“My dream is to make Star Citizen a 100% community funded game, with the investor money being only for contingency” – Chris Roberts
The TL;DR recap on how I got involved in this farce
A lot has been written about this once promising project conceived and headed by Chris Roberts of Wing Commander fame. And my guess is that many more are going to be written as this all plays out in the public forum where the project raised money, reached the pinnacle of notoriety and where it is destined and well on track to die a sudden and catastrophic death if things don’t change soon.
This blog post is not going to rehash what has come before; and there is simply no TL;DR version of this.
To fully catch up, you will have read all my related blogs (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7) in chronological order; as well as the numerous articles written thus far. And you most certainly wouldn’t want to miss The Escapist article from back in October. That article, is the one that finally sparked a much heated, highly libelous and inflammatory diatribe from Chris Roberts and which, if nothing else, showed the world the sort of person we collectively trusted with over $94m to build a dream game. And anyone who read my most recent (# 6 & 7) blogs which showed legal letters between my attorneys and Ortwin Freyermuth (a media attorney and partner in this project) already has a pretty good idea of who these people are that we’re dealing with. They’re not decent people by any stretch of the imagination.
In short, these people can’t be trusted.
A REACH TOO FAR
Back in July when I wrote my first Interstellar Citizens blog which pushed this entire discourse into full swing, I made bold claims that the “vision 2.0” game, as pitched, simply couldn’t be built. Not with the tech they had, nor with the money they had. In fact, I went as far as to claim that it would take upwards of three more years and approximately $150m to pull it off. As I type this, both of those claims have been proven beyond any reasonable doubt.
- Despite claims to the contrary, they’re still building the custom engine (based on CryEngine3) to power the game. And in so doing, they have had to strip out and toss a bunch of things, including entire swathes of code, previously completed and final assets, previously final tech etc. In other words, the switch to 64-Bit (which, as an engineer myself, was shocking to me that they were doing this three years into this stage of the project!) has not only caused a whole heap of technical issues, but also added additional delays to the project.
- Despite claims by Chris Roberts that were the money to stop rolling in, they had enough money to complete the project, to this day, they continue to raise money. Mostly from whales going through various stages of Sunk Cost Fallacy and a healthy dose of Cognitive dissonance thrown in for good measure. As of this writing, they have raised over $94m. And if they continue to raise money, and the project goes beyond 2016, regardless of recent downsizing (more on this later) measures, they could be well into $150m territory by the time they have implemented everything they promised. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.
Back in 2012 when Chris publicly unveiled and pitched the original game which we now remember fondly as “vision 1.0”, he promised the world. By the time he moved to Kickstarter, asking for additional money, he was already promising even more. Seriously, we didn’t get to the “vision 2.0” ludicrousness of it all until much later.
The more stuff Chris promised, the more money he raised. To be perfectly honest, I was half expecting that he would just straight-up say OK to those people who were calling for all kinds of things in the game. Feature requests ranged from hookers and racist societies, to outright raping and pillaging. I kid you not. Go ahead and search for those terms with Star Citizen in the search string because I’m not even going to link to them. It’s all right there on the glorious Internet.
And so, lost in the media frenzy of the game’s fundraising prowess, was the fact that the game, having been bloated completely out of control, could no longer be built.
It is now Nov 2015. The previously estimated delivery date of Nov 2014 is off by a full year. And that’s not even the half of it. FYI, this project, since day one, has never – ever – met a single deadline. Not one.
OF LIES, LOYALTIES AND THE LUDICROUSNESS OF IT ALL
Through all this spectacle, having milked over 700K gamers of cash up front, for a game they simply couldn’t build as promised, as time flew by, they had to come up with new and inventive ways of fleecing those very gamers of more money. And what better way to do that than to sell PICTURES OF SHIPS. Yes, they did just that; and it’s a running joke now.
And so the whole idea behind the sale of concept ships was born. It’s a brilliant idea. If you’re in on the con that is. Here’s how that works.
They get an artist (one external guy reportedly charges over $1,500 per image!) to draw up a concept of a ship. They look freaking awesome! Then they put them up for sale in “limited” (it’s hilarious, stay with me…) quantities. Usually, they time these sales at the most opportune times; usually around gaming events (PAX, E3, GDC, CitizenCon etc). They sell a bunch of them.
Here’s the kicker. Most of these “concept” ships aren’t even built (modeled, textured, entity created etc) or tested in the game. This is how the process works.
So, you have a process whereby they are selling PICTURES OF SHIPS for a “game” that’s not even finished, let alone capable of testing most of the ships. And since the fan base kept buying them due to promises of a game being made and on the horizon, well, they just kept on drawing pictures of ships – and selling them. For millions of dollars.
