Derek Smart is refusing to take his refunded $250 Star Citizen pledge lying down

Derek Smart is refusing to take his refunded $250 Star Citizen pledge lying down

It’s hard to visualise $85 million, but try. Imagine it all stacked up neatly in crisp $1 bills. It’s astronomical. That’s how much money Star Citizen has been given in pledges. If we measure the success of a crowdfunded game in how much money it’s made, then Star Citizen is an unprecedented success. If we measure the success in tangible results, however, then Star Citizen still has a long way to go. 

The vast amount of money raised, the new elements, delayed anticipated elements and what many consider to be a lack of transparency have given some backers pause. One of those backers is developer Derek Smart, who made his concerns known in several blog posts, the latest of which went up today, along with the promise that he’ll be taking an ad out in the New York Times. And his concerns, as well as the reactions to those concerns, have escalated considerably. Now it’s personal.  

On July 6th, 3000AD’s Derek Smart wrote a blog post regarding Cloud Imperium’s Star Citizen. Smart was an early backer during the Kickstarter campaign, pledging $250 to the project. Writing on his blog, Smart advised backers to get in touch with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the US consumer protection agency, if they felt that they had been misled by the Kickstarter. 

On July 13th, Roberts Space Industries (RSI), the subsidiary of Cloud Imperium developing Star Citizen, emailed Smart to inform him that his account had been cancelled and that his original pledge was being refunded. The email was curt, though RSI were within there rights to refund the pledge according to the Kickstarter ToS. 

That might have been the end of it, but Smart doesn’t consider this a win. He doesn’t want a refund and it doesn’t change how he feels about RSI or Star Citizen. If anything, the way it’s all been handled has made him more frustrated. 

“I never wanted a refund at all. It was never my intention.”

Smart still considers himself a backer, seeing as that his cheque from RSI has yet to arrive. And what he wants is for Chris Roberts and his team to be held accountable.

“What I really wanted was accountability, to know where my pledge went and what was going on with the product,” Smart told me over Skype this afternoon. It was the first time I'd spoken to Derek. He was friendly, relaxed. Perfectly amiable. Nothing like the firebrand I expected.“You must remember, I was one of the original backers. I was excited when this product went online, I was excited with Elite, you know. After a while I realised that things weren’t happening fast enough. The signs were all there that there was something very wrong.” 

It was after the Star Marine module delay and after reading the blog posts from Roberts around that time that Smart started to get concerned. After speaking with friends who were involved in development, and some who had already left, “a really bad picture started forming,” he explained, “and it just went from there.”

“It was never about the money”

Given that RSI was not exactly in the habit of giving out refunds, when Smart received a notification from Kickstarter, he was “shocked”. He tweeted about it, and eventually other backers wanted to know if RSI was giving out refunds to any backers who wanted them. On the forums, a backer made a poll, and by the time it closed, around a quarter of the 1173 voters believed that a refund option should exist. 

RSI’s Ben Lesnick eventually stepped in to explain the situation. 

“We refunded Mr. Smart’s package 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. Our ToS (or in this case the Kickstarter ToS) allows us to refund troubled users who we would rather not have interacting with the community.”

You can read the full forum post on a screenshot from Smart’s blog. 

Things had taken a rather personal turn. 

“I know who wrote it, I’ve already heard who was behind that post going up, and they’re going to pay, even if it doesn’t come from me,” said Smart when I brought up the forum post. “Everyone’s going to end up with full accountability. They made it personal, it’s not professional. It wasn’t coming from Chris [Roberts], it wasn't coming from PR, it was just coming from this guy, in a forum, with direction from whoever he’s answering to, and I’m not going to name names, but I already know how it went up, and they’re all going to account for it.”

Smart believes that the poll scared RSI, and that the studio was not banking on any attention being given to him. He thinks there’s an element of fear driving some of the backers as well, a small percent of them that are now attacking him while defending RSI. 

“It’s human nature, it’s about denial.”

Smart continued blogging about Star Citizen with a third article, posted today, titled Interstellar Justice. Near the bottom, there’s a list. The items on the list could be characterised as demands or ultimatums, and almost certainly will be by Roberts and RSI. Smart sees them as options, however, and not demands. There are four items, and they start with Smart calling for Roberts to resign as CEO. 

If that’s not dramatic enough, Smart also calls for RSI to refund every Kickstarter backer and give backers the opportunity to hire a forensic accountant and executive producer to perform an audit. Smart even offers to pay for this by putting $1 million in an escrow account. 

The list ends with, “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.”

That’s where he thinks this is heading.

I asked Smart what, knowing that the list will be ignored, his goal with it was. It seemed almost like a piece of theatre, and by Smart’s own admission at the top of the blog post, “drama, flair, hyperbole, sarcasm, humor” are all part of how he writes and acts. 

“Psychologically you should never put someone in a position where they feel like they have no choice, there’s no out,” Smart told me. “Human nature is to dig in... and when you dig in, and somebody has nowhere to go, and you leave them with no alternative, they’re going to do the dumbest thing imaginable. Specifically, how they did my refund. That’s the sort of thing that happens when people freak out.

