It all started when I wrote a blog back in July 2015. It went downhill from there. Rather rapidly.
1) In Nov 2012, Chris Roberts, who had made some space combat games (his last game was in 1996) almost two decades ago, and his attorney partner, Ortwin Freyermuth, announced a crowd-funded video game project, Star Citizen, through Kickstarter.
NOTE: At the time, even though she was introduced as “VP of Marketing“, nobody knew who Sandi Gardiner was, as it was kept a secret. She wasn’t credited as a co-creator of the project either. In July 2015 amid claims of nepotism, after she was revealed to be the wife (that’s her in this pitch video with their children) of Chris Roberts, she was then later credited as the co-creator of the project.
2) My having made a career out of space combat games, as well as being a fan of Roberts’ games, along with almost 35K others, I backed the project in Nov 2012. That was when the scope was smaller, manageable, possible – and required $2M to develop. Roberts promised to deliver the game in Nov 2014.
3) In July 2015, after I got wind of the Star Citizen project in trouble amid technical issues, rumors of mismanagement, inability to deliver on promises, backer money being wasted etc, I started to investigate it. I got in touch with Roberts to try and get some more details from him. He ignored my inquiries.
So I continued with my research and subsequently published that first blog in July 2015, Interstellar Citizens in which I stated the following opinion, which then got picked up and propagated by the media.
“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?“
4) Due to the fact that the majority of the industry – including the media – had started having concerns about the project, my blog was widely propagated. It got people talking. That aside from the fact that the media themselves had already started their own rumblings (1, 2, 3).
At that point, Roberts had raised over $87 million dollars based on nothing but promises. And that was when the project was already eight months past due.
5) After the blog hit, and the media stories started appearing, Roberts company, CIG, did the following :
- They canceled my backer account, and refunded me on July 13th. Without my asking.
- Then to make matters worse, they issued a press statement about my being refunded. In that, they also tried to make it look like I had somehow violated their ToS for the game and the website. This despite the fact that I had never – ever – used any of those services.
- Their community manager, Ben Lesnick, also made a public statement about it on the company forums.
All these actions were taken in obvious retaliation for the blog and the fact that it got widespread release in the media. All they did was made it worse by making themselves subject to the Streisand Effect. And so the media kept writing (1, 2, 3) about it. They bet on my being completely vilified for writing an opinion based and technical blog.
6) As time moved on, several people, some of who were still working on the project, others who had left, started reaching out to me to tell their stories. So I continued to write the blogs in the name of awareness and accountability.
7) In Aug 2015, I had my corporate attorneys in CA, send them a legal demand letter. In it, I was asking for them to issue refunds, as well as provide financial accounting for the project – as promised. They declined. The responses contained not only defamatory statements, but also attempts at deflection, making patently false statements about me etc, all which had very little to do with the matter at hand. Then they accused me of stalking. Seriously. Naturally, though ludicrous, we had to respond to that one as well; just for the record.
Subsequently, having received their responses in writing for the record, we decided to take a wait and see approach until ToS v1.2 expires on May 31st, 2016. That was the deadline for them to issue refunds, and provide financial accountability for not delivering the game as promised on Nov 2014.
9) Then on Oct, 2015, a gaming magazine, The Escapist, having done their own investigation, during which they got a few past and present employees to discuss what was going on with the project, published a scathing article (archive) as a result.
In the same tone of the letter his partner Ortwin Freyermuth had sent to us back in August, on 10/1/15, Roberts published a highly defamatory diatribe (archive) about myself and The Escapist writer. And even though the Escapist article never even mentioned me, Roberts mentioned me a total of 24 times. Basically making me the bogeyman and blaming me for the growing unrest and dissent against the project.
And then Ortwin subsequently threatened (the letter was later added to his diatribe above on 10/4/15) The Escapist with a lawsuit if they didn’t retract it. That, notwithstanding the fact that Freyermuth, as CIG partner, and fact witness to what is going on over there, sent the aforementioned semi-legal threat.
As I wrote in my The Money Laundromat blog, in late March 2017, we found out that CIG and Defy Media (owner of The Escapist) decided to settle their differences out of court; with both sides taking down their writings. I later obtained a statement from Defy Media, which is mentioned in the blog.
