How open is open development? A question Star Citizen has pondered for four years. Things change; targets move, dates are missed - and then fingers point. It's taking too long! You're not telling the truth! But if you can't see the entire picture, why presume otherwise? It's a vicious cycle Chris Roberts and team want to break. The solution? Go a step further: reveal, for the first time, internal development schedules.
That was the major announcement for Friday's fourth anniversary Star Citizen celebration, although there was also a livestream that toured the colossal capital ships of Squadron 42 as well, phwoar.
Wrote Chris Roberts: "As you know we've not been keen to give hard dates on the project ... When I've talked about releases, I've always qualified any discussion of timing with 'we're hoping to' or 'the goal is' to give a rough timeline for people, but unfortunately some people often tend to forget the qualifiers and treated my comments nonetheless as a promise.
"Because of this we have been reticent to share our internal timelines, even with caveats, as it always seems to cause trouble ... I've reflected long and hard on this dilemma and have concluded, to quote another eighties film, 'The only winning move is not to play.'
"What if we didn't give you just an estimated date, but instead shared our internal schedule? No filter, no hedging. You see what we see."
It's been a long-running debate at Cloud Imperium Games, apparently, because target dates aren't release dates, and everything tends to move at one point or another. "The danger in doing this has always been that casual observers will not understand this, that there will be an outcry about delays every time we update the page," he wrote.
But: "We've taken stock, thought through everything and decided that, while that is a risk, above all we trust the community that has given us so much support ... and now we think it is right to further part the curtain and share with you our production process."
This is experimental. The entire curtain won't be drawn back; we don't now know internal targets for Star Citizen's release or Squadron 42's. Instead we know everything to do with Star Citizen alpha update 2.6, which, according to the internal timeline, is aiming for an 8th December release. Note that we're still not at the planetary landing part of Star Citizen yet. That's a feature planned for alpha 3.0. Nevertheless, if the transparency with alpha 2.6 goes well, getting the full picture on alpha 3.0, and perhaps even the game's ultimate release, may follow.
"If this initiative is well received, then we will continue this process as we move onto the next milestone," Roberts wrote.
In October, Roberts revealed a roadmap for about a year's worth of updates to Star Citizen, ending with alpha 4.0. Says the Star Citizen website: "The latest released roadmap takes the development to the end of 2017, around which time the game can be expected to enter beta. It may be reasonable to expect initial launch (which will not include every single feature ... and will make about 60 of the 110 planned star systems available) by the end of 2018."