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Star Citizen Backer's Pledge Canceled Over 'Vaporware' Allegations

by Mike Futter on Jul 15, 2015 at 04:55 PM

Star Citizen has lit up headlines for its impressive fundraising success since its Kickstarter campaign in 2012. Unfortunately, the projects is making waves now due to a conflict with a backer that led to developer Cloud Imperium Games canceling a pledge from one of its earliest supporters.

On November 19, 2012, Cloud Imperium Games celebrated the closing of its $2.1 million, 34,000 backer Kickstarter Campaign to fund Star Citizen. The project was pitched as a return to the heyday of space simulation games, and according to the original pitch, we should be playing it right now.

The “finished game” was promised for delivery in November 2014, but even before the Kickstarter campaign closed, Cloud Imperium and its leader Chris Roberts (of Wing Commander fame) had bigger ideas. The company had started raising money via its own website, pulling in over $3 million more during the campaign that was unaffiliated with Kickstarter.

Today, over 925,000 people have contributed more than $85 million to the project, which has exploded in scope. In addition to the single-player Squadron 42 campaign, the multiplayer Arena Commander modes, and a persistent universe, CIG is building a first-person shooter “module” for the game. 

The company has rolled out a huge number of ships for purchase, with individual models (with access to the game) as low as $45. A “completionist” package that includes all ships designed and released for sale in 2014 plus a couple from 2015 will set you back $15,000. That includes 46 different ships (with some duplicates), and the game is still only in its alpha phase.

Recently, Roberts had to address the community regarding the months-overdue first-person module, Star Marine. At that time, he admitted the company had strayed from its pledge of open communication, rededicating itself to that mission.

About the same time, independent developer and Star Citizen Kickstarter backer Derek Smart started to raise concerns over the game’s “feature creep.” In a lengthy blog post, he lays out specific reasons for his frustration, including delays, key staff departures, allegations of nepotism, and a complete shift from the original pitch to a project that has become unrecognizable to the earliest backers.

Specifically, he states that the Hangar Module, the first piece of Star Citizen that was made available in August 2013, is simply a gallery for looking at ships that couldn’t be used. The current Arena Commander multiplayer module is allegedly “largely a broken mess,” and with the Star Marine FPS module indefinitely delayed, Smart asserts that there is, in fact, “no Star Citizen game.” Later, he calls the game "vaporware."

Smart suggests that the game that CIG has laid out in a roadmap does not resemble the original Kickstarter pitch and, with the growth of the scope, would cost in the neighborhood of $150 million to deliver. He is currently calling for an FTC investigation of Cloud Imperium Games to loosen the ability for unhappy backers to receive refunds.

“Some have also pointed out that, in my bid to get answers, that by exposing all this stuff, raising all these questions, prompting people to get the FTC involved etc, that I run the risk of outright killing the project,” Smart writes on his personal website. “My short form answer to that is this: if you are saying that the FTC going in there is going to lead to them finding something which would ultimately kill the project, how exactly is that my fault?”

While these allegations from a fellow developer are certainly worth considering, it’s what happened next that piqued our interest and spurred us to investigate the situation. Rather than engage Smart in a dialogue or simply ignore one of over 925,000 backers’ allegations, CIG took action.

Click to enlarge.

Smart received the email above, canceling and refunding his Kickstarter contribution and repossessing his in-game goods (via cancelation of his game account). We contacted Cloud Imperium for its response to these allegations and a statement on why it suddenly canceled Smart’s pledge. A representative sent us the following statement via email.

We refunded Mr. Smart’s package because he was using Star Citizen as a platform to gain attention as part of a campaign to promote his ‘Line of Defense’ space game. Our Terms of Service (or in this case, the Kickstarter ToS) allows us to refund troubled users who we would rather not have interacting with the community. The process lets us entirely disable their accounts, preventing them from playing the finished game. Think of it as the video game equivalent of a ‘we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone’ sign in a restaurant. We’ve used this ability a limited number of times in the past, always with the aim of improving the community.

That is not to say you can get your money back by simply being as obnoxious as possible; we’re also able to close accounts without requiring a refund. But sometimes we take a look at a user and decide that they’re so toxic or their intentions are so sinister that we simply don’t want them associated with Star Citizen.

As for refund requests working the other way: per the ToS, we’re not required to offer them. We do try and work with backers who are facing hardships, but the hard truth is that the money is by necessity being spent to develop a game rather than sitting unused somewhere (that being the significant difference with Steam; those refunds are taken out of their games’ profits rather than their development budgets.) 

In the end, we reserve the right to close an account for any reason. In this case, Derek was causing distress to our staff and our community by generally using Star Citizen and his criticism of the game to attract attention to himself and his game.

That completely goes counter to the spirit of the relationship we have with our community and as such we don’t want him part of it. BTW, we haven’t asked him to take down his post or sent him any C&D. We haven’t asked other people to remove/edit/moderate their posts either. Derek is entitled to his opinion, we just don’t want Derek as a backer.

Smart vehemently denies CIG's assertion. "I have NEVER - EVER - posted there," he told us. "As in NEVER. Not even with an alias (I simply wouldn't do that)." CIG, however, cites Smart's blog and social media presence as the source of distress.

Smart also disputes CIG’s right to close his account and seize his in-game goods. “And on top of all this, they have pretty much given validation to the notion that, aside from all the hyperbole that some would say are evident in my articles, there is something that worries them in what I am writing in my articles,” Smart wrote in a post on the forums. “Why else would they attempt to kick me out, or to silence me? What did I do ON RSI SYSTEMS that would warrant such an action? Here's the thing. It changes nothing. Them yanking my account, and items, doesn't change the fact that I owned them, they took them illegally, libeled me etc. amid my articles, and the flurry of press and discussions surrounding them.”

Smart says his concerns prompted a poll in the Star Citizen forums related to the CIG refund policy. Approximately 25 percent of the 1,173 respondents believe that the developer should now make refunds available to anyone who requests them. Based on CIG's statement to us, it does not seem that the developer will make sweeping changes to its refund policy. 

Originally published July 15, 2015 at 02:32 PM.

[Source: Derek Smart, Cloud Imperium Games via PC Gamer]


Our Take
With so much money on the line from nearly one million people, CIG is walking a tightrope. The scope of this project is enormous, and with no beta dates in sight (let alone a full release), I can understand why some backers are starting to lose faith. Whether Star Citizen ends up being a huge success or a monumental cautionary tale depends exclusively on CIG and how it executes and communicates moving forward.