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#5807
dsmart
Keymaster

STAR CITIZEN – THE $45K REFUND DEBACLE

PREAMBLE

I had written briefly about this in a previous article, but decided to make it a new article because a lot of things have since come to light surrounding this refund.

I had said:

We have known for sometime now that there are mega whales backing the project, but this $45K refund is as incredible as it is incredulous.  What’s even more ridiculous is that these $15K Completionist packages don’t even include the full complement of ships. Buying one of those, gives you the ability to buy a Javelin destroyer ship which goes up to $1.5K. And it also doesn’t include any ships announced after 2015.

Naturally, seeing as this involves Star Citizen, quite a few media articles (1, 2, 3, 4) have popped up around it.

CIG later issued a press statement saying that the refund they gave to that person was for $330, not the $45K claimed; and that the correspondence was “fabricated” to make it look like it was for $45K.  This also acknowledges that this ex-backer did in fact request, and receive a refund.

Because there has a been a lot of community chatter (1, 2) around this particular refund due to its size, despite the fact that we are aware of larger verified refunds in the range of $11K to $30K, going all the way back to the Great Refund Debacle, some Goons and myself, decided to take a closer look following CIG officially denouncing it.

I am going to be perfectly honest here, and though several of us were involved in this investigation, I am only speaking for myself: My intentions were neither designed to be noble, nor to exonerate CIG. I merely wanted to catch them – again – making FALSE official statements to the media about yet another Star Citizen controversy because they have done it before to me. If this refund was in fact authentic, and they lied about it, well then that’s a huge blog for me.

Regardless, because I see how something like this could detract from the bigger picture, rather than keep our findings internal, I decided to disclose them. To be clear, I would much rather not even write this article, and just sit back and watch the shadow of doubt about the veracity of CIG’s statements, play out. Think about it, when you have to choose between a backer who did get a refund (confirmed by CIG, regardless of the disputed amount), and a corporation full of lying, scheming bastards, who are you going to believe? And even if there is a shadow of doubt, which side – as a reasonable gamer – are you going to lean toward?

Something like this, sows those seeds of discourse and puts CIG on the continued defensive because, guess what, if their community relations weren’t as bad as they are, and their credibility (which recently took a hammering over the Coutts loans in the UK, the horrific GamesCom 2017 showcase, a new UK shell company, and the project switching to early access) not festering in the bottom of a cesspool, it would be easier to take their word for it, and move on. But alas, here we are.

CIG has a well documented history of lying – blatantly – to the same backers who have thus far given them $160m (see spreadsheet breakdown) to make two games. And they tend to use the media to propagate those very same lies. No offense to David Swofford, who IMO continues to be a well respected PR guy, stuck in this farce because of money and honor to his old buddies. To me, minus the incessant lying, he’s CIG’s version of Sean Spicer; in for a penny, in for a pound – a guy just doing his job. I guess.

THE DUPLICITY OF DISCOURSE

To get things started, I want to make clear that my views on doxing (1, 2) remain unchanged. I am very familiar with online discourse and the legal issues surrounding online speech, defamation, doxing etc. So a bunch of online miscreants don’t get to change the definition of “doxing” to suit their flawed narrative.

No, linking to publicly available social media accounts isn’t doxing, you moron.

As a prolific blogger, and someone who loves his liability insurance, my involvement in the on-going Star Citizen saga remains as I stated back in 2015 after I wrote the now famous July Blog: I seek vindication. Nothing more, nothing less. I don’t care one bit if CIG succeeds or fails. It’s all patently irrelevant to me.

What I do care about is that back in 2015 when I said they couldn’t build the game they pitched, and that they were now actively running a scam to fleece backers for money, with promises they can’t keep, they decided to vilify me. And since this project is primarily funded with money from the public (people like me), what I write about it, as long as I don’t break any laws, is 100% of the “public interest“. And there is no getting around that; nor are misplaced outrage and suppositions as to my motivations, going to trump that.

One more thing. When I said that if it came to that, I would do everything in my power to help put Chris Roberts behind bars, I meant it. There can be no mistake nor interpretation of this intent. That’s how strongly I feel about what has happened with this project, and how they have chosen to handle dissenting voices within their own community, employees, and contractors.

