The final stage of an extended process or course of events”
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.
THE BEGINNING OF THE END
The four year, $90m+ Star Citizen video game project, is no longer a going concern. The project is FUBAR and there is no going back.
Now that multiple sources are saying that RSI/CIG only have around $8m of operating cash left, when you consider that with over 260 people working at four (CA, TX, Germany, UK), they must be burning around $3m per month, you quickly understand why they have been doing layoffs (Chris Roberts calls it down sizing) recently.
Since June when, with the aid of researchers, I started my independent investigation into this project and its creators (Chris Roberts, Sandra Roberts, Ortwin Freyermuth), the picture of where things would be six months out, was a bit murky to me. In fact, when I wrote the first blog, Interstellar Citizens that sparked this discourse, I had no idea that I was remotely close to being right about the end result. And it’s all neatly tied up in the Star Citizen – The Long Con blog.
I was originally looking at it purely from a design, development and delivery perspective. Having designed, developed and built massive games myself over a 30yr period, I knew that I had enough experience to weigh in. Especially after looking at what they had delivered up to June, and sifting through their dev logs.
I said that they didn’t have the tech to build the “vision 2.0” game pitched. They don’t. They are still trying to build it.
I said that they couldn’t build the “vision 2.0” game as pitched. They can’t. They are still trying to build it.
I said that it would cost over $150m, and another three years, to build the game they pitched, assuming they build the tech. Four years and over $90m later, they are still raising money.
HOW THINGS GOT THIS FAR
In July, after I got wind of the Star Citizen project in trouble, unable to deliver, backer money being wasted, I started to investigate it. I got in touch with Chris to try and get some more details from him. He ignored both of my inquiries on LinkedIn (1) and Facebook (1). I even wrote a lengthy Facebook post (1) and included shared “friends” in it, hoping that someone would reach out to him. Nothing happened. The Interstellar Citizens blog was live and was propagated and quoted by media.
It was downhill from there.
Then, in what can only be described as sheer madness, they lost their minds and made it personal. They canceled my backer account, and refunded me. Without my requesting it. Then to make matters worse, they sent out a press statement to various outlets (1) about my being refunded, and my account canceled. They tried to make it look like I had somehow violated their ToS for the game and the website, and was using Star Citizen as a platform to promote my Line Of Defense game. Then they doubled down when Ben Lesnick in customer service, made a snarky public forum post (1) about it.
Problem is 1) I have never posted on their forums 2) I had never downloaded the game due it not being complete nor playable. They actually confirmed this in their legal response letter as mentioned in the Star Citizen – The Long Con blog. I currently have access to three accounts through friends and contacts. I used those to test the latest modules, write about them etc.
All these actions were taken in obvious retaliation for the blog and the fact that it got widespread release in the media. As you can now see, they simply made it worse by making themselves subject to the The Streisand Effect. That aside from the fact that they decided that taking on the one person who simply can’t be intimidated or scared, was the best path forward. They bet on my being completely vilified for writing an opinion based and technical blog; while forgetting that I have been a fixture of this industry for almost 30 years and that sort of tenure has its merits.
Once that started, I knew they had something to hide. So I kept digging and writing (six blogs to date). All the while Chris and Sandra kept making defamatory statements about me both in writing and in person. And there are people willing to be deposed under oath about the aforementioned statements.
THE SURGE AND THE SPIRAL
Since 2012, they have been building the hype machine. This is gaming, we thrive on hype, hyperbole and drama. Lots of drama. So it wasn’t enough that they had a robust PR machine, that had the overblown promises to go with it. And so the media helped build up the hype, spread it, and in the end helped them perpetrate what, in my opinion, is turning out to be the greatest disaster in the history of gaming.
My analogy to this is that research shows that when innocent people go to jail, they are more likely to come out as criminals. Chris Roberts left the industry, went to Hollywood, and returned….something else. For the record, I still don’t believe that he set out to con or mislead anyone. But there are influences (personal, circumstantial, financial etc) which drive good people to do bad things. And if you knew how broke (he was), down and out as he was prior to the 2012 Kickstarter, you can quickly understand how circumstances can influence people.
