Derek Smart, developer of the fantasy MMO Alganon and Battlecruiser 3000AD series of space sims, had his $250 kickstarter pledge towards Star Citizen development refunded after he criticized the game’s developers for promising increasingly impossible features as their funding campaign ballooned. This is the culmination of a series of incidents between Smart and the developers of Star Citizen.
In a piece titled “Interstellar Citizens” published to his blog July 6th, Derek Smart said that he and other early backers had pledged towards a Star Citizen that was asking for $500k and had goals proportional to that budget, and that they couldn’t have known that it would continue to solicit funds up to the current $85 million total by extending the game’s scope to a degree that can never be completed. He also noted that it has already missed its original release date of November 2014.
To make the point that the game’s current promised scope is unrealistic, Derek Smart provided a lengthy history of his attempts (starting with Battlecruiser 3000AD) to make what he calls “The Holy Grail”: an all-encompassing space simulator that keeps the first-person perspective as the player moves from planet to spaceship to space station. This account segued into a plug for his most recent game, Line of Defense, a space MMO available in early access. Finally, he concluded:
I have come to terms with the fact that, at my age, I will never be able to realize my dreams of building that awesome all-encompassing space and planetary combat game that I envisioned decades ago. And it wasn’t from my lack of trying, let alone expertise.
So I really do hope and pray that RSI can pull this off, because if someone like me, with all my experience and expertise on this very same subject and who has spent half a lifetime trying can’t do it without sacrificing something (visual fidelity, performance, scope etc) in the process, and they, with all this money and star talent can’t do it either, then it’s safe to say that it simply can’t be done. At least not in our lifetime.
LESNICK RESPONDS TO CRITICISM
On July 8th, Star Citizen developer Ben Lesnick posted an FAQ to the forums to defuse some concerns about Star Citizen, not addressing Derek Smart directly but focusing on some of the trends in the recent wave of criticism that he and the Star Citizen development team has been riding. Lesnick said that Star Marine isn’t “delayed indefinitely” because that’s industry code for “cancelled”, that it’s not Call of Duty in space, they aren’t over-polishing the game but are “grappling with blockers”, aren’t adding new features anymore, that concept sales don’t take a lot of time out of their day, that all the already promised ships will be developed but that ships that will be in Squadron 42 must take priority, and that they are in fact communicating with their backers.
SENDING A MESSAGE
In the missive he said that he had unfriended Chris Roberts on Facebook to send him a message, that he has “bitten off more than he can chew”. He said that he hopes that Cloud Imperium Games (CIG) sues him (Derek Smart), and that he is only able to call out this malfeasance because he is an “outsider” to the industry.
He criticized CIG’s handling of recent employee departures including Executive Producer Alex Mayberry and also blasted the hiring of Erin Roberts, Chris Roberts’ brother, as replacement Executive Producer, making the argument that this hire and the CIG Vice President of Marketing Sandi Gardiner’s inexperience in the games industry (it’s rumored that Gardiner is Roberts’ wife) suggest a pattern of nepotism that will hinder the production of the game.
Derek Smart threatened that the Federal Trade Commission (the American consumer protection agency that has recently turned its eye towards crowdfunding) is “already made aware of what is going on”, and that he’s gearing up for a class action lawsuit. That not being enough, he proposed that disgruntled backers who desire a refund file complaints with the FTC. He ended by demanding that Chris Roberts release a statement disclosing information about the state of the game’s development including expense reports, apologize for the growth in the scope of the game, offer refunds, stop taking in more pledges, and file SEC paperwork that makes backers “bona-fide investors”.
July 10th, a second article went up on Derek Smart’s Blog, “Interstellar Discourse”. In it he implied that media collusion is why he had to be the one “blowing the lid off this”. He claimed that he was the first to report Alex Mayberry’s departure from CIG, and that many in the industry and the media “already knew that he was no longer there… [but] They said nothing.” He also asserted that CIG poached employees from CryTek to staff their recently announced Frankfurt office, and that this was a bad thing to do.
If we’ve collectively given you $84,966,258 in crowd-funded public money, and one of those backers, sends you an email, asking you for your expense reports, you should be ready to send it, without question. That’s how good faith, and trust, work. That aside from the fact that you are 100% held accountable for this money. All of it. And, so now you have 922,034 bosses. One of whom just happens to be me. And I will never – ever – stop, unless, and until you are held accountable for what you’ve done, and are doing with this project, and people’s hard earned money.
