Star Citizen is now selling virtual plots of land for up to £96.
The space game, which already sells spaceships for hundreds of pounds, now lets you buy what are called Land Claim Licenses. This is a virtual certificate that entitles you to claim a parcel of land in the game - although the mechanic is not yet live.
There are two Land Claim Licenses available: the standard costs £48. This gets you a single 4km x 4km parcel of land. The second is the "estate" version, which gets you a single 8km x 8km parcel of land.
Currently, you can only buy these licenses with real world money, although developer Cloud Imperium Games has said you'll eventually be able to buy them with in-game credits, which you earn while playing the game.
Perhaps in anticipation of difficult questions around the sale of virtual land in a game that isn't even out yet, Cloud Imperium issued a disclaimer on its website explaining the whole thing. The gist is the licenses are on sale to help fund ongoing development of Star Citizen. Here's the text:
"Please Note: These claim licenses are being made available for pledging to help fund Star Citizen's development. The ability to obtain these claim licenses will ultimately be available for in-game credits and/or otherwise earnable through play in the game. Pledging for these claim licenses now allows us to include deeper features in the Star Citizen game, and is not required for starting the game."
There's even an in-universe explanation for the sale of these licenses:
"The UEE [Star Citizen's space government] sells claim licenses for the same reasons as any government - to raise revenue to fund public benefit programs, to liberalise its economy, to spur growth and tax revenue, and to fund the military campaign against the Vanduul."
The sale of virtual land obviously raises questions about how the mechanic will eventually work when it's live. For example, will players who buy a license now have an advantage over those who wait? CIG said no.
"Licenses can be bought for UEC in game and no one will be able to claim land before the mechanic is available in game for all," reads the FAQ.
"People that own claim licenses now, during the anniversary sale to support development, and people that earn the money in-game to buy one will be on equal footing assuming they have enough UEC, especially as there will be millions of locations for people to explore and claim within the Universe over the lifetime of the game."
CIG also stressed there won't be the issue of some claiming the "best" plots of land on day one - whenever that is.
"Due to the billions of square kilometres of available land over many planets and moons and of course as new Star Systems are introduced and explored, all players will have the ability to find and claim new 'hot spots' throughout the lifetime of the game," reads the FAQ.
"Also, every player can have their own reason for what could be the 'best' piece of land, while some may judge a plot of land based on the type and quantity of natural resources that it contains, others might be looking for proximity to trade routes, and others could simply look for a quiet spot with a beautiful vista.
"This - combined with the fact that there's an enormous amount of real estate available - means that prospecting and the purchase of land are two pieces of a supply-and-demand equation governing how rapidly land of a distinct perceived value will come on the market."
It's worth noting someone can come along and destroy your beacon. This is considered a criminal offense, but has no impact on who holds legal title to the land. You'll want to replace your beacon, though - it tells you when someone's nearby sniffing about your business.
So why would you buy a license in the first place? Well, by owning some land you can build your own outpost - and from the sound of things your outpost can be a pretty complex facility. Otherwise, land claims are only of benefit to those who want UEE protection when building their outpost or mining for resources, or financially speculating in the real estate market. Yes, Star Citizen has a real estate market. Well, the developers have said it will have a real estate market. If you want to do all this stuff on unclaimed land, you won't have any rights to the land or any protection that comes with those rights.
As you'd expect, the reaction to the sale of virtual land from Star Citizen fans has been mixed. Some are criticising CIG's decision to sell them for real world cash before those who do not wish to spend money have the chance to buy them. Others are suggesting it's a sign Star Citizen is in some kind of trouble as the project nears six years of development.
Currently, there is no official release date for Star Citizen, and the game has been in the works for so long some consider it a scam. But chief developer Chris Roberts recently defended the project in an interview with Eurogamer, insisting Star Citizen "would be the worst scam in the world". And there was a recent sign of progress with the release of the alpha 3.0 version of the game, which CIG considers akin to a Steam Early Access launch.
What cannot be argued is CIG is selling access to a mechanic that doesn't yet exist. The game has a long history of selling spaceships that players couldn't use when they were first made available to buy (I investigated the Star Citizen grey market back in 2014), but at least you could look at these spaceships in your space garage. What if this land grab system is scrapped before launch, or for some reason doesn't work in the way it's currently advertised?
Star Citizen players will be waiting anxiously to find out.