“It’s CIG. There’s always more; and it’s always worse” – Goons
The TL;DR recap on how I got involved in this farce and why I’m going to keep going until the very bitter end.
There is a lot of misinformation going around about the recent “Streetroller refund debacle“, as well as the involvement of myself and Goons in the whole fiasco.
As much as we’d like to claim this “victory” for a backer, truth is, we had nothing to do with the end result. At all.
The fact is that since July 2015 when I wrote my first blog, I have taken CIG/RSI to task over promises made to backers. Shortly thereafter I even got my attorneys involved in which I asked them – nicely – to refund backers who requested a refund as that’s the right thing to do seeing as they had broken every promise made to backers who had given them millions for a product they have failed to deliver in Nov 2014.
The response from Ortwin Freyermuth, their in-house counsel, and Chris Roberts’ long time biz partner, pretty much asked us to go pound sand. But we simply wanted responses from their camp – on the record. Which we got – along with his personal attacks and everything in between. Pretty much the same theme that both him and Chris Roberts followed suit with in their empty threats after The Escapist wrote a scathing expose (soon to be followed by the best one yet, written by @peterottsjo for Swedish magazine, LEVEL; and which is currently undergoing an English translation version for publication by an English outlet) about the project. Again, those responses are now on the record that shows a clear pattern of conduct.
Fun fact: The Escapist article was also about the ToS, and the conditional triggers within, all of which originated from my blog posts about it.
Anyway, since then I have spent time tracking, and taking the ToS apart, as well as writing about all the things that CIG have done which have led up to this point in time. My blog comments and forums have several specific threads and comments – by myself and others – showing backers what recourse they had if they felt they had been lied to and misled. That included links to State and Federal officials, as well as interpretations and comparisons of the various ToS that CIG foisted on backers.
Ahead of the latest ToS change, I had forewarned that according to sources, not only was the game never ever getting released as promised (To wit: just over a month ago, Chris Roberts confirmed this when he stated that the first release would be a Minimum Viable Product. More in this blog), but that they were well aware of the implications of the ToS which had conditions that triggered the end of May 2016.
True to form, precisely as I had predicted, right after that date passed, and the conditions (refunds and financial accountability) were to trigger, CIG released a new ToS on June 10th. Not only did it completely wipe away those safeguards and securities that backers to that point had, but it also signaled the liability shift from CIG (the entity that backers and investors had given all this money to) to RSI; an entity which for all intent and purposes was just one of several shell companies associated with this project.
In short, if you were a backer up to the June 10th, 2016 ToS, you are 100% entitled to i) a refund ii) financial accountability. If you however agreed to the new ToS, it was now harder not only to get refunds, but also you no longer have any rights to financial accountability as to what happened to the money.
But it doesn’t stop there. If you rejected the new ToS – as is your right – not only are they refusing to give a refund, but you would also no longer have any access to the game itself. Yeah.
THE CURIOUS CASE OF STREETROLLER & THE GOVT
Throughout all of this, there are numerous accounts of backers frantically trying to get their money out of the project, even ahead of the Nov 2014 delivery deadline. In fact, some even made headlines in various publications, including Polygon. In that August 2015 article, Chris Roberts went on the record and said the following:
“We don’t publicize it, but when people reach out to us and talk to us in a rational manner, in most cases we’ve refunded them,” he said. “We don’t want people to be part of the project if they’re not happy.“
It’s all pure and utter lies. Pretty much par for the course.
In fact, there are dozens of very public accounts of people requesting and being denied refunds. Some of them are posted right here in my blog comments, as well as in my forums. Just this morning, I received a Facebook message from someone who has over $6K (!) in the project and was seeking guidance on how to proceed in getting a refund. There are people joining the SomethingAwful forums – even with a $10 (!) paywall – just to confer with Goons on how to get their money back. A little over a month ago, when it was discovered that CIG was tagging its own backers inappropriately, a guy in Australia (which has some serious consumer advocacy laws) immediately pulled around $16K (!) from the project.
