“The greatest victory is that which requires no battle.”
― Sun Tzu,
UPDATE: Since this blog went live, they are continuing to remove evidence from the web. Though we have them, two more links to Sandra Roberts, which a whole bunch of people have already seen, have now been deleted. The one where she was in a video and referred to as Mandy (one of the movies she worked on, which makes this really odd. update: the movie is back online again) and the YouTube video where she was talking about her MBA. Like everything else, we have all of them saved locally. So this of no consequence. Go ahead and tell me again how none of this isn’t fishy.
So it comes now that what started as a bid to lay bare the challenges and failed promises of the Star Citizen crowd-funded project, is headed for legal action.
In my first blog, Interstellar Citizens, which sparked many an article and numerous gaming-wide discussions, I wrote a lengthy piece as to why I was of the opinion that the project in question, having completely increased the scope of the project, could never be made. In fact, below is precisely the statement that I made:
“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.“
After that first blog, as a concerned backer, I continued to dig into what was going on, having heard from many sources offering their opinions, thoughts and first hand accounting of events surrounding the project. That in turn sparked my second blog article, Interstellar Discourse in which, among other things, I called for the immediate investigation of the project and the people running it.
Following that article, and without answering any of the questions being raised, RSI took the unprecedented step of canceling my backer account, then tried to justify it by making statements with the purpose of casting me in a poor light; while making allegations that I had somehow violated their ToS; which wasn’t true.
Not to mention the fact that in violation of privacy, as well as their own privacy statement, they made this information public (first to PC Gamer), while singling me out. This after never before done such a thing for any other backer who was refunded. Let that sink in for a moment; I’ll wait.
So I wrote a third blog, Interstellar Justice in which I vowed to continue fighting for answers. I guess they thought I was kidding or that I don’t have better things to do with my time, but to write up lengthy missives, while appearing to be making empty threats.
KEY POINTS OF DISCOURSE
The purpose of the higher stretch goals is to ensure that the game-as-described is finished in the two year time period. We intend to build the game that Chris Roberts described at GDC Online regardless, but without additional funding we are going to have to do it one piece at a time, starting with Squadron 42, rather than as a single larger production. With more funding we can include more ships, systems, unique locations, animations and cinematic sequences.
Following all my blogs, a lot has been going on, some of it played out in the public, along with the usual disinformation that tends to follow these things. So let me break down some of the facts, all of which are backed by publicly available resources.
1) According to statements made by the very same Chris Roberts, Star Citizen was in development one year before the initial Kickstarter campaign which went live Oct 18, 2012 and concluded Nov 19, 2012. Which, as of this writing, means that the project has been almost four years in development. The scope was described as this.
Quoted from this Oct 19, 2012 interview:
“We’re already one year in – another two years puts us at 3 total which is ideal“
2) The original pitch was for a smaller scope game project in which they were asking for $500K (on Kickstarter) with a Nov 2014 delivery date. They raised $2.1m on Kickstarter by the time the campaign closed in Nov 2012.
Then they continued to raise funds via their own RSI website; to the tune of $86.5m as of this writing. All this time, the game scope continues to increase, every single (yes – we checked) milestone (1, 2, 3, 4) has thus far been missed etc. As recently as this past month following the Gamescon 2015 conference, he made statements like this:
“Social Module/Planetside (end of Aug), Star Marine (end of Sept), AC 2.0/Multi-Crew (end of Oct)“
Then in a recent interview with Kotaku, claimed:
“Recent demos have shown off features like a social plaza, first-person firefights, and multi-crew ships, but they won’t be playable for at least a few months. The plan, ultimately, is to take all ofStar Citizen’s features and unify them into a single persistent universe, but that’s still a ways off. Roberts told me he wants to have that part up and running—to essentially have the “full” game available—in 2016. He added, however, that nothing’s set in stone.”
3) To date, almost every key point in the pledge , as well as various promises made to backers in 2012, have now been broken. In fact, as of this writing, they haven’t even delivered, in our estimation, 25% of what was promised in the original game pitched on Kickstarter.
If you read that description of what was promised, any gamer or game developer will see that this game is either i) never going to end up being what was promised or ii) in the event that they do manage to pull it off, the chances of it every being released before 2018, is highly unlikely.
Here is another example of the sort of thing they’ve done.
In the original (aka “vision 1.0”) game they pitched on Kickstarter, which 34,397 backers pledged $2,134,374 to help bring this project to life, they had an “estimated” release date of Nov 2014.
According to their ToS v1.1 of 08/29/13 they said if they failed to deliver within 12 months of Nov 2014 (the original Kickstarter estimated delivery date), they would issue refunds. At the time, this non-delivery period would kick in during Nov 2015.
IV. Charges & Billing
“RSI agrees to use its good faith business efforts to deliver to you the pledge items and the Game on or before the estimated delivery date. However, you acknowledge and agree that delivery as of such date is not a promise by RSI since unforeseen events may extend the development and/or production time. Accordingly, you agree that any unearned portion of the deposit shall not be refundable until and unless RSI has failed to deliver the pledge items and/or the Game to you within 12 months after the estimated delivery date.”
