NOTE: When I write in my blogs, social media etc, I don’t do it to be professional, politically correct, or anything of the sort. I’m an artiste, and a gamer. So drama, flair, hyperbole, sarcasm, humor, etc, are all part and parcel of how I speak, write, and act. There is a certain excitement and exhilaration in being, and acting yourself, rather than putting on airs for the public. It’s called freedom. It’s amazing. So, as with all my writings, pull up a chair, as we head into the second phase of what started a week ago.
WHY RSI AND ALL SUBSIDIARIES, NEED TO BE INVESTIGATED – RIGHT NOW!
From everything that we have uncovered thus far, it is our belief that the game, Star Citizen, as of this writing, has all the makings of a crowd-funding failure, and an unmitigated disaster. A disaster which, if, and when it happens, and everything eventually comes out, is likely to be the most shocking event in recent gaming memory, which threatens to eclipse even the 38 Studios collapse of 2012.
The difference being, this time around, most of us in the industry, and in some parts of gaming, saw it coming. Even some (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) in the media have been signalling the warning bells for over a year now, amid the usual hype machine nonsense. If nothing else, read the Ten Ton Hammer article. I quote:
On paper I’d say it’s all aspirational but not outside the realms of possibility. It was as I began to go down the full list that my eyebrows were raised and I just thought: “this is nonsense.”
So you need to donate money to be able to help pay for them to sell you more things to help you pay for the next thing? HOW DOES THAT WORK???
As it stands, I can’t even believe that Star Citizen is getting away with what it’s doing. Everyone turns a blind eye to it, maybe reporting on some of the big numbers its throwing out, but at the end of the day I don’t believe in a game that charges what CIG is charging when every other game on the planet can be bought at retail for less than $100 with everything included. There are very few games out that, with all DLC included, that don’t even reach $100.
Most said nothing.
Until my July 3rd blog article, Interstellar Citizens, went live. While mostly background information, with bits of technical context, the gist of the Star Citizen entry was this comment:
“Without disrespect to anyone, I’m just going to say it: it is my opinion that, this game, as has been pitched, will never get made. Ever.
There isn’t a single publisher or developer on this planet who could build this game as pitched, let alone for anything less than $150 million.
The original vision which I backed in 2012? Yes, that was totally doable. This new vision? Not a chance.
The technical scope of this game surpasses GTAV, not to mention the likes of Halo.
Do you have any idea what those games cost to make and how long they took?
Do you know how many games which cost $50 million to make took almost five years to release? And they were nowhere in scope as Star Citizen?”
Most who don’t understand how the industry works, the technical challenges etc, were quick to discount this as just another Derek Smart rant, or hyperbole. Regardless, even those who doubted the statements, were forced to stop and think. According to online metrics, this single article, has set practically every gaming forum talking about this game, and the impact it will have when (not if) it fails.
I have to admit, for a time, I was, rather unfairly I think, pointing the finger squarely at the mainstream media for failing to dig deeper into what is happening, and how it could all collapse. However, here is the thing. For many years, though there have been rumors, insider talk, and allegations of media corruption, collusion, pandering etc between publishers, developers, and their media friends, I don’t believe that something this big could quite possibly be ignored.
What I do believe is that, most of these people in gaming and gaming media, go back many years, and have a lot invested in each other. It’s a symbiotic relationship. And when you make friends at any level, be it at work, in politics, religion, or any aspect of society that involves people supporting each other, while not being at direct odds, there is always the risk of someone wanting to turn a blind eye to the obvious.
Then there are those who don’t like me. And since this is me, literally blowing the lid off this, nobody wants to admit that, despite their feelings about me, there has to be some element in what I am saying, that warrants a second look.
Further, aside from the possibility of people turning a blind eye, some have said that, well, they can only write what they know; and if the parties aren’t revealing anything, they have nothing to write about. Well, that’s pure nonsense. The videogame industry is full of drama, it always was. The media has never needed any excuse to shake the tree. Even when there usually isn’t a tree to shake, some have actually gone out and planted one anyway, usually with hilarious results. There is a reason that liability insurance premiums are so high these days.
As an example. When I first wrote the Interstellar Citizens blog on July 3rd, after doing extensive research, I had found out that a key member of the Star Citizen team, the executive producer no less, had left. I went digging. And sure enough, right there on LinkedIn, was an end date. I subsequently updated the article to reflect that. Once I did that, the media started asking questions. Here’s the thing, a lot of people in the industry, and in media, already knew that he was no longer there. I know a few of those people, even some in media.
They said nothing.
Once my article hit, and I went out and called up an army of gamers to spread it, the media had no excuse not to look into it. So they did. Then they investigated, and confirmed it. Here is what I said:
To add to the noise, there are reports that people (Travis Day, a senior producer left recently) at RSI have been leaving, the executive producer (!) (UPDATE. It has been confirmed to me that Alex Mayberry, the Exec Producer, hired a year ago, is no longer at the company) is on his way out, and they’re spending more than they’re bringing in because crowdfunding has peaked etc.
And btw, people (e.g. Jenny Varner, Community Content Manager, is one of those reported to be gone within the past month) are still leaving. At this point, given the exodus numbers, they might as well as get together and start their own company. There is even a Reddit thread keeping track of key people who have left within the past month alone.
Since 2012, most of the news articles about this game, have been the usual interviews, previews etc. But the phenomenon has been in the fund raising for the game. It completely dominates all aspects of the industry, and even made the Guinness book of world records. And that was back when it was only at $39m. My guess is that there is going to be another entry by the time the dust settles on what is about to happen. That being, the largest fund raising disaster in history, since it is unlikely that any other such funding raising, is going to beat it’s current $85m raised.
It got so ridiculous, given the fact that people were buying virtual items for a game they didn’t have, Wired magazine even wrote an article about it.
Still, not a single peep from the industry media at large. As I mentioned in that article, there is always an article when a new ridiculous crowd funding milestone is reached. Here is what I said:
“And since it’s not Derek Smart or some low hanging gamedev fruit who has gone out and crowd-funded $85 million of someone else’s money to make a game that’s all but impossible to make, the mainstream media have remained largely mum about the whole thing, other than doing article after article after article about the game, the funding etc. Nobody has asked the tough questions as to how on Earth they’re going to pull off something this unprecedented.
