Star Citizen developers Cloud Imperium Games’ new public development roadmap will no longer include target dates for coming features more than one calendar quarter away. The change, the company writes, is largely to avoid “distraction” and “continued noise every time we shift deliverables” from “a very loud contingent of Roadmap watchers who see projections as promises.”
It has now been just over nine years since Chris Roberts first raised $6.3 million in Kickstarter funds for Star Citizen, a haul that has grown to over $434 million in funding in the years since. Despite all that time and money, though, the game still only exists as a very rough Alpha version that’s still missing many of the promised features that have slowly crept into the project during that time. The single-player spinoff game Squadron 42, meanwhile, has seen a planned beta delayed multiple times, with CIG COO Carl Jones recently saying it still might be “one or two more years” before the game is playable.
To help provide “more transparency” on the state of both games, RSI promised to overhaul its public roadmap in a way that would “utilize our internal sprint-tracking process to visualize our progress.” When that new roadmap rolled out in late 2020, it came with a focus on a new, less time-sensitive “Progress Tracker” for each development team. That was alongside the traditional “Release View,” which offered a quarter-by-quarter estimate for when new features would be implemented over the next 12 months.
At the time, CIG said that the target dates in this Release View would be less reliable as timeline projections got pushed farther into the future. If the Release View showed a feature as being finished in “the quarter in front of us,” CIG said, “you could say at that point that we have a ~90% degree of confidence that this deliverable will make its indicated release quarter.”
More than one quarter ahead, though, CIG said: “That predictability and confidence for delivery will begin to degrade.” Thus, Release View cards for features projected more than a quarter out would be marked as “tentative” and colored in gray. That said, any features appearing anywhere on the Release View would be ones where “we have at least a good level of confidence – around a ~70% confidence level – that we could make that window,” CIG wrote. “If we can’t even clear this hurdle of confidence internally, then we won’t put it on a release card.”
That all broadly lines up with an interview Chief Development Officer Erin Roberts gave in 2019, where he said, “I have very much made sure and asked the team that what we put in [the roadmap] is what we can achieve with what we have right now. … You know last time, we had if we feel we can do this we put it in the roadmap, this time it’s what we are pretty damned sure we can do.”
No no, you didn’t understand
Now, just over a year later, CIG is now saying that maintaining a Release View that showed four quarters’ worth of tentative feature release plans was “a mistake.” The overhauled Release View “put too much attention on features that had a high probability of shifting around,” the company said, adding that “it has become abundantly clear to us that despite our best efforts to communicate the fluidity of development, and how features marked as Tentative should sincerely not be relied upon, the general focus of many of our most passionate players has continued to lead them to interpret anything on the Release View as a promise.”
In explaining the problem, CIG seemed to put some of the blame for this faulty interpretation on the players themselves:
We want to acknowledge that not all of you saw it that way; many took our new focus and our words to heart and understood exactly what we tried to convey. But there still remains a very loud contingent of Roadmap watchers who see projections as promises. And their continued noise every time we shift deliverables has become a distraction both internally at CIG and within our community, as well as to prospective Star Citizen fans watching from the sidelines at our Open Development communications.
To eliminate “distraction both internally at CIG and within our community” when far-out feature dates get moved, CIG has now simply stopped projecting features in the Release View more than a quarter out. “Even though we always added a caveat that a card could move, we feel now that it’s better to just not put a deliverable on Release View until we can truly commit to it,” the company writes (even though, previously, those deliverables were described as a 70 percent “good level of confidence”).
The change means that RSI is no longer committing to target dates for seemingly fundamental and promised gameplay systems, including an FPS radar, “zero G push and pull,” persistent hangars for managing a squadron of purchased ships, and a “player interaction experience.” Many of these features are now shifting toward development in Squadron 42 first, CIG writes, after which they will be migrated back into the wider “Persistent Universe” afterward, RSI writes.
On one level, we understand how messy game development can be and how hard it can be to get end users to understand the way internal project timelines can shift as priorities and staffing change. But developing a game “in public” like this also means setting expectations reasonably and understanding how the community will interpret your communications, at some level.
More than that, though, some players are getting understandably impatient with CIG as Star Citizen rolls well into its 10th year of development with nothing close to a final release anywhere in sight. No matter how much you update your roadmap or change the way you inform players about what’s going on, at some point people start to expect something approaching an actual product to justify nearly half a billion dollars in funding.