OF GOONS, LOLS, AND TROLLS

Being on the Internet for as long as I have, it’s not very hard to realize that, just like in real life, people do things for all kinds of reasons – none of which have to make any sense. Take my Goon brethren (the real legacy ones, not those guys paying Lowtax 10 bux to read the SomethingAwful forum) for example, most of them are potential candidates for psychiatric evaluation – and most will probably fail that eval. If you have been in any discourse with Goons, you will know one thing, and one thing only, it’s all about the lols and the memes. It doesn’t matter how serious you think a discussion is, if there’s a Goon involved, it’s bound to result in one or both of those things – then probably head straight downhill. And in all chaos, what is usually missed is that most Goons are grown-ups who are in all types of professions ranging from law enforcement, attorneys, and high profile higher education fields, to that one guy who came to fix your cable and took pics of your dancing cat. Goons aren’t the “destructive force seeking to damage Star Citizen because CIG didn’t make it like Eve“. That’s the nonsense posted on Reddit by some of the Star Citizen backers who still can’t figure out – for some reason – that they’re on the ass end of a massive trolling campaign for lols. Those “backers” (aka Shitizens) are their own worst enemy, and the single worst thing to ever happen to Star Citizen.

And most Goons are organized into “castes”. Seriously, you could write a whole paper on this because contrary to popular belief, most Goons don’t engage in all activities and discussions just because they’re Goons. If you know what FYAD is, congrats, you’re already screwed. As hilarious as it sounds – plus I’m laughing as I type this – unlike some of the denizens of the cesspool that is Reddit – most Goons have morals and rules. So no, they do not support, let alone condone doxing. To wit, I was temp banned once for the simple act of linking to a public social media profile.

Which brings me to the point. Despite Chris Roberts having spent the better part of 8 fucking hours back in 2015 writing an infantile missive blaming us for his troubles, Goons didn’t pull this troll move of faking a $45K Star Citizen refund. If they did, I’d know about it. Plus whoever did it, would have claimed responsibility by now because, guess what, just like that time they trolled Buzzfeed, this having made the news (even Ars Technica covered it), they would have claimed responsibility by now.

ABOUT THE ALLEGED $45K REFUND

I issued (on my forum and Discord server) an early morning statement as per our findings that ran late into the night.

“Since last night we having been looking more closely at this. As a result, following our investigation, I have  come to the conclusion that the $45K refund is FAKE, and was part of a carefully orchestrated effort by this person to create drama. We don’t know why yet – nor do we care.

So I have banned him (Mogmentum) from the server.

As I did with that Deloria scammer prick, I am currently writing an expose article because this was an irresponsible thing to do.

And while it’s good for laughs, regardless of the fact that Goons had nothing to do with it, we simply cannot encourage this sort of thing.

CIG is screwing up all on their own, and we don’t need crap like this to muddy the waters when in fact genuine backers are trying to get their money out of the project. The fact that CIG is actually issuing refunds, even though they can really legally say no (as per the ToS), is enough good faith to not cause these sort of distractions.”

After the Reddit post about the refund appeared, it propagated across the community like wildfire. Then the media picked it up. It wasn’t long before CIG issued their statement calling it “fabricated”. It wasn’t long before the media who reported it, were updating their stories.

While all this was going on, as they tend to do, some morons in the Star Citizen Reddit community, started their “It’s Derek Smart and Goons” narrative in a bid to not only continue to blame us – instead of CIG – for all of Star Citizen’s problems, but also to denounce it as fake. Thing is, each time they get wind of a refund, either on Star Citizen’s official Spectrum forum, or on Reddit, as they tend to do against all dissenting voices, they immediately start attacking the backer writing about the refund. Which is precisely why most backers just refund quietly, and move on. In fact, the Star Citizen Refunds sub only exists because the person who set it up, wanted a “safe space” where helpful information can be obtained for getting a refund; and to discuss those experiences there. It is heavily moderated, and the nonsensical attacks which go on in the official Star Citizen forums and sub-Reddits, aren’t allowed there. And those who are brave enough to post there, do so in order to convey their experiences, not particularly to gloat (though that would be well within their rights; we’re gamers; we bitch about everything) about it.