As these things go, eventually someone gets to say something. And that’s precisely what this fellow did back in April. Note that this person has since been kicked right of the game and the community.
Think about this. If you’ve already pre-sold someone a house you have yet to build, but you don’t even have the money to finish building that house; what better way to milk them for more money but to charge them for Granite kitchen counter-tops to the house you have yet to build. And if that was an easy sell, why stop there when you can go on right ahead and keep on selling them stuff for a house you have yet to build. Sure, the poor fool could wander by one day and see the makings of a house (ignore the missing roof, plumbing, electricity etc), confident that you’re actually building it. Then go on right ahead and give you more money for stuff that’s claimed to be going into the house.
Once this took hold, sure enough, they started to “unveil” (as in, they never even existed in the design to begin with!) even more ships which they could then sell as concepts. Here is a handy list of them thus far. Play close attention to the “flyable” column. It’s gotten so completely and utterly out of hand that even they stopped keeping track.
And as of this moment, there are ships which were paid for almost two years ago and which are still not in the game. But yet, during that time, they have kept on creating new concepts to sell.
Through all this, having made sure to all but render previous ship assets seemingly obsolete (we’re talking iPhone 5 v iPhone 6 levels of obsolete) so that the fans keep buying new stuff, they started going back on original promises made. What was the first thing to go? Something called Lifetime Insurance, or LTI. It’s a big deal. You see, this was supposed to be exclusive as explained in this 2012 FAQ and again in a 2013 update. A little over a year ago, this once exclusive feature, was being offered for sale again. All of a sudden, thousands of gamers were no longer “special”.
That’s nothing. They had this thing whereby they treat these PICTURES OF SHIPS like real world goods. And in doing so, get to sell “limited” quantities. Seriously. For example, during the recent GamesCom event this past August, they put up 1000 Glaive ships for sale. Rare ship. Limited quantities. They sold out immediately. And yet again, someone (that guy hasn’t been heard from since) said something.
And sure enough, less than two months later, they decided to sell the rest of the “stock”. Due to popular demand. Seriously.
When this crap happens, that’s when backers start “melting” their ship inventory. This is a method whereby you sell (back to the Star Citizen store) your ship, usually for less (depending on the package it was in) than you paid for it, in order to raise money to buy something else. It’s a lot more rampant and widespread than most backers realize. For example, in the above Glaive fiasco, a bunch of people were either melting them to buy the new Endeavors – which is just hilarious to me – or wondering when they should actually melt them.
And mere two months later at CitizenCon in October, they had another ship concept sale. This time, the Sabre military ship.
Right after CitizenCon, yet again, they came up with what someone thought was a brilliant (it wasn’t) idea. Star Citizen Referral codes! Naturally, seeing as it’s about money, a bunch of entrepreneurs were quick to setup entire operations (seriously, check Google), complete with purchased promo ads and everything. To sell referral codes. Let me repeat that. To sell referral codes.
All of the above schemes are just a small example of how this entire project – which was deemed to be fully funded back in 2013 – has been all about making money. Nothing more. Nothing less.
Here, let me quote a Gamefront article from July 2014:
“There’s not necessarily anything wrong with Cloud Imperium Games having so much money to build from; AAA publishers throw these kind of figures at games all the time and produce smash hits. Regardless, it’s a little concerning that crowdfunding has become a game in and of itself at this point. Without a finished product, Star Citizen is little more than a microtransaction website where players buy content they won’t experience for months or even years. Eventually new rewards are announced, and players are encouraged to chip in more money to the cycle while there’s no full game to show for it.”
Four years, $94m later, with around 500 (!) people having collectively worked on it over the years, the project is nothing more than a glorified tech demo.
ps: And you probably want to read this editorial by Red Thomas, once of the backers and supporters of this project. Seriously, read it.
THE WHITE KNIGHT TOXICITY
It is a known fact that the Star Citizen community is one of the most toxic gaming community in recent memory. And that’s saying something. It all boils down to the simple fact that with such a large pool of people with heaps of money in this project, that it stands to reason that there will be some seriously rotten Apples in the mix. Sadly, there are more than a few of those. And they are completely and utterly the most anti-social misfits you will ever find in any community. To the extent that those who love the game but have concerns, dare not post those concerns on the game’s official forums, let alone in most frequented gaming communities or media forums without being harassed, bullied and attacked incessantly. Over a video game. And these are cautionary posts (1, 2) by a once notable (more on him later) member of that community.
