People with an interest in gaming will eventually hear the tale of Daikatana, one of the biggest failures in the industry’s history. It was hyped to be the biggest game ever, with the most infamous ad campaign before or since, and promptly cratered upon release.
Obituaries of the game and its studio, Ion Storm, pepper the internet; two examples may be found here and here. Even people who have zero interest in gaming should take note for the lessons in how to fail as a start-up operation.
The firm was founded by an industry veteran with a number of pioneering games under his belt. It was initially funded by a huge budget which led the inexperienced CEO towards all kinds of outrageous expenditures and cost-overruns, as the release date got pushed back year after year. The corporate culture was flat-out malignant, with turnover rates beyond your local McDonald’s and internal squabbles playing out in the gaming media. The company continued to promise the moon despite numerous and ever-lengthier delays, and despite major competitors hitting the market in the meantime.
The exact same could be said about a new game under development, Star Citizen. ’90s gaming legend Chris Roberts takes the place of Daikatana’s ’90s gaming legend John Romero, and Roberts’ studio Cloud Imperium Games filling in for Ion Storm. Initially announced in 2012 with a stated release goal of 2014, Roberts’ project Star Citizen has been delayed repeatedly and now currently has a goal of 2017. Ion Storm boasted a ridiculous, penthouse office space that reportedly ran over $1 million a month in rent, and those are 1997 dollars. CIG, for unclear reasons, now boasts offices in no fewer than five locations that don’t sound very cost-conscious: Santa Monica, West Hollywood, Frankfurt, Austin and Manchester, UK. (I await the sixth location in SoHo.) The culture sounds even worse than Ion Storm’s jungle warfare, and I say this as a refugee from the most malignant residency program in the United States. I know what a shit workplace looks like!
And finally, both equally promise the moon. Romero’s vision of Daikatana would have been ambitious for 2015, let alone 1997. And Roberts’ features pages opens with the following quote: “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% crowd funded, 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.
This is a boast that brings to mind another, unfortunate space game from history’s scrapheap.
And about that crowdfund line: This is the one difference between the two Titanic projects. While Romero initially funded Ion Storm the old-fashioned way, Star Citizen is almost entirely funded by crowdsourcing from Kickstarter and the like. Gamers are so desperate for a good space game that they literally gave Roberts over $90 million to date — with no return on investment — just to see one hit the market. This has been a genre that has lain fallow, with the last major title being 2003’s MMO game EVE, and people may be forgiven for getting sick of all the Destiny of Duty Battlefield FPS titles while still wanting something a bit meatier than an iPhone game.
That said, I still don’t get the point of crowdfunding in the interests of a for-profit enterprise. Give Zach Braff no-strings-attached money and you get a movie that made Garden State seem like When Harry Met Sally by comparison. Similarly, with no investors to keep him in line, the grapevine says the project is falling apart. Rumors of Roberts giving himself an extravagant salary and otherwise squandering his funds are rife. His wife is reportedly even worse and appears to have all the charisma and joy of Hillary Clinton. I doubt I would invest with people like this, but just hand them money with nothing in return?
What is wrong with you people?
Meanwhile, two major competitors have revealed products out long before 2017, echoing how Daikatana got upstaged by the original Half-life. Elite: Dangerous, while not nearly as ambitious in scope as SC, delivers a solid space-flight experience that is out now. As in, go buy it on Steam right this second and it’s not even an “early release” beta, now. And No Man’s Sky, probably out within a year, has absolutely captivated even the mainstream media, with outlets up to and including the New Yorker and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert bathing it with coverage as positive as SC’s is negative. When SC finally shambles onto Steam or whatever in 2017 (or 2019 — let’s be realistic), it will get laughed off the stage faster than Duke Nukem Forever.
Roberts has vigorously denied many of these claims, threatening to sue The Escapist, whose story on them was even harsher than those of Joystiq and Kotaku. But he cannot deny fundamental and well-documented problems remaining that point to another Daikatana in the making: the profligate real estate expenses; the workplace turnover and the vengeful former employees, whether they are being honest or not; Roberts’ incredible boasts that seem impossible to fulfill, promising lightyears beyond what competitors are delivering yet with nothing to show so far; endless delays; damning media coverage; Nixonian levels of paranoia (why on earth is Roberts obsessed with Derek Smart?). No matter what Roberts’ lawyers say: this is Ion Storm all over again.
This is why I would never, ever pay to crowdfund anything for-profit. And besides, the most fun from this game is absolutely free: watching one of the industry’s biggest egos, who has learned absolutely nothing from John Romero’s debacle, crash and burn all over the online gaming media.