Despite what he says about me, I don’t personally believe that Chris Roberts is a bad person. A largely incompetent and egotistical person, yes. A criminal? No.
But from what I know and have access to, not to mention the many sources who have come forward, by the time the dust settles on this, by all accounts, all three of them are going to be in some serious legal trouble. There is absolutely no version of this where they get away with this without shipping the game as promised.
HOW TO KILL A PROJECT AND COMPANY
A lot has been written about the hype machine, the media’s culpability in all of this, as well as ignorance of the signs that this project was in trouble and destined to fail. But I’m not going to dwell on that because I will leave that up to the gaming industry and gamers to point the finger and assign blame.
Chris Roberts killed this project when he changed from the original “vision 1.0” to the current “vision 2.0” they embarked on. He did this. There is nobody else to blame. I invite you to take a look at the original “vision 1.0” pitch from back in 2012 and which was later migrated to Kickstarter where they ended up making over $2m.
And he’s done this all before as I’ve written in my blogs.
Chris Roberts, a self-professed “visionary” has never – ever – been able to complete a project on his own. Like ever. This fact is lost on those who aren’t really familiar with his industry track record. He is one of those artistes who works best when directed. Put him at the top of any project, and the potential for the project to fail, increases. This is not hyperbole, it’s a material fact. And it’s all right there in the industry history.
Just because Chris happened to “work” on arguably one of the biggest space combat games in history, doesn’t automatically qualify him to repeat that success on his own and in an industry that has moved on fifteen years later. If the trail of failed Hollywood movies he went on to make, and the failure of his Ascendant Pictures aren’t an indication of a pattern, then you’re a fool to think that the word “success” should be in any statement that also has “Chris Roberts” in it.
At the start of this project, he went out and hired some of the best people in the industry. Then didn’t let them do their jobs, guide him, direct him, teach him. This was his gig, he wanted to be boss – all the time. And now it’s all coming out little by little.
THE MONEY PIT
Aside from making all the mistakes that put the project and backer money in jeopardy, the issue of nepotism simply cannot be ignored. Especially where it involves incompetent and inexperienced family members in control of over $90m in public money. And with zero accountability.
Aside from being just a horrible person, as has been reported, Sandra Roberts is ill suited to handle HR. Let alone manage the offices of professionals who are far more educated and/or experienced then she is. The fact that she is the wife of Chris Roberts, something they have tried very hard to hide, but which they have now admitted to, due to my bringing it to light, should be serious cause for concern. My theory is that they have tried to hide this union because they know that for such a high profile project, the creators would come under intense scrutiny and she simply won’t pass muster.
She didn’t “market” this game to raise $90m as she’s tried to take credit for. The media, the PR and the gamers who believed in Chris’s vision, made that happen. Confusing PR with marketing is the sort of mistake that people who don’t understand how that works, make. They are not the same thing.
Before this project, she had no marketing history, marketing work records, marketing digital footprint, or any of that. Prior to this, and working for Chris at Ascendant Pictures (where they met) as his intern, she was just another aspiring actress in Hollywood – reportedly with an expired Visa. Then married Chris, got divorced, marries him again, has two kids. Star Citizen comes along. Here she is, one of the key players in a $90m project.
She has gone on the record as saying that she has no clue what the VP of marketing does; but yet claims to have two marketing degrees. By all accounts, and based on our extensive research, those claims are false.
And while Chris is head of the project, she is head of the office while calling the shots in customer service, HR, community events etc. And is reported to be pulling a hefty salary as a result. All because she’s married to the boss, not because she’s qualified for the job. Imagine hiring an intern – with zero experience – then giving them a high profile job with matching salary, benefits and perks.
And because she and Chris are both reported to have toxic personalities, then it should come as no surprise that those who are still working (we all have bills to pay) for them or who have left, are now coming forward with their stories. It is important to note that the one or two people who have come forward in support of this company after The Escapist article, are not high level employees or contractors.