So this issue with Streetroller is not news, nor is it new. But here’s why it’s news now and why since I made it public, and it’s spreading from where he originally posted it, and lots publications (some which have never written anything about the project before this incident) are now writing (see running list here) about it. His experience was a blend of blind luck and perfect timing. It is no secret that several backers have been reporting this project to State and Federal officials. It’s an on-going thing. As I understand it, due to the fact that Streetroller got several agencies involved, and those agencies having seen the trends, chose this moment – and his complaint – to act. Why? Because of his detailed, and streamlined documenting of his plight. And in doing so, they also took the opportunity to inform the public that they could in fact file their own complaints. This was coming directly from a State agency. Nobody made this up.
The problem? This event shows clearly what I’ve been saying all along: the CIG/RSI ToS is pure – and utter – bullshit; that would never stand up to any legal challenge, and which they have unwittingly hung around their collective necks as the noose that completely holds them accountable for backer money. And that’s the noose that the June ToS change was supposed to remove; which is why they used the much awaited 2.4 game patch as a Trojan horse to deliver it.
Unfortunately for them – according to consumer law and precedent – when someone disagrees to a ToS, that’s it. The story ends there. A ToS does not trump law. It never did. And it doesn’t matter who wrote it. A ToS, like any written contract, is only as good as the challenge that it faces in a court of law. And anyone who marches into court and challenges this ToS, is automatically and immediately entitled to not only a refund, but also a complete financial accounting for the project. And when State and Federal officials are involved in consumer advocacy issues? Well then, they just cut out all that court-room procedural bullshit – and go straight to the heart of the matter.
Despite Ortwin’s written lies (to a government agency no less) to the contrary, Streetroller never agreed to the new June ToS. That was the whole point of his complaint. He never agreed. That made him entitled to his refund – as per the original ToS. Not to mention the fact that by disagreeing with the new ToS, he now no longer had access to a game that he spent almost $3K (!) on. Aside from that, it also made him entitled to financial accounting for the project if in fact CIG/RSI decided to imply that his investment had gone toward the “game cost”. They’d have to prove it. And in doing so, they’d have to release entire project’s finances to him and his attorney. Just as they promised to do in the ToS that he did agree to. And that, along with the State’s involvement, was the primary reason why they refunded him. If they wanted to refund him all along – as an act of kindness (<– lol) – they would have done so – without waiting for him to go through all this hassle. He simply called their bluff. Then came back with a rather large stick, in the form of State officials.
HOW STREETROLLER MET DEREK SMART & THE INIMITABLE GOONS
The long and short of it is we had nothing to do with the State’s involvement. As much as I would personally love to take credit for that, I can’t. Here is how it went down.
One day, Streetroller shows up on our Discord channel asking for assistance in obtaining a refund for the game. I sent him precisely the same links that we have collated, along with guidance on what to do if his refund was rejected. Then on June 11th, he subscribed over at the Goon enclave, Somethingawful.com, and proceeded to provide updates to his plight. After being rejected by CIG/RSI, he became even more upset, and got an attorney involved, and notified me in a personal message, as well as others in the Discord channel and on SA forums.
Then it got interesting.
Frustrated by the whole ordeal, he would show up on our Discord channel and give us updates. Leading up to this govt. intervention, he started talking about taking legal action. I already knew about this, but as it wasn’t my story to tell, I never revealed it. However, because we tend not to encourage that sort of thing over there, given the legal implications; on June 18th, he was subsequently banned by a moderator, Gorf from our Discord channel. He was later let back in once he agreed to refrain from such conduct (which would only harm his efforts).
Nobody paid too much attention to Streetroller from that point on. In fact, though I was in contact with him, we just regarded him as just another backer who waited too late in the day – despite all the warning signs – to ask for a refund. Some even found him annoying, and said so. In fact, now that I look back, his persistence and frustration were what seemingly led to the annoyance that some felt.