And yes, there have been at least two instances of a fake refund reported on that sub-Reddit. And both were an effort spearheaded by a since exposed Star Citizen backer, Hater115, who did it – as he claimed – to “expose the fact that fake refunds are possible”. Once we busted him, we subsequently banned (he came back several times, and it was basically a case of whack-a-mole) him from our Discord server as well as my forum.

The reason these guys are embarked on this campaign – as ludicrous as it sounds – is to discredit the authenticity of the backers posting about their refunds in that sub-Reddit. It’s just another way of suppressing any form of dissent against the project. Of course they are totally oblivious to the fact that the more angst and controversy they cause, the worst it looks for CIG and indeed the Star Citizen project. But these guys are complete morons, so common sense need not apply. If they want to generate their own FUD, who are we to object, let alone try to stop them? We don’t care. If it generates lols, we’re all in – always.

In this $45K refund, this person is new to us. And his only Reddit trace (now deleted account) were some posts in the UK political forums. From the trace history, we have an entire profile of his online identity. We made no attempts to link him to a real life identity because that’s up to the media and CIG if they want to do that.

So, basically he registered on my forum on Aug 18th, as user Kastenbrust, and made 22 posts between Aug 18th, and Sept 14th.

He joined my Discord server on the same Aug 18th day, using the same Kastenbrust username. His first post there, was announcing his first post on my forum.

Shortly after the refund news went wide, and some media reached out in an attempt to interview him and get his story, his Reddit account disappeared. We actually only found out about this late in the evening of Sept 14th. Right away, we figured that something was up. Though some of us were still skeptical that he was probably telling the truth, and that he deleted his Reddit account due to harassment – which tends to happen a lot on social media – others weren’t so sure.

In fact, the general consensus was that since there were two refunds claimed, $45K for the org, and $330 (which CIG confirmed) for him personally, perhaps CIG was obfuscating the issue between both refunds, choosing to only acknowledge the personal refund. In fact, the best analogy to explain this, came from, who else but a Goon?

“They didn’t accuse him of lying. They said the individual got a refund for $330 and not $45k. They did not say the corporate card account was not refunded $45k.

Imagine if you were a corporate card holder and bought your company a whole bunch of defective binders from an office supply company. You return them for a refund of $1000.

While you are at the store refunding them, you also get a refund for a stapler that doesn’t work that you purchased personally, on your personal card for $12.

Then you tweet – hey I just got a refund for $1000 on my corporate card and the manager sees the tweet and checks his records. He then tweets out that the individual that tweeted only got a refund for $12, not $1000 alleged previously.

Doesn’t make the original tweet less true.

Secondly, only original transaction records would be definitive proof and only one person has those. Other people can vouch, but who wants the death threats (from anonymous internetters) and threatened legal action (from CIG for tortious interference)that would result from doing so.

Not many people.”

The alarm bells started going off when he later appeared last night on my Discord server as user Mogmentum.

As soon as he showed up, we decided to authenticate who he was so that we didn’t run into an issue of an impostor. Through back channel communications, in which he provided some info only known to the original backer and one of us who he was in contact with after his made his Reddit thread, we determined that this was in fact him.

That’s when the fun really started, and the holes in his story started to appear. Like sharks to fresh blood, we were on it.

Shortly thereafter, using deep web techniques and other supernatural geek methodologies, we were able to link him to various public social media accounts using the same information which he had provided in his original public postings about the refund. Starting with his Twitter account (old, new). In case you recognize that image, it’s of this guy. We know it’s not him, and it won’t be the first time someone is using another person’s image in their social media profile.

UPDATE: Following the publishing of this article, he changed the profile image (before, after) on the new Twitter account (which also matches his other Reddit alt account). More here.

It wasn’t long before we traced him back to my forum, and his prior Discord accounts previously mentioned. In fact, he provided so much info that even CIG was able to figure out who he was by looking at the dates in the screen shots he provided; even though he masked his name from them, while leaving the name of the CS staff intact. Also, following the refund, his RSI account was subsequently deleted by CIG, but we had that already.