Since that time, having already i) missed the Nov 2014 delivery date and ii) embarked on the increased scope (aka “vision 2.0”), thus extending the delivery date for the project, they surreptitiously made another changed in ToS v1.2 of 02/01/15 (which remains the current one). The previous section was moved; and now reads:
VII. Fundraising & Pledges
“RSI agrees to use its good faith business efforts to deliver to you the pledge items and the Game on or before the estimated delivery date communicated to you on the Website. However, you acknowledge and agree that delivery as of such date is not a firm promise and may be extended by RSI since unforeseen events may extend the development and/or production time. Accordingly, you agree that any unearned portion of your Pledge shall not be refundable until and unless RSI has failed to deliver the relevant pledge items and/or the Game to you within eighteen (18) months after the estimated delivery date.“
And in the current ToS, here is a key section that ties into the above:
VII. Fundraising & Pledges
“For the avoidance of doubt, in consideration of RSI’s good faith efforts to develop, produce, and deliver the Game with the funds raised, you agree that any Pledge amounts applied against the Pledge Item Cost and the Game Cost shall be non-refundable regardless of whether or not RSI is able to complete and deliver the Game and/or the pledge items. In the unlikely event that RSI is not able to deliver the Game and/or the pledge items, RSI agrees to post an audited cost accounting on the Website to fully explain the use of the amounts paid for Pledge Item Cost and the Game Cost. In consideration of the promises by RSI hereunder, you agree that you shall irrevocably waive any claim for refund of any Pledge that has been used for the Game Cost and Pledge Item Cost in accordance with the above.”
4) Chris Roberts has, as recently as this past July when my blogs started going online, continued to vehemently deny that the scope of the project had increased. This, in the face of dozens and dozens of media articles (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10) and forum posts showing clearly that this was in fact the case.
To the extent that PC Gamer one of the largest print gaming magazines, in a 2014 article, referred to it as Scam Citizen.
I’ll quote a backer from the RSI forum, as recently as Aug 13th:
“So, I suppose, so long as CIG attaches a little “things change” disclaimer along with everything they do, they’ll never have to be accountable for anything?
Perhaps you’ve forgotten, but back in 2013 and early 2014, the fear of feature creep was pretty real. CIG, and CR himself, went on record numerous times stating that feature creep will never get in the way of the games development. Yet, now, CR openly admits that the game has been delayed due to an expanded scope (i.e. more features).
In 2012 it was all, it’s not a pipe dream, the game will come out in 2014!
In 2013 it was all, game will be on time! CIG guarantees it!
In 2014 it was all, game might be a bit late, but it’s still relatively on time!
In 2015 it’s all like, game is pretty delayed, but we get a better game for free, so who cares!
So, that begs to question, what will people be saying in the years to come? Seems to me like some people will never hold CIG accountable to any manner of release date, but you know what, the world won’t stop to wait for SC. By the time it launches, we may very well have something far more impressive on our hands.”
5) As a result of various warning signs, questions and statements about feature creep have been met with derision and ridicule both by Chris Roberts and RSI employees, as well as by the die-hard fans (aka White Knights) who are always ready to shoot down any dissent (go take a look at the RSI forums for an example).
This despite the fact that the project, thus far, having missed its Nov 2014 ship date, is nowhere near completion, having to date delivered only two modules (Hangar, Arena Commander 1.0), neither of which constitutes the “game” as promised, but rather mechanics for the continued advertising and sale of new ships.
As recently as this past January, this is the delivery timeline given during a BAFTA presentation.
Here is a Forbes interview on YouTube, dated May 17th, 2013 in which he not only says he needed $20 million, but gives a detailed timeline and hard release dates for the public BETA.
And here is a very handy timeline and some key points below as well.
April 30, 2013: “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”
May 17, 2013: “I mean it’s going to cost 20 million dollars plus by the time it’s all finished”
May 17, 2013: “then we’ll go live after the beta which I would anticipate would be sometime in early 2015. But essentially from the end of 2014 you should be able to play the full game but it will just be beta because there will still be things to tweak and balance.”
August 18, 2015: “When we first started, we raised $6 million with crowdfunding,” Roberts told me. “That was a lot, but it still wasn’t what we were gonna make the game for because we had private investors lined up. At that point, we were thinking of making a much more contained game.”
6) At key points during this crowd-funding effort, many statements made, have now been proven to be patently false or proven to be without merit. In our research notes, we have found and documented no less than one hundred and eighty-six instances of this sort of thing; going as far back as statements made in interviews like this from Oct 2012. And I quote:
Q: You have stated that you expect to have an Alpha up and going in about 12 months, with a beta roughly 10 months after that and then launch. For a game of this size and scope, do you think you can really be done in the next two years?
A: Really it is all about constant iteration from launch. The whole idea is to be constantly updating. It isn’t like the old days where you had to have everything and the kitchen sink in at launch because you weren’t going to come back to it for awhile. We’re already one year in – another two years puts us at 3 total which is ideal. Any more and things would begin to get stale.