But if this fails, the media are going to be the same ones to tear into them. I have seen it happen time and time again. It’s a very vicious cycle.“
Most of the noise about this impending train wreck, has mostly come from smaller media, who, even though we all know each other, have more at stake in terms of being honest, and forthcoming, than those who just want to exist in the status quo and hope it blows over. However, once my article hit, and set practically every single gaming community ablaze about the state and fate of Star Citizen, it opened dialog in all corners of the industry. Now everyone in the industry, whether they agree or not, are thinking, and talking about it – even in passing. It’s getting to be as big a noise as the crowd-funding. And it’s about to get a whole lot louder after today.
And when you look at all the rhetoric surrounding this project, the crowd-funding etc, you have to wonder, “could this all be true?“. I mean, seriously, here is an interview that Ortwin, partner to Chris Roberts, did for gamesindustry.biz back in June 2014:
“While the Star Citizen case is a first to take crowd funding to this new level, it does show the potential of this fundraising method when pursued properly. However, as many commentators have pointed out, if crowd funding is to mature as an alternative funding source for games of all budget sizes, it will ultimately need to include safeguards against insufficient planning or plain abuse. Several projects, even some with raises in the seven digits, have failed already to deliver on their promise. A “look over the fence” to the area of independent film financing again provides an insight as to the mechanisms developed in that field, some of which may be a template for future crowd funding of games projects.“
Yes, when all is said and done, not only have they failed to deliver as originally promised, there is seemingly no accountability for development slips, feature creep, where the crowd-funded money is going etc.
In short, all in gaming, are at war. Again.
As I said in a recent podcast, I knew that, going in, once I released this, that they were going to make this about Derek Smart, in a bid to deflect attention away from the crux of the matter. But knowing that it may end up in litigation, or me giving expert testimony to the court, the Feds etc, we decided to get ahead of that when I wrote and released this, Gaming Urban Legend, blog yesterday. It just brings everyone up to speed about my industry shenanigans, experience, qualifications etc, and saves a lot of time, if people are going to attack me in public, in court, in the media etc, instead of focusing on the issue at hand. That’s usually how these things go. I’ve been there.
A lot of the combatants in this war that’s now in progress, don’t really know who I am, let alone who Chris Roberts is. They know nothing about my industry tenure, my accomplishments, my experience, my credentials etc. They’re looking at it if I were some drama queen looking for attention. This despite the fact that, over the years, I have built, pretty much, a vastly more advanced game, in the same genre that Chris and co are apparently having trouble building. And, this year, we’re about to release an even better one, Line Of Defense. Though it won’t look as pretty, it works, it’s here, and it’s not vaporware. This is not an endorsement to buy it. Don’t buy it, don’t play it, I don’t care. This is not what that’s about. I’m trying to make a point. If you missed it, that’s on you.
When someone says, they can build something, you have to find out if they’re just bragging, or if they a) have already done it b) have the ability to do it. You start there. That’s how expert testimony works, in court, in media etc. Nobody is going to march a doctor with a fake degree, into court, get him under deposition to testify for their side. Once it comes out that it’s fake, aside from the immediate credibility problems, and embarrassment, the case can, and will fall apart. Pretty much. Though some news outlets have no problems putting people with dubious credentials in front of a camera. But I digress.
So yes, I know what I’m talking about, and I have the background, experience, and credentials to back it all up. And you can take that to the bank, as they say, but in this case, to court.
THE FOOT OVER FIRE NON-UPDATE, UPDATE
Even though the community has been seeking answers for months, no offense to Ben, but the one that followed my article, is a lot of hollow words, that say nothing, nor offering any concrete information. Seriously, the gist of all those words, boils down to this: “no, the sky isn’t falling, don’t listen to that guy”
Most of us who aren’t brain dead, or recently joined a cult whereby everything is true as long as our leader said it, could see right through that because it may as well have come from this guy:
If you read that update, and you are a gamer, not even anyone involved in game development, and don’t see a myriad of Red flags, then you really don’t know what to look for. Here is a sampling.
“Why are some ships prioritized before others?
There’s a couple reasons for that.
The thing to remember is that we work with limited development resources. That’s not to say we don’t have enough people or we need more money or we need to do so-and-so.”
I am going to let that sink in for a bit……..
Right. So now we’re in the “limited resources” territory, coupled with the context of “we don’t really need more money, but a bunch of dumb people are giving it to us anyway”
As you will read below, this is the same company with four studios, over 300+ employees (+ 200 contractors last reported) worldwide, and $85m of our money.
I have a massive post which takes apart every, single, paragraph of that update. I will complete it, clean it up, add some more research stuff to it, then post it. It’s freaking mind-boggling to me, as a veteran game developer, and Executive Producer, how they’ve let this project go completely off the rails.
OK, how about this gem?
I don’t have much to say to this, beyond that it’s not accurate. At this point, we are not adding additional features to the plan, we’re building out the ones we’ve already scheduled. I’ve seen some recent posts about how Chris’ “first person universe” is at odds with the original Kickstarter-era plan… and that’s again not the case. It’s a more recent way of describing what he wants to accomplish, but everything we’re working on is still what was pitched back then: Privateer-style persistent universe, Squadron 42 single player game, first person boarding and so on. (A desire to avoid feature creep is exactly why we stopped doing stretch goals, despite being aware that they drive revenue.)”
Excuse me while I go stick my head out the window, but I’m not even going to jump the gun, and touch that one yet. Read on because the blatant nonsense in the above missive, have more serious implications than you might think. Before you read on, please look at that guy in the picture above. That’s where we are now. And people wonder why most of us are pissed.
And btw, this is the very same Ben Lesnick, even amidst many, many threads and posts on the RSI forums, seeking answers, asking what happened to the open development, the promised game etc, goes and posts this tweet. Which prompted a – backer seeking answers – to query it here in the forums. The backer was banned shortly thereafter; amid comments like this. To be fair, I get the analogy behind the tweet, but c’mon now – even I wouldn’t post that. Especially given the sensitivity of the situation. Others, in various companies, have been fired for lesser social media offenses.
