Developers of multiplayer video games often host referral programs encouraging existing players to recruit their friends for a boost in cash flow, and in that regard, the new referral contest from Star Citizen developer Cloud Imperium Games isn't much out of the ordinary. The same can't be said of the reactions from the players themselves. Venture into the Star Citizen subreddit, and you'll find it peppered with highly upvoted threads decrying the competition. Their concerns aren't without merit. Not only do many doubt Star Citizen is in an attractive enough position to lure in newcomers, but they're also pissed that Cloud Imperium seemingly aimed the promotion at prominent streamers rather than the rank-and-file players who've played all along. Considering Star Citizen's crowdfunding origins, the approach comes off as an insult.
Today Star Citizen holds the record for the most money raised for a game through crowdfunding, and only one project—the DAO blockchain—beats it in crowdfunding overall. That's a staggering amount of cash, but Star Citizen is also a project of staggering ambition. It's so ambitious, in fact, that even years ago we wondered if Cloud Imperium could ever pull it off.
And now here we are in 2017. Star Citizen can still wow audiences with new footage, but a hard-and-fast release date remains as elusive as Planet X. And in the midst of that uncertainty, Cloud Imperium is pushing out a referral contest that grants in-game rewards and the chance of a free trip to GamesCom to people who've brought anywhere from one to more than 2,942 people to the game. As many loyal current players see it, it's a strange marketing strategy considering how difficult it is to entice people to Star Citizen in its current state.
"As someone who helps run a modest organization, I talk to and interact with people new to Star Citizen all the time," a Redditor named PoisonTaco says in a thread on the Star Citizen subreddit accusing Cloud Imperium's marketing of getting ahead of itself. "They keep coming in, just getting into the game, all excited. … Then somebody has to explain to them why the [persistent universe] is laggy. Someone has to explain why it's difficult to get into the game with a large group. Someone has to explain that all these things will be fixed in wonder patch 3.0 The problem is lots of people are being brought into this game, [but] they're uninformed and sold something that looks like it could be complete when it really isn't. "
Mr. Taco also points out that Star Citizen does very little to welcome new players as it is, as there's currently no tutorial, no single-player mode, and no multiplayer mode that works exactly as it should.
"What's worse is that players are now encouraged with rewards and a new contest to try and upsell the game as much as possible," he adds. "Usually in these cases, players will omit all the flaws and incomplete features."
But it's not just that. Not only is the game still in a rough state, but many players believe Cloud Imperium's contest is aimed at amassing referral numbers that simply can't be reached by many of the normal players who've stuck with the game since the beginning. In one thread, for instance, FailureToReport argues that it's almost impossible to reach the reward goals unless you're a influential streamer or YouTuber. "I feel like rather than rewarding … average joe backers who have been putting out the word and doing their best to bring new blood to this game, CIG went the lazy route and just made a fast track reward program for streamers while handing a pink dragonfly [ship] (which I'm all for) and a shirt to us plebs," he says.
It turns out there's some truth to that. In another post entitled "Where are the referral rewards for NORMAL backers?" Redditor tferroato points out that the players who were featured in Cloud Imperium's video for the promotion above are, in fact, the ones who are winning.
Yet through almost thread, there's one dominant idea aimed at Cloud Imperium—finish a bit of what you have with that mountain-size pile of cash before trying to reel in more players. These are protests from players who've stuck through Star Citizen missing most of its deadlines, its surprising shift from the aging CryEngine to Amazon's Lumberyard, and the continued absence of a good new player experience. They now feel as though they're getting the shaft both in terms of rewards and appreciation of their loyalty, and it's not hard to see why. And, of course, with referrals having been a thing long before the contest, there's a big chance that Star Citizen is already in danger of draining its pool of interested players anyway.
"I swear to god, there will be no one left to buy the game when it comes out. LOL."