[Update] The Ball Is Back In Cloud Imperium's Court As The Escapist Responds To Demands
Update: The Escapist has publicly responded to CIG's demands of an apology, retraction, and independent investigation. In a statement published on its website, the outlet says it stands by its reporting.
The Escapist, notwithstanding Cloud Imperium Games' notice and posting, stands by its coverage of Star Citizen and intends to continue to investigate the developing story. Since publishing our original stories, we have been contacted by, and are currently interviewing, additional sources corroborating a variety of the reported allegations. Additionally, if Mr. Roberts' offer for The Escapist to "meet the developers making the game and see how we're building one of the most ambitious PC games first hand" remains open, we take the opportunity to accept such invitation so as to hopefully provide the public with sufficient information and opportunity to vet such sources' allegations and claims for themselves. We have also communicated the foregoing directly to Cloud Imperium Games.
We've reached out to Cloud Imperium Games about this latest development. We'll update should we receive a response.
Original Story (October 4, 2015, at 2:26 p.m. Central):
Cloud Imperium Games, the studio behind the $90 million Star Citizen project, is threatening to litigate over an inflammatory article published by The Escapist this week. The article accuses Cloud Imperium founder and CEO Chris Roberts of embezzlement and the company of illegal hiring practices.
Shortly after the story went live on October 1 at 11 a.m. Central, Roberts published a public response refuting the claims in the story. According to a Cloud Imperium representative, the published response was first delivered to managing editor John Keefer hours before publication.
“The original request for comments came from Managing Editor John Keefer. EiC [Josh Vanderwall] and reporter were copied,” the representative told us earlier this week. “Early last night I copied them all (off the same thread) to let them know that something from Chris was on the way. I received a direct e-mail message from John after that encouraging me to get Chris’ responses back to them and thanking me for my help. I responded then directly from that email to John to let him know that the response was taking longer (Chris was in the UK and it was early in the morning there) and that the response should be in my Inbox when I woke up this morning. Chris sent his response directly to John Keefer at 8:11 AM CT this morning.”
This morning, the company published a five page letter signed by CIG vice chairman and general counsel Ortwin Freyermuth that further rebuts allegations regarding the hiring practices and statements made by Roberts’ wife Sandi Gardiner, who serves as the company’s vice president of marketing. The attorney accuses the publication of violating “the most basic rules of and ethics in journalism,” specifically not giving Gardiner the opportunity to respond to alleged racist and agist comments.
The letter, which was sent on Friday, October 2, appears to have been spurred by a follow-up Escapist podcast. “You have also allowed the Author and his colleagues, including the magazine’s editor-in-chief to repeat these defamatory statements today on a podcast hosted on your magazine’s website (the “Podcast”) without making any reference whatsoever at least to the responses which CIG provided to you timely before the publication of the Article,” Freyermuth writes.
This includes statements that Roberts and Gardiner are embezzling funds from CIG, including using company resources to pay the couples' residential living expenses and for extravagant vacations. Vanderwall also repeated accusations that the company had closed down the Austin studio, which CIG firmly denied on the record.
Following Roberts’ rebuttal published on the Cloud Imperium Games’ website, The Escapist provided a detailed account of how it vetted its sources. One of these was anonymous even to the publication’s staff and was allegedly confirmed via company documentation.
“After our original story on Star Citizen by Lizzy Finnegan, she was contacted by seven ex-employees and two current employees about their experiences at Cloud Imperium Games,” The Escapist writes. “She exchanged emails with all of them, but then spoke with all of them via phone and Skype. Six gave their real names, while the seventh did not use his real name, but did show pay stubs and a Cloud Imperium Games ID with the name blacked out.” In the podcast published on Friday, October 2, Finnegan says that three or four of her nine sources were anonymous to her.
Freyermuth claims that one of the entirely anonymous source’s bona fides could not have been accurate. “You might be interested to know that CIG does not issue any company ID cards at any of its studios!” he writes.
The attorney also claims throughout the letter that The Escapist piece was instigated by developer Derek Smart. Smart has been on a campaign against CIG and Star Citizen that ramped up after his pledge was refunded and forum access was revoked. Freyermuth accuses The Escapist of being duped by a collection of sources that were shopped to a number of websites, pointing to Glass Door reviews that emerged in the wake of the site’s first in-depth story about Star Citizen.
“Whole passages of the Article, which the Author also repeated in the Podcast, were lifted from anonymous 'reviews' posted on glassdoor.com, which the Author could not have verified since the site does not offer any messaging options,” Freyermuth writes. “Conspicuously, those 'reviews' were posted very recently, i.e. after the Author had posted a previous article about Star Citizen and the self-appointed agitator Derek Smart, and just shortly before the [October 1] Article went online.”
CIG is demanding a number of steps to be taken by The Escapist and its parent company Defy Media.
We hereby demand that you, as the responsible person in charge,
- Personally apologize to Ms. Gardiner and our HR Manager for the tremendous emotional distress and potential repetitional harm that you have caused to them by violating the most basic journalist duties of fair and balanced reporting.
- Publish said apology on your magazine’s website, together with a retraction of the Article until such time as the murky backgrounds of its creation have been investigated.
- Engage and empower an independent party to fully investigate the events and circumstances that led to the creation and publication of this Article, including any bias of your staff and their involvement with other interested parties and any conspiring arrangements between them.
Freyermuth says that the company will begin the process of legal action in both the United States and United Kingdom (which has stricter anti-defamation laws) if demands are not met by end of business on Monday, October 5. We have reached out to The Escapist for comment on this development. As of publication, the company has not provided a statement. We’ll update should we receive one.
Update (October 4, 2015 at 9:39 p.m. Central): The Escapist has informed us that it does not have a comment to make at this time.
[Source: Cloud Imperium Games]
Earlier this week, I didn’t expect that CIG would go to the lengths of threatening legal action over this article. Now that it has published the letter, the wheels are in motion. If The Escapist does not comply, CIG needs to push forward with litigation or face a serious blow to its credibility.