Since there are odds on Ben being the next exit, I hear that the candidate for that job, is seriously campaigning for it. Or maybe it’s a networking engineer job he’s applying for. I don’t even know any more. Anyway, here look, you be the judge. If I were in HR over there, I would totally hire this guy. (UPDATE: It was just now brought to my attention that the Star Citizen White Knight who created this hilarious parody video, decided to update it and stick my name in it. He’s just ruined it. Anyway, it’s still hilarious, so I’m leaving it in the article. Oh, and stay for a few of the comments).
The point of the matter is that, this Star Citizen fiasco is so polarizing, that, not only is there a massive battle waging between supporters (White Knights), and dissenters (Black Nights) on their forums, but in every single gaming forum, or group that has any interest in the game.
CHALLENGES, WASTE, AND THE LIMITS OF HONOR
In addition to the aforementioned “update“, they were seemingly forced to do, the manner in which they acknowledged Alex’s departure, has all the makings of something they wanted to bury. Pretty much the same way that they kept his departure quiet. How did they do it? They bundled it with the announcement of a new Frankfurt office. Here’s the thing. This office has apparently been up and running for months; as far back as Aug 2014, according to sources. I don’t know about you, but even moving from one location to another, doesn’t qualify as opening a new office, and in most cases, doesn’t warrant a press release. Here is Chris’s very own YouTube video announcement from earlier this year.
A bit of history. Did you know that, at one time, RSI, and CryTek, the owners of the CryEngine3, were “partners” of sorts in the launch of this game? CryTek created that first mind-boggling trailer, that launched the Kickstarter project. As the investigative reporting goes, at some point, over a year or so ago, there was apparently a falling out between them and CryTek. Sources tell me that it all came to a head when RSI went and setup an office in the vicinity, then the execs down there, proceeded to poach CryTek engineers. They succeeded in getting a few; while some others didn’t make the move.
Now, you may be wondering why they’d want to do that. It’s simple. When you license an engine, and then you try to build a game with that engine, and which goes beyond the increased scope of the engine’s capabilities, the only way that you’re going to overcome that, is to get either the architects, or people who know the engine. Usually, in our business, the proper way to do it, is to get a support (on or off site) contract, and have the architects help you work with their technology. For example, I license the Havok Vision Engine for my game. If we ran into problems, or wanted to implement a feature that we couldn’t do, I would have a dialog with the Havok CEO, and get on a support contract with one of their engineers. That’s how it works.
Though there is nothing illegal about hiring people, even from the competition, you still have to consider the moral implications of hiring away the staff from partners who have been helping you make your dream a reality. If that isn’t the ultimate back stab, I don’t know what is.
Let me just mention something quickly. There are some SC fanboys spreading rumors that RSI rescued those employees from CryTek because they weren’t being paid. And they’re linking to a 2014 GameSpot interview with CryTek CEO; then twisting it out of context. Yes, CryTek, like every company, did have their own share of problems, but the tempest in the teapot, is just that. And they scaled back the business, paid everyone who was owed money during that short period of time, and did everything to keep everyone there. Most of us who know these guys, know the truth. As big as this industry is, it really is that small.
It gets even better….
As I mentioned, we looked at various engines before settling on Havok VE. And from what I see in the CryEngine3 license, not only does this “modular” design of Star Citizen, likely falls under “derivative” works, the license doesn’t cover future major release additions to the engine. So, do they even have the licensing to do all these separate “non-Star Citizen” modules, VR etc? And if relations are strained, why would CryTek want to give them point license releases, if those weren’t part of the original license?
- Without a license for “derivative” works, you can only do one game with the license. Unless you have an all-encompassing multi-title license. This would be like me licensing Havok VE to make Line Of Defense, then using the same engine to do a Line Of Defense expansion, DLC or whatever. Not allowed. Or me using my Iggy license for the GUI, then using that same license in another game, or game module.
- Without a license for “future major releases”, you won’t have rights/license to major new engine features down the road. Guess what that means? That’s right, the chances of VR ever coming to any version of any CryEngine powered game, is subject to a license. And that VR extension was only official in CryEngine v3.8.1, which was released just this past June. So everything said here in the interview below, and what people are discussing here on Reddit, should raise some immediate questions. Note that in that Mar 2015 interview, Chris acknowledges that VR no longer works in the Arena Commander module – and that they won’t probably integrate beyond CryEngine v3.7. hmmmm. So, was it disabled due to licensing issues, did it just break and we’re awaiting a fix, or will they even have access to the engine license, let alone the ability to integrate it, given the strained relations with CryTek?
Better yet, with a “game” still left to complete and deliver, why are they even working on VR now, when vast swaths of the game, aren’t even completed yet? From the 2012 Kickstarter campaign:
Virtual Reality is here!
We have backed Oculus Rift and will support it in Star Citizen / Squadron 42. Who doesn’t want to sit in their cockpit, hands on your joystick and throttle, swiveling your head, to track that enemy fighter that just blew by?
And before you say, hey, but maybe they have a bespoke (specially tailored) license, or even source code license, that gives them all of the above, and which gets around that. My answer to that would be to go ask Chris, or CryTek.
If you license an engine to build a game, you usually get binaries. This is standard with most engines, especially top-tier engines like CryEngine, Unreal Engine, Unity3D etc. If you want the source code license, in order to extend the engine to suit your needs, then you need a source code license. That license usually costs a LOT more because they are giving you access to their trade secrets, proprietary technologies etc.
And when you get such a license, it doesn’t give ownership for you to do as you want. It’s just the same standard license, but now you have a binary, and a source license. Having a binary and/or source license, doesn’t mean that you get to go make a bunch of game sequels, derivative works etc – unless those licenses specifically give you multi-title and/or derivative works rights.
So for example, my single title Havok licence for Vision Engine, Physics, AI, – three different engines – only allows me to build one game – Line Of Defense. And we used those three, in addition to several others, for our own custom game engine. If I pay them for a source license, unless specified as such, those single title restrictions still apply to that one game title. I can release patches, etc, but not do sequels, or derivative titles without first paying for another license.
The quickest way is to ask Chris these questions in a public session:
- Do you consider Star Citizen to be one game, or several derivative games? <— this is going to be an absolute blast if he answers it. Here’s the thing, he’s pretty much answered it in the affirmative if you go back through his many dev and video logs.