This fringe group within the community and whose behavior is characteristic of cult members, are the worst of the White Knights. It’s gotten so bad that people have likened it to Scientology. Then there’s this and this.
And I personally have received some (1, 2) death threats myself, since my first blog post in July.
When you have a game where backers assume it’s OK to advocate for racism, rape or writing entire tomes about religion and space hookers, you know that something’s a bit off. Then again there’s a Star Citizen group called BlackJack & Hookers.
Then there was that time back in 2013 when a thread in the official forums about immersion, culture and sexuality became a mega-thread. It involved sex bots. Why yes, yes of course it did. Because, why not?
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the company has resorted to using social media to weed out dissenters, then putting them on decades (seriously) long probation (kicked out of the community pretty much), terminating their accounts and refunding their money. They’ve done it several times in recent weeks. Which is precisely what they did to me back in July after I wrote my first blog. In the most recent instance, this is Sandi Roberts sending a message to a [now banned] backer (BlueStreakBTHR), asking him if he was the poster of an unflattering comment on a third-party site.
If this at all sounds familiar, it should because Chris Roberts did the same thing in his tirade whereby, as I explained in my previous blog, he had data mined social media to come up with a bunch of ludicrous out-of-context nonsense about myself and the author of The Escapist article. That’s the tirade where he associated she and I with #GamerGate. This despite the fact that everyone knows it to be pure nonsense; and that I had nothing to do with #GamerGate other than to be a neutral party in the middle of that on-going fracas. In other words, seeing as #GamerGate has been called a hate (it’s bullshit really) group, Chris’s objective was to libel and brand me as part of a hate group and thus use that as a reason for my writings about this project.
It gets worse.
Pandering to the high profile backers is the norm. And when one of those is accused of sexual harassment, yet RSI/CIG does nothing, you begin to see how this goes.
Basically, one of the most notorious White Knight whales Wulf Knight (aka Accelerwraith), a married help desk analyst and who is over $20K into the game, and is the subject of this scandal, was alleged to have been caught sending sexually explicit images to a female member of the official Star Citizen forum community. He was later banned (reports are that it was for an unrelated incident) for a short period of time. This is the same person to whom Sandi Gardner, tweeted her “support” after I wrote a scathing Tweet to him as a result of his incessant harassment. According to Topsy, she has since deleted that tweet. This person is one of the most abusive and reviled members of the Star Citizen community. Bar none. That’s him in the chair! And he’s a real peach. And was once banned from Reddit Star Citizen community for, you guessed it, making death threats.
And with all the departures of staff at the various studios and which RSI/CIG staff have said time and time again they can’t comment on, somehow this hapless fool, gets information about why a top tier exec, Alex Mayberry quit (I broke the news when it happened. And in typical fashion, RSI/CIG were forced to address it) the studio. How? Well because “he has a good relationship with CIG“.
And there are departed and present CIG employees (including Ben Lesnick) who were aware of all this. To the extent that it was disclosed to me that after they saw the pictures in his forum account, they [RSI/CIG] even came up with a nickname for him.
We have now identified every single one of the most toxic members of the community; complete with social media dossiers of all the crap they’ve done and continue to do. Most recently one of them was uncovered as an ex-writer for Tech Raptor who, after writing a highly defamatory “Threat Assessment” (of me to the Star Citizen project) and claiming that I had mental issues, while posing as an “expert” (which was found to be false), was legally forced to not only scrub it from the Internet and apologize, but he also ended up deleting his entire Reddit profile, along with the sub-Reddit (which he was parked on and attacking myself and others from behind) he had setup.
This group are the worse of the worst. But that’s for another upcoming blog.
This is the same community headed by Chris Roberts who decided that writing the most inflammatory and libelous tirade targeting myself and a leading gaming magazine, The Escapist and the much-loved author of a scathing piece, was par for the course. And as if on cue, following that tirade, the attacks against myself, other dissenters and the media proper, increased immediately. The toxic members of the community took it as a call to arms. This despite the fact that, in one fell swoop, Chris unwittingly put the final nail in the coffin that is to seal the fate of this project and company. And that’s not hyperbole.
ABOUT THAT BRIDGE
Game development is hard. And if you’re building a seemingly impossible game with an engine that clearly wasn’t designed to meet the standards for said game, well then you have your work cut out for you. In this recent interview, Chris claims that he knew – right off the bat – that he needed a 64-Bit engine for the game. And that it took a team of 20 people about 10 months to port the custom engine (built with CryEngine3) from 32-Bit to 64-Bit. That means, for over two years he knew that they didn’t have the tech to build the game. But he lied about it anyway. Yet, when I made this claim in my first Interstellar Citizens blog back in July, they denied it. And all the White Knights called me a foolish troll. So now here we are.