On July 12th, out of the Blue (I had no prior knowledge), he made his victory post (which became the now widely spread imgur) on SomethingAwful forum. Before that point, NONE of us saw it coming. The only thing that I was aware of up to that point, and which I chose not to make public, was that he was in fact in contact with the authorities (I have investigator and lead’s details), and that he was preparing to take legal action. As these things go, I’ve been in several of those, and obstruction of justice – as it relates to the govt – is not to be trifled with.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, he recently indicated to me that in a recent interview, he felt that the reporter was attempting to coerce him into saying that I had something to do with his actions, or that I had provided an attorney, financial aid, guidance etc. None of that is true. So of course he told the reporter precisely that.
Then earlier today, he messaged me, and showed up on our Discord channel, very distraught and upset. The problem? He had just been informed by Charlie Hall at Polygon, and with who he did an interview a few days ago, that because his complaint was in the public record, they were going to reveal his real name in the article. Something that he has expressly asked him not to do. Despite the fact that his name being in the public record doesn’t mean that anyone can look it up. You’d need to file a FOIA with the State in order to obtain his complaint. You can’t walk into the building and obtain it as far as I know. Considering the activities of the Shitizens, not to mention all the death threats that I have personally received over this fiasco, this, I thought was highly irresponsible and dangerous on the part of Polygon. So I tweeted my alarm at both Polygon and Charlie Hall – then asked Streetroller to immediately get his attorney involved. UPDATE: In the final Polygon article that went live after this blog, he gave them permission to use his first name only.
THE REFUND MEDIA FRENZY
Despite the fact that the mainstream media have been aware for quite sometime that something wasn’t quite right with this project, and that gamers were about to be stiffed for millions of dollars, very few have bothered to write about the very visible problems with the project. In fact, it is widely known that nobody wants to even touch Star Citizen now, simply because of broken promises (all of which saw the media writing dozens of fluff pieces which ended up being bullshit, thus making the media complicit and culpable for the hype in some regard), as well as the toxicity of the vocal minority – aka Shitizens who descend on these sites. In short, most are either writing lazy, reactionary project updates and fluff pieces, or waiting to see what happens. Which is precisely what I have been writing about for an entire freaking year!!
So now, a backer – who got fedup – and went all the way, unwittingly gave the “media” enough ammo that they could hang their hats on, and write something truly negative about Star Citizen. In short, precisely what they would be doing the minute they learn that the project is either dead, someone attached to it is under investigation, indictment etc. In other words, until something very bad happens that they can generate click-bait from, they simply don’t give a shit. Only a few of the smaller independent sites, even bother nowadays. Heck, just a few months ago when news broke that Ben Lesnick, a CIG employee and a member of the community (the fountain that Shitizens drink from) team, was hosting and maintaining a site with stalking and racist content – nobody blinked. When news broke that they were tagging their own backers with defamatory and abusive tags – very few blinked. When after receiving over $116 million dollars to deliver a product on Nov 2014 – with an 18 month allowable delay period – and Chris Roberts went on the record that he was now looking to deliver only a Minimum Viable Product, instead of the products (Star Citizen and Squadron42) that he already received funding for – very few blinked. I could go on and on, but it’s all right there in my blogs and online. Then to cap it all, when CIG/RSI did the most egregious thing ever, and completely revoked two key rights that backers, who had given them millions, had – very few blinked. In fact, it barely registered on any media radar that a company who had made multi-million dollar promises in order to get funding, had now turned hostile toward backers, subsequently revised its own ToS and removed the two carrot sticks that got them that far and which most backers were latching onto.
It’s easy to say that everyone has already written off Star Citizen, that nothing those bastards over there at CIG/RSI do would make news now since it’s expected; but the fact remains: they’re systematically and regularly screwing the very backers who gave them millions of dollars in exchange for a game. A game which, to date, they have proven they simply do not have the expertise to make, nor the capacity to deliver as promised.
The fact that a backer has made public that a govt agency now regards the ToS as being anti-consumer, and has requested that others follow suit and file a complaint – regardless of where they live – is precisely why this is now making the rounds as “news”. The “media” proper don’t care about gamers – they only care about click-bait headlines. Here’s the thing, this fiasco is not new. I’ve been asking gamers to do this for over a year and that when it comes to State and Fed officials, the wheels turn slowly, but they do turn.