- Do you have the CryEngine license to make derivative titles? <— If he says yes, now you have recourse to go ask Crytek because arguably, Hangar module, Arena Commander module, Star Marine module, Squadron 42 game, Star Citizen game, can all be regarded as different (derivative) products
- Do you have the CryEngine license that allows you to use their VR integration, even if your own engineers were to implement it in the engine? <— If he says yes, again, now you have recourse to go ask CryTek
You can’t ask CryTek anything related to the license for this game, because that would probably be breaching the terms of an NDA (if they have one) they signed with a partner/licensee. But nothing stops the licensee from answering the above license related questions, and without hesitation. In fact, anyone in the media can just ask for Chris’s permission to go ask CryTek. Get this on the record (e.g. email, interview), then approach CryTek and say “Hey, Chris says it’s OK for you to tell me this”. And CryTek, though under no (legal or otherwise) obligation to do so, now has the legal authority to respond.
And please note that, in the initial Kickstarter pledge, including pledge goals, VR was just another bullet point. Yet, instead of finishing the game, they’re screwing around with features which have zero effect on the end product. This is where you get to yell: feature creep. And it’s a whole lot worse than you can imagine, and the single killer of many a project. Chris should very well know this by now.
I’m telling you, if this ends up where I think it will, deposing these people under oath, is going to be an absolute circus.
CAUSE OF ACTION & ACCOUNTABILITY
It’s easy to discount everything that I have said, and about to say. That’s fine. I don’t care. My sole purpose here is to make people wake up, and start asking the tough questions, and hopefully get answers. Just ignore the White Knights; you’re never – ever – going to change their mind. Like, ever. Those who came to their senses, after the bullshit hit the fan, are already the ones helping to raise awareness to the fact that something is very – very – wrong here.
As I mentioned in my previous blog, I was elated when two industry recognized people, seemingly showed up with two high profile games in the space combat genre. A genre that, for all intent and purposes, was pretty stagnant. Aside from more high-end, and niche games, like my own series. Unlike most people, I’m am such a big fan of the genre, and sci-fi in general, that I built an entire career around it. So naturally, funding these two, and seeing them to completion, was a no-brainer.
From the very beginning, I was a champion of this crowd-funded cause; and not once did I voice any dissent, or doubt that what was pitched to me, and thousands of other like-minded gamers, was most likely pie-in-the-sky. And to this day, while I have come to believe that there wrongdoing, giving the events surrounding this project, I still don’t believe that the officers set out to do anything illegal. In fact, usually, people end up doing something illegal without even realizing it. It happens all the time. Intent, however, is a completely different thing entirely.
My stake in this, is very simple, and to the point. I wanted to see an accessible, and visually spectacular game, like this, made. Going into four years now, this has not happened. And a good portion of the 900K people who have put money toward that dream, don’t seem to have a voice. Aside from that, the fan boys – usually the ones who are heavily financially vested – simply can’t fathom the reality that this whole thing has all the makings of a complete disaster.
People ask me why I didn’t say something before last week. My response is that, as game developers, projects can and will slip. So there is no merit in harassing them, sounding the alarm bells etc within a period of time.
This all came to a head when, after doing extensive research and investigation, my conclusion was derived from these events listed below. And this is just a short (the entire list, which I will make public soon, is currently 29 entries long, to date! UPDATE: the list is now 33 entries long) list of important key points:
- The project slipped it’s original Nov 2014 ship date as promised in the Oct 2012 Kickstarter pledge
- Almost four (1 year prior to KS, 2 years pledged timeline, 8 months delayed) years, they have not delivered a game; of any scope as originally pitched in 2012
- Key people (we have a running list) have been leaving, some for patently dubious reasons
- Some ex personnel have already taken to places like glassdoor to voice concerns
- Key modules are either buggy, to the point of unplayable for the most part (Arena Commander), or put on indefinite hold (Star Marine fps module)
- Technological hurdles, and the limitations of the CryEngine3 they chose, have only now started coming to light as recently as June’s dev update
- Chris, as seen/heard in the video above, had already stated, and I quote “the game on the low side was going to be about 14 million dollars to make and the high side, which is where we are at now, is going to be about 20 million” We’re $85m in. No game.
- They continued to increase the scope of the project, not only as a way to continue raising money through stretch goals, but also thereby putting the project at risk of never being completed as originally visioned; as doing so, makes it a very expensive proposition
- They continue to crowd-fund and raise money, selling virtual items for a game that doesn’t exist, and based on a TOS that all but guarantees that people who pledge, will have little to no recourse to get their money back, unless they sued and got the TOS tossed (as we suspect that it will, if the FTC doesn’t get there first) by a judge
- Investigations in the past weeks, and discussions with various people, have led to some very alarming, and disturbing things that, I’m not even going to bother making public – yet.
- The date the Kickstarter project went live
- The promised delivery date as per my $250 pledge
- What I was promised at that pledge tier. In fact, I’m only five tiers above the highest $10,000 (!!!!) tier. Some people, via the RSI website, have pledged way higher than $10K, if you can believe that. Pure madness.
Here is an excerpt from the Kickstarter update he made after successfully getting $2.1m funding:
“Our intention has always been to make Roberts Space Industries YOUR site. It’s not a public advertisement for the game; it’s a private community for those who are making the game happen. “
Really? Right. So go ahead and show me the website where all the money was raised through selling virtual ships since the Kickstarter campaign ended. I’ll wait. While you’re at it, here is a choice excerpt from that pledge:
“The people who pledge for their spaceships will get to test-fly them long before the general public. 12 months in, we will allow the early backers to play the multiplayer space combat Alpha, and then 20-22 months in they will get to play the Star Citizen Beta, adventuring around the huge open galaxy, well before the general public. We are going to limit our alpha slots to 200,000 as we want to stress test the game with real users, but will not be ready for the full load until we have finished Beta.”
We’re now 32 months in. And that’s not counting the year preceding the Oct 2012 Kickstarter, and during which he said the project was already in development.
