Pros & Cons of Star Citizen Alpha Stage Backing

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This article lists many of the popular pros and cons about Star Citizen - the massively multiplayer game. This information comes from many sources and contains speculation. Interested readers should always compare and cross reference.

Not only is Star Citizen the biggest video game crowd funded project ever launched (List of video game crowdfunding projects - Wikipedia) it is also the most controversial. This article provides some of the pros and cons about Star Citizen.

Star Citizen Winning Recipe (Pros) in detail

Star Citizen - A Living and Breathing Universe

The main objective for the Star Citizen project is to build a living universe with insane levels of detail. From multiple complete alien languages to a plethora of ship components to seamless exploration of star systems with planets, moons, asteroid fields and much much more.

Filling a universe takes time and perhaps this is the main factor delaying the project. This, in our view, is a pro for Star Citizen because one of the goals for success is to release a complete game. Something that seems beyond the reach of ambitious MMOs, often taking many years after release to achieve in the best of cases.

Many backers use this as the main reason for patiently waiting since even during the years since 2012 when Star Citizen was announced. Even since 2012 the sheer lack of competition from other games has allowed Star Citizen to continue growing.

Here’s a quote from the company about us page:

“I don't want to build a game.
I want to build a universe.”

“From the mind of Chris Roberts, acclaimed creator of Wing Commander and Freelancer, comes STAR CITIZEN. 100% crowdfunded, Star Citizen aims to create a living, breathing science fiction universe with unparalleled immersion… and you’re invited to follow every step of development.

More than a space combat sim, more than a first person shooter and more than an MMO: Star Citizen is the First Person Universe that will allow for unlimited gameplay.”

First person realtime Massively Multiplayer Universe

Massively Multiplayer Online worlds have always avoided first person combat, opting instead for modes of combat where the enemy is selected and then a server tick system is used to score hits. Of the MMO games that have tried to implement first person shooter combat, games like Planetside 2, which are MMO battle arenas or MOBA for short, do not offer an integrated experience of a living world as well as combat. This is not what Star Citizen is aiming for.

Star Citizen plans to create a realtime seamless large-scale universe in first person. To MMO fans who have been around for a long time this represents the most advanced universe attempted by a video game.

This feature remains highly controversial with many people saying it is not possible to build such an MMO due to technical reasons. The lag will ruin the experience and without instances the project could fail. Since the same thing was said about seamless transition from space to planets as well as nested physics grids (both of which have been solved) we consider this technical hurdle one that will be leaped eventually.

This official post from November 2012 about Multiplayer, Single Player and instancing shows what was planned. Since then much of the project has expanded in scope therefore the information from the 2012 article should be taken as a primitive guideline compared with what the plan is today.

Casual & Hardcore Players Welcome

One of the biggest drawbacks historically for MMO universes has generally been the long player sessions required to progress through the game. Historically, it can take a long time to organize a party and quest and players with short play sessions have been left out.

While the pace of Star Citizen gameplay can be even slower than most MMOs, the goal is to offer game modes that also cater to players with short play session times.

To cater to short play sessions Star Citizen is aiming to provide options to allow players to achieve this such as:

  • Moving spawn locations. For example the ship bed will allow players to log in and out of the game without sacrificing progress
  • Offline services. Your ship can be loaded or unloaded with cargo while you sleep. It should also be possible to book transport to another location while you’re offline
  • Spectrum community software will help players coordinate meeting up in the universe
  • The simulator inside the universe allows for competitive and co-op fast action
  • Players can “Agent Smith” NPC characters that are player controlled

Star Citizen is better catered towards hardcore players similar to other universe multiplayer games. The game is being built for players to sink years into and the hybrid procedural and custom design looks to provide untold amounts of content.

While Star Citizen will be able to be played by casual and hardcore gamers alike, we expect hardcore gamers to find the most appeal with this game.

