium Games

What makes the situation so complex is the fact that it is even possible to spend $45,000 on Star Citizen, a game that is not finished and which has no release date, in the first place.

Star Citizen is, at this point in time, a lavish collection of spacefaring experiences including a single-player campaign and an online, persistent multiplayer universe. The spiritual successor to the Wing Commander series began with a Kickstarter campaign in 2012, which raised more than $2 million from some 34 thousand backers. Since then, developer Cloud Imperium Games (CIG) says that it has accumulated more than $159 million in backer funds, making it the single most-funded crowdfunding campaign of any kind, on any platform, for any thing.

CIG has raised that money through advance sales of high-end virtual ships as well as Star Citizen’s various game modules, some of which are playable in an early, alpha-like state.

On the low end, backers can now spend $45 to pre-order the standalone, single-player game module called Squadron 42, a product that has not had a firm release window since October of last year. Those who want to play something right away can purchase a starter kit for the game’s MMO-like persistent universe, which comes with a single ship and access to an in-development version of the multiplayer product, for the same $45 price. Individual, add-on ships, many of which are not yet playable in the alpha, can cost $275 or more.

But there’s also something called the Completionist Package, which costs $15,000. That makes it, in effect, the most expensive collector’s edition ever made.

A screenshot from the Star Citizen online storefront.
Cloud Imperium Games

According to Star Citizen’s online storefront, the Completionist Package comes with around 90 digital ships as well as an assortment of other add-on items including a soundtrack, in-game weapons and a virtual fish tank. So, for a group of players to pool their resources together and spend $45,000 on three packs with a couple hundred ships isn’t only possible, for some die-hards it might actually sound like a good idea.

The point of this hoax was to create a narrative where those big-spenders, already so invested in the game emotionally and monetarily, suddenly ask for their money back. Were it to have been true, it would have been representative of a staggering loss of confidence in the product.

Of course, we know now that it never happened.

But for someone to go to the trouble to concoct such a story represents the kind of lengths Star Citizen’s haters will go to in order to discredit the team at CIG. That there is an entire community on Reddit dedicated to helping people pull as much money as they can out of the project as quickly as possible should come as no surprise. That it is filled with hateful imagery depicting members of the Star Citizen team is, frankly, disgusting. So, to, is Reddit’s abdication of any responsibility to police the communities that it hosts, but I digress.

The fact of the matter is that, while their behavior may be inappropriate, the haters have a point. The leadership team making the decisions on Star Citizen's development is rightfully deserving of scorn from players who've seen their enthusiasm in the project converted into the embodiment of the term "feature creep." While other early access titles are selling millions of copies and in the running for game of the year, Star Citizen has been delayed so frequently that Chris Roberts himself flatly refuses to give deadlines of any kind for any thing related to the project.

Instead of providing a deadline for the next early access update, the team at CIG spent its time at Gamescom pitching another new feature, a facial scanning technology that our reporter called horrifying. At this point, nearly five years into production, people are asking for their money back, and they’re getting it.

So how much money is actually flowing out of the project for refunds? We asked CIG to tell us, and they declined to comment.