There is hangar module, a crappy Arena Commander module (which, btw, craps out at 6 v 6 multiplayer – seriously), and not much else; other than ships you can’t fly. No Star Citizen game, no Squadron 42, and nothing tangible or in the form of a “game” as originally promised.
There is no denying that, in my case, and for thousands others, aside from the Silver Citizens card above, NOTHING (tangible or related to the game) in the above Kickstarter campaign has been delivered to date. And they only needed $6m to get there. They raised $2.1m via Kickstarter before the campaign ended. And now, we’re at $85m. NOTHING THAT REMOTELY LOOKS LIKE THE GAMES HAVE BEEN DELIVERED AS ORIGINALLY PROMISED.
- The hangar module is not the game they promised. That just ended up being a conduit for viewing virtual ships sold, for a game that doesn’t exist
- The Arena Commander, largely a broken mess, is not the game they promised. That just ended up being a test module, and conduit for testing virtual ships sold, for a game that doesn’t exist
- The Star Marine fps module has been put on indefinite hold. Plus, sources tell me what they have now is just two test levels. Which means it will end up being another shoddy mess like Arena Commander upon release (if ever).
- There is no Squadron 42 game
- There is no Star Citizen game
I am not even going to bother listing all the stuff from the Kickstarter page which simply, DO NOT EXIST as of this writing, and contrary to the pledge.
If you think carefully, and look at the above, then see how money is still being raised, the above modules – which play no part in the game they promised – are simply there, so they can keep selling virtual ships, for a game that doesn’t exist. And neither of those two, were ever mentioned in the original Kickstarter.
So all the resources, effort, and money that went into those two modules, could very well have been spent making the game they promised. And now, with everything that is going on, there is a very good chance that the game they promised, aside from the technical issues I outlined in my previous blog, and which are evident in their own dev blogs, has very little chance of ever being made as pitched.
Here, I’m just going to quote another industry veteran who, like most of us, has been following this train wreck:
“Any producer who has ever shipped anything knows that feature creep is like mold: it may not be visible, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there, and controlling it requires an ongoing commitment, not a one-time treatment.”
Aside from that, pretty much every single letter or video that Chris has written, or shot, has hyperbole all over it. In fact, to the extent that each subsequent one seems to contradict the one that came before, it’s easy to see how he has pretty much been trading on good faith, while seemingly throwing even the White Knights (hardcore Star Citizen fans), under the bus, and unwittingly converting most of them to Black Knights. Here is a choice one from Sept 2014. This was two months before he blew past the promised Nov 2014 delivery date.
“I have a lot of industry friends pat me on the back and say, “Wow, it must be so great to be operating in profit even before you ship!” Their look usually turns to incredulity when I explain that my intention is for all the money we bring in before launch to be spent on development. It is the community, from the existing backers who continue to support the game, to new members who join every day who are setting the level of ambition and budget for Star Citizen. Every effort is about enriching the game’s vision. Funding to date has allowed us to go so far beyond what I thought was possible in 2012. You’re still getting that game, no question, but it will be all the richer and so much more immersive because of the additional funding.
Long ago I stopped looking at this game the way I did when I worked for a publisher who gave me a fixed budget to make a retail game. I now look at our monthly fundraising and use that to set the amount of resources being used to develop this game. We keep a healthy cash reserve so that if funding stopped tomorrow we would still be able to deliver Star Citizen (not quite to the current level of ambition, but well above what was planned in Oct 2012). If you combine our in-house staff and outsourced developers, we now number more than 280 people. Your support has created a significant number of jobs in the gaming industry. (And no matter what you might have heard, only a small number of our team is tasked with designing new ships!)“
The above words, and others like it, now excerpted, indexed, and stored for reference, are going to be the complete undoing of this project, and are bound for the videogame history books. Guaranteed.
And here is yet another interview, this time with Forbes in May 2013, in which he clearly states the following:
“Erik Kain @ 19:38: To round things out, you have about 9.5 million dollars in crowdfunding, new offices, what’s the road map from here? Where do you go for the rest of 2013? Where will you be next year?
Chris: So one of things we’re doing that I think is different from every other crowdfunded game that I’ve seen out there – although I could be corrected – is that we’re approaching the development process in terms of what our backers get differently. We’re sort of approaching it, because Star Citizen is pretty big and pretty ambitious game – I mean it’s going to cost 20 million dollars plus by the time its all finished. What we’re doing is essentially taking components of functionality in the game and we’ll be splitting them out and letting the community – the backers – interact, use them, play with them before the final game is all brought together.”
Aside from all that, some of the questionable actions going over there, have all the makings of nepotism.
Erin Roberts now has the key role that Alex had. The only consolation here is that Erin, is an industry tenured, and experienced executive. I give him a pass, though some may not. Especially since if he had the qualifications needed to be Executive Producer of this massive project, they wouldn’t have needed to hire someone like Alex Mayberry in the first place. And usually, increased responsibilities like this, usually come with increased benefits. Do what you want with that.
Hollywood actress Sandi Gardiner, who, with no previous industry experience, no previous industry marketing experience, is somehow head of marketing for an $85m crowd-funded video games company. She is reported to be Chris’s wife. Aside from that, she apparently has no clue what the position even entails, yet my sources tell me that other more qualified people there, do the heavy lifting marketing work etc. But she’s somehow head of the dept. And I quote:
I am going to repeat what I said earlier, if this gets out of control, and lands in court, deposing these people under oath, is going to be an absolute circus.
I’ve been made privy to so much stuff, that seriously, at this point, I may as well write an e-book. Reports from my sources range from international bank accounts, to Chris jet-setting around the world in private jets, playing movie director to SQ42 etc. Most of this does of course require corroboration, so don’t take it as fact. But that’s what depositions, subpoenas, and the FTC are there for. Short of that, the next time any of you in the media get Chris into an interview, please put the fanboy bullshit aside, and ask him some seriously hard questions.
Meanwhile, we still don’t have a game, or anything that, after almost four years, remotely looks like the game we were promised.
Aside from that, people are thinking that $85m raised to date, is a lot of money. Here’s the thing, last I checked, they had four studios (LA, Austin, Manchester, Frankfurt) around the world. Last reports have personnel to the tune of 300, worldwide, plus an unknown (they’ve gone on record as saying around 200) number of contractors.