“I wanted to give them options, because it’s easy to say ‘We screwed up, we should have known better, we’re going to walk away.’ It happens all the time.”

It sounded to me like the sort of things you’d expect dissatisfied investors or board members to say, rather than Kickstarter backers. I wondered if Smart saw himself and his fellow backers as Star Citizen’s investors. 

“The thing that people have been forgetting about is the word I’ve been trying to push. It’s got nothing to do with what you’re vested in, in the broad sense of the word, it’s more about accountability. If you walk into a store and buy something, you have some expectation of satisfaction. If you order something online, you have an expectation of it being delivered to you.

“People who say ‘You’re crowdfunding, don’t expect anything,” they are right, in the sense that you shouldn’t expect anything to be delivered. The difference is, if you go to Amazon and you order something and it doesn’t show up, you have recourse. But when you crowdfund, the only recourse that you have are mostly individuals who, without accountability, can just walk away into the sunset scott free with your money.”

That’s where he sees the FTC playing an important role in protecting consumers’ rights, holding crowdfunders accountable. And he believes that backers do have a legal recourse and that the FTC will eventually come in and enforce changes. 

“The FTC is aware of it,” Smart said. “My guess is, right now, they’re formulating a plan to address it. There’s no getting away from that. When you’re talking $85 million, a lot of irate people and all these newsbits and everything that’s going on, there’s no way they can avoid it. So what I think is happening is, even though they could continue pushing it forever, the FTC, once they get in there, they’re going to trump all that. It’s going to come to a screeching halt. I can almost guarantee it. So that was the purpose of me writing my first article saying somebody has to be accountable for this before it falls apart.”

If the FTC does roll in, will it lead to a change in crowdfunding, bringing it more in line with other types of transactions? Smart doesn’t think so. He believes that crowdfunding will peter out in favour of alternatives like equity funding. 

“Down the road, somebody going on Kickstarter and asking for a million dollars is less likely to get any traction than somebody who goes through the regular channels of equity funding with SEC regulations and asking for $5 million.”

As much as Smart’s blogs and RSI’s reaction have spurred on a lot of discussion about crowdfunding and game development, throughout it there’s been a vicious undercurrent. Punches have been thrown from behind keyboards, at both Chris Roberts (and RSI in general) and at Smart himself. 

“I knew I’d get attacked, I knew that people would make it about me, because I’m a controversial figure. The thing people are missing is that I’m a controversial figure because I’m not afraid of asking or saying things that evoke thought. That’s what people are missing. A lot of people will hide behind PR, hide behind a keyboard, but people know who I am.

“I just want people to look at this at face value. Stop making it about me.”

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Max Bacon avatarMountain_Man avatarQayos avatarNihlusGreen avatarVasious avatarAerowix avatar+9
Mountain_Man Avatar
718
1 Year ago

So did Derek Smart ever refund all the people he ripped off over the years with his barely functioning Battlecruiser games? This all seems rather hypocritical.

10
BadIronTree Avatar
7
1 Year ago

:D

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rFTrr786M2I

1
Max Bacon Avatar
65
1 Year ago

Well too bad for him. His personal vendetta against Star Citizen disguised of "white knight" is ridiculous. Even more ridiculous is this kind of media sites giving him attention to someone who no longer has credibility, neither it's taken seriously on the gaming industry. It's clear Star Citizen is his dream game, and the frustration he's not the leader of it consumes him. If you pay atention to the drama that goes one, that is clear. Specially after his own space MMO being a failure on one of the worse reviewed games of the whole steam early access program... it's no surprise the vibe of "If i Couldn't Do it, So Can't You."... Grabbing then, common pratices on the gaming industry and over-exaggerate them so he can say "Look how bad this is!" is another thing. It's just amazing, there's no words, but Star Citizen is far from the first targeted game of his attacks.

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I don't expect Star Citizen's development to be perfect, it would be unrealistic to think so, specially on crowdfunding. It's called Game Development, and on a project like this is also scary for one backer due the scope they are going for. But i have hope, i mean it's a question of time, they will have to show clear progress at Gamescon already very near.

8
NihlusGreen Avatar
585
1 Year ago

I would say the media coverage is more due to the fact of the potential to shake up the kickstarter platform with possible long lasting repercussions for game funding.

3
subedii Avatar
751
1 Year ago

What also gets me is the constantly repeated line that there's been a lack of transparency on CIG's part. They've been reporting on _everything_, usually well before the gaming press even picks up on it. It's hard to find another title of this budget that's had such open development.

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Crikey, on Star Marine alone, we get another one today:

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https://robertsspaceindustries.com/comm-link/transmission/14838-Star-Marine-Status-Update

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Seriously, read through that, the whole thing. Most of that stuff is not just candid about what specifically they're looking into right now, but fairly technical and well beyond what most gamers and the gaming press would understand outside of a rough idea.

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I actually think the issue here isn't so much that CIG doesn't cover this stuff, ironically it's the opposite. They cover _so much_ of this stuff that it takes serious and dedicated time to be able to go through and cover it all. Heck the "around the verse" video segments are pretty freaking granular in their discussions on "what we're doing right now', and those episodes are 30 minutes each, and _weekly_.

