Skin in the Game: Why Cosmetics in Star Citizen Matter More than Ever
The offices of Space Tomato Gaming are abuzz with the spirit of Coramor, Roberts Space Industries' answer to Valentine’s Day in their ambitious space MMORPG, Star Citizen. But we’re not here to talk about Coramor so much as what Coramor brings to Star Citizen, namely, more skins.
Yeah, we said it. MORE SKINS.
Why are we focusing on something as insignificant as skins in a space game? The answer is pretty complicated, but we have a number of reasons why we think that skins and other cosmetic options are not only incredibly important for the look and feel of Star Citizen, but might actually be the future of funding once the game goes live. This is, of course, pure conjecture on our behalf.
- Skins bring variety to the ‘Verse
There may be well over 100 different ships that players can fly in Star Citizen (with even more on the way), but many of those ships are variants built on similar chassis. There are definitely differences in the appearance of each of the Constellation models of ships, but from a distance, each one is pretty close in appearance to the next.
Slap a red livery on one of them, and suddenly that ship stands out from the rest. With most ships in Star Citizen sporting muted, drab color schemes, a splash of color can make your ship more uniquely yours, even if 1,000 other people own the same skin. Not every player likes the livery options available, and once NPCs have more dominance in the space lanes, you’re going to see a ton of ships flying with the same stock paint.
It’s not hard to imagine a future in Star Citizen where spaceports and landing zones are far more lively, with Starliners and RAFTS jockeying for landing clearance alongside gunships and pleasure yachts. That Nomad three bays over that’s rocking a metallic fuschia livery just made things a lot more lively!
- Skins can get way more complex
It’s easy to think that the livery options that are currently for sale at the RSI website are part of ever-expanding money generating machine. There might be a little truth to that, but we should also recognize that some of the paint skins and livery patterns are being used to test more complicated options in the future.
The Stormbringer livery has been rolled out to quite a few ships, bringing a striking combination of blue, black, and white styling to any ship it is applied to. The Stormbringer paint scheme takes an ordinary Drake Buccaneer and transforms it into something sportier; less of a pair of engines with a cannon strapped to the roof and more of an organized militia ship, or perhaps an escort ship for a planetary police force.
We’re also getting a peek at how metallics will work in the future with the 2951 Best in Show paints that were offered during the Intergalactic Aerospace Expo, and just recently with the Lovestruck paint scheme that is being offered for the Crusader Aries, Consolidated Outland Nomad, and the brand new HoverQuad.
The Lovestruck paint scheme shifts a bit depending on how light hits it, from a light pink to a crisp purple, and it showcases how far the metallic paint options have come since the Fortuna skins that were released last year.
The Red Festival skins have given us an idea of how decals could change our ships even more. Last year’s golden Ram decal was cool and all, but the smirking monkey on this year’s livery has quickly become a favorite.
Some day, we could be seeing custom options like racing stripes, a robust decal library, maybe even nose cone art. And, if some development plans are able to see the light of day, we’ll be able to get all of that and more at Cousin Crow’s Custom Craft on Orison.
How elaborate those customization options end up being is still unknown. It’s possible that we’ll see something as elaborate as fully customizable Hex codes available for our ships, or it may be something more simple, like a system of available patterns and decals that you can choose the colors for.
- Every ship could look different
Let’s use Origin 600i as an example for this part of our conversation. Currently, the paint options for the 600i are pretty limited, with the stock white and black or the 2951 Best in Show paints being about all that’s available.
The 600i has a great exterior model, but imagine seeing ten of these coming in to land. It gets a bit monotonous. Now, throw a 2951 Best in Show skin on one of those ships, and suddenly, things got a lot more interesting. That sparkly blue paint job makes that one 600i stand out from the crowd.
Now, what if the 600i had a dozen paint options available? Now we have the possibility of having ten unique-looking yachts cruising around, with colors as subdued or as brash as the owner desires. We have taken ten copies of the same ship and added a ton of character, just by changing the colors. Get some decals in the mix, and now each ship tells you something about the player piloting it.
That cherry red 600i is most likely being piloted by someone who wants to stand out and might take more risks. The green model’s pilot might be calmer and more analytical. The metallic onyx model with the fire-breathing skull motif is either the life of the party or someone best avoided altogether.
- The future of funding needs to change
Mention Star Citizen to someone who doesn’t know much about the game, and they’ll likely bring up the “3,000 dollar ships”. While there are certainly a few ships in Star Citizen that could be pledged for that dollar amount, most players appear to have pledged for a starter-class ship in supporting the game— but that image of thousand dollar ships lingers over the game's development.