As of this month, Nov 2015. of the over 115+ stretch goal bullet points in the game they promised, they have yet to deliver even 10% of it. If you are familiar with the game, great; so go ahead and count them yourself. Then do the math on a weighted scale.
And yet, just this past October at CitizenCon, Chris – again – made a promise that the game, in its entirety as promised, was coming in 2016. So this is the part where you ask what happened to the $50m stretch goal promise of alien languages. And I quote:
- Alien Languages – Do you speak Banu? We will work with real-world linguists to create distinctive and realistic alien languages for Star Citizen’s three biggest alien races, the Vanduul, the Xi’An and the Banu. No universal translators, no garbled animal noises: Star Citizen’s aliens will be speaking their own authentic languages!
They recently released yet another Arena Commander 1.3x build to the Public Test Universe. It’s a mess. In fact, the biggest addition is….wait for it. The ability to drive a hangar buggy. And if you’ve been seeing all the hilarious GIFs and YouTube videos (e.g. 1, 2, 3, 4) of that, well, you already know that it’s “buggy” as hell. After all this time, and all this money, they still can’t get basic physics – for a [largely useless] four wheeled vehicle – working in a closed (the hangar) environment. And that’s a three year old code base.
$94m. Four Years. No game.
Now they’re threatening to release v2.0 in the coming weeks. Expectations are high because avid supporters think that it’s going to include tangible aspects of the game, a preview of the much touted “baby” (don’t ask) persistent universe etc.
Newsflash: You’re all in for a shock. But before I get into that, this is what I said back in August when they released 1.2 with the much touted “Social/Planetside” module. Here are my thoughts:
- I don’t believe that there will be anything tangible in the upcoming 2.0. And by the time the dust settles, everyone will be wondering why it’s not 1.4x (or whatever)
- I believe that they will try to get that 2.0 build out in the PTU in time for the anniversary sale on or before 11/26
- That 2.0 build won’t i) have fps (aka Star Marine) in it ii) have anything “persistent” about it iii) have anything previously promised (see below) in it
- Probably won’t support any new ships. And if it does, there will be maybe one multi-crew ship (unknown at this point); assuming they’ve got multi-crew actually working now
Forget everything Chris said at CitizenCon. So far, they’re only talking about flight model changes in 2.0.
Regardless of what they release in 2.0, as we have seen with the 1.x progression this year, that 2.0 kernel takes us straight into 2016. Still in Alpha stage. For a game that, thus far, doesn’t even have 10% of its promised functionality implemented. Four years later.
During CitizenCon, the spotlight was on mocap tech, a parade of stars…and more promises. You can see my post-event write-up over here.
The switch to 64-Bit, as I had previously stated a few months back, has been a serious problem for the engineers. And it’s only going to get a whole lot worse judging by what they now have to deal with. That being, building a game on top of it all.
For example. Back in July when I said that they had scrapped (not delayed) the Star Marine fps module, they denied it. Then in August, out of nowhere, they kicked Illfonic (the third-party developers of that module) off the project. So that left them having to pick up the pieces of all that work that needed to be ported and/or scrapped entirely for the new tech they were building. Which explains why Chris announced at CitizenCon in October that the much delayed Star Marine module, was no longer coming out as promised. It was last scheduled to be released at the end of Sept. Instead, it was now going to be rolled into the upcoming Persistent Universe update instead.
It is important to note that the Star Marine module is not just about mocap animations and tech. It also features various fps game play modes, weapons, inventory items etc. In other words, it’s pretty much an entire game all by itself.
Basically, Chris has taken upon himself to build, not one, but four triple A quality products, without the budget for even one of them.
At this point in time, they’re screwed. Completely.
Which is precisely why I believe that the push to ship episode one of Squadron 42 in some shape or form, is the new focus for 2016. It is a stand-alone game which they hope to sell. And that explains why they have now decided to sell it separately.
But as I see it, they have three problems with that.
- They’ve pretty much pre-sold it to over 700K people who no longer have to pay for it. So there’s very little sales growth there
- That game still requires the 64-Bit engine they’re building, most of the tech and assets for it are not yet completed etc
- They are fast running out of money and even more so, room to continue fleecing gamers
Note that Elite Dangerous, a full game and which went on Kickstarter around the same time as Star Citizen back in 2012, was since completed and took over a year to sell 800K+ units as per their 2015 financials.
Which precisely explains why they are now staffing up the Foundry 42 (Manchester) office that’s building the Squadron 42 core game. They are also said to be shifting some of that game’s development to Cloud Imperium Games (Frankfurt) who are apparently now also assisting with scripting and flight missions.