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So it basically just gets ignored. Crikey, for the most part I don't even bother keeping up with this stuff either (only reason I kickstarted it was for the SP campaign). But then I also don't simply pretend it doesn't exist.

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Major advancements (like a module release) still get major posts and therefore major coverage, but something that takes the gaming media by surprise often is something the SC community felt was already led up to and kept informed about beforehand.

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I think that's also why the SC community gets so frustrated with media coverage that typically surrounds this game. All the information is THERE, but nobody wants to look at it, and none of the gaming websites even check to see if the community knew something beforehand before running with a story about CIG's latest secretive betrayal of their backers.

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Make no mistake, there's every chance the game could fail (when is that not a possibility?). But I don't think they've been particularly lacking in transparency here.

3
Qayos Avatar
5
1 Year ago

I missed it, did he call his own Line of Defense vaporware? It kind of is, I mean the AC is actually more complete and works better than that's just a death match really for Star Citizen.

I'm going to laugh so hard when Star Citizen launches and all this crap comes up about how he'd thought it would fail and it doesn't. I mean really, we're pitting the guy who came out with Battlecruiser and the giant pile of buggy crap that was against the man that came out with Wing Commander.

The company who's only recent accomplishment is Line of Defense versus the company's first alpha module of Star Citizen.

Stop saying D. Smart's name three times and let him go back to his graveyard of failure and sulk.

5
Jenks Avatar
225
1 Year ago

tl;dr

Way too many words about a completely irrelevant drama queen. I wish the gaming press would let him die in obscurity where he belongs, instead of piggybacking his retarded incendiary nonsense for their own clicks.

3
[CPC]Eloween Avatar
3
1 Year ago

The BIG PROBLEM IS /// Derek Smart is asking Starcitizen for a refund BUT he doesn"t agree to refund people on steam for his own game.

I am sorry i think Derek is just Trolling.

Man i know you are reading this... just do your job, and focus on your game !

http://hpics.li/9fb33c1

3
M.Renner Avatar
3
1 Year ago

Attempted to comment on Derrek Smart's blog. I assume he's screening posts. In the event it doesn't get the green light, I'll clone my post to him here, character count permitting.

Hello, Derek.

I would guess that any reader of your article would come to the same conclusion as I have, that you've committed yourself as an SJW who was harmed and is very angry.

I've been extremely devoted to the Star Citizen project since the end of 2012. Dedicated, and to this day and beyond, a satisfied backer. I have never heard of you, or this event until 15 minutes ago. An odd thing to say when you shake someone's hand and introduce yourself, but I felt a possible bias should be noted in relation to the article from any perspective. I have to hope that you don't hammer that "anti-social misfits, most of whom were probably running around in diapers, rubbing poo-dipped hands on their faces" label on me for my level of SC fandom for commenting.

I hung on most to the part where you wrote "That’s an RSI employee, making a false statement to the media about why my account was terminated, in a byline story, knowing it to be false, and that it would be made public. That’s defamation." It may surprise you that the word I want to address here is "byline" and being that I work with nothing but disputing parties (custody mediation) day in and day out I can tell you that no two parties work with the same script, make decisions with the same script. It isn't until you hold both scripts together do you get a changed picture.

Not as Yoda-cryptic as I'd like to be, but I hope this helps you in some way, as it seems to make ALL the difference.

~ Renner

3
NihlusGreen Avatar
585
1 Year ago

No small amount of tall poppy syndrom from this guy...I glanced his titles on Steam, mostly negative reviews.

IF I was a backer I would rather delays than rushed rubbish been produced. One also needs to keep in mind they are making something that has never been made before so delays are inevitable.

2
Vasious Avatar
2
1 Year ago

I am not a backer of SC as I am waiting on SQ42 to come out and see what I need to do with my PC to run it but have been following the development, and this just seems like Derek Smart is just trying to ruin something that is going to succeed where he failed. Offering up a million dollars to do it eh?

What will I get if I send him the Boxes with CD of the BattleCrusier games I purchased and had such high hopes for?

2
AlphaKing Avatar
2
1 Year ago

He is offering a million dollars to TAKEOVER CIG and MAKE SC hes won! thats the intention ....

pathetic

2
Aerowix Avatar
30
1 Year ago

Quoting development time of current 2,5 years https://i.imgur.com/flrVzR9.png

Compared to ambitious MMOs development time of average 5 years, Dereks' little fit sounds ridiculous and childish. The media is just escalating the whole thing.

2
Stinkflipper Incarnate Avatar
267

Wait, we can have our pledges refunded? That's good news!

2
Shriven Avatar
3353
1 Year ago

Watch Jimquisition from this week. If you want accountability from a games company, you will have a long wait. They will only say sorry if they legally need to.

2
Dimuscul Avatar
21
1 Year ago

What it really grind my gears is that suddenly ... a guy who is famous about his trollish ways and blatant lying around ... now is a savior and someone to take into consideration?

Really?

2