It gets worse. This is a direct quote from the Sept 30th, 2014 Letter From The Chairman:
“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!)“
It’s not going to be obvious what the above excerpt means, so let me explain it in simple terms. He has no clue wtf he’s doing. You can’t use month-to-month financial metrics, to determine the scope of the product you’re building.
7) Through all this, having thus far failed to deliver any tangible product as promised, Chris Roberts has continued making claims designed to continue increasing the scope of the game, even as they continue to raise money, (see this detailed analysis) after claiming “Six million was what it would take us to build the game we were imagining with all the bells and whistles we wanted included.” See Kickstarter updates 47 and 48 for context.
Now, as of this writing, this has ballooned to over $86.5m.
And at every step of the way, as far back as April 2013 Chris Roberts claimed that the game was going to cost $14m-$20m to make. Both of these two stretch goals have since been reached. When asked in this Polygon interview on March 2015, “If the money stopped today would you be able to get all of the things out that you promised?“, the response was “Absolutely“.
“This is a misquote – What was said is that we’ll probably have invested at least $100M into the development of Star Citizen by the time it “launches” to the public. This is based on our intention to invest all the money we raise during initial development back into the game (which I’ve been quite public about) and the fact that we will most likely raise this much by the time the full vision of Star Citizen is polished enough to be called “public” (of course all you guys will be experiencing Squadron 42 and the PU before this as part of the benefit of being backers and being part of the development process). You guys are literally setting the budget and ambition of the game with your support which in itself is a pretty amazing thing and something I never would have believed possible two years ago.”
8) Despite the length of time for various types of game projects, a four year span for a game of this scope is not unreasonable. However, there are people out there throwing up all kinds of charts for various triple-A game (e.g. WoW, Halo, Mass Effect etc) expenses and development periods, in an attempt to compare to Star Citizen, thus justifying the costs and schedule.
For reference, back in June 2014, Kotaku wrote a detailed article about this. You should probably read it for context. And in July 2012, ahead of the Star Citizen Kickstarter, Polygon wrote a similar article about the state of AAA game development, costs etc. Well before this, Luke Ahearn, wrote a detailed article about budgeting and scheduling game development. It’s quite the read. And if you still have time, and really want to see even more eye-opening analysis, go read this one.
And so, in all those discussions, those trying to make this argument are forgetting (how convenient) that those games they are trying to compare Star Citizen to, are:
- structured designs
- have publishers pulling the strings and calling the shots
- have experienced and seasoned producers and developers – who are familiar with the game, genre and tech used
- have specific goal-oriented budgets – controlled by said publishers
- those people were not making a game that requires putting the entire development team on a goal-post moving, technological scope-creep tread-mill with a seemingly insurmountable end-game for something they had never before attempted to develop
- not managed or produced by someone who has a history of making huge claims about over-ambitious games, then not delivering on same
So yes, that comparison argument is devoid of any merit. As a 30 year industry veteran, I have funded, developed, and shipped over a dozen games, and I have vast experience and qualifications in various game development disciplines. So it’s safe to say that I know what I’m talking about. You don’t have to listen to what I have to say – and I don’t care, because I’m going to say it anyway.
The facts are that:
- this game was never pitched as a triple-A game
- not everyone signed up for this grand “vision” back in 2012
- if Chris Roberts had asked for anything resembling a triple-A game budget back in 2012, he probably won’t have received funding because the scope of the game back then was not in line with that pitch.
Who dare makes such a claim, while asking for $500K to build a triple-A quality game? Go ahead, show me one single instance of this ever happening.
Aside from that, right from the start, either Chris Roberts and co lied about how much longer (two years from the Oct 2012 Kickstarter) it would take to build the game, or he created this lie on-the-fly once he figured out a way to keep raising money, while not delivering a finished product. And the FTC is very clear on this, even aside from crowd-funding. He raised money to build and ship a specific product, to be delivered to backers within a specific time frame.
Nobody cares about what the average development time for a game is. We only care about what was promised. Period. End of story.
Yes – in the world of software development, especially games, delays can and will happen; it is a given. However, this has gone beyond mere delays because now, it is the scope creep and the technological hurdles associated with it, that are causing the delays. A delay that, if he is to be believed, is most likely to see the game released well beyond 2016. Assuming that it ever gets completed; or as promised in the feature set.
Once funding crossed the $2.1m mark, as the narrative and pitch for the game changed, everything said was a blatant attempt to continue raising funds, for a “vision” that Chris Roberts now wanted to build and to compete (1, 2, 3) with triple-A games, while lining their collective pockets with backer money.
Here is a statement Chris Roberts made to Forbes magazine in 2013:
“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.”
Here is an interview statement made by Ortwin, Chris Roberts’ partner 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.“
Here is a statement that Chris Roberts made in 2014:
“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!)“
9) Having admitted to facing various technology challenges (e.g. 1, 2), most occurring no doubt as a result of the increased scope, running afoul of scope creep itself which has then subjected the project to technological hurdles and limitations, failure to deliver (even with an almost one year delay) the originally pitched project as promised, Chris Roberts has now – this August – claimed that the project will be completed and delivered by the end of 2016. This despite the fact that, as of this moment, August 2015, when a backer ran an analysis of completed ship assets, based on what they’ve sold, are selling (even while in concept stage!!!!), they have yet to build etc, it appears as if a significant amount of work is still left to be done on just the assets alone.
