Sandi Gardiner, overseer of Star Citizen’s marketing from its initial crowdfunding ask of $500,000 to a total 185 times that, steps between the engines of a retired concorde and onto the stage of CitizenCon 2015. The hangar is cold but the welcome is warm, and she smiles with the white teeth of an actress, which is what she is. Yet her voice cracks as she describes the extremes of her experience with the project, from complimentary customer service tickets to a bombardment of anonymous hate.
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“It really makes my heart and soul and spirit very happy to know that I’m doing something that means so much to so many people,” she says. “Star Citizen is and always will be more than a triple-A game; so much more. Star Citizen speaks to the pure essence of humanity and the purpose of human beings, and I firmly believe that this is why there are so many passionate people on both sides of the fence.”
Voice heavy with emotion, Gardiner thanks Cloud Imperium’s team and the fans for making their “shared dreams come true”.
“Speaking for myself, I have pride on many occasions hearing fans recount to me how much I have helped change their lives for the better,” she tells the crowd. “That makes me really happy, and makes the countless hours and sacrifice to the work worthwhile.”
She asks the devoted in the audience to raise a hand if they’ve made at least one heartfelt connection with another human being while involved with Star Citizen in some shape or form, and the response is like that of the United Empire of Earth Senate faced with a call to arms from a performance-captured Gary Oldman: unanimous.
One of those upraised arms belongs to Dawn. An artist and disciple of Chris Roberts since Wing Commander II, she and her partner have together spent over $4,000 on Star Citizen: “So I’d say we're definitely backers”.
“I didn't look back, especially with Chris Roberts as the helm,” she’d told me earlier in the queue that snaked around the outside of Manchester Airport’s Runway Visitor Park. “We’ve really, really taken to heart what Chris does as a person. I think he’s invested into a very big idea, and I think that idea is coming to fruition. I love to see someone from the start get their dream off the ground and become so famous. It’s such a success.”
I ask if Dawn and her partner consider themselves fans of Star Citizen, or advocates.
“That's tricky,” she says. “I would have to say a little of both.”
The answer comes more easily to Jerome, political science student, and Michael, graphics artist, who go by Sawyer and Vestom respectively in their roles as C.R.A.S.H. Corp commandants. Their 300-strong German group are one of 31,218 community organisations with private chat rooms already set up on the Roberts Space Industries site. They plan to establish a sophisticated rescue network in Star Citizen’s galaxy - a sort of interstellar AA. Once the game’s out, they’ll patrol pirate-threatened areas, conduct retrieval operations and escort convoys. For now, they’re spreading the good news about Star Citizen - or rather, translating it.
“We want to support the game,” explains Michael. “Not just with money, but translating the news to our mother tongue so we get more Citizens to back and to look into the game.”
Jerome is more than happy to join Star Citizen’s unofficial street team. After all, he says, the $92 million raised to date isn’t enough. He thinks that Cloud Imperium are reliant on their backers to bring new supporters into the fold so that the game can be finished.
“Star Citizen will need more money for the final release, this is obvious,” he expands. “With the scope they’ve set for themselves, what they can and want to achieve, I think it’s worth it to tell people, ‘Come on, if you’re interested in space games go ahead, even if you could make a small donation’.”
The pair’s efforts are rewarded, they believe, since Cloud Imperium invest their gains in development and not commercials or new promotional campaigns.
“So we try to do that for them,” says Michael. “It’s not our job to criticise the development process, it’s more our job to translate things that come from CIG to the German, Austrian and Swiss people.”
C.R.A.S.H. Corp are not alone in collating and disseminating information on Star Citizen. There is, I quickly gather, an international amateur press outfit present - the Imperial News Network.
“For me it’s the start of a new PC golden age again,” explains one INN member of his motivations. “We need a proper PC game and this is going to be it. It’s the game where we’re finally going to be able to see an entire universe through our eyes, look out into space and go, ‘See that big ship? I want to go in it’. And can.”
This backer has spent over 150 hours in the modules Cloud Imperium have released to date - mostly dogfighting and teaching others to fly (“It’s flipping brilliant, I’m back to being 10 years old again playing Wing Commander”). He isn’t at all bothered that the remaining modules have been tardier.
“Everyone goes on about the delays,” he says. “They’re very quick to say, ‘We were promised it this [many] months ago’. But then when it comes out they look at it and suddenly delays are forgotten.”
The sentiment is echoed all around CitizenCon, where delays are seen as less annoyance, more confirmation that Roberts is committed to an uncompromised vision.
“I want a game that's actually like the original promise,” says Michael. “I’m not annoyed or sad if Star Citizen is delayed in the future because I know if it's coming out it's going to be a great game.”
Jerome agrees: “You have the feeling that a lot of games right now are kind of prematurely released. Most of the new games are full of [bugs] and you just have the idea that if you take a little more time it'll probably work.”
There’s a sense that Cloud Imperium’s decision to open up about development - to pick over their failures at length and in public - has gone a long way.
“If you're going to do something right there have to be checks and balances,” says Dawn. “They do have dates that they're trying to shoot for, they fall through from time to time, but if you want a game to be a success it's got to go through its hiccups, and I have no problems with that. At the end of the day it's going to happen.”
It’s easy to snort as Cloud Imperium briefly halt the show to take a nostalgic look back at development so far. To raise an eyebrow as Gardiner testifies to “the power of being part of something truly special, and creating something great from nothing as part of a growing community with common interests”. A large chunk of CitizenCon is right there with her.
And not all are evangelists. Clothed in a custom admiral’s outfit, coat-maker Jimbo speaks with genuine fondness of some of the expensive ships he’s invested in. Yet he’s not here to network or campaign. He’s here because he’s looking forward to a Wing Commander-ish space game that’s “hopefully not a cash grab”.
“I’m just playing the updates,” he says. “It’s one of those things where I think I’ve played my part. I know it’s coming and I’m just gonna sort of sit back and do whatever until it arrives.”