A new report by Forbes on the development of Star Citizen includes some quotes from people close to the game that shed a little more light on the extent of Cloud Imperium Games’ money mismanagement and Chirs Roberts’ questionable design direction.
“As the money rolled in, what I consider to be some of [Roberts’] old bad habits popped up—not being super-focused,” said Mark Day, a former Wing Commander producer whose company was hired to work on Star Citizen back in 2013. “It had got out of hand, in my opinion. The promises being made—call it feature creep, call it whatever it is—now we can do this, now we can do that. I was shocked.”
Day and others speak about Roberts tendency to serve as an ideas man who comes up with grandiose plans. This is a pretty well-documented part of Roberts design process. According to some of those close to the game, though, the problem in this instance is that Roberts still apparently insists on having most of the design decisions go through him even as the game continues to expand in size and more and more money comes in. One graphics engineer was even reportedly asked to spend months working on the visuals of a ship’s shields until Roberts was satisfied with them.
However, most of Star Citizen‘s funding allegedly isn’t going toward actual development. This probably won’t surprise anyone, but it sounds like most of it is going towards marketing. What might surprise you, though, is that the head of Cloud Imperium Games’ marketing is a woman named Sandi Gardiner. As this report explains, Gardiner allegedly once invaded the home of Roberts’ ex-wife, Madison Peterson, forcing Peterson to get a restraining order. Despite such incidents, Roberts eventually married Gardiner and co-founded Cloud Imperium Games with her and a third party.
Gardiner insists that Star Citizen players are not forced to buy anything more substantial than a starter ship and that “all of the marketing is done by the fans virally.” However, Roberts himself praises Gardiner’s marketing tactics and credits them as part of the reason why Star Citizen is “the most crowdfunded anything.” Despite the game’s crowdfunding success, though, Roberts has also turned to outside investors such as Jive Records founder, Clive Calder, who invested $46 million in Star Citizen. While Gardiner insists on the apparent power of viral marketing, much of that investment reportedly went towards more formal forms of marketing which cost quite a bit.
Amusingly, Gardiner – the head of the studio’s marketing division, mind you – says that it’s not her “place to talk about what people spend their money on.” Yet, the studio continues to find new ways to charge players for ships, real estate, and other items which may or may not be useable in any substantial way quite yet. What’s especially worrying about all of this is that Roberts has been accused in the past of using money that Microsoft invested into one of his games to instead partially fund the failed Wing Commander movie. What we’re saying here is that it wouldn’t be unheard of for Roberts to grossly mismanage funds.
We’re not going to beat around the bush: the more that we learn about Star Citizen, the more we get the impression that it’s a kind of spin on the old Ponzi scheme in which incoming cash is used to fuel a hype machine which dispenses cash, but also demands it in order to keep running. While many companies utilize such a machine, it’s ultimately just a piece in an even bigger machine that eventually turns out some kind of product. In this case, though, it sounds like Cloud Imperium revolves around such a device.
Matthew Byrd is a staff writer for Den of Geek. He spends most of his days trying to pitch deep-dive analytical pieces about Killer Klowns From Outer Space to an increasingly perturbed series of editors. You can read more of his work here or find him on Twitter at @SilverTuna014.