No Fast Travel

While many gamers will want fast travel, we consider the lack of fast travel to be essential for making a believable universe. Star Citizen will be a universe where actions have consequences. Being based far from your friends and allies will matter. Planning and coordination will reward players the most. Luckily it will still be easy to group with others. The Spectrum application will help players in the game community with players outside of the game. Also, players who want instant action (co op or versus) can hop into the simulator and play together from any location in the universe.

In order to meet up with friends in Star Citizen you will need to travel in the game. There are no teleport or fast travel options. While ships have Quantum Drives that reach up to 0.2c (20% the speed of light) as well as Jump Points that allow jumps from one system to another, given the massive scale of solar systems it is estimated that players in the same system could take several minutes to reach each other while players located in different systems could take hours to meet up.

Fast travel has been ruled out officially. The episode Calling All Devs - Escape Pods & Agent Smithing talks about this here. Taking control of NPCs controlled by friendly players is still something that has not been ruled out in order to help players be able to play with friends quickly. Read more on the page about Agent Smithing in Star Citizen.

Giant Spaceships

Star Citizen is primarily aiming to be the best damn space sim ever (BDSSE). This means this game is focused around ships. Below are two short videos to illustrate.

Ship components, weapons, and equipment can be upgraded well beyond what the base version comes with. Large ships will require coordination between players and NPCs.

Some of the biggest UEE ships

The scale of things to come

Character Death Is Important

Death of a spaceman (from 2013) is mandatory reading for any future Star Citizen player.

Our edited summary of the relevant important bits is as follows:

  • Gameplay choices have a massive impact on character reputation
  • Venturing out into space will have long term risk
  • Futuristic healing options mean players can “die” multiple times before permadeath
  • Ejection seats and escape pods increase survivability
  • Death creates wear and tear on player characters
  • Because Star Citizen is skill based, the loss of your character is more a cosmetic and textural outcome
  • Reputation is slightly diminished with permadeath
  • Major NPCs can be killed only once
  • Players can be captured instead of killed

9:1 NPC to human ratio

Chris Roberts aims to build a living & breathing universe and in order to achieve a sense of believably the universe needs to feel inhabited. This will be achieved via NPCs with AI subsumption. Games like Elder Scrolls Oblivion featured NPCs with names and simulated lives and Star Citizen is planning on having a universe filled with NPCs.

Since space is very large players can end up being very far away from each other. NPCs will not only create more interactions for players but can also give missions or be hired as crew.

NPCs can level and improve their skills as well as be permanently killed.

Since the economy relies on resource extraction -> factory production -> transport to demand locations, NPCs will also affect the economy of a system. Since there are many more NPCs than players the economy will be controlled by the NPCs throughout the universe.

The goal for CIG is to create the NPCs in a way that makes them almost indistinguishable from players so that when players meet other characters they will not be sure at first if they are AI or human.

Not pay to win

Both fans of Star Citizen as well as detractors of the project generally say that Star Citizen is Pay to Win. Backers of the project can currently buy ships, weapons, subscriptions (that provide hangar flair, weapons and more) as well as UEC.

The ability to purchase all this stuff before the game releases makes many people think that Star Citizen is Pay 2 Win.

This forum post on starcitizenbase.com is an example of the discussions around the community. Also this article on relay.sc argues that Star Citizen is indeed, Pay 2 Win.

Our view is highly controversial and speculative. However, it also comes from years of following the game and testing the Alpha. Star Citizen is not pay to win.

Pay to win means basically paying the game to be granted weapons, skills or items that allow you to beat other players with little regard to player skill.

Pay to win is not the same thing as pay for advantage. There are many games on the market where paying for better equipment means a player without skill can simply click his way to victory over a better player who has not spent money on items. In Star Citizen this is already not the case, even in the Alpha. Players who have spent more money at the moment are not guaranteed to beat players who have spent less. Paying does not grant you victory in Star Citizen but it can provide a starting advantage.

Star Citizen is pay for temporary advantage according to how the game actually works and what is planned. This is highly controversial and players should carefully think about what they consider to be pay to win and whether this game suits their preference.

