Star Citizen Backer Sues To Get $4500 Back, Loses

Ken Lord used to be a Star Citizen super fan. Once upon a time, he helped fund Roberts Space Industries' endless maiden voyage with $US4,500 ($6,060) of his own money. Now, after years of delays and changes, he wants out. RSI didn't get back to him, and he sued. It didn't go his way.

Lord first backed Star Citizen in 2012, the year it was announced. After that, he continued to back the project with multiple additional payments over several years. He loved studio founder Chris Roberts' Wing Commander space sim, and he wanted another game like it.

Then, as millions of dollars in crowdfunding money poured in, the feature creep began. Star Citizen grew in scope from a multiplayer game to a full-blown MMO that included — among many, many other features and modes — first-person shooter combat. That addition was a sticking point for Lord, who has multiple sclerosis and suffers from tremors that make fast-twitch games near-impossible for him to play.

"The biggest problem is that for Squadron 42, they got rid of multiplayer co-op, but also added first-person shooter as required parts of the game," Lord said in an email to Kotaku, referring to Star Citizen's story-focused campaign, which is the closest thing to Wing Commander that RSI has to offer. "So they added something I can't do, but got rid of the part where at least I could have friends carry me."

Years passed, and Lord began to lose faith. He'd signed on to a volunteer tester of alpha versions of the game, and he even got invited to join Star Citizen's exclusive "Evocati" tester group, which tries out builds before they're released to the wider public.

But progress was slow. "Nearing 6 years into the 2 year project, they have yet to complete a single star system, though they promised 100 as a stretch goal," Lord said.

Worse, he didn't like the methods Roberts and his employees were using to entice new players to join the crew for their rickety shuttle launch to parts unknown. Lord admitted to being "sort of scared" by the game's marketing techniques, which he characterised as gamification of the idea of being a backer.

Star Citizen developers rewarded bigtime backers with ships and perks like land ownership, promising more features in a game that was far from delivering its initial promises. "They didn't just figure out how to sell DLC for a game that didn't yet exist," he said. "They figured out how to sell scope creep itself."

Earlier this year, Lord decided he'd finally had it. He wanted his money back. Right away, he ran into a problem.

Unbeknownst to him, RSI had changed its terms of service, and he was no longer eligible for a refund, because it had been more than 14 days since he'd forked over his $US4,500 ($6,060).

Lord tried to get a refund anyway. He submitted a customer support ticket, after which he got told to wait for a "specialist" who, based on screenshots Lord showed Kotaku, never showed up — even after a month of waiting. Lord also tried the game's forums.

"My questions in their forums were buried in a mega-thread, not responded to, then locked a month later after not being answered," he said, noting that many other users who requested refunds got stuck in the same limbo.

After giving up on the refund idea, Lord sent a demand letter to RSI threatening litigation if the issue didn't get resolved by June 29. That didn't happen, so on July 13, off to court it went.

Lord emphasised to Kotaku that he had hoped since his first payments to RSI had occurred before the current 14-day refund policy got put into place, he'd be able to argue that RSI technically still owed him money. That strategy didn't work. "Though the TOS clearly say they don't apply to transactions before that date, CIG/RSI successfully argued to do exactly that," Lord said.

According to documents from the West District Santa Monica courthouse, the case got dismissed without prejudice.

In an email to Kotaku, an RSI rep said that, according to the company's records, Lord has made 61 pledges to Star Citizen since 2013.

"The Terms of Service are not retroactive, but a huge majority of Mr. Lord's pledges came after the TOS was changed to specify arbitration, and those pledges are under that TOS," the rep wrote. "His pledges with new money on top of his earlier pledges required him to accept the new Terms of Service."

In a separate statement to Kotaku, RSI defended its current refund policy. "Our Terms of Service provides refunds for 14 days after each pledge is made, but company policy is to refund anyone who has second thoughts for up to 30 days after their pledge, no questions asked," the statement read.

"Outside of this window, we still consider refund requests for exceptional cases, but generally at that point the funds need to be considered available for development. This policy is actually very generous when compared to nearly any other gaming company — most publishers would not allow any refund at all after players have downloaded and played for several hours."