No, I’m not going to say anything about Erin’s role in this project as I have no cause to. As I’ve said before, he has his track record, has largely kept himself focused on the insurmountable task at hand, and that’s all there is to it. Though someone needs to remind them to file the required financials for the UK studios and businesses because we need access to them. If those aren’t filed no later than Oct 30th, we’re sending a letter over there and reporting it to the UK authorities because any actions taken by the authorities against this entity, affects backers investment in the entity. UPDATE: I have been notified that they filed an extension to Dec 31st, 2015
Ortwin is just an incompetent fool out of his depth. I don’t even need to dwell on him because the trail of failed ventures speak for themselves. Plus, I feel sorry for the guy to be honest. He should’ve known – right off the bat – what he was getting himself into; pairing up with these two and getting thrust into the limelight of what is on track to be their biggest failure yet. Yes, he already had a prior business relationship with Chris, but he should’ve known that teaming up with those two unhinged characters was a recipe for disaster. It’s happening right now. Aside from that, it has been reported to me that Ortwin’s law firm (which he owns), gets paid a monthly fee to do a set amount of legal work for all the companies associated with this project. And that he himself gets a money for apparently other related work for these companies. If that’s true, yes you guessed it: double dipping.
So, these are the four characters, three family members and one long-time friend and biz partner, who are controlling over $90m in public crowd-funded money. With zero accountability. That should concern everyone.
LEGAL THREATS, POSTURING & INTIMIDATION
“This section of the blog contained a lot of material that legal felt were best removed as they were suited in a legal complaint. So it’s a bit skinny from the original version“.
Last week, The Escapist magazine wrote a scathing investigative report (follow-up podcast) into this project. Something that no other media outlet had done before regarding this project. As they have said, I was not their source. In fact, only an incompetent media person would use me as a source. Given how close I am to all of this, the fact that I could not be regarded as an unbiased source even if I swore on a stack of Bibles to be unbiased etc.
For the purposes of full disclosure: What I did do, as I’ve been doing since July, was made contact with some mainstream (names withheld as per legal) media sources, trying to get them to investigate this project. This was as per my July 10th blog, Interstellar Discourse in which, right at the top, I had called for the investigation of this project and all its creators. This was because I had already been made aware of most of what is now coming to light as portrayed in The Escapist article.
As part of that effort, I gave them some of my credible sources, along with an overview of what I had uncovered and why I simply wasn’t the one to investigate this any further, due in part by information that I had access to and which was better off being in the hands of those same people (the media) who helped hype this project to what it is today.
I was wrong in making this decision and thinking that anything would come from it. They all chose to bury the story.
I had previously warned about this in my previous blogs. In fairness to some of the credible media in the pool, there is only so much that you can do without the right sources. And most of these sources simply do not trust the media. And for good reason. Chris Roberts, his top team members and primary PR person, David Swofford, have lots of industry contacts; and so leaks of identities of these sources presents a clear and present danger to their livelihood. Which is why when I made this Tweet, I again reminded them of this.
Plus, since this started in July, the narrative has now shifted to “Derek Smart v Chris Roberts”, instead of “Where is Star Citizen? And where did $90m go?” And once it becomes a matter of picking sides, as unflattering as that sounds, it is highly unlikely that I’m going to be favored to be sided with in this fight. That’s just how life works.
My question is that, with all the numerous articles out there, interviews, visits, face time etc. Why is it that nobody wants to ask the tough questions about this project? Primary question being, where did ALL this money go? We have pretty much nothing to show for it – four years later.
In response to the article, Chris Roberts, in continuing the downward trend to disaster, wrote a scathing diatribe that, on the face of it, looks like you’d have to be high to unleash that sort of tirade into the public domain. From the CEO of a $90m+ company no less. And clearly it wasn’t vetted by legal (LOL!! that would be Ortwin). It’s a Gold mine of actionable legal liability. And all it did was lend credence to some of the things being said behind closed doors about him, and which were now coming to light via these sources talking to the media.
The gist of it was that “Derek Smart is bad, this was all his fault, and he was the puppet master”. Oh, and GamerGate. He mentions me a total of 20 times. The author of the article got a single mention. And I didn’t even write the damn thing.
Sound familiar? Yes, that’s the blame game. The same thing that has plagued Chris throughout his video game and movie career. It’s always someone else’s fault.