Assuming that is to be believed (don’t be silly, thus far, they haven’t met a single milestone date), this now puts the project as being delayed by almost two years from the original promised date, for a total of five years in development. All things being equal of course.
The size of the various studios, which dictates the burn rate, the declining fund raising, even with the budget cuts (?) through recent consolidation efforts, means that the entire project is now at an increased risk of a catastrophic collapse, resulting in a total loss for backers.
And if that happens, the people who started this, would have lost nothing, having already benefited and enriched themselves these past years with backer money.
And if history is to repeat itself, as it pertains to similar historical events (e.g. the sudden collapse of Digital Anvil) for projects led by Chris Roberts once he was no longer tethered to publishers – the platform upon which he crowd-funded this project – this is a very possible scenario that is now playing out all over again.
“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.”
10) Through all this, there has been zero accountability for the crowd-funded project expenses.
Aside from spending what could amount to millions of dollars for attending and hosting various worldwide events (PAX, Gamescon, GDC, E3, CitizenCon etc) and similar expenses. For example, buying equipment for making propaganda style broadcast videos, spending money on travel to do motion capture shoots and similar, funding Sandra Roberts’ pet movie (shot by Bérénice Eveno) project (as sources have told investigators, some of this was done using RSI resources including equipment, staff and money) etc. None of which have anything to do with the “development” of Star Citizen.
So the claims of not spending money on “public relations”, and only spending said money on this Star Citizen “development”, are seemingly false.
Time, money and resources which would otherwise go toward the completion of the project in a cost effective and timely fashion, are instead, in addition to personal use, are spent on these events and activities which amount to glorified marketing and public relation bids to continue advertising and selling items to gamers for a game that does not yet exist, and which in all likelihood, never will or least not in the form they have pitched.
This being a game that we were told was already fully funded back in Nov 2012.
All this despite the outcry in the past about this type of expenditure, even as recently, backers on RSI website, continue to express this and similar concerns (1, 2, 3 4). Not to mention dissent in various forums, as well as people filling out reports on ripoffreport.com, filing FTC and BBB complaints etc.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, they now have an eighteen month marketing plan, and for which they are looking to hire (!) more people. Why yes, yes of course; why the hell not? I mean, after all, we do need marketing for a game backers already paid for, and which is yet to be delivered. Even though there was never to be money spent on such things, as they bear no relevance to the development of Star Citizen.
WHEN IGNORANCE IS NOT AN OPTION
“We are aiming for a AAA game experience. But depending on the funding levels reached, we may have to limit the experience for the initially released game version. Nonetheless, Chris Roberts and his teams have shown consistently that they are able to develop epic story-based games. Even with our very limited self-funding we have been able to do already a lot of work which is why we can show you not just concept art and a cinematic trailer, but an extensive demo of actual game play. So, we are confident that even with limited means we will be able to deliver an amazing experience.“
If you really want to get the big picture, PC Invasion just put up an excellent project timeline for Star Citizen. It’s a wake-up call.
In my blogs, I had raised a lot of questions, which, even amid the attacks (this was to be expected) and media disinformation, sparked a lot of discussions. Specific to that was the issue of refunds.
Prior to my first blog appearing in July, refunds for this project were largely non-existent, according to many reports; especially if you were a Kickstarter backer from 2012. Soon after, as I raised this issue in the blogs, some people, after the noise (1, 2, 3, 4) started getting refunded quietly, even as reports continue to pour into the FTC once I showed how this could be done.
With several websites, as a result of all this noise that I’ve been making, now doing their own independent investigations, writing articles (1, 2), thus getting on-the-record responses, it is becoming more and more clearer that this entire project has been mismanaged, backers have been misled and lied to, and the creators of this project have been seemingly unjustly enriched by their actions.
And so, last week now comes media reports of refunds being issued more frequently. Though, once again, Chris Roberts is playing down the impact of this, as if after all the lies, misleading statements, scope creep, failure to deliver on promises etc, that somehow getting a refund is a privilege, and not a right. In short, these people have absolutely no idea what doing the right thing entails.
Aside from all this, there are also issues and questions related to the distribution of wealth which in turn calls into question the issue of nepotism (which, for the record, I have no problems with, if the family members are competent and are not disproportionately compensated) whereby Sandra Roberts (née Sandi Gardiner, who he is reported to have met while she was his intern at one of the studios he worked at; though we still don’t even if know yet if that is her real maiden name; as in this reality show from her filmography, she’s called Mandy) wife (why this is such a closely guarded secret, still eludes most of us; but my legal investigators are still working on that one) of Chris Roberts, having been caught lying in various (1, 2 @18:45) public statements about her credentials (which appears to be the continuation of a pattern of wanton dishonesty that plagues this project) is somehow part of the machine that runs this project without any accountability to the very backers like myself who made it possible and who are seeking answers.