Meanwhile, true to form, CIG/RSI is busy issuing bullshit media statements like this:
“Any refunds with respect to Star Citizen are made on a discretionary basis,” a representative said. “There was nothing special about this situation. The fact that this particular party used a complaint form that is online and openly available, doesn’t make this any different.”
EPILOGUE & MAKING THE CASE FOR WAR
The funding of Star Citizen is not “free” money. Not even Kickstarter’s own guidelines regard it as free money. Just because it’s crowd-funding doesn’t mean that the creators have been given free money and carte-blanche to do as they see fit. The State and Federal officials are very – fucking – clear about this; and only Shitizens and CIG/RSI are trying to distort the facts, while seemingly attempting to strip gamers (aka consumers) of their rights. When a crowd-funded project, having failed to meet deadlines, let alone deliver on promises, turns hostile, then starts to alienate its own backers – and lie to them constantly – you should go digging.
The argument that refunding backers of a crowd-funded project harms the project, is pure bullshit. Cause and effect are at play, in much the same way that actions have consequences. CIG/RSI made promises to deliver a game – by a date certain. That date came and went. The 18 month “cure” period also came and went. That event triggered both refunds and financial accountability. So this is ALL on them; and victim blaming has no place in this discourse. None.
And in relation to the above, not only has Chris Roberts gone on the record and said that they have healthy financial reserves, he has also said that if funding stopped they have enough to complete the project. So why is it that instead of issuing refunds from those reserves (<— lol!), they are not only alienating backers, but also doing everything they can to continue raising money for a project they know is already doomed?
“Yes, asking for a refund for a crowdfunding pledge is antithetical to the process. Backing a campaign is a risky endeavor.
However, CIG did include that clause in its terms of service, suggesting that it would deliver within the 18 months of the expected release date (November 2014). It’s hard to suggest that the original projected release was a mere estimate when you’re tying the ability to request a refund to that tentpole.
Star Citizen has experienced mission creep, has missed milestones, and is one of the biggest enigmas in gaming right now. I suspect with “Steamroller’s” victory here, we’re likely to see the crack in the dam widen. The controversy around this game isn’t likely to calm soon.“
Let’s not even get into the whole topic of delays, broken promises, scope creep etc, since all of that has already been discussed to death. Nevertheless, this was an Oct 19th, 2012 interview:
“TM: 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?
CR: 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.”
And amid all of this noise, below is what people are missing in this narrative and which Ortwin unwittingly made clear in his communications:
He says “It would not be appropriate to use current backers development pledges to refund an earlier pledge“. Basically that if they have to refund money they have already spent making the game, that those refunds will have to come from new/fresh backer money. This means that they are living “hand to mouth”. Which means no cash reserves. Even the new June ToS says they don’t have to refund money because it’s being spent on making the game. This means that when they use that money to process refunds from older backers, even the new ToS does not protect them because they are NOT using the money to make the game. So that money is no longer “earned” i.e. they have to refund it if requested by a backer. Basically someone can say: “I asked for a refund, you said no, that it has been spent on developing the game. However, you’ve been doing refunds of new backer money. So now please prove to me that you didn’t use my money on a refund”
There are so many holes in this whole thing that the minute I even make public everything I know, I would no doubt have pretty much impeded on-going investigations. So we wait. But while we’re waiting, here’s a nugget. Please ask them if it’s true that: after they founded a studio (Foundry42-UK) to help develop this game, and Chris pulled in his brother and childhood friends in from another company to head it, that less than two years later, another subsidiary (associated with the project) then turned around and bought the company back from those very people. Thus taking out a significant amount of wealth out of the project and putting it into the pockets of those very friends and family. While still paying his brother Erin, what amounts to almost $250K in yearly salary; not including benefits or bonuses – which aren’t disclosed. Aside from this being reported to be almost 3x what he was making at his previous company, it’s also 2x the average for a director in the Manchester region. And in case you forgot, this is a crowd-funded project.