Large organization support

Star Citizen is building support for large organizations. Already there are several orgs with over 10,000 backers. Orgs will be able to communicate in game, have bases, capital sips, and a lot, lot more.

Star Citizen is definitely a game that will cater to big / massive orgs. Solo players and small operations can either avoid or collaborate with larger organizations and the game provides the “Affiliate” org option where players can be affiliated with orgs they are not part of.

No levelling

Star Citizen does not offer leveling of player characters. NPC characters, on the other hand, can be hired and leveled up.

This means that Star Citizen cannot be called an MMORPG as the RPG elements are strictly role-play and not in game systems as far as we can currently tell. It has been announced that player characters do not level. However, the items, clothing, player skill and experience are what give each character a unique look as well as abilities.

Star Citizen is a skill based MMO with real time first person combat. Skills at first person shooters or flight sims and even trading will infer the player vs player advantages. It will not be possible to buy “superior” characters that have been leveled up.

Skill based real time combat and racing

MMO games have historically featured server tick based combat. A character selects a target then performs an action. At the next server tick the action is performed. Due to both network and computational limitations MMO universes have either opted for hundreds of concurrent players using the server tick (not real time) combat system or have offered FPS combat in separate instances.

First Person universes with real time combat generally cannot offer large numbers of players performing combat actions simultaneously on the screen and generally limit player counts per server. Planetside 2 was a first person shooter which allowed persistent maps and up to 2000 players per server. However, besides experience and items there was no virtual world to explore or quests to complete.

Star Citizen aims to have real time first person combat, racing and much more in a universe that meshes many servers to create one world.

Player skill plays a vital role in performance with knowledge of the game, combat or racing skills and out of the box thinking providing the true player advantage.

Sandbox make your own adventure

Win! The word “win” in Star Citizen does not have the same meaning as in other games. Star Citizen. Even in MMORPGs with leveling, players who reached the highest level would often engage in different player activities.

The primary method of progress in Star Citizen comes via being able to upgrade ships. Ships can be upgraded by better components or the ship itself can be traded. Hangars in Star Citizen serve as player housing and collectables can be stored there.

These are some activities that players will count towards any “win” conditions:

  • Combat kills to deaths
  • UEC earned
  • Races won
  • Important discoveries made (planets, wormholes, relics, science, etc…)
  • Unique ships owned
  • Locations visited
  • Faction reputation earned
  • Missions successfully completed

From collecting exotic mascots to scoring kills against the Vanduul, the game will present players with a wide range of activities and possible goals. The possibilities seem endless and perhaps that is one of the biggest appeals of this game.

No monthly fees

MMOs have a long history of funding problems. Unlike single player games, MMO games require networks to keep running and players to keep the worlds inhabited. Star Citizen uses a new approach when it comes to funding.

Many games use subscription models and monthly fees to keep the networks and servers operational. Star Citizen only requires the Game Package purchase once and players can play while the servers remain operational. CIG is aiming for 10 years after release or longer.

Since the model does not have monthly fees, there must be another way for the game to receive funding and this is where the ship sale and insurance model has been great at providing funding. Ship sales help further fund Star Citizen’s development and can continue to introduce new types of gameplay and content even after release. This means that via game package sales and concept ship sales can continue to provide funding even beyond post beta release.

PC only

This is a controversial feature because Star Citizen aims to push computer hardware more than any games in recent times. The original crowd fund pitch references the PC gaming industry as having died and one of the objectives of the game is to take advantage of the latest PC hardware to push visual fidelity.

The backer community of Star Citizen are heavily made up PC gamers seeking the latest and greatest.

This game probably won’t be out on consoles for a long time so while it might not stay “PC Only” the certainty is that the game is promoting a PC first approach.

Since Star Citizen is still years away from development and it could be that cloud streaming services could find their way to consoles and that some consoles will be able to run this game through such services at or around release.