Derek Smart approached all of this with a tone of paternal concern for crowdfunding, space games, and the games industry. He pointed out that Roberts’ previous company, Digital Anvil, collapsed after stretching itself too thin, that if Star Citizen goes the same way it will harm a lot of people, and renewed his call for backers to file FTC complaints requesting refunds. He also mentioned that he’s about to “release an even better” game “in the same genre that Chris and co are apparently having trouble building”, namely Line Of Defense.
MONEY BACK GOONRATHI
Taking to Twitter to stoke the embers further, July 13th Derek Smart tweeted:
At first glance this Google Spreadsheet seemed to be very successful, with 804 backers and $299440 worth of ships signed up. The only problem is that it was not actually Derek Smart’s refund spreadsheet, but a roster for a SomethingAwful Star Citizen clan, The Goonrathi [FLJK]. When asked about this, Derek Smart said: “I told them were were building our own [spreadsheet]. I showed them HOW to fill out the information by SHOWING them the goon db […] yeah, I know. sorry for the confusion. I was asking people to put their info there. when our dB goes up… ppl who have their names on that Google Docs list AND want a refund, will be able to just copy ‘n paste info into OUR db when it goes live.”
CIG SINKS DEREK SMART’S BATTLESHIP
On July 14th, Derek Smart posted an update to his second article sharing screenshots of two emails he received from CIG notifying him that he had been refunded his $250 pledge. He seemed nonplussed by this, and only pointed out that the Kickstarter and Roberts Space Industries (RSI) website crowdfunding campaigns have different Terms of Service, drawing the conclusion that the Kickstarter TOS means backers who pledged through kickstarter are more likely to receive refunds (the sections quoted only show that both campaigns can refund pledges arbitrarily if they desire, but the RSI campaign can block a user without refunding them.)
A poll performed on the RSI official forums the same day showed that a quarter of respondents would like “there to be a publically available refund process now, given this latest development”, that development being CIG’s demonstration that it is able to refund pledges if need be.
Ben Lesnick posted to the poll thread later to explain that Derek Smart was refunded because “he was using Star Citizen as a platform to gain attention as part of a campaign to promote his ‘Line of Defense’ space game”. He explained that this was allowed by the Kickstarter ToS and the RSI ToS, that it is only for “troubled users who we would rather not have interacting with the community”, and that it has been done before to other users. As for users asking for refunds, Lesnick says “per the ToS, we’re not required to offer them. We do try and work with backers who are facing hardships, but the hard truth is that the money is by necessity being spent to develop a game rather than sitting unused somewhere”
But Derek Smart had a different theory:
IF they refund $2.1 in KS backers, the rest who bought directly from RSI website, are screwed by the TOS. Unless they sue or FTC steps in
—Derek Smark (@dsmart) July 14, 2015
SALVO THREE: REFUNDED, BUT NOT REFUTED
Eric “Wingman” Peterson, a former CIG employee who was banned from RSI chat for self-promotion after leaving the company, didn’t think Derek Smart’s concerns were worth the time to read:
Look, I am no longer at CIG, but I recall when Chris and I were working at Origin, Derek Smart sent several negative emails accusing us of stealing his ideas etc, the guy is just not worth the time to read.
He is just trying to get attention – something none of us should ever give him.
IMHO, I think CIG did the right thing here, that guy is just not worth the trouble.
Nonetheless, Derek Smart published a third article (presumably the fire from the second one didn’t really catch), with many Sun Tzu quotes and threats of defamation lawsuits. Though earlier he seemed worried that CIG were going to refund all Kickstarter backers, now he demanded it.
Using the same rules you used to refund my pledge, without my asking, you are to immediately process refunds in the amount of $2,134,374 as per the initial Kickstarter crowd-funding effort for those who request it.
Also, he demanded that:
You, and your wife, Sandra Roberts (aka Sandi Gardiner), should resign, effective immediately, and relinquish control of this company to an interim CEO.
Give backers the opportunity to hire an independent forensics accountant, and an executive producer, to audit the company records, and give an accurate picture of the financial health of the company, and it’s ability to complete, and deliver this project in a timely fashion. I hereby offer to foot the entire costs of this effort. And I will put up to $1m of my own money, in an escrow account of an attorney’s choosing, to be used as-needed for this exercise. I will pay this price to prove that I had every right to seek these answers. So this money can either go toward a good cause (righting this ship), or to attorneys who are most likely to burn it all down anyway.