Anyone reading it can easily see that it was a manifesto of sorts to the Star Citizen White Knight (all apparently going through the motions of sunk cost fallacy) community, in a message that was indicative of “..this is how we are, if you are not this, then you don’t belong here“. We who aren’t part of a cult, just LOLed and went “…OMG!! He’s totally rekt! This is a beautiful thing!”
While my original section here was a detailed section by section take down of his entire diatribe, these are the main points that I can now only address unfortunately, as statements of fact and for the public record. There is only so much you can reveal to the public, without revealing your legal strategy. In fact, this may very well be my last Star Citizen blog until some legal action goes forward. So here it goes:
- I have never written a Glassdoor review about this or any other company.
- I have never been the quoted source for anything written in The Escapist article, nor the other upcoming reports I have been made aware of recently.
- I have never had any prior contact with the author of The Escapist article, let alone during the GamerGate uprising.
- I am not involved in GamerGate and never have been. In fact, look no further than the SPJAirplay event I was invited to as a neutral party.
- I have never made any defamatory statements (truth is an absolute defense btw) against any of the creators of this project.
- I have never “doxed” the Roberts Family. Despite people misinterpreting what that even means, posting links to online images, is not doxing. This is not doxing.
- I have never written him a letter accusing them of stealing my ideas or anything of the sort. Decades ago, smack talk may have been said that is no different from how things are now when comparisons are made between two products in the same genre.
- I have never advocated nor campaigned for this product to fail. My first blog, as well as my communications with Chris, are evidence of my intentions. Couple those with my legal demand letter, and my intentions are clearly communicated and leave no room for interpretation as to the intent of same.
The doxing rhetoric was a bad attempt at generating outrage. Like everything else, that attempt failed. The material that’s out there, was put out there by them. And what has been linked to, are not public records (State, Federal etc) of any import. We have those. But they have never – ever – appeared in any of my blogs. I know better.
And nobody dragged their children into this. He, right off the bat in 2012, had his entire family in the original pitch video where, like a televangelist, he was begging for money to build his dream. Then, when in the face of claims of nepotism people started trying to prove that Sandi Gardiner was in fact his wife, and amid Star Citizen White Knights claiming that I was making stuff up, people went digging. This is the Internet; when people go digging they find stuff. So they came across an image of Sandi – with her daughter – on pages which linked her to “Roberts”, thus confirming the connection. I didn’t need to do that, we’ve had access to the public records since Summer this year! Without that verification, it would never have appeared in my blogs that they were in fact married. I didn’t use links to public records or pictures to prove this.
Chris Roberts does not have a notable social media footprint of any import. Don’t take my word for it, go look. I should know. I was on his Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn lists. And of course I have access to the RSI forums.
So in trying to connect Liz and I to GamerGate, it was – again – a poor attempt at generating outrage by using a gaming uprising that he has never – ever – before weighed in on, in any capacity. He has no clue what has been going on. All they (Ben, I’m looking at you) did was data mine our social media feeds to find “stuff“.
Then they took it all out of context, mixed it all up in an attempt to cast us in a poor light in order to discredit us and cast a shadow over the article and the integrity of the author.
This was just another attempt to see if he could blame GamerGate for this article and my actions, thus getting his media friends to jump on that bandwagon and deflect attention away from this mess. Once again, blaming the group for something that they didn’t have anything to do with.
When it was clear that he had screwed up, and not having gained the media support that he was looking for, he took it one step further by writing up and releasing a five page legal threat to Defy Media, the owners of The Escapist. That legal travesty of epic proportions, is now at the top of his original diatribe.
This immediately set the Internet ablaze and all armchair attorneys were quick to chime in. White Knights were rejoicing about the take-down of an industry publication that had dared to speak out against their cult. You know, pretty much the same thing they do to anyone, backers or not, who voiced any sort of dissent.
Ortwin, as he had done with me, gave an artificial self-imposed deadline of 24hrs.
I swear, no joke, I laughed so hard I felt something shift in my spleen. I immediately sent out a flurry of Tweets indicating that i) they were bluffing ii) the cc of the attorneys in the letter was just a veiled toothless threat iii) The Escapist won’t blink
Seriously, it was one long weekend, and the Internet was ablaze with anticipation, flame wars, speculation etc. It was like waiting for election results. Or pregnancy test.