I should also point out that since my blogs went up, both her old and new LinkedIn profiles, containing this false information mentioned in my blog, the first which was even being discussed here on Reddit back in April 2014, have now disappeared. But yes – we have screen caps of both – and we will subpoena LinkedIn for them if needed.
Aside for all this, somewhere between Oct 2012 and now, in addition to being the VP of marketing she has now been credited as the “co-creator” of the Star Citizen project. This is someone who, by way of numerous (yes, we have them; nice of you to ask) statements in various interviews, has given many contradicting accounts of games she’s either played or is familiar with. Take that for what you will; but that’s what depositions are for.
Further, with Erin Roberts (Disclaimer: I’m a fan of his work), a widely respected, and capable developer, taking the executive producer reins, following Alex Mayberry’s departure (yet another key event that they kept quiet, until I made it public), we now have three family members, at the top of the corporate ladder, running an $86m+ crowd-funded project that is, by all accounts, off track, while money continues to be poured into it and going to these very same people who seemingly have no incentive to finish the project as long as money keeps flowing in through crowd-funding.
“No! Star Citizen will take the best of all possible worlds, ranging from a permanent, persistent world similar to those found in MMOs to an offline, single player campaign like those found in the Wing Commander series. The game will include the option for private servers, like Freelancer, and will offer plenty of opportunities for players who are interested in modding the content. Unlike many games, none of these aspects is an afterthought: they all combine to form the core of the Star Citizen experience.”
SECOND RULE OF FIGHT CLUB: GO AHEAD AND TALK ABOUT FIGHT CLUB
“Publishers are useful in the old physical distribution world, but the Internet is the great equalizer. Notch didn’t need a publisher to reach 20-million Minecraft fans. Riot games didn’t need a publisher to reach 30-million League of Legends players, and Wargaming.net didn’t need a publisher to reach 20-million World of Tanks gamers. If we were building a big “AAA” console game it would be crazy to try without a publisher. But we want to build a PC game and publishers increase costs because of their need to recoup their sizable overhead cost. We want to make sure all the money raised goes directly to the development of the game. So we’re throwing ourselves on the mercy of the PC gamers out there that share our vision and passion for the platform and the space combat genre to raise money outside of the “cartel” of traditional publishers. The game will cost less, be more creatively pure, and, most importantly, be built for the real “core” audience – not some corporate suit worried about including all the casual gamers.“
And with that, I have decided to make good on previous statements calling for accountability.
Aside from the FTC guidelines on crowd-funding, as well as actions they have taken against companies that seek to defraud consumers, and because I have reasons to believe that this entire project now borders on consumer fraud, regardless of the risks to myself, my family etc or the amount of aggravation (attacking the messenger is an exercise in futility) that this is no doubt going to cause me, I am going to continue fighting this, while working with the Federal authorities, including the FBI, to get to the bottom of what is going on with this project and where backer money is going.
And to add to all that, I have instructed one of the CA attorneys (there are two firms handling this) to send the RSI officers, a demand letter that is very clear and leaves no room for interpretation. Their response – if any – will determine where we go from here, regardless of what the federal authorities decide do. You can read that letter here
As all previous calls for accountability have failed, we don’t expect RSI to co-operate (hence the need to contact the Federal authorities), with us. Which means that the next steps, depending on how they respond to the letter, would be for a class-action lawsuit (already in various stages of preparation), to move forward and be immediately filed. And through that, we’re going to subpoena and depose every single key person, while asking for specific documents during discovery which will hopefully shed a light on what is going on. They will ask for protective orders, try to delay and drag things out etc. We will fight it every step of the way and my guess is that with the Federal authorities involved, it may get resolved even before it gets to trial; and then we’ll have answers either way.
And if they do fight this, they’re going to do it with your money, simply because they don’t believe that you – the backers – are entitled to accountability. If they had nothing to hide, resolving this matter should be very straightforward.
Sadly, I feel that this is the only way that we are going to get the answers that we are entitled to, before this whole thing collapses and makes it more difficult to sift through; especially where spoliation of material evidence becomes an issue. Not to mention the fact that they have studios outside of North America, which will make things even more difficult to sift through.
As an example of a similar incident (one of several throughout our history), the State Of Rhode island, almost four years later, is still sifting through the sudden collapse of 38 Studios , which was a total loss of a $150m+ project, with a $75m loss for the State alone. Given the pitiful sale of some recovered assets, the needle on this loss recovery, hardly moved. And yes, there is still an open criminal investigation into that one.
And if they don’t co-operate, all of you who are backers, should ask yourselves why that is. Especially considering the fact that the demands are very reasonable, and I haven’t even said anything about taking legal action for defamation. Why? Because this whole thing is bigger than me and my $250 investment.
Nor am I paying $350 / hr attorneys because I’d rather throw it away on a pointless cause which, depending on how things go, could cost me well over $100K before it even gets to discovery. I believe that what I am doing is the right thing to do, and so I am going to put my money where my mouth is because I believe that there is something very fishy going on here, and which they want to keep hidden from the public view, especially the backers.