So now the year has ended, the game is nowhere near finished and there is absolutely no indication that if this project survives the first half of 2016, that the promised games (Star Citizen & Squadron 42) will ever be completed before the end of 2017; or even 2018.
Seeing as Chris and some of the CIG community staffers have been making statements akin to “Squadron 42 being the original game that was promised back in 2012”, it is to be expected that if they ever ship SQ42 in 2016, that it will be scaled (FYI, they already nerfed co-op months back) back, stripped and shoved out the door.
Bonus: Chris Roberts on Multiplayer, Single Player, and Instancing, Nov 2012. Yes – it’s now proven to have been a load of horse shit.
THE ROAD AHEAD
Now they are said to be running out of money. As a result, they’re downsizing.
This project has five studios/offices (Santa Monica, West Hollywood, Austin, Frankfurt, Manchester) and almost 300 people working on these projects. Last we heard, the monthly burn rate was over $3m per month.
At that burn rate, if they are not making enough each month to pay their bills, the entire project will collapse. Which is why they keep coming up with new and creative ways of raising money. Hence the reason that these events and periodic “sales”, are so crucial. Remember that Chris has claimed – many times – that if money were to stop, they’d have enough in reserves to finish the game.
They raised over $4.2m in October. And they did that by selling loads of CCU (Cross Chassis Upgrade. Yes, that’s totally a thing; and a fan made a handy upgrade chart for it), Aegis Sabres, Endeavors etc. However the much-maligned referral system continues to decline in converting new accounts to backers (anyone who buys any package e.g. $45 or higher). They had almost 50K new accounts, but conversions were only in the region of around 16K. The previous month ratio was approximately 15K accounts, with approximately 7K conversions. So by the time the post-CitizenCon hype had settled down, they made about $1m from new backers and the rest from the pre-existing whales.
When you have a burn rate nearing $3m per month, there’s not much to celebrate about. Especially when you look at the metrics and clearly see that funding for 2015 is already on the decline, compared to last year. And I don’t expect it to get any better at this point.
Back on September 24th when I reported that they were shuttering the Austin office and doing layoffs, they denied it. Then on Sept 25th, Chris issued a statement to the studios.
As of now, they’re still gutting the studio and they are closing it. Word is that they recently signed a lease to a new and much smaller location at The Arboretum where a skeleton team will remain. By year end, the original location is said to be completely closed.
Here’s the thing. It’s way – way – more expensive to build and house a team in Santa Monica, than in Austin. Needless to say, if they’re picking CA over TX it’s probably got more to do with Sandi and Chris wanting to be near the Hollywood lifestyle, than it is about what’s good and fiscally efficient and responsible for this crowd-funded project.
And the people who have quit, been fired or laid off, are not just low level people. Seasoned engineers (e.g. Dan Tracy was the latest high-profile person) have come and gone. Meanwhile, over at Foundry 42, we learned that some time ago the entire character concept team upped and quit.
Plus, the move to push SQ42 out the door explains the increased staffing of Frankfurt and Manchester, while getting rid of positions here in the US. Note that, last we checked, the US represented almost 50% of the backer population; with Germany coming in second with around 15%.
So now we have a project in Alpha (or was that pre-Alpha?) that’s being staffed with replacements who know nothing about this exceptionally ambitious and complex project and who have to be brought up to speed by others already on the project; thus taking those people away from the work they’re supposed to be doing. What could possibly go wrong there?
And with all this going on, they’re reported to have been on a witch hunt at the US studios in an attempt to find moles who they claim are leaking information to myself and others in the media. I’ve also heard that following The Escapist article, not only did they hire a PI to come in and do these investigations, but that they had resorted to sifting through employee’s emails and chat logs looking for evidence of wrong-doing.
ALL ABOUT THE MONEY
Last year Star Citizen outearned all video game Kickstarters combined.
As of this writing, the project has raised over $94m. What is unclear at this point is how much on top of that was made through endorsements with companies such as nVidia and Saitek, and which so far, Chris has failed to explain to the backers. In fact, when it comes to any discussion related to money, all Chris and co want to talk about are i) how to make more ii) how much they’ve made
I would like to draw your attention to a statement that appears at the top of the funding page linked above.
“As a crowd funded project, Star Citizen’s scope is based directly on the support provided by our backers. Money pledged goes directly to the game’s development.
Stretch goals listed here are intended to reward early backers and to indicate how we are achieving Star Citizen’s full vision.”
Sounds fantastic doesn’t it? Well here’s the problem. As with everything to do with these people and money, those are just empty words.