Now ask yourself this. Why would an independent crowd-funded company, that pitched a game for which they asked for $500K, got $2.1m, then continued to raise funds (to the tune of $85m), need this many resources? Do you realize that not even mid-sized publishers, have that sort of size?
According to my sources, the reported monthly burn rate is around $3m per month, in which crowd-funding (which has seemingly slowed down) brings in around $500K.
So the question isn’t how much money they have raised, but rather, how much they have left to finish the game – any game. Which is precisely why I said that they probably won’t even do refunds, unless forced through legal action, or the FTC. We need to accelerate this action sooner, rather than later, before the rest of the money runs out, and none is left to offer refunds (where applicable).
Listen, if some charlatan setup a website selling bath salts, then took money for orders, didn’t deliver, and enough people reported it; if the FTC gets whiff of that, investigates, then finds it to be true, that whole op is getting shut down. And depending on the severity, someone is likely to be headed to jail. It really is that simple.
THE DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD
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. 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? Below is precisely what I said in my first article, and why I pointed people to the FTC in the first place. If people are happy with their purchases, the situation etc, then there is nothing to report, is there?
If you feel that you have been misled when you backed the Star Citizen project after Oct, 2012, and you want a chance to get your money back, the FTC has setup a special department that deals with crowd-funding complaints. You can fill out this form. Then select “Internet services, online shopping, or computers” then “Online shopping”. You can read more about that overhere.
Cloud Imperium, LLC
9255 Sunset Blvd STE 803
West Hollywood, CA 90069
And direct from the FTC, comes this gem:
The Commission files a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. Stipulated orders have the force of law when approved and signed by the District Court judge.
The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook(link is external), follow us on Twitter(link is external), and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.
There are numerous articles already written about the crowd-funding fiasco; here is a quote from this one:
What can we learn from all of this activity? The Federal Trade Commission and the states are paying close attention to crowdfunding, and to the promises that entrepreneur are making to their backers when raising money in such campaigns. And although crowdfunding may seem like an easy way to raise money to make your fabulous new idea a reality, regulators will not shy away from applying the tried-and-true FTC Act and its state law equivalents to police any bad behavior; not only that there may be some new laws to contend with as well.
And here is another one, which I will also quote from:
The Federal Trade Commission makes and enforces rules to protect consumers from unfair or deceptive business practices, and its consumer protection principles apply to crowdfunding sites in the same way they apply to things like catalogs, direct mail and TV commercials, according to Helen Wong, an attorney with the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. Sellers can’t make deceptive representations, and they have to fulfill promises they’ve made to consumers, for starters.
I also get asked why, with all my vast experience, did I not approach Chris to offer my assistance. I will just paste here my response to one such question:
“Actually no, I have not offered my experience. Though we’re not direct competitors, I think it would either be inappropriate for me to do so, or his camp would probably regard it is as inappropriate.
Also, you must understand that there is also ego to consider in things like that. Regardless of the sincerity of the gesture, it would most likely be regarded as “going to Derek Smart for help“. See my latest blog post for reference.
And despite my qualifications, experience etc, it’s probably not something that would work for them. Because instead of looking at it as a team based effort like, say certain divisions at Apple still working with Samsung; or Microsoft with Google et al, it would be looked upon from a personal perspective. Our industry is full of drama, and ego driven bullshit, all of which involve making personal, rather than business minded decisions.”
Someone also asked, if could I build Star Citizen as pitched. My response:
“I’ve already done something like it. But as currently pitched, and scoped, even with my own engines, it simple isn’t possible. The tech isn’t there, and building it could take years. When we pledged, we did that based on what was pitched on Kickstarter. A game that was due out within two years, not ten years out.”
Others have pointed out that I am a competitor, that all this is noise, I want to kill the project etc.
“Well, that’s pretty much where the argument gets ridiculous. The facts are simple. There is nothing malicious, or nefarious going on here. There are many other ways to engage in competitive (e.g. Apple v Samsung, nVidia v AMD, Google v everybody) banter, and ridicule, without encroaching into lawsuit territory.
Aside from that, when you put the technical and visual aspects aside, I’ve already built a game, similar to what they’re trying to build, and sell. And saying we’re “competitors” is like comparing Elite Dangerous to Star Citizen; or Elite Dangerous to Line Of Defense. As is stands, and until it is released, Star Citizen is vaporware, built on a house of cards, that could collapse at any time – never seeing the light of day. So yes, there are lots of differences.”
And even others have gone so far as to say that I’m jealous for a myriad of reasons.
“No, I’m not. That’s just silly. As a self-made man, I own my IP, my company, fund all my projects, and my net worth exceeds what has gone into Star Citizen thus far. And it didn’t come from crowd-funding my projects using public money. Most of it came from gaming, others from good investments. As I said in my previous article, if I had $85m to build a game – any game – I probably wouldn’t do it. I’m an indie developer who makes games a select group of people want to play, for a reasonable amount of money. So that kind of spending, is not in my DNA.
The game they are trying to build, I’ve actually built similar before. Like over two decades ago. The last one I did like that, Universal Combat CE, is currently FREE on Steam. It’s a very complex game, that has a specific target audience. It’s got a massive persistent universe, space combat, aerial combat, ground vehicles, first person infantry, exceptional AI etc. And though it’s not visually spectacular, the reason is, that latest core is from 2004, and the graphics were not designed to be over-the-top, or the game would never run with any decent performance. Even back then, it was a struggle. And about two months ago, due to the metrics we’ve seen from the free release (the game made back it’s development costs, and a whole lot more, over the years), I decided to upgrade the graphics engine in the form of a DLC. I have no intentions of remaking another game like that series because, even with tech advancements, it would take five to six years, and millions to do. I have moved on from that, and have very little interest in doing that. I feel that upgrading the graphics engine, and charging a small price, is the best course of action.
And even though I have moved on from complex games, our upcoming Line Of Defense, has the similar underlying feature set as Star Citizen.
So I’m not entirely sure what it is I’m supposed to be jealous of. Who wants to be jealous of a disaster in the making? I mean, seriously?
That aside from the fact that, right off the bat, in 2012, I funded Star Citizen for $250 based on good faith. Who does that, if they are jealous of the creator?