This whole thing started out July 4th, 2015 weekend as an opinion piece about a project, seemingly out of control, and which I had backed in good faith for an industry peer and someone who a lot of us trusted. Not unlike the so many crowd-funded projects (not just videogames) which I have backed over the years whereby some have delivered, some failed, and some are yet to deliver. Chris Roberts and co, while throwing caution to the wind in wanton displays of what can only be described as sheer arrogance, decided that the best course of action was to ignore the questions being asked by backers like myself and others, while taking steps against us – the very backers – to silence dissent. Accountability be damned.
Here 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. And he didn’t fare well there either. After struggling through a string of mediocre to bad movies, in late 2012, returning to the industry, broke (according to my sources), he unveils a new project and came, hat in hand, asking gaming for money. Out of nostalgia, and sheer love for our beloved space combat genre, we foolishly gave him over $2.1m. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, using nothing but promises and a well oiled and very expensive PR (yet another broken promise about funding public relations, yet he can afford Swofford Media) hype machine, instead of building and delivering the game as promised, they continued increasing the scope, while asking for more and more money. Now we’re collectively $86m in. UPDATE: As of this writing, that number is now $87.7m.
Chris Roberts’ Hollywood Filmography
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.“
And now with backer money, he’s paying himself a high salary, living the life of luxury in a house on Pacific Palisades reported to cost over $11K per month in rent, luxury vehicles, staff, funding his wife’s pet movie projects, flying all over the world etc. All with backer money that was crowd-funded for the development of Star Citizen.
If any of that rings a bell, it should, because one Erik Chavalier, after months of investigation and complaints, got nailed by the FTC earlier this year. And I quote:
“So where did Chevalier go wrong? He told his backers that he would use the money he raised to manufacture the “Doom” board game. He also told them that he would provide specific rewards – like copies of the game and pewter figurines – if the campaign reached its goal. A year after the campaign raised nearly four times its goal, rather than providing rewards, Chevalier announced that he wouldn’t produce the game after all. According to the FTC, Chevalier spent most of the Kickstarter money on himself, not the project.“
This was a small amount of money, and he came to a settlement with the FTC.
If anyone else was doing, or had done this, it would be headline news, all day, every day. But since Chris Roberts’ legacy goes right down to the roots of the industry, plus he’s not some low hanging fruit in the industry hierarchy, most are turning a blind eye – at the expense of gamers, and the gaming industry proper.
WHEN THE END JUSTIFIES THE MEANS, GO FOR BROKE
“Star Citizen will feature gameplay similar to the original Wing Commander and Privateer, with a more realistic physics system. This means that it is NOT a ‘click to kill’ interface like most modern MMOs; your success in combat is going to depend as much on your skill with a space fighter as it will with your ship upgrades and your pocket book.“
I had promised that I would never let them get away with it because, aside from the long-term ramifications stemming from the total loss of this project, the fallout will have far greater consequences for the videogame industry as whole. Not to mention the impact that it will have on the upcoming generation of developers who will find it that much harder to fund their projects due to the lack of confidence by the gamers who continue to be burned by some developers running these crowd-funded projects. The steady decline in the success rate of crowd-funded projects, is already testament to this sea change.
As far as this project is concerned, from my observation and experience, it is my opinion that if they ever ship a completed Star Citizen game, that is true to the “vision” they have been selling, it will be a game that could have been made in four years for $20m. Instead, with all this resource waste due to bad project management, scope creep, wasteful and improper spending etc, they would have blown through $86m+ and with zero accounting for where the money went. But hey, they shipped something, right? But since I don’t believe that the game – as pitched – will ever see the light of day, backers are going lose, no matter how this ends.
Here is the crucial problem with this. The minute they deliver a “game” that fits the framework they have described, regardless of how buggy or incomplete it is, the legal hurdle of accountability becomes harder to get over. For example. You pay me $100 to build you a quality box. Then through delays you start getting irate, forcing me to deliver or face legal consequences. The end result is that I’m going to build you a flimsy box for $10. Now you have a box. I get to keep $90. You now have to decide whether or not it’s worth coming after me for building you a cheap flimsy box. How many times haven’t you ordered something online, received it, then had to return it because the quality or operation was not as expected? That’s what we’re facing here if we don’t push for accountability. Except in this regard, you won’t be able to return it; nor will you be able to get a refund. Unless there is fraud and/or criminal conduct uncovered, they will get away with it; walking away with millions of dollars either through unjust enrichment, or spent foolishly in order to keep up appearances.
So, as a first step toward obtaining accountability, you can see from the aforementioned demand letter, that I have been very reasonable, asking for only three simple things which I believe will put everyone’s mind at ease:
1) An accounting of how the money thus far crowd-funded has been spent.
This will not only show precisely how much actually went into the game development, but also how much money, if any, the officers of the company personally took from the proceeds, aside from payment for services. The key here is that any money taken from these funds for personal (e.g. Sandra Roberts’ movie pet project) gain and outside of reasonable payment for services for this project, would be illegal. For example, if any money was siphoned from this project into personal and/or off-shore bank accounts, or taken as payment for prior services, that would be illegal.