If you ignore this, the more time passes, the more articles that myself, and investigative media write, revealing what we know, the more likely it is that this will end in legal (someone suing someone, and opening the flood gates) action, thereby forcing you all to come to court and answer these questions.
He criticized Ben Lesnick for characterizing his mentions of Line of Defense as self-promotion rather than relevant background, and questioned being refunded under the Terms of Service clause that allows refunding and banning those disrupting the RSI community, as he claims that he has never posted to any RSI forum or chat (and that CIG have admitted this).
This article also reasserted that he, Derek Smart, is blowing the lid off this entire “farce” at great risk to himself.
THE CHAIRMAN FIRES BACK
“Several years from now, when you are surrounded by your loved ones, and they ask you what did you do during the battle for Space Sims and PC games, you can look them in the eye and say; I helped make Star Citizen.” — Chris Roberts Paraphrasing Squadron 42
In a Letter From the Chairman released July 20th, Chris Roberts returned from his Squadron 42 motion capture shoot in London to address some of the criticisms that have been leveled at Star Citizen in the past month. Though not naming him directly, many of the fires he tried to retard were ones Derek Smart had been feeding. For example, feature creep:
There are people out there who are going to tell you that this is all a BAD THING. That it’s ‘feature creep’ and we should make a smaller, less impressive game for the sake of having it out more quickly or in order to meet artificial deadlines. Now I’ll answer those claims in one word: Bullshit!
Star Citizen matters BECAUSE it is big, because it is a bold dream. It is something everyone else is scared to try. […] Is Star Citizen today a bigger goal than I imagined in 2012? Absolutely. Is that a bad thing? Absolutely not: it’s the whole damn point
Roberts said that the game will take longer than originally advertised, because they have the funding to make a game that is bigger and closer to his and the backers’ dreams than the original pitch. He reminded the reader that there are no new stretch goals being added, and that therefore the team will only be implementing those that were already promised. He also said that CIG’s commitment to open development is his strategy for holding the backers’ interest given this extended development period, and that the release of more prototypes like Arena Commander and Star Marine is part of this. At one point he seemed to refer to Derek Smart directly:
Occasionally I see comments out there from people who haven’t taken the time to watch the thousands of YouTube videos of people running around their ships and hangars or dogfighting in space, or visit our site to read the vast amount of information we make publicly available that call us vaporware or a glorified tech demo. Arena Commander, which is still evolving, is a better looking and playing game than a lot of finished games out there.
Interestingly, he also said that “It speaks for itself that from the outset our TOS provides for an accounting to be published if we ever had to stop development before delivering […] quite obviously we wouldn’t have provided for this clause, if we weren’t using your funds very carefully for the development of Star Citizen.” Indeed, the relevant TOS passage says:
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, following the Cancellation Period, in consideration of RSI’s good faith efforts to develop, produce, and deliver the Game with the funds raised, you agree that any Pledge amounts applied against the Pledge Item Cost and the Game Cost 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 the Website to fully explain the use of the amounts paid for Pledge Item Cost and the Game Cost. In consideration of the promises by RSI hereunder, you agree that, following the Cancellation Period, you shall irrevocably waive any claim for refund of any Pledge that has been used for the Game Cost and Pledge Item Cost in accordance with the above.
I am not a lawyer, but this seems to suggest that backers could actually request refunds if the game is not released come May 2016 (18 months after the November 2014 release date), with the exception that if their money has already been spent they will have no claim. If the game’s release is delayed past May 2016, things could get very interesting indeed.
POSTSCRIPT: GAMERGATE DEBATE WELCOMES SMART
A debate about GamerGate called AirPlay has recruited Derek Smart as a speaker. The forum hosted by journalist Michael Koretzky will take place August 15th in Miami, and will not be attended by any anti-GamerGate speakers. But they’ll have Derek Smart “representing game developers who are neutral on GamerGate.” Said Derek Smart:
I think GamerGate is right about the media ethics and accountability, we’ve had that discussion over the years, but everyone just ignored it.
All of this leaves us with many questions. Will Derek Smart use his AirPlay podium to talk about how the media has failed Star Citizen backers, or about Line of Defense? Will he solve GamerGate, or just burn the whole thing down? Have his dramatic, in-your-face litigious rants brought needed attention to serious issues in Star Citizen’s development, or poisoned any actual discussion of them? We will have to wait and see, but one thing is certain: Derek Smart isn’t going to stop being Derek Smart any time soon.