The vast majority of the stretch goal items, including physical goods promised, have yet to be delivered. In fact, here is something you probably don’t know. Despite the fact that they raised all this money via through stretch goals, apparently it’s cheaper and better to source it from China, than to, you know, support US industry. Here is one such exchange between Sandi and a backer from back in 2014 when they had over $40m of backer money. And I quote:
America unfortunately could not compete in quality of products nor price of products by a long margin. That makes business in America for these products pretty impossible to do.
Now if you have made the money for this stuff, what’s the point of going overseas in order to get them at a cheaper price?
And how exactly is it that “money pledged goes directly into the game’s development” amid allegations of Sandi using backer money and RSI/CIG equipment for shooting pet movie projects as I had previously reported. Or living in very expensive housing in Pacific Palisades, complete with staff, a fleet of vehicles, traveling the world etc, all funded by backer money since that’s the primary source of income?
Those are the same empty words which have been written and spoken since 2012 in a bid to get money from gamers for a project they seemingly have no capacity or incentive to complete and ship as promised. And look no further than the very TOS v1.1 of 08/29/13 which, as of this month is going to be a very serious issue as I commented over here.
ToS v1.1 of 08/29/13
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.
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 deposit amounts applied against the Pledge Item Cost and the Game Cost as described above 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 its website to fully explain the use of the deposits for the Game Cost and the Pledge Item Cost. In consideration of the promises by RSI hereunder, you agree to irrevocably waive any claim for refund of any deposit amount that has been used for the Game Cost and Pledge Item Cost in accordance with the above.”
ToS v1.2 of 02/01/15
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.
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 deposit amounts applied against the Pledge Item Cost and the Game Cost as described above 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 its website to fully explain the use of the deposits for the Game Cost and the Pledge Item Cost. In consideration of the promises by RSI hereunder, you agree to irrevocably waive any claim for refund of any deposit amount that has been used for the Game Cost and Pledge Item Cost in accordance with the above.“
When they were raising money, accountability was key to people being willing to give all this money. And once that was over and done with and the whole Sunk Cost Fallacy took hold, there was no turning back. So in the year 2015 when they were supposed to give refunds and provide financial accountability for not having completed nor shipped the product(s), they surreptitiously changed the very same TOS they used as a hook to obtain this money. And given the project’s current state, coupled with the fact that as far as the original Oct 2012 Kickstarter backers are concerned that term expires this month, there is nothing to say that they won’t change it again. Because they can. And as there is no way on Earth that they are going to be able to deliver this game – as promised – before the May 2016 deadline cited in the TOS revision.
As I mentioned previously, a lot of backers have been calling for financial accountability for this project. They want to know where all this money has gone and why four (or three depending on who you ask) years later, all they have to show for over $94m in crowd-funding, is an incomplete and buggy mess of modules with no “game” in sight.
In fact, every single RSI/CIG exec has been avoiding this very subject. Meanwhile, the community leads are making the most ridiculous statements (1, 2) about this that I have ever seen. These two btw, are low-level employees who are making these statements to the backer community on behalf of the company. There is a reason for that. And these two, despite the fact that the TOS – even the current one – clearly states that the company will, at some point in time, make these very financials available, continue to make statements designed to ignore this TOS requirement. But yet, despite it being in writing, we have employees already making statements indicating that the TOS should be ignored because making the financials available – under any circumstance, is somehow bad.
Meanwhile, Frontier Developments, the developers of Elite Dangerous, have their financials online for all to see.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, it is now rumored that they are actively seeking a bailout either in the form of external VC investors or an equity stake (though unconfirmed, names including Electronic Arts, Tencent and others have been mentioned).
In addition to that, just recently I got wind of the fact that one of the early VC investors who wasn’t bought out back when they made millions and the buyout option existed, having seen The Escapist article decided to do his own digging into the allegations. And upon the conclusion of those investigations, having deemed them to be credible and verifiable, opted to withdraw his investment from the project in it’s entirety.
Over at Foundry 42, Simon Elms (who is also an exec at Cubic Motion, the company doing the facial animation for SQ42) is said to be the CFO. And sources say that the studio having overspent at some point, he is rumored to have helped them get back about $6m in govt. tax credits for the studio.
Meanwhile, as of this writing, none of the UK companies (1, 2, 3) associated with this project have filed their annual reports which would give an insight into the company’s financials.
And speaking of companies, for reasons that you will see in a moment, let me list the number of companies now associated with this project.