The FTC has specific guidelines for how crowd-funded money is to be spent, and since this funding all took place on-line, if there is any appearance of malfeasance or fraud, it would fall under wire fraud, putting it within the purview of the IRS and the FBI.
So I feel that to avoid any such accusations and allegations, and a benefit to the backers, allowing a forensic accounting of this project – not even by me – will set aside all these concerns.
Allowing this financial audit will also serve to show if in fact there is sufficient money to complete the project, if funding were to cease without notice.
If RSI have nothing to hide, this shouldn’t be an issue for a company that was built on crowd-funded money and which has said multiple times, that it would be open about the project. Well, being open also means accounting for the money raised as this is not a private venture-backed piggy bank.
Especially now that the funding spigot is slowing turning off, and has been since earlier this Summer. Which means that with so much work left to do, and so little having been delivered to date, a project that’s now slated for completion at the end of 2016, without the money to continue funding this project, it will suddenly collapse.
Which is why they keep doing these sales; especially during these elaborate and expensive media events. For example, ahead of the recent Gamescom 2015 show, they had raised $85.6K. A little over 48 hrs later after the sale (remember those $350 a pop ships mentioned earlier?), they were a little over $86.6K. Which means that during that period alone, they raised more money than they did the entire month of July.
And if you think that the burn rate for a project run through four studios around the world, and which, at it’s peak had 500+ employees and contractors, is anything less than an average of $3m per month, then you know nothing about this industry. Even now that Chris Roberts has gone on the record and stated having almost 300 people (he said employees, but nothing about contractors), that burn rate will remain high. Which means that with now less than $1m in monthly revenue, all indications are that the project is headed for financial trouble.
Finally, in Section VII of their own ToS, they indicated thus:
For the avoidance of doubt, in consideration of RSI’s good faith efforts to develop, produce, and deliver the Game with the funds raised, you agree that any Pledge amounts applied against the Pledge Item Cost and the Game Cost shall be non-refundable regardless of whether or not RSI is able to complete and deliver the Game and/or the pledge items. In the unlikely event that RSI is not able to deliver the Game and/or the pledge items, RSI agrees to post an audited cost accounting on the Website to fully explain the use of the amounts paid for Pledge Item Cost and the Game Cost. In consideration of the promises by RSI hereunder, you agree that you shall irrevocably waive any claim for refund of any Pledge that has been used for the Game Cost and Pledge Item Cost in accordance with the above.
They haven’t delivered on the original Kickstarter which had an estimated delivery date of Nov 2014. As of August 2015, they still had not delivered. And now Chris Roberts is quoting end of 2016 for full delivery. The original items (listed in my demand letter) have neither been completed, nor delivered as of the aforementioned date. Which is why this clause – in their own TOS – should now trigger. But they have thus far failed to honor it; much like every other promise they have now broken.
2) A date certain for the delivery of the completed project as promised.
Though Chris Roberts has made statements (as recently as last week) alluding to the delivery of the complete Star Citizen project by end of 2016; it is as vague and unbelievable as previous promises made; none of which have thus far been fulfilled. So putting this on the record, yields yet another cause of action if they fail to deliver yet again.
There are currently a little over 967K registered accounts (creating a forum account adds to this count, it doesn’t mean you’re a backer), of which a little over 750K are actual backers (who have spent money on the game at some point or another). And most of these want to know what is going on with the project and with their money.
3) Issuing refunds.
Again, if they are confident that some backers have no problems waiting for the project which may or may not be delivered, then there should be no problem with setting up a website, or similar service through which those who want their money back, can request a refund.
Chris Roberts has made several statements that the project can be completed if funding stopped. That said, betting on the backers good faith should be easy enough to do. So they should offer no-questions-asked refunds to those who request it.
And before anyone asks what about the fact that some asking refunds have had access to the hangar and Arena Commander modules, so why refund them? The answer is simple: That’s not the “game” they backed.
Regardless of who wants to challenge the draconian ToS that RSI has on their website, at the very least, every single Kickstarter backer from 2012 who requests a refund, should get it. No questions asked. After all, just run a sale of $500 apiece virtual ships, and boom – the Star Citizen whales would have put their money where their mouth is, and funded dissenters “straight outta the cult” (see what I did there? it’s called hyperbole).
“What you’ve seen was put together by a very small team over the past year. We felt that this vision needed to be shown rather than talked about so we invested our own money to build the technical and visual prototype that shows just how Star Citizen is going to push the limits of PC games.
Instead of taking this prototype to a publisher for a green light, we are cutting out the middleman and taking it to you.
You as the customer get the ultimate vote in whether we make this game. Your dollars are your votes and the better we do the more resources we’ll have to bring you a great game.