Meantime, while this is all going on, Chris is reported to have thus far spent almost 1/3 of the money raised on a game (Squadron42) that most backers don’t give a shit about because it’s not Star Citizen. A game that with the first half of 2016 over, nobody has seen any game play footage of; yet still listed on their own website as coming out in 2015(!). A game that was also due back in Nov 2014 – as promised.
There are many reasons why financial accountability for this project is only going to come through legal action, or if the State and Federal officials step in. Because CIG/RSI will never – ever – provide it to backers due to all the glaring Red flags that are sure to pop up and expose the truth about the money.
As I’ve said before, having offices around the world, staffed by some hard working people, doesn’t mean anything. At all. There have been many large fraudulent and scam operations which got shut down through legal and/or government authorities, and in some cases people ending up doing jail time. So that argument simply has no merit.
This whole thing is FUBAR. I’ve been saying this for over a year this month. But instead of people doing their research, they’re busy taking sides in a “Smart v Roberts” war that they started. I’m going to say this again: there is absolutely no scenario under which CIG/RSI get away with this. And anyone hedging bets on the outcome of them “winning” (the only scenario would be for them to deliver Star Citizen and Squadron42 as promised) by making this about me, is going to lose that bet. I made my bet a year ago – and I have no intentions of changing it because I know that I’m right.
Do your part: If you feel that you have been unjustly refused a refund, or have issues with this crowd-funded project, report it to the State and Federal officials; especially report it to the State of California where they are based. It is your right to do so. Ask CIG/RSI for a refund. If they refuse, collect all the materials, and file your complaint. That’s all there is to it.
GET A REFUND, SON!
As long as you DID NOT agree to the latest June 2016 ToS, you are 100% entitled to i) a FULL refund (not for gifted items!) ii) financial accounting for the project, showing what they spent the money on. Unless you are willing to initiate a lawsuit and see it all the way through, your best bet is to just get a refund and move on. And the ToS is your best shot at getting it. You can read more about that in this post.
You will probably get denied, right off the bat. They will also likely state that signing the new ToS, does not change the terms of the refund, as they are identical to the terms in the previous ToS. It’s bullshit. If that were the case, why did they need a new ToS? Anyway, just ignore that. In the event that you DO get denied, all you have to do is state the following:
- The project was promised to be delivered on or before Nov 2014. That has come and gone. No game(s)
- The project was promised to be delivered within 18 months of the Nov 2014 promised that. That has come and gone. No game(s)
- The project is not what you originally backed, the scope has increased and changed, and it doesn’t appear that it will ever be completed; even in 2016
- Chris Roberts also stated recently that the first release of the game would be a Minimum Viable Product, instead of the full game(s) promised since Oct 2012
From this point onward, you have to be relentless. They have absolutely NO STANDING in denying you a refund. Regardless of when you pre-purchased the game and/or merchandise.
During all this, you should consider filing a complaint with State and Fed officials. The more complaints that are filed, the more likely that the government agencies will continue their investigations into this company and their business practices. You can read more about that in this post.
CA DEPT OF CONSUMER AND BUSINESS AFFAIRS
File a complaint. In the event that they keep rejecting your refund, you can contact the investigator directly via email ([email protected]) or phone (312-881-7094). This is the State where the head office is located; so it is critical that you report them to this agency.
FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION
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. Also read the FTC bulletin, Getting Your Money Back
YOUR STATE ATTORNEY GENERAL’S OFFICE
Find out who your State AG is from this website; then contact them. If you live in one of the States (e.g. Washington State) where AGs have gone after shady crowd-funding schemes, then you’re in luck. These past months, we’ve contacted AGs in various States (based on people who reached out to us for help), and apprised them of the on-going Star Citizen situation. So hopefully you don’t have to spend too much time explaining it to them. Remember, the State and Feds take their time; so don’t be surprised if it takes awhile for them to do anything.