Plus, Line Of Defense went into development in mid 2010. Star Citizen was announced over two years later. And I’ve never bashed it, or spoken out against it, before now. All I’ve done before my Interstellar Citizens blog, is poke fun at it from time to time, due to all the ludicrous PR surrounding the crowd-funding, when in fact the game is delayed, and hasn’t delivered anything worthy of note. Except pretty pictures.”
TIP: If you want to check out the game, tomorrow, anyone who signs up for CBT, before 5pm EST is guaranteed to have a free key to the game’s Starter Kit. Once you get the key, check your email by end of day. Then go check out the game, even though it’s in Early Access still. Be sure to scan the online manual first!!
And below is his filmography from his Hollywood stint. And there are completely unconfirmed reports, that this is mine.
The Big White
Lord of War
Ask the Dust
Lucky Number Slevin
Who’s Your Caddy
Black Water Transit
Unnamed film, reported to have gone bankrupt, and subject to on-going lawsuits
Wing Commander: The Movie (based on his earlier game). And while we’re on the subject, here is a quote from an interview that he gave, about what went wrong with this movie (which he left the games industry to go to Hollywood and eventually make).
“So if anyone asks what went wrong with the Wing Commander film, there you go. You had a first-time director dealing with a compressed pre-production schedule, and a smaller than average budget for the effects-driven science fiction movie. Roberts said he wished someone had sat him down, forced him to pick four or five things that it was important to do well, and focus on those. Instead he tried to do too much, and didn’t have the budget nor time to do any of it particularly well.“
So uhm yeah, so jealous. Whatever.
Anyway, here’s the thing. I am a founding backer of this project, and setting aside everything else, I have the right to raise these issues, ask these questions etc. This is not a private venture. It’s a crowd-funded venture, and if you backed this project, you too have exactly the same rights. The only exception being that, unless you have the ability to reach a large audience, are in the media, are part of the industry, are a government agency etc, nobody is going to listen to you; because apparently, despite your faith in this project, shown by all the money you’ve put into it, your opinion is worthless to these people.
As they have done in the past, they are most likely going to ignore all these warning signs, then either release a) some movie of some half-assed Star Marine (aka fps module) internal build or b) one or two levels of said Star Marine module, similar to what they did with Arena Commander. The White Knights will then scream in delight; and for a moment, they will all forget that it is not indicative of the game they promised back in 2012, and which is now long overdue. They’ve done it all before – repeatedly.
And the end result is that they will quickly follow that up with more virtual crap to sell. And they will continue to do it, because they can.
By the end of the year, we’re going to end up with three disjointed (hangar, Arena Commander, Star Marine) modules, and possibly a buggy, half-assed Squadron 42 “game“.
REACHING OUT AND TOUCHING SOMEONE
Neither party got back to me, even after the article hit. Instead, my sources tell me that, they never expect him to respond, because he’s confident that his supporters will just ignore “that Derek Smart guy” and that the media will never cover anything that I say, and which is targeted against him. In other words, where there is a Derek Smart v Chris Roberts, I would lose in the public face, because nobody will listen.
Which was great because I love a good challenge. So I just went ahead and doubled-down. Which is why you’re reading this second missive.
Ahead of this second missive, even after what my friends and sources were telling me, on July 7th, I created a private thread on Facebook, then added all our common industry friends to that thread. This was the opening statement.
I then unfriended Chris in order to send a clear message to him, and express my complete disappointment.
The heart-felt post I wrote, spanned five pages, and all the “friends”, peers, and colleagues we had in the industry, were privy to it. As you see in the screenshot, I was hoping that, at the very least, even if they didn’t reach out to me, that he would take the opportunity to get out there and address some of the things that thousands of gamers have been asking about.
Certain events which have happened this past week, have made some parts of the aforementioned Facebook missive, pointless, and redundant. In that, the cat’s already out of the bag, the reconciliation ship has sailed, and there’s simply no version of what’s to come, that ends all of this on a positive note. As the missive is now out-dated, due to most of it being incorporated into this article, it still has some relevant parts, which have been retained and revised for context. You can read it over here.
Quite simply, they’re trying to bury this, ignore it, hoping that it all goes away. It’s not. At all.
And if you let them get away with it, aside from the fact that all signs point to this project failing, below are entities which would be affected. Note that the video game media are not included in this list. They lose nothing; and will benefit from all the click-bait riddled bullshit that some are going to be peddling if, and when the crash comes.
- video game crowd-funding
- increase scrutiny and hesitation toward video game crowd-funded projects
- video game industry; over 300+ people will lose their jobs, either gradually, or overnight (see 38 Studios)
- gamers – every single one of the 922,034 who have thus far given them money, will stand no chance of getting their money back – or a game they paid for
- scrutiny from attention seeking State politicians who are – without a doubt – going to once again point the spotlight on us, given the exceptional exposure that this project has received through these crazy over-the-top crowd-funding numbers
- the chance of a game like this ever being made, will expire, because Chris Roberts, once again, bit off more than he could chew – because he could, and nobody dared question him
And if the FTC doesn’t investigate this right now, in order to find out what is going on with the project, and $85m in backer money, it will have far reaching effects in crowd-funding if this project fails on Helen Wong‘s watch; despite the many reports (not to mention the numerous media reports) they’ve already received by now. And they have the power to immediately halt all further crowd-funding efforts at RSI, and investigate what is going on. They’ve done it before, several times in fact.
THE ROAD AHEAD
Chris, none of us who are pursuing this effort, believe that you will do the right thing. Thus far, following my first article, RSI was forced to address various issue, just last week. And we don’t have time for that anymore.
If we’ve collectively given you $84,966,258 in crowd-funded public money, and one of those backers, sends you an email, asking you for your expense reports, you should be ready to send it, without question. That’s how good faith, and trust, work. That aside from the fact that you are 100% held accountable for this money. All of it. And, so now you have 922,034 bosses. One of whom just happens to be me. And I will never – ever – stop, unless, and until you are held accountable for what you’ve done, and are doing with this project, and people’s hard earned money.
As I said before, there is no version of this that ends nicely, or quietly. It’s going to be messy, it’s going to be a long process, and due to the massive public interest in this, it’s all going to play out in the public domain if a lawsuit, or even negative results from an FTC investigation, come from this.