We have investors that have agreed to contribute the balance we need to complete this game as long as we can validate that there is a demand for a high end PC space game. By meeting or surpassing our target on Kickstarter you tell the world that you want a PC based Space Sim and allow us to make this game.“
HOW TO OBTAIN RELIEF
Though we have heard from a lot of people who have been trying to get refunds with no success, while some have been quietly getting refunds since my blogs went up, we have now setup a new email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) to contact us with your story.
So, 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 over here.
Cloud Imperium, LLC
9255 Sunset Blvd STE 803
West Hollywood, CA 90069
Note that even if you are not a backer of this project, make no mistake, you have every right to call into question anything you suspect is tantamount to consumer fraud of any kind. That’s why there are numerous resources online for specifically that purpose. And you don’t have to be a backer or whistle-blower to do it. The FTC goes after companies all the time. Here is an entire public listing of their efforts and remedies.
Direct from the FTC:
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.
Also, the Consumer Legal Remedies Act (CLRA) is a California statute that seeks to protect consumers against unfair and deceptive business practices. It identifies various unlawful practices in the sale or lease of goods or services to a consumer, including:
- Misrepresenting the source, certification, origin, or quality of goods and services;
- Advertising goods or services with intent not to sell them as advertised;
- Representing that a transaction has or involves rights, remedies or obligations that it does not have or involve, or that are prohibited by law;
- Representing that the consumer will receive a rebate, discount or other economic benefit, if the earning of the benefit is contingent on an event occurring after the transaction; or
- Inserting an unconscionable provision in the contract.
In closing, those making noise about me being a jealous (that always cracks me up) competitor, here is something you can quote:
I have been involved in gaming for almost thirty years. My first game was released back in 1996 amid great controversy and derision that, after almost killing my game dev career before it even got started, sparked many an Internet flame war and urban legends.
Despite those shaky beginnings, I worked hard, got good at it, and to date, I have funded, developed and released over a dozen games across various IP. I started out as an indie, and did everything in my power to remain as such; even back when I had publishers for my earlier projects.
I have survived every single industry change, watched publishers and developers alike, come and go; but I am still here because I love this industry, love what I do and make no excuses or comprises for my involvement in it. My games have survived the years because I have a specific niche that I cater to. I have gamers who buy my games because they are fans, I tend not to lie to them, mislead them, or otherwise seek to exploit them in any way, shape or form.
So those of you trying to make this about me, while comparing (UPDATE: Fine, here you go) my still in development Line Of Defense game, which, aside from graphics fidelity, is far more advanced (scope, technology, features) than Star Citizen (which isn’t even as advanced as Universal Combat in scope or technology for that matter), are being foolish, misinformed, and petty. It’s a distraction that simply won’t work.
Further, the only common elements that both games have, is that they both have a space combat and fps components. Nothing else. You might as well compare football to basketball, just because there is a ball in play, and there are people running around in shorts.
I need not remind anyone that my game was in development as far back as 2010, and I backed Star Citizen in 2012, not knowing that this is where we would be today.
Aside from that, as I mentioned in my Interstellar Citizens blog, the success of these new and upcoming space games (Star Citizen, Elite Dangerous, Into The Stars, Everspace et al), I thought would further strength the genre (which has seen a dearth of mainstream games in past years), and in turn, the market for my own games in the genre. Which is why I backed all of them, write about them on social media, blogs, forums etc. So why on Earth would I not want this game to succeed?!?!
Do I need to mention that my game is also free to play; and that upon completion, the barrier of entry is $0, which means that people can make up their own minds without me having to get into spats with a competitor? Not that there is anything remotely wrong with competitors getting into spats. Assuming you haven’t been in a coma through all the Microsoft v Sony, Apple v Samsung, Google v Everybody, spats, you probably already knew that. Heck, they even take out million dollar ads to throw shade on competing products. And it’s perfectly legal.
Not to mention the fact that, as an avid, hard-core gamer, I own every single PC space combat game ever made; and have a gaming library (here are some old pics from 2008 of some of them in a game room) of over 30K titles, with my legacy boxed ones currently stored in an expensive climate-controlled storage facility. And they are still there because, given the volume and the logistics involved, I haven’t gotten around to having them shipped to one of the two museums (one of which, The MADE, I helped fund on Kickstarter as 1-of-the-9) I was planning on donating them to.
So no, this discourse has nothing to do with my game or about being a competitor.
It has everything to do with a game I backed and which, prior to my first blog, I have always cheered on because I believed that they could pull it off. Precisely what I said in my first blog. It is with that same enthusiasm that I backed Elite Dangerous and the recent Everspace space combat games, and so many others.
Aside from this noise coming from me, how are my protests, questions about accountability, scope creep etc, that much different from so many that have gone on in the media, forums etc, since 2013, and which are still going on? Remember, I only started this during weekend of July 4th, 2015.
Had Chris Roberts and co not maintained a pattern of dishonesty, then when called out, foolishly singled me out, then went for broke and tried to silence me with the actions that they took, and which gave me a clear indication that they had something to hide, we would never have come this far.
Finally, in this legal action that I have now initiated, note that I haven’t asked for anything that benefits me in any, way, shape or form. This is not, and never was, about me nor my game.
That is all.