While on the server, he spent quite a bit of time trying to convince us that both refunds were legit, that his Reddit account was deleted without him knowing about it, implying that there was maybe some collusion between the media, CIG etc. He just kept going. And we let him keep posting, even as we were continuing our investigations. Those in the public channel were encouraging his commentary, while those of us in a secure channel continued our investigation into what went down and how, even as we remain somewhat divided as to whether or not he was telling the truth.

One thing that didn’t quite make sense was, how could the org have refunded $45K, and not have VAT added. To that he said:

“We are a limited company and UK VAT registered so VAT exempt. All that info was supplied to the mods for verification.”

Then came his revenge plotting – all in the general public channel btw. You can go to my Discord server right now, then in the search bar, enter this string: from: Mogmentum#9178 to see 31 posts he made. Through all this, he was offering to provide access to the PayPal account, get it notarized etc. At that point, none of us cared enough to take him up on his offer as we had determined that it was just talk which would lead to other continued deflection and bullshit.

Following the conclusion of our Space Court investigation, this morning he was subsequently banned from the Discord server and the forum.

CONCLUSION

We still don’t know what the motivation for this hoax was. As others have noted, it makes no sense. This person, a backer to the tune of $330, obviously supported the project in order to have sunk that much cash into it. Plus, he apparently got his refund without any hassles from CIG. And none of the usual Reddit dimwits have claimed responsibility for it. Though the Reddit account was only active for about a month, there is no evidence that any of those usual suspects are responsible. Plus they would have claimed responsibility by now because 1) they can’t help themselves 2) it would further their goals of discrediting the refunds sub-Reddit.

The other curious issue here, as I pointed out in my posts, is that through all this, nobody from the “committee” in the org, came forward to say anything. It seems to me that if there is an org with over $45K in a project, and one point man was being harassed, derided, made the news etc, that someone – even an alt, anon, or whatever – would have stepped forward to say something.

Also, though rumors and some evidence of CIG using online reputation management companies – or paid shills, have been going around for awhile, there is no evidence to suggest that CIG had anything to do with this either. So, at this time, unless and until further evidence to the contrary is presented, my opinion is that it was an elaborate hoax that someone went to a lot of trouble to pull off.

What is CIG going to do? There’s not much that they can do. First, they would have to find the person behind the social media accounts. Then they would have to prove what he did, then show what harm was caused etc. If this fool actually did forge $330 refund data to make it look like $45K, he would have to explain why he did it, and unless CIG can prove harm, it’s a waste of time and resources for them to pursue it.

As Polygon pointed out in their follow-up article, it’s getting dirty.

“Instead of providing a deadline for the next early access update, the team at CIG spent its time at Gamescom pitching another new feature, a facial scanning technology that our reporter called horrifying. At this point, nearly five years into production, people are asking for their money back, and they’re getting it.

So how much money is actually flowing out of the project for refunds? We asked CIG to tell us, and they declined to comment.”

 

The one thing to take away from this, lols aside, is that the subscriber base and page views for the Star Citizen refunds sub-Reddit spiked (as it has since GamesCom 2017 showcase) substantially; and backers continue to post about their refunds. One would think that the combination of media coverage over this fiasco, as well as the revelation that refunds are still possible, may also be responsible for the increased spike.

And I say to those who are saying that refunds are “hurting the project”: listen, we don’t care. CIG made lofty promises they can’t ever hope to keep, the project is three years behind schedule, and after six years, $160m in backer funding, and over 500 people (at some point or another), they still don’t have 15% of ANY of the games promised.

So yes, while they are well within their rights to refuse refunds, as per the ToS backers agreed to, they only have themselves to blame if backers are fed-up of waiting, and of the lies. Chris Roberts went on the record – several times – and said that they have financial reserves, that they do in fact allow refunds etc. So this should be acceptable as it is in all companies where you receive money in exchange for goods. If you fail to deliver, you have to refund the money as applicable by law. It really is that simple. And if the State or Fed officials were to get involved at some point, as they have done in the past to other crowd-funding fiascos, they can and will freeze the CIG assets, in an attempt to return those funds back to backers.

As  a wise man one said, happy backers don’t ask for refunds – no matter what. So there’s that.

Thus concludes yet another Star Citizen shit-storm that one of their own backers is solely responsible for.