The Cult of Star Citizen is the bellowing flame enclosed within the massive furnace that is the cult of personality around Chris Roberts. Although the furnace is made of paper mâché and false promises, it still bellows. The flames roar mightily across the Internet, defending the cult from nefarious non-believers, tithing their income to the venerable Chris Roberts and making videos of how great a very limited buggy tech demo is.
If you went back twenty years and told me that this nonsense existed, back in the sweet innocent year of 1999 when the Internet was the proverbial paradise of ideas, collaboration and communication – I wouldn’t believe you and point you to Slashdot to read about how blogs are going to save society. See, back then the belief was around the idea that everyone online could report the news and that no longer would mega-corporations control the news. Now, 20 years later, we live in essentially the world of Demolition Man or any 90s dystopian future where things are really technologically advanced, but man could we really use Bruce Willis or Sylvester Stallone to come save us.
Where did things get off track? Well, in a way, I argue that the Mayan Calendar was right about us entering into a new age – a new age of the Internet where things are just, nowhere as good as they should be and all of us could really start getting back on that whole let’s peer pressure everyone to behave thing. We’re all collectively complicit in a future where facts just don’t matter and it has been going on for a lot longer than you think.
What We Already Know
Let’s first discuss the mess that is Star Citizen and then look at the trends that led there. Back in 2013 I sounded the alarm that Star Citizen was effectively a cult and that giving money to the project at the time should involve careful thought and consideration of all of the facts. Several articles later and a plethora of other Internet heroes including the anti-Star Citizen Derek Smart, and the game reached $280+ million dollars plus putting it as the most funded game in the history of games – beating out Grand Theft Auto V and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.
The same is true in 2013 as is today, all of the original promises remain broken. There continues to be a buggy alpha game that isn’t an MMO. You can explore one zone. Walk around your ship hanger and play with what ships have been modeled in arena commander. Development time remains unknown. Recently, the feature that let you upgrade your ship for free based on buying a ship earlier in development and changing your mind later, due to the years and years of ongoing development, has been removed. There is even more reason today to realize that Star Citizen might not be worth more than a very small starter package investment until it is finished.
Forbes has joined the mix of fingers pointing at an obvious train wreck. The recent article points out that several times development has ran out of cash and that it’s basically what we’ve been saying it has been since 2013 – except Forbes is the “mainstream media.” The bellows burn brightly as the cult has mobilized to begin attacking the author of the article and everything they write and producing threads and defensive videos trying to drown out the article.
That’s been what they’ve done since 2013 – nothing has changed. The game was just as insane back then as it was today. All the red flags are still flying high. Development moves at a snails pace. Those who speak against Star Citizen are purged from the community. They’ve been doing it continuously since then with no change, nothing. Even in the thread announcing the end of CCUs, people celebrate the closing of a loophole letting people “game the system” when CCUs were given as a way to help people change their mind in the future because things bought in 2014 are not the same as they are going to be in 2019.
So here’s the thing – the backers of Star Citizen are not rational people when it comes to Star Citizen. They know the warning signs, the red flags and the chances of this game actually happening are nill. Many of them are executives of major corporations, knowing full well that the return on their investment isn’t happening and that even if you could, you shouldn’t. Most of the community are affluent, sane and rational people until it comes to Star Citizen.
They’re not coerced into it either. Chris Roberts isn’t rolling around busting kneecaps if you don’t pay protection money in the form of starship JPGs. Nothing is hidden from them. They know the game isn’t being released as promised. They know that it’s likely a scam. They know and yet they still spend their money and they still will defend the game, its creator and their community nearly infinite zeal.
That’s some wild cognitive dissonance and I believe it started in earnest around 2012 when the Internet shifted from a community-oriented bastion of sanity, knowledge and communication into this corrupted beast of fake news, memes and flat Earth being a thing. Here in 2019, we’re flying around the Internet at gigabit speeds but we don’t talk to one another anymore or post on forums or hang out together and grind mobs or play silly RTS maps all evening or talk on IRC. No, we watch everyone we know share their intolerable opinions about politics in small bite sized chunks that scroll down our screens while YouTube stars quit reviewing things or doing skits to sit and make tier lists of their favorite food to avoid the wrath of the algorithm.
If you’re curious about more history around Star Citizen, check out Derek Smart’s thread that goes even further into the past before the Kickstarter arrived on the scene.
Welcome to the Dystopian Future
In the summer of 2012, a Kickstarter secured nearly 9 million dollars to develop a console set top box that would let anyone develop games on it (Android based), the games would be free-to-play (paid unlocks for full versions / extras) and be easily hackable (one button root and doesn’t void warranty). It was quickly apparent from the proposed specs of the console that it was just like any other Android TV box. Engineers analyzed the cost of the components and concluded that they would make very little money off of producing the consoles at $99 each and the performance would be subpar. Yet, a community formed that for a year defended the console until it launched and refused to listen to any sense of reason.
The launch ended that of course. The console didn’t have the specs to push the games that the community wanted to play and ultimately, the Ouya just snuck off into the sunset. Briefly appearing in Target for sale and today they’re mostly used by YouTubers to make videos of “The Ouya in Year X.” The build quality on the controller was low and developers weren’t properly incentivized to make games for yet another flavor of Android store.