The Escapist didn’t blink.
In fact, they doubled down and issued a short statement at the top of the article.
“Update: The Escapist, notwithstanding Cloud Imperium Games’ notice and posting, stands by its coverage of Star Citizen and intends to continue to investigate the developing story. Since publishing our original stories, we have been contacted by, and are currently interviewing, additional sources corroborating a variety of the reported allegations. Additionally, if Mr. Roberts’ offer for The Escapist to “meet the developers making the game and see how we’re building one of the most ambitious PC games first hand” remains open, we take the opportunity to accept such invitation so as to hopefully provide the public with sufficient information and opportunity to vet such sources’ allegations and claims for themselves. We have also communicated the foregoing directly to Cloud Imperium Games.”
Disclaimer: A bunch of people got in touch with me following Chris’ diatribe and follow-up legal threat, inquiring about Liz’s contact info, as well as offering support, willingness to be deposed if I was moving forward with a lawsuit or if The Escapist was sued etc. And from their statement above, it appears that those same people reached out to them as well.
As was expected, the media fallout, even while everyone was waiting to see what Defy Media would do, was fast and furious. Information Redux has a detailed write-up of his diatribe and the legal letter, while Forbes and others (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) weighed in on the legal ramifications, media ethics – and Derek Smart.
GOING ALL IN
If you recall, in August I had sent them a legal demand letter. Their response was boilerplate personal attacks. Which is why Chris’s diatribe and Ortwin’s legal letter to The Escapist which contained the same, should have come as no surprise. My attorney – the consummate professionals that they are – didn’t take that bait. Instead sticking to the facts in their follow-up response.
Here is where it goes completely – and utterly – bonkers. Seriously. Read on.
On Sept 30th, my attorney emailed me a Cease & Desist letter from Ortwin. That letter had been sent to one of my addresses (I have more than one residence) via FEDEX and I had not received it at the time. Since it was a separate matter from the Star Citizen fiasco, I sent Ortwin a stern but polite email (which is what Chris alluded to in his diatribe). It was a pretty lengthy email which discussed their baseless claims, pattern of conduct etc.
It started with this:
While I have yet to receive your letter sent by FEDEX because it was sent to my beach condo (not my permanent address), Keith forwarded a PDF copy of it yesterday. As this is a separate matter from the Star Citizen issue currently being discussed, and not yet assigned to legal counsel, I wanted to send you this email response ahead of my discussing this with Keith and my Florida attorneys.
You can’t intimidate me. It really is that simple. So just stop that already! I don’t scare easily. Having started this in your profoundly ludicrous letter of this past Aug, you appear to be engaged in the same pattern of conduct.
It simply won’t work.
I am willing to discuss matters with you in an amicable and non-threatening manner in order that everyone get on the same page, and hopefully we can resolve these on-going issues before things get completely out of hand. That was the reason for my having Keith send you a letter in August.
But now, you’re starting something else that’s just not going to have the desired results. In fact, all you’re doing now is leaving you all open to the risk of even more causes of action, both civil and criminal.”
And ended with this:
“WHERE WE GO FROM HERE
I simply won’t stop pursuing this crowd-funded Star Citizen issue unless and until I get satisfactory answers from you or Chris.
Any attempts to try and silence or intimidate me, will fail. And in turn, must make things worse and continue to cast you all in a poor light. Your conduct only continues to show that you have something to hide.
As I have stated publicly, I do not believe that you all intended to commit consumer fraud. However, given your past endeavors both here in the US and abroad, coupled with the manner in which this project has been conducted, you all have yourselves to blame for any appearance of malfeasance or improper conduct.
If it looks like a duck.
In fairness to you, I will give you the benefit of the doubt, and assume that you simply have no clue what is going on with this project. Similarly, I will extend to you the courtesy of further discussions, without accusations or hyperbole or personal attacks. None of which you and your partners have accorded me.
If and when you are willing to talk, with or without attorneys, and find a way to settle our differences, you know how to reach me.”