As backers of this project, here is our list of demands:
- disclose the full detailed (private jet travel? we want to see it) P&L accounting (money in off-shore bank accounts? we want to know about them) for every crowd-funded dime that has been raised and spent on this project. Allow an independent forensics accountant, hired by backers, to come and do an audit. This is standard practice in developer-publisher relationships. So you know how that works.
- disclose the true state of the project in terms of what is expected to be delivered, and when. Allow an independent Executive Producer, hired by backers, to come and do a project review in order to get an accurate picture of the game state, so we know when it is likely to see the light of day – if ever
- disclose the true timeline for the project’s completion. As per the above.
- setup a page offering refunds to all those who REQUEST it. The TOS is going to be the first thing attacked in any lawsuit. It is not likely to survive a legal challenge. Plus, the FTC will trump all that crap anyway, so there is that.
- admit, in no uncertain terms, and apologize that the scope of the project has changed since the original $2.1m kickstarter crowd-funding campaign
- halt all further crowd-funding activities until a sizable part of the game – as originally pitched in 2012 – has been delivered to backers who have paid for it. In other words, STOP selling virtual items and taking money for vaporware
- address the nepotism issues associated with the hiring of unqualified family members to head key parts of this crowd-funded project. In this regard, explain the benefits of a) promoting your brother to an Executive Producer position, as opposed to hiring someone (like the departed Alex Mayberry) who has the experience to match the job. Also what new benefits (pay raise, shares etc) he now has access to, for going into that position b) hiring someone, allegedly your wife, to a position that she is seemingly not qualified to hold. And why a more experienced executive wasn’t put in this position. Especially since that dept has people, with more experience and qualifications to do the job. Instead, they get to answer to her; and naturally, she gets paid more, as per the position.
You should issue a statement, as soon as possible, acknowledging these issues, and how you are going to address them. Please don’t do a video, those are hard to archive. And no theatrics or incessant, convoluted waffling. Make it a press statement, so nobody gets to go play a video, since they’re a pain to transcribe. David Swofford, like all the very talented people you have there, is very good at his job; so I’m sure that he can put something together for you.
If you fail to issue such a statement, you send a clear signal that you don’t care about any of this, and thus you will leave people with no choice but to take legal action, regardless of what the FTC is going to do if they decide to investigate further. And your attorney partner should tell you that, by the time it even gets to $10K spent – not to mention the many attorneys lining up to take this on for free, just for the publicity and cred alone – they can get a complaint in front of a judge. Sure, you could stifle discovery for as long as possible, but the project could die before it even goes to trial; and that won’t make it any less of a disaster. Nobody wants to see that happen, least of all me. We all just want you to deliver on promises, and be held accountable.
All of you at RSI, and various studios, divisions etc, who are working on this project, and who know what’s going on, should know quite well that the minute this enters into the court system, regardless of who sues whom, it’s all over. So you all need to get him into a room, and talk some sense into him. You can all – collectively – do it.
Lest we forget, all this has happened before (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6), in the wake of the total collapse of Digital Anvil, following Chris being reportedly removed from Digital Anvil, by Microsoft. And I quote from one of those media articles linked above:
“In the wake of the collapse of Digital Anvil, co-founder and soon-to-be-former CEO Chris Roberts has spoken about his decision to leave the company he founded just four years ago. As we suspected, the company’s troubles were down to “wanting to develop not only hugely ambitious games, but too many hugely ambitious games“, leaving the company’s finances stretched after four years without a single game being released – the sole title to emerge with the Digital Anvil name on it was actually mostly developed by a small British company.”
He subsequently quit the industry, and headed for Hollywood. Never to be seen, or head from again in the industry, for decades. Then just like that, one day in Oct 2012, he shows up asking for money.
In the interim, since this pledge by you, has ended up being the usual meaningless lip service, as of this moment, Chris, your crowd-funding efforts for this Star Citizen project, in addition to the selling of virtual items for a non-existent game, are coming to AN END. I think if you go back and look at your metrics, you will see what I mean.
As I suspected, shortly following this article, and my refund from RSI, a thread poll went up on the site. That poll, as of this writing, indicates that 31.5% want the option of a refund if they so choose. Let that sink in.
This article was written last week, on 07/10, and was awaiting legal approval before posting. During that time, I had shared it with various media personnel, as well as some industry friends. Earlier this evening, I sent out a tweet that the article was going live. Then when making my final email pass for the evening, I noticed an email had come in from Kickstarter, advising me that RSI had processed a $250 refund for my pledge. While I was pondering that, I got another email from RSI confirming it.
I don’t know what this means, but I will speak with legal in the morning to figure it out.
From the two emails, they issued my refund based on the following rules below. At a glance, this means that people who pledged $2.1m on Kickstarter, have a greater chance of getting their money back, than those who pledged almost $83m via the RSI site, and which has far more stringent refund rules.
Kickstarter Section 5:
5. How Funding Works
These are the terms that apply when you’re creating a project:
You can refund individual pledges if you want. After your project has been funded, you can cancel and refund a backer’s pledge at any time. If you do, you have no further obligation to that specific backer, and no agreement exists between you.
RSI TOS Section XX:
XX. Termination of RSI Services and Accounts
RSI may immediately suspend or terminate your Account(s) (and access to all related entitlements) or any subscription for an RSI Service after notifying you of your breach of these Terms of Service, or any illegal or improper use of any of your Account(s), or your illegal or improper use of the RSI Services, products, or RSI’s Content. You may lose your user names and personas as a result of your Account(s) being terminated. If RSI terminates your Account(s), you may not participate in an RSI Service again without RSI’s express permission. To participate in an RSI Service after such termination, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. RSI reserves the right to refuse to keep Accounts for, and provide any of the RSI Services to, any individual. You may not allow individuals whose Accounts have been terminated by RSI to use your Account.
If your Account, or a particular subscription for an RSI Service associated with your Account, is terminated for your breach, no refund will be granted; no online time or other credits will be credited to you or converted to cash or other form of reimbursement, and you will have no further access to your Account (or to any related entitlements associated with your Account or the particular RSIService).