I am a PC game

Cons of Star Citizen MMO

Here is a detailed list of what we consider to be pitfalls and downsides of Star Citizen.

No release date / long development time

There is no release date announced for Star Citizen or Squadron 42. While the game was originally presented around 2012, 6 years later (2018) there is still no sign of a release date for Star Citizen or even the single player game - Squadron 42.

Due to the long periods between significant Alpha updates many backers (and onlookers) turn to labeling the project a failure and even a scam.

Even the most enthusiastic players, after years of testing get burned out and may turn sour on the project. Any player considering to back Star Citizen in 2018 or 2019 should be fully aware that it might be 3 years, 5 years or even 10 years away. At SCFocus we provide comprehensive release date analyses and predictions to help us (as well as interested readers) decide when a realistic release date could be. Read more about Star Citizen Release Dates.

Economy is not player controlled

Economies in MMO universes can be player controlled or company controlled. Games like Eve Online or Albion Online have player driven economies.

At SCFocus we would have preferred a game where the economy is player driven. Since the universe will have 9x more NPCs than human players participating in the same economy. Then there are also simulated worlds such as Arccorp that and Terra Prime that would produce massive economy dwarfing the combined effects of any number of active human players.

We speculate, however, that players might be able to control some small regions such an area around an asteroid field controlled by a pirate organization. Around such areas, prices could be controlled to some degree. Also it’s worth noting that blockades have been mentioned several times and should also tamper with local pricing of goods.

Even though the economy in Star Citizen is not player driven one benefit of this is that players should have less ability to abuse the economy.

The Star Citizen Economy

All players do not start with the same items

Hardcore gamers like to “start” the game on launch day and push as quickly as possible through character levels and accumulating in game currency. Star Citizen will have a similar rush of players at launch looking to “win” (whatever they consider those conditions to be) as quickly as possible.

One of the unfair things about Star Citizen is that at commercial launch (after Beta) all players will not start with the same items.

Players are currently able to receive many different in game items, weapons, ships, collectables, guns, fish tanks, and more by purchasing packages or subscriptions for the items.

Players can also start with different amounts of in game currency (UEC). For traders looking for a head start, how much UEC you start with is important. Starting with more UEC allows you to buy more cargo and better provision your ship for missions.

We don’t think this is a big issue because even in previous MMOs where each player started with the same items, players joining months or years later would also start behind others.

Expensive ships

Star Citizen does not appear to a be a cheap game. Even though all a player needs to experience the full game is a Starter Pack (like the Aurora or Mustang Alpha), it is important to note that the price of additional ships and vehicles backed before the game is released is already very expensive for a video game. Creating a sense of value is a big part of the experience. Capital ships are going to be rare and that will contribute to the wow factor players will experience when they see them in the universe.

We’re not sure if the high price tag on items is a good or bad thing but certainly we want to mention this important and controversial aspect of the starting game.

What’s testable is very unstable / poor player experience

The biggest turn off about Star Citizen for many is the terrible player experience currently available throughout Alpha testing. Potential players of the game now often ignore or are unaware of the current testing required to release this game. CIG are more concerned with testing the core elements of the game in “controlled” phases than in providing a polished new player experience.

At one point there was even a tutorial for the Alpha which involved a brief flight tutorial. However, it was deemed a waste of development resources to keep updating the tutorial while things as basic as the key bindings changing every patch.

While core systems are still being worked on, this many years into development, many players get turned off, bored or move on with their lives. The hardest thing about Star Citizen currently is the waiting part. Add to this the frustration of the game constantly crashing, freezing and getting griefed by bored players and this can easily be the biggest reason for you to stay away from Star Citizen.

This video below was quickly found on Youtube and shows what the player experience can be like

Example testing experience

Very steep system requirements (high end PCs only)

If the unfair start, expensive ships and unstable play experience has not deterred you from backing this game yet, the steep system requirements to play the game surely will!