When my attorneys had finished laughing, this reply was sent to them yesterday. Yes – it coincides with The Escapist decision. It’s not a conspiracy; we have better things to do with our time.
I am in the process of taking legal action against all of them. This is not a matter of if. This decision was made back in August following their response to my legal demand letter. Which is why, knowing that I’m not bluffing, they’re trying to bring criminal activity into play.
The issue is that there is so much stuff that needs to be sourced, verified, written, corroborated, people to talk to etc, that this is not something you toss into the legal system to see what sticks. Especially given the number of law firms it involves. That’s just recipe for wasted time and resources; especially if parts of the claims just end up just being thrown out of court. Key to this is the ToS which has a looming deadline of Nov 2015 at which time the refunds and disclosure of financials become key to it.
As if that wasn’t complex enough, as alluded to in my attorney’s latest letter, Chris and co decide to give us even more material to throw in there, with his diatribe and letter to The Escapist which also involved me.
All these recent legal actions, aside from the reports of them actively seeking investors, are also likely due to CitizenCon which is being hosted this Sat in the UK. It is a major pledge drive and the timing of The Escapist article couldn’t have come at a worse time. That, coupled with the baseless C&D letter sent to me were designed to keep the drama at bay during this week.
As is already evident, these efforts have failed.
Here is what backers of this game don’t know. CitCon is going to be more smoke and mirrors. Just like GAMESCOM and every event before it. They have nothing tangible to show. If they did, all the stuff they have recently shown, would be in backers hands by now and in decent form. In fact, you heard it here first:
- They are going to parade all the A-List actors – all of whom cost a ton of money – for SQ42. This despite the fact that the stand-alone game is reported to be almost fifteen months away from completion.
- They are going to show the opening cut-scene sequence for SQ42 with Gary Oldman giving his speech, someone flying and landing, NPCs waving etc.
- They are going to show Star Marine. Again. It’s still a mess – and nowhere ready for production release. Reports tell me that if it gets released before year end, it would be a miracle.
- They are going to show multi-crew. Again. Problem now is that, as of the last report I got, it doesn’t run smoothly at all. And so they are now running the demo on super computers with 16 cores, loads of memory etc. Again, not production release ready.
- There is nothing new being released to backers, other than another AC patch apparently.
I have said this in my blogs. The sources coming forward have said similar: these events are designed to be fluff pieces in order to raise money for a game that, for all intent and purposes, will never see the light of day as pitched.
The $90m+ of crowd-funded money that has gone into this project, is on track to be a total loss when this project inevitably faces a catastrophic collapse from running out of money, key talent departing etc. That aside from the fact that they have no choice but to reduce the scope of the project, cut costs etc in order to stay afloat for as long as possible.
And when it collapses and companies start sifting through the debris in bankruptcy court or auction, my guess is that you can probably pick up that $20K (!) cappuccino machine purchased for the new LA office (the one where all work has stopped due to a dispute with one of the contractors), for less than $5K. No, I’m not kidding. They apparently have a $20K cappuccino machine that backers paid for. Because Chris always wanted one. Go ahead, ask him.
My estimates, based on cash on hand reports, had pegged them lasting around 90 days. So if this doesn’t all fold before the end of Q1/16, I would be pleasantly surprised.
Finally, I have recently been made aware that they are now shopping around for investors to shore up their finances or get a bail out. Problem here is that there is nothing there to bail. And with a $90m+ financial liability, which amounts to people who have legally pre-purchased a product and are awaiting delivery, it’s simply too late. The design of this product, ensures that anyone even trying to pick it up for pennies on the dollar, is looking at spending another $50m+, and two years, to finish it as designed. Even if they throw everything out, and just stick with SQ42 and/or Arena Commander, that’s another two years of work. At best.
Chris Roberts no longer has the money nor the time to finish this game. If he did, they won’t be raising funds by selling concept art for a game that has yet to be developed. If what he said was true, that if funding stopped that he could still finish the game, go ahead and call him on that. STOP funding the project. Test him.
“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!)“
I don’t build dreams. I build games. I know these things.
Star Citizen is finished. THE END.
ps: They are doing refunds if you are persistent. Only now they are asking for a reason. You are NOT legally bound to give a reason. So don’t.