- Cloud Imperium Games Corp, West Hollywood, CA
- Cloud Imperium Games LLC, West Hollywood, CA
- Cloud Imperium Services, LLC West Hollywood, CA <– The one is interesting. It is found on BBB, but is not in the CA Secretary Of State dB records
- Cloud Imperium Games LLC, Santa Monica, CA
- Cloud Imperium Games Texas LLC, West Hollywood, CA
- Cloud Imperium Games Texas LLC, Austin, TX
- Cloud Imperium Games UK Limited, UK
- Foundry 42 Limited, UK
- Foundry 42, Germany
- Gemini 42 Entertainment LLC, West Hollywood, CA
- Gemini 42 Productions LLC, Santa Monica, CA
- Roberts Space Industries Corp, West Hollywood, CA
- Roberts Space Industries International Limited, UK
- Twin Brothers Production Inc, West Hollywood, CA
- Twin Bros, Germany
Let that sink in for a moment. And those are just the ones that we know of. There is reportedly another shell company overseas that we’re now actively looking for, as sources have indicated that it supposedly contains a “nest egg” for the execs in the event that this whole thing goes South.
With the exception of Twin Bros, which is owned by Ortwin Freyermuth, all the others were created as a result of this project. Even the Gemini 42 companies used by Sandi for her movie projects.
And to add further to the questions now surrounding this project and all the execs attached to it, it has been reported (we have several emails forwarded to us) that several people who had paid money into this project and who are now requesting refunds, have been been getting them, not from the company they paid the money to – in this case RSI or CIG – but from the Twin Bros company.
Which brings me to this….
THE GIZMONDO MONEY LAUNDERING CONNECTION
Five of the six top execs at this company, Chris Roberts, his brother Erin Roberts, their lifelong friends, Nick & Simon Elms, Derek Senior – all from Manchester – through their previous company Warthog, were associated with the Gizmondo money laundering operation that was busted worldwide a few years ago.
Simon Elms, now the CFO of Foundry 42, was also the CFO for Warthog which was bought by Gizmondo and became Gizmondo Texas. Gizmondo had previously bought Tiger Telematics which was used as the entity company to purchase Warthog.
Nick Elms is also reported to have been investigated by the UK FSA back when he dumped Warthog shares, thus crashing the share price, when his brother was CFO of that company.
As the story goes, Gizmondo was a money laundering front for the Swedish Uppsala mafia headed by Swedish Gangster named “Fat Steve”. Along with his partner Mikael Ljungman, they bought the company. Simon Elms was the CFO for Gizmondo since the begining and he was also director of several companies, including Virtual Poker (of which both Simon Elms and Erin Roberts were officers). That company was quietly dissolved in early 2008, while Gizmondo went bankrupt later that same year.
It gets better.
Swedish newspapers (such as this one see translation) reported that, among other things, the crooks who founded Gizmondo were previously involved in various illegal activities. Those included distributing counterfeit money, blackmail, extortion and assault. And the icing on the proverbial criminal enterprise cake is that they were debt collectors for the Swedish underworld aka the Uppsala mafia. I kid you not. Here is the partial rap sheet for these charmers back then.
Stefan Eriksson, Executive Director at Gizmondo Europe, was previously convicted to five years in prison in 1993 for planning to distribute counterfeit money. He got another five years for trying to defraud financial institution for approximately $3 million.
Peter Uf, also a director, was previously sentenced to almost 9 years on similar charges as Stefan.
Johan Enander, head of security at Gizmondo, had been convicted for blackmail and aggravated assault.
Later in 2009, Mikael went to jail for various financial crimes and Carl Freer was being investigated by the FBI on RICO charges.
The whole thing was so freaking outrageous, that not even the US media back in the day could believe it. Here is one such accounting. Which brings us to the crashed Ferrari that was seemingly the final act that got everyone busted.
Warthog, which was in financial trouble, was bailed out by Gizmondo to become Gizmondo Texas. Eric Peterson (remember him?), was made head of global studios, while Erin Roberts was studio manager of Gizmondo Manchester, along with Simon Elms. The company was supposed to have been working on various casino games which were to be released for the Gizmondo device. These are games that were reportedly never going to be released, since the device was nothing but a pipe dream. That company was dissolved before this was all publicly known.
After it all collapsed, Simon Elms later went off to Cubic motion and Nick Elms and some other guys set up Embryonic studios. Erin showed up at some point. Embryonic was later bought by Travelers Tales. Erin and Nick were there for awhile, until Chris showed up with a bag of money and asked his brother and his band of merrymen to join him on his epic quest for loot: that being the pipe dream that was to become Star Citizen. Chris then built his brother a brand new, multi-million dollar studio, Foundry 42; and gave him Squadron 42 to develop.