Good luck running the Star Citizen Alpha on anything below the following:

Windows 10
16GB Ram (32 recommended)
I7 Quad core with each core over 3GHz
SSD or M.2 drive (definitely no HDDs)
Nvidia 1060 4gb or higher

*Please note these system requirements are based on our interpretation of systems that might be able to handle Star Citizen at decent frame rates assuming the player can find a stable server. Generally even the above system specs will get below 40 frames per second with severe stutters and spikes.

To further drive home this negative point about Star Citizen we want to warn any potential new backers that the system requirements could very well continue to increase as development progresses. A stated objective of this project is to push the limits of PC hardware in gaming.

Players who upgrade their computers to play Star Citizen will need to upgrade the computer again nearer to completion, perhaps multiple times. It is never recommended for players to upgrade their computers specifically for Star Citizen.

Lots of hate directed towards Star Citizen

Star Citizen receives grief from many different groups. From angry backers screaming about the delays to players of other games who want to mock the project, Star Citizen suffers from massive amounts of industry backlash with maximum frequency.

The community as a whole tends to be quite mature but given the massive opportunities for drama the outcry can be too much for many to bare.

Star Citizen Reddit is constantly bombarded with trolling, insults and stiff downvoting. One need only look at subreddit to see what we mention in this section about the negativity surrounding this game.

Another great example is the recent drama when Eve players attacked Star Citizen because one of over 200+ ships in Eve resembled the latest ship announced in the 100+ ships announced by Star Citizen. Even though the Star Citizen ship is clearly a quickly pieced together hybrid of the Dragonfly and the Cutlass Black, this didn’t stop the Eve community from throwing a tantrum.

Star Citizen comes with drama and this is not likely to change over the next 10 years. Anyone getting into Star Citizen needs to be aware of the negatives as well as the positives.

Physics not fully realistic

One of the biggest downsides of Star Citizen is that it’s not a fully realistic physics simulation. In the Alpha there are some things that highlight these differences:

  • Ship and vehicle handling is fine tuned for usage over realism
  • Sounds in space
  • Inertia in space is not preserved by ships or in eva
  • Atmospheric effects partly faked
  • WW2 fighter style ship combat as opposed to BVR (beyond visual range combat)

While these things are still subject to change, it is a stated objective of this game. In the same way that Strike Commander wasn’t as realistic as other flight sims like Falcon 3.0. For people expecting full realistic physics Star Citizen does not seem to offer this nor is it planned to.

Steep Learning Curve

Star Citizen pools together skills from many different areas. Due to the complexity of the universe they are building, it will be difficult to become an expert in any area. Star Citizen does not have character leveling. Your character does not get better by shooting a weapon more times. It is first person shooter skills and good usage of cover and tactics that will determine battles on foot. The same applies for flight. Having previous flight experience grants an advantage when flying ships.

We mentioned as a pro of this game that it was skill based combat and the steep learning curve to become an expert is what makes the difference. The deep learning tree also balances the game in terms of fairness as more experienced players will be better but individual skill and luck can succeed also.

CIG has planned to make the game easy to play but hard to master. However, the current Star Citizen Alpha (and probably halfway through beta) will not be easy on newcomers until the game is more polished.

Pay to advantage

While whether Star Citizen is Pay 2 Win or not is contentious, the Pay to Advanage is certain. As we mentioned above in the section about the starting disadvantages, players can currently pay money and receive ships, items, and other things that other players do not have access to.

On launch day, there will be individual players (as well as orgs) starting with fleets of ships and many tens of thousands of UEC.

Even after launch it has been announced that players might be able to buy in game currency to skip some of the credit grind.

PC only

The best thing about Star Citizen is that it's PC only but this is also shoots itself in the foot. PC only is still a very hungry market and Star Citizen is looking to challenge the PC gaming market.

Eventually, as cloud based gaming services become more powerful we expect Star Citizen to be available on consoles years after release. Console players need to look elsewhere or buy a PC if they want to play this game.

If you're a console-only player then perhaps you will have to wait for Star Citizen even longer, or get a PC capable of gaming.