But purely cosmetic purchases don’t feel as predatory to the outside world. Spending some money for fancy new bling for your ship doesn’t even hint at being a pay-to-win tactic– you just bought something shiny for the ship you like to fly.
It’s been rumored that ship sales will feature far less prominently when Star Citizen goes live, and outside of limited ship packages or concept ships, this makes sense. There will be an actual game for Cloud Imperium Games to promote, but CIG could continue to capitalize on the game’s appeal by selling specialized or limited skins for ships.
We’re already seeing hints of this with Red Festival, Coramor, and Fortuna paint schemes, and it’s easy to see a future filled with limited, special edition paint schemes as well as exclusive livery designs from artists or personalities within the community.
CIG could also sell decal and color scheme bundles that would allow players or orgs an opportunity to apply a uniform livery scheme to any ship they desired, or even go so far as allowing the same customization to carry over to armor.
For a project already used to a certain amount of controversy, making a stronger emphasis on customization purchasing over ship purchasing could minimize a little of the scrutiny already being heaped on the game.
- Skins can be easily found and chosen in-game
While the list of skins available on the web-store far outweighs the list of skins available in-game, there are still plenty of options for pilots who wish to splash some fresh paint on their favorite ride. The previously mentioned Cousin Crows on Orison has the largest amount of skins available in-game, but Dumper’s Depot at Area 18 on ArcCorp has quite a few, with some other vendors holding limited amounts of livery elsewhere in the Stanton system.
Players can also unlock a very cool pirate-themed livery for the Drake Caterpillar and Aegis Gladius by beating the Pirate Swarm level of Arena Commander.
The biggest problem here is variety. If you’re flying an Arrow, Aurora, or Valkyrie, you’ll find your paints. But someone piloting many of the newer ships in Star Citizen will find their options non-existent– although we have every reason to believe this will change in the future.
Here’s an excerpt from 2020 Comm-Link that gives us some hope: “In time, we’ll continue to roll out new skins, and it’s worth noting that in the future we plan on making a variety of exclusive skins that are only earnable in-game for aUEC. This is important to us because it gives pilots out there making their living among the stars the opportunity to show off their hard-earned work.”
Of course, all of this is in a constant state of flux as the project develops, so any and all plans surrounding skins could change at any time.
- Skins still combine with degradation.
Hull degradation is one of those features that make Star Citizen extra special. Hitting an asteroid or getting riddled with ballistic cannon fire shows visible damage to your ship, and it gets progressively worse as you take damage.
Your ship is also subject to wear and tear and will show dirt and grime from planetary surfaces that you visit. Your ship can look like a grimy, barely flyable piece of wreckage, or, for those of you who don’t fly Drake ships, a space-faring catastrophe in the making.
The best part, in our opinion, is that any paint schemes or livery you have equipped on your ship are also subject to degradation, so even your shiny metallic Best in Show skin can look like it went through hell just to get you back to your home station. This attention to detail might seem like feature creep to some, but for those of us looking for an immersive space sim experience, it makes all the difference.
- Lingering Concerns
There are a few areas where the current skin system being used for Star Citizen raises some concerns. The prices of skins for larger ships can be over $20, and some of the ship livery options that have been released are less than stellar offerings. On the other hand, ship liveries and paints are easy to pass up– if you don’t like them, no one is forcing you to buy them!
Another area of concern was with “unlocking” certain skins. Sure, you can “earn” the Pirate Caterpillar or Gladius skin, but in this case, you earned the right to buy the full-priced ship with that skin. And in the case of the Caterpillar, that right to purchase is going to set you back hundreds of dollars.
There is also the matter of the Origin 300 series, which had a set of customization options baked into their purchase. Anyone buying a 300 series ship from the RSI web store could make custom paint, interior, and detailing options that were then applied to the ship. You could also purchase additional premium add-ons that would, of course, cost more money to purchase. Some of those, like the food and coffee makers, still don’t function, which rubs more than one 300 series owner the wrong way.
There is no clear indication on why this system of customizing ships was discontinued. It could be that CIG was testing the implementation of premium customization options, and seeing that they did indeed work they were shelved until they could be built into a future Beta release.
It’s also just as likely that a more robust customization system is in the works that make the 300 series model look pretty clumsy, so very little is being said about it.
Then again, with so much still in development with Star Citizen, there are far bigger projects to tackle than ship customization options, even if we really, really want it!
We can certainly get behind the idea of ship skins and unique livery being far more important to Star Citizen than it looks on the surface! With the potential to bring your favorite ship to life with unique colors and decals, you can build more robust mythology around your exploits in the ‘verse!
What do you think? We would love to hear from you about your thoughts on ship customization, your hopes for what it might bring in the future, or even what your favorite skin in the game already is!
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