Star Citizen avoids this problem by just not launching.
Likewise, Bitcoin began building mainstream steam around 2012. It was a rather niche commodity until 2013 when the first spike happened, surging from $15ish dollars a Bitcoin to $1000 and then crashing to an average of $250. From there it slowly grew in value until 2017 and 2018 where it hit almost $20k a Bitcoin and then crashed down to $4,000 or $5,000. Of course, it was obvious that the unregulated Bitcoin markets were falsely representing the price of Bitcoin the entire time and those who invested in Bitcoin made regular excuses for it. Mt. Gox was considered the Fort Knox of Bitcoin, it went down and took the coins with it and then more and more markets did the same and yet the community defended it each and every round with the same zeal that Star Citizen or Ouya fans had.
None of this makes sense to me. Back in 1999, the Internet was broken up into small communities based on awesome 90s art. Now, we’re basically watching people waste their money and defend terrible anti-society ideas like anti-vaccination and flat Earth while “living in the future.” While “donating” to Star Citizen isn’t necessarily the same as not vaccinating a child, to me the two seem just about as rational. Facts show you shouldn’t do either of those things.
Let’s say you buy into my theory here that there is a subset of Internet users who have gone off their rocker when it comes to specific obvious scams. That it would be obvious that you shouldn’t buy $2,500 micro-transactions for a game that you can’t even play yet and those that do it have all the information to show that it’s not rational and yet they do it. Then why?
I want to blame cellphones. After all, they enabled social media. Twitter and mobile phones were a perfect collaboration. Twitter broke people’s communications down into something that could be easily read on a cellphone. Forums, which still to this day are clunky to read on a phone without using a forum app or mobile first forum template, build a greater sense of community and rationality because threads are flat and persistent, with moderators enforcing the rules. Twitter is a giant parking lot where you can put a mask on and go and shout whatever nonsense you want to.
Yet, Star Citizen requires a gaming PC.
I’ve spoken with a lot of backers, both at conventions and online and I’m met with a creepy consistent wall of the reasons why they back Star Citizen. That the game will be developed, that the scope creep is extra free features paid for by the donations of players who donated into the game after the Kickstarter and that ship purchases before the launch doesn’t matter as the really good ships will only be available for in-game current and ship sales stop when the game launches. Every stumble from throwing out the entire game over an engine to taking away the CCUs is celebrated.
Which to me brings me back to maybe cults are easy to make online. Maybe people are stuck in some kind of Narcissistic loop where they know something’s a scam but admitting it makes them look weak. Cults of course are subjective and implies that Chris Roberts is somehow smart enough to openly run a cult in public when cults generally require separating users from reality (their friends and family, support groups, etc.) and enclosing them within the cult.
Yet that’s not the case here. Star Citizen fans who back the game aren’t trapped beyond the sunk cost fallacy of their purchases. The truth is out there, everywhere. Yet, they feverously continue to defend and act like one, where any attack on their community sets you as the enemy and anyone within the community who begins to speak out quickly finds the door.
What Do We Do?
Well, I’ll admit I’m not smart enough to really know. I can’t see why anyone would spend money for micro-transactions for a game that has been in development for nearly a decade. I do know that we should start really acknowledging how backwards things have become this last five years or so and really start challenging each other to dig ourselves out of this.
Things online are only popular because people make the choice to buy into them. We need to start thinking about our actions and the impact of them. It’s like dumping your trash off a cliff and not looking what’s at the bottom or the consequences of it. Sure it could be a magical bottomless hole but why not take a look to see if it’s going to land in a river that’s supplying the next town’s drinking water.
We can blame the creators of social media networks for building our Internet cities of dry kindling and handing new users complimentary box of matches or we could pull ourselves together and ask ourselves – really should you try lighting one.
Pointing out facts for some reason isn’t the answer. What we used to consider common sense, like don’t spend $1,000s on a game that you can’t play or the world is round, become something else online. Rationality is lost and we need to stop being complicit in its death.
I predict that until Star Citizen launches or that the incoming donation amount reaches the point they can no longer pretend to run operations that the community will continue to do what it’s doing. Even non-stop coverage on CNN/Fox News/MSNBC would just force them to feel like they should buy more ships. I felt the same way back in 2013 when I wrote my first article against Star Citizen and continue to do so till this day. There isn’t any rationality for the existence of the community and its massive contributions and thinking rationally about it isn’t going to conclude anything.
I feel confident that they could post the bank statements for every shell company that Chris Roberts has made and no one will care even if there was like $25,000 charges for wine and dinner every weekend and $200,000 charges to the local lambo dealership. The only thing that will ruin the momentum is the company going under, at which point the truest believers would standup some kind of “save the project, buy the source code” campaign or until it launches and disappoints people as much Anthem and Fallout 76 have, except instead of it being a $59.99 purchase, for some it’s $500,000 or more.
Until then I’m just not going to tolerate anyone around me trying to peddle any non-truths and not contribute to this entire mess by throwing my money at things that don’t exist.