Lord is glad he at least tried to get his money back, but he can't help but look at RSI in a new, decidedly dimmer light. He recounted a time in 2012 when — as part of a special "Golden Ticket" promotion — he got an email directly from Chris Roberts.

"I wrote back, explaining that my reflexes were pretty poor — I already knew I had MS — and explained that I wasn't ever going to be much of a fighter pilot," Lord said.

"I got a heartfelt email back explaining that in the universe he was building, everyone was going to have a place. They were good people, and somewhere along the way, they lost their way."


Comments

    So he made 61 individual payments for this game. Then decided that nope need my money back. Can see why it was throw out, if you have already made 50 odd payments then decide to make another dozen you have to be been ok with the result of those first 50 payments.

      For a game that hasn't been released yet. For a game that has completely changed in it's scope over time. For a game that's years overdue and not looking anywhere near ready. For a game that's made over 140 million dollars before it's release.

      You make a good point but they could've afforded to give him every cent back. Probably part of the reason why they contested it is they're wary of opening the floodgates.

      I was an original backer and though I don't want my money back, it's now nothing close to the game that I though I was backing (I don't really dig multiplayer, I wanted a modern Wing Commander experience) and I'm not expecting it to be released any time soon. If ever to be honest.

        Honestly I am tired of comments about the game changing its “scope”. ????

        I challenge anyone who says so to go back and watch the original video. Nothing has changed in terms of scope, except the addition of some occupations not originally mentioned. Otherwise the MMO, the FPS, they were all part of the original pitch.

          Can you post the video that you're talking about?

        I was an original backer, and I'm seriously thinking about taking CIG up on the refund they agreed to a few years ago. I don't think I have much interest in playing the game it has become, I also was looking for a bigger, better Wing Commander game, not the space MMO it now is. Maybe I'll go dig up that email and reply to it, I could use 150$.

          They offered you a refund? Why?

          Same. I just wanted a bigger wing commander. Freespace 2 modded is still really awesome fun, btw :)

            I asked nicely, and I'm just a middleweight backer, total spend was between 150-200$. They agreed in November 2013, but talked me out of it. I emailed them again this morning. We'll see.

              5 years????

              Wow. Just wow. It blows my mind that people are still like "Y'know, it's not that much money or time for what they're trying to do".

              Um yes it is. It's a lot of money, and it's been a lot of time.

              I hope it's a great game when it comes out though. And that I'm still in my 40s at least (not expecting it to hit in my 30s, 38 now)

      It wasn't the payments per se, it was the fact that he agreed to the updated TOS every time he accessed the game. Those TOS specifically stated that all claims against the company were to be dealt with in arbitration, therefore, the judge dismissed the claim.

    $4,500 what the actual fuck? I feel bad with the amount I have spent, bur that is ridiculous.

      That's my conclusion. Kickstarters are like gambling - don't risk what you cant afford to lose. And that's basically whats happened to him. He gambled a ridiculous amount, decided it wasn't for him, and changed his mind. Then tried to find an argument that might get him the gambled money back.

      $4500 though. What on earth drives people to risk that sort of money on an unproven product?

        Is this game that recently was selling the $27,000~ ship pack?

          Yep. But that pack is for those backers who just want every ship and have nothing else to spend money on.

          There are also $45 dollar ships for people who aren't sure, and that price goes to $25 during Christmas time (There's an annual sale)

      There are people who have spent far more. A few months ago there were news reports about a pack of all the ships made to date costing $27k (?) and people had bought it.

    Save your money or don’t put more than $100 into it if you believe in the project. As a backer you get nothing more than access to the game. No rights or cut of the profit if it ever releases. They just keep asking for more money and release dlc for a game in alpha. It’s a scam!
    After 200 million dollars and six years later and they still have the game in alpha, you have to ask yourself where all the money is going to?
    This kind of money is GTA V territory and l doubt this game while even be in the ballpark of a AAA game. Play Elite Dangerous if you want a space faring sim.

      $200m isn't actually that much money given that they've had to pay the operating costs of well over 400 employees. Even if 100% of that money somehow went to salaries (it doesn't) it's only around $80k per person when spread over the 6 years. Game dev is complicated and expensive.

      All that