10) Then they went on the narrative bandwagon that somehow they had been doxed, which was false. And that we had “brought their children” into the discourse etc. Also false. They had their kids in the original promo video; though at the time nobody even knew that Chris & Sandi were even married. And the images which someone found and shared on Twitter, were from online photos that Sandi had shared. The person who found them was trying to prove that they were in fact married (which they had hidden up to the point when it was uncovered), and that those were their children (also aspiring actors) as compared in the video.
Subsequently, the toxic backers of the project continued their on-going harassment and attack campaign against anyone (including media writers) who voiced any sort of dissent against the project. To the extent that several media articles (1, 2) have been written about specifically that subject. As it so happens, due to the monetization of the game, in which CIG tends to sell ship models and concepts for cash, a burgeoning (since decimated due to the decline of the project) illegal (it is strictly against the game’s own ToS) Black market appeared on Reddit; and which most suspect is also a conduit for money laundering in which ships and concepts are bought and sold by some people. And those people with a lot to lose, are mostly the ones engaged in the harassment and attack campaign against dissenting opinions.
And as much as some would like to make this a “Derek Smart vs Chris Roberts” thing, it’s not, and never was. The project’s success and/or failure, rest with him, and him alone.
The game is still nowhere near completion, and ToS 1.2 in which they promised to issue refunds (which they stopped doing in Dec 2015) and provide financial accounting, expired on May 31st. When that expired, they released a new ToS in June 2016 which removed several key provisions that backers previously had. That being refunds for non-delivery, financial accountability for the project, and not having to even deliver the project. Seriously.
Following that new ToS, some backers decided they’d had enough; and using all the researched I had collected and posted online, they decided to take action to get their money back. The resulting fiasco opened the floodgate for refunds, due to CIG having created a huge legal liability for themselves with that ToS change. And shortly thereafter, a refund focused sub Reddit dedicated to assisting backers wanting to get their money back was created.
Not only that, Chris Roberts has gone on the record saying that he won’t be able to deliver the games as promised. Instead, after cutting features, walking back promises made etc, he stated that he would be delivering a “Minimum Viable Product“. Which is interesting because in Nov 2015, I wrote an analogy in which I opined that what they may end up delivering would be analogous to getting a $10 box, though backers already paid for a $100 Gold chest.
“First of all, we always have a decent amount of money in reserve, so if all support would collapse, we would not suddenly be incapacitated. We plan the scope of the development based on what arrives monthly by the people to support. I’m not worried, because even if no money came in, we would have sufficient funds to complete Squadron 42. The revenue from this could in-turn be used for the completion of Star Citizen.“”
As of this update, they have received over $153 million (1, 2) in funding for a game Roberts is now saying will be released as an MVP, with the rest to come at a later date. A game for which they were already paid in full – several times over – to develop. And now, in year six, with neither Star Citizen nor SQ42 anywhere near complete, backer money has seemingly been wasted. What was once a small indie project, now spans five studios around the world. And now we know the project is also in debt.
To make things worse, at the CitizenCon2016 event in Oct 2016, Chris went on the record to say that Star Citizen Alpha 3.0 (which according to the list of promises, won’t even be 50% completed with that update) was coming by the end of 2017; thus making the game a full three years late – assuming that ever happens. Seeing as the much touted 3.0 build (aka The Jesus Patch), which was supposedly coming on or before Dec 19th, 2016, is still not out, it stands to reason that 3.0 is not coming in 2017. If at all.
And now with neither of the projects being shipped, growing backer unrest, various unflattering media stories about the demise of the project etc, backers and the public at large are finally coming to grips with the fact that the emperor really had no clothes, and that this whole project is now believed to have evolved into a massive scam. Amid all this, CIG/RSI and the toxic (aka Shitizens) members of the Star Citizen community are waging a war of attrition across the Internet against dissenting opinions about the project. Meanwhile, over five years later, the project is still pre-alpha and not even 15% completed based on what was promised.
UPDATE 10/10/17: I wrote a short recap of where things are, five years since the project was funded on Kickstarter.