In a move that drew almost immediate criticism, Cloud Imperium Games announced it will be charging just over $30 ($US22) to watch this year's festival for all things Star Citizen.
The move to gate online viewership behind a digital ticket - a system not too dissimilar from the Virtual Ticket for Blizzcon each year - drew criticism on social media, the official Star Citizen forums and Star Citizen subreddit. Several hundred replies were posted to this thread on the Star Citizen forums, which has since been locked, while multiple threads with hundreds of comments flared up on Reddit.
The digital pass, as captured from the CIG website.
The debate quickly flared into a few camps. One view was that backers shouldn't be asked to pay for a virtual stream of the event, given that they have been funding the production of a product that has yet to ship in a released form. Another view was that the virtual ticket offered a similar proposition to streaming tickets sold by other publishers, in that it offers users the chance to attend panels and events at the same time as everyone else as if they were attending in person.
Another perspective was that the $30 ($US22) ticket wasn't harmful to people considering much of the content would be uploaded to YouTube or released in due course throughout CitizenCon anyway, but moves like this harm CIG's goodwill with the community. Users also pointed out that it stops people new to Star Citizen from joining in on the stream, potentially harming the growth of the community (and a source of continued funding, given the game's development).
In a FAQ online, CIG explained that the expanded scope of this year's CitizenCon necessitated a paywall. "The scope of this year’s event, plus, the staffing and technical requirements of streaming two parallel stages, necessitates a ticket price." The FAQ also noted that people attending CitizenCon were "expressly prohibited" from recording, rebroadcasting, and resharing any of the stage presentations.
It quickly spread that concierge-level backers would have free access to the stream - but regular Star Citizen backers wouldn't. And while the keynote speech and streamed content would be released freely through YouTube afterwards, that wasn't enough to prevent a wave of malcontent among fans.
people defending the star citizen stream paywall with "marketing costs money"
the game has, to date raised $193,005,206
— Wanyal (@Wanyal) August 31, 2018
Wow CIG this screams desperate. Payin for a livestream of a open development game? I got hype for cyberpunk bcuz of the livestream. I didnt give af about that game at 1st until I saw something. Youre making unnecessary hate for yourselves now. Not even EA charged for a bf5 stream pic.twitter.com/pAgxANAKtE
— GioGetMoneyTV???? (@giogetmoneyTV) August 31, 2018
The kicker? #starcitizen concierge level backers get it free. Lucky folks those whales are. Remind me again why anyone defends this game anymore?
This is a MASSIVE slap to all their generous backers over the years. FU @RobertsSpaceInd
— rePool (@rePoolGaming) August 31, 2018
If you cannot attend PAX, we are pleased to offer a 'digital ticket' that you can purchase that will allow you watch the ... to watch... to- ha... ahahaha.... I'm sorry I just can't do that with a straight face. And if you're at PAX, our shirts and posters are free.
— Rebel Galaxy (@RebelGalaxy) August 31, 2018
Chris Roberts posted an announcement asking users to direct their distaste towards him, saying the paywall was "his idea" and that the idea was to "try to defray at least some of the additional costs" associated from the event.
"We ended up coming down on the side of the pass for all, mostly for our ability to deliver a high quality video to everyone in short order and control the message and coordinate any press from the opening or closing," Roberts wrote. "If we can give game sites a link to a video and guarantee that they will all get it at the same time we don't have to worry about different sites all trying to preempt each other, some linking to our stream, some linking to someone's YouTube re-post."
The main reasoning, as Roberts explained, was that the company wanted to bring in a "specialist company that can handle multiple simultaneous stages, cameras and streams" to overcome criticisms of their approach to streaming and videography from previous years. The cost of hiring a third-party firm added "a low six figure amount" to this year's CitizenCon, and rather than absorbing the cost internally CIG opted to take a leaf out of Blizzard's book by charging for a virtual ticket.
Roberts' post hasn't dissipated all criticism of the virtual pass, although some users noted that nobody is forced to purchase the virtual ticket and that the content will be made available on YouTube soon thereafter. The principle has been questioned by some users though, resulting in back and forth discussions about whether CIG has paid appropriate respect to users who have continued to fund the ongoing cost of development.
"Sometimes its hard not to feel as if my pledge is no longer enough and if I want to be involved in the games open development I need to provide more money on an ongoing basis," one user wrote.
The one uniting force amongst the perspectives, however, is that CIG could have forwarded all of this off at the pass by outlining their reasons before the virtual pass was announced. The move to make the opening and closing keynotes viewable for free also brings the virtual pass more in line with what Blizzard offers for Blizzcon.
For those outside of the Star Citizen community, the saga is a reminder that Star Citizen is still yet to deliver on many of the grand dreams and ideals its developers and fans have spoken about for years on end. For those on the inside, Roberts and co. have done the right thing. But supporters remain perplexed as to why a proper explanation wasn't offered beforehand or timed with the reveal of the virtual pass, and whether ticket sales will help recoup costs at all, particularly since their value has diminished following CIG's move to quell concerns.