After I pieced this all together a few weeks ago and tweeted that I was working on a blog about it, someone else decided to do the leg work and wrote a pretty good synopsis of the whole thing and which also links all these four people to a massive international money laundering operation. It’s as crazy as you’d expect. But let me quote that person’s closing statement.
“In the end, it is all hearsay. People in the industry work with each other all the time. Bad projects happen. After all, it isn’t everyday a charismatic con man and a sociopathic leg breaker go into the videogame industry. Chris Roberts would surely want to bring people he’s familiar with onto his project. Though as time wears on and deadlines are missed and where the budget is being spent obscured, the comparisons to Gizmondo become hard to ignore. With the way things are going, we might see Chris Roberts sitting next to a crashed sports car, blaming a mysterious German for everything that went wrong.”
In 2006, Wired magazine also wrote about this fiasco.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, following our investigation into Sandi Gardiner, wife of Chris Roberts, we again discovered that, despite making several statements in the affirmative, there is still absolutely no evidence – of any kind – that she ever graduated from any college with a marketing degree; let alone UCLA. She has claimed to have two such degrees. And in true form, shortly after my last blog in which I indicated that we were seeking the source of this Dean’s letter (note it’s partial, no discernible header etc – and is no evidence of a degree of any kind) which she had tweeted as a response to my blog, her third (the first two were also deleted following various reporting in my blogs) LinkedIn profile which included that Australian college, UNISA, (a sort of technical college to us here in the US) she recently claimed to have attended, has now been deleted.
Why is this relevant? Well, nepotism aside, this is the co-founder of a $94m crowd-funded project, reportedly making an exorbitant amount of money, wielding a lot of power – for a position that she’s not qualified for. Notwithstanding all that other stuff that was uncovered by The Escapist.
Prior to Star Citizen, she had no footprint anywhere that she was ever in marketing in any capacity. No company. No business. No profile. Nothing. Marketing people are the most visible in that particular sector.
And she’s a drama queen. Literally. At the recent CitizenCon, ahead of the event, she got up on stage and gave this ludicrous tears-on-cue performance that led everyone watching live, to believe that she was about to finally quit. Champagne glasses all around. Until Erin seemingly interrupted her. She pulled an audible; and that was the end of that.
As for Ortwin, he too was linked to legal issue in Germany related to raising money for movies that were never going to be made. As one story goes, in 2007 Andreas Schmid and Andreas Grosch were both sentenced by a German court because they defrauded investors. Schmid was sentenced to 6 years in Jail.
The scheme was one in which investors would fund films and were promised a huge return on investment. Some of those films were either never produced, or were produced at a huge loss. The tax incentives for those loses remained with the company, while the investors lost their investment in whole or in part.
In the German media reports, (1, 2) Ortwin appeared in one of those cases and several of the movies listed Chris Roberts as the producer.
Aside from all that, Ascendant Pictures which both he and Chris were partners of, ceased operations and sold all its assets to Bigfoot Entertainment back in 2010. This was amid the legal tussle with Kevin Costner over – you guessed it – broken promises; and following a string of bad movies.
Gamers have given this outstanding group of people over $94m to build a game. And four years later, there is still no “game”. And thus far, nobody has a clue where most of the money went.
There are those who are saying stupid things like; well they have over 200 people working, that’s where the money went. The only response that I could muster for anyone making this stupid claim? You’re an idiot.
THE SCALES OF JUSTICE
As I’ve said before, and I’ll say it again. There is no version of this where these people get away with whatever it is they’ve done and are doing. Though the wheels of justice turn slowly, they do turn. As such, accountability is coming. Though legal action is not fun and shouldn’t be taken lightly, one way or another, we’re going to find out what’s going on with this project and what they’ve done with all this money.
In the meantime, since my July blog posts, they seem to have continued issuing refunds. Though there are reports that some people have waited for up to four weeks to get their money back.
As we are now in the Nov deadline for the TOS conditions, Chris, this is my final request for you to do the right thing here:
- Provide backers with financials for this project by Nov 30th, 2015.
- Promise to issue no-questions-asked refunds to anyone who requests it between now and final delivery of the product.
- Provide a firm date of delivery for this game. Saying that it’s “coming in 2016”, is completely unacceptable. We’ve been down this road before.
The minute you comply with all of the above, you have my word (I am old school like that) that I will consider the matter closed forthwith. And I will thus excuse myself from this whole thing, leaving you to deal with the impending consequences of your mistakes, over-inflated ego, and arrogance.
“Meme image credits go to the hilarious and creative denizens of the Goon HQ, Something Awful forums. Goons ruin everything“