In examining the impact and influence content creators will have on and within the Star Citizen universe, there are two primary ‘categories’ of influence that we will look at: first, the influence content creators have on developers (CIG) -- those who make the game; and second, the influence content creators have in the game universe -- those who play the game. The difference between these two types of influence is somewhat common sense, and you likely have had some experience with both types -- whether you are aware of it or not. While our focus is on streamers, all content creators have the potential for a similar or greater impact including those who are on YouTube or run podcasts. If you are wondering why content creators matter in the first place, streamers and YouTubers in particular have become public figures with influence as Twitch, YouTube, and other streaming platforms have risen in popularity. This examination will not be exhaustive as the possible scenarios are endless; however, it will be instructive and provocative regarding the situations which are likely to occur both within and outside of the Star Citizen universe.
If you have spent any time on a popular streaming or video service (we will use Twitch as our example), then you are likely familiar with how streamers can influence a game’s developers. When a popular streamer, take Shroud for instance, downloads and plays a ‘new’ game from an obscure developer, it often leads to a massive spike in downloads and current players due to the exposure the game receives from his stream with tens of thousands of viewers. Adding players to a new game does many things: it crashes servers, it affects the gameplay, it increases players in the starting zones or ranks (depending on the game) and brings increased revenue to the developers among other things – all of which a streamer can bring to fruition. Of course, the popularity of the streamer contributes to the scale of the effects: if a small streamer joins a new game, he or she may not bring more than a few new players with them.
There are some critical differences, though, between a developer’s reaction to a large streamer who stumbles upon their game and a streamer who has been within the community for some an extended period. Thus, there is a necessary distinction and understanding of the difference between those streamers who newly join a gaming community and those who have been within the community for some time – regardless of if they are a large streamer or a small streamer. If Shroud, Ninja, or Summit (all of whom are popular streamers) were to play Star Citizen and complain about one mechanic with no understanding of the history or implementation, the complaint might just be ignored by the developers regardless of their popularity -- assuming the issue is subjective and non-game breaking. However, if a streamer who is known within the community and has been engaged for some time discusses a problem, they are far more likely to be taken seriously by the developers as their suggestions come from experience and influence within the community – even if their viewership is a few orders of magnitude smaller than a large streamer like Shroud. Those within the community will similarly often take the advice and complaints of current community streaming members or ‘ambassadors’ more seriously than they will those who are from outside of the community.
Unfortunate Misperceptions: Unfortunately, issues can develop due to a content creator’s rise in
popularity or as a result of the time they have spent within the community. Arguably, the main issue
which surfaces frequently is a misperception regarding a creator’s assumed importance and leverage as
a visible community member – that is leverage on CIG and the community. The dissonance leading to
this misperception is in failing to understand the difference between ‘visibility’ and ‘influence’ which are
not dependent on each other: someone can be quite visible (popular) yet lack influence due to a variety
of factors, and one can also have influence without being visible. A streamer, podcaster, or content
creator who is quite visible in the community might expect to ‘call out’ CIG (even Chris Roberts himself)
with a demand for information and have that request granted due to their ‘assumed’ influence.
However, as is often the case, the calls and demands for information are often ignored or rejected as
their influence lacks the clout necessary to produce the expected result, or their request comes from a
complete misunderstanding and mischaracterization of the reality of the relationship between a backer
(content creator or not) and the developer.
While CIG goes through great lengths to be transparent and open with the community, the decision making and design process would be useless and meaningless if CIG included ‘everyone’ with an idea or concern from the community. Some content creators can particularly appear to view themselves or act as if they should be in every meeting within CIG and be a part of every decision and process. Part of this view stems from the idea that Star Citizen backers are ‘stakeholders’ with great influence in the day-to-day development of Star Citizen which is only partially true, but far from the truth, as backers do indeed fund the development; however, a backer should consider themselves more of as an investor in a final product, and understand that you have far less control than you might like (this is not a perfect analogy but you should understand my point). While CIG is incredibly transparent regarding their development, there is a veil that is maintained which distances the community from the internal dynamics and development process. As a result, the community often voices a concern or request, large or small, only to later have their concern or request nullified or answered by past or future correspondence from CIG. Requests for information and comments are not inherently wrong, but a content creator outside of the development process simply does not know why delays or changes occur, or why certain requests for information are rejected beyond what CIG may communicate -- there is only speculation and guess-work.
Carrying our discussion further, ask yourself this: do you think CIG has been open and transparent while providing as much information as possible when available, or, do you believe CIG has been withholding information and ignoring the community? Considering the weekly YouTube videos that have been ongoing for years, numerous live events and conventions, consistent spectrum discussions and feedback threads, and many other communication avenues, there is far more support for the view that CIG has been incredibly transparent and understanding of the community and its views than for a view which portrays CIG as withholding information simply for the sake of withholding it. A particular individual or group may very well have a specific question unanswered, but, compared to the vast amount of questions that have been answered, a healthy perspective is needed. In reality, a double-edged sword has developed because of CIG’s openness and transparency where the community wants infinitely more information yet does not understand or chooses to ignore the harm and gridlock that would occur if the development were reevaluated or rescheduled every time a question or concern arose.
If CIG did choose to answer every question or agree to an interview on every topic at any time, when would it ever be enough for the community? Would a 10-hour interview be considered ‘sufficient communication?’ Are content creators’ questions and views the only ones of importance, or should the entire community have every question answered at all times? Or, is our definition of ‘good communication’ simply predicated on an egocentric metric of ‘when my questions are answered?’ If CIG answered every inquiry -- regardless of the origin or relevancy to current development -- they would only cause more confusion within the community regarding how mechanics or other gameplay will develop, waste time communicating unconfirmed details, and bring development to a halt. If anything, one could argue that the openness that CIG maintains has actually slowed development as resources and time go towards informing the public instead of exclusively towards development. Unfortunately, the community and content creators have abused this dynamic at times by demanding more information while simultaneously demanding an increase in the speed of development which needlessly exacerbates frustrations in the community at large.
Positive Interaction & A Call to Action: Regardless of scale, every creator has some form of influence within the community and has the potential to impact the developers and the community in unseen ways. This discussion does not mean the community should not request information and contribute to the development through official channels and via YouTube, Twitch, and other mediums. CIG has created official channels precisely for community engagement with ways of reporting bugs, providing feedback on gameplay and features, and has even sought to include community-driven content and decisions into their development. Part of what makes the development and project of Star Citizen amazing is this dynamic relationship between the community and the developers. There is no doubt that content creators and the community have influenced the development of Star Citizen and the communication of CIG due to criticism and input, but that influence and relationship can easily be abused.
Therefore, if the community is to ask a question, be critical, or provide a suggestion, stop and take a moment to examine if that question, criticism, or comment is valid or has been answered before. If it is valid, through what lens should it be considered and with what attitude? While it is a challenge to be as neutral as possible while also considering important context, content creators in particular should endeavor to rise to the occasion as their words and actions can indeed affect the morale of the community and developers alike -- whether one is aware of it or not. Thus, I challenge you to not take your influence and abuse it with a haphazard and ill-considered use of your voice else you risk fading into irrelevancy as both the community and developers alike take note. Instead, render your influence meaningful by taking careful and well-considered approaches toward community and development problems where, often, a simple rephrasing of a question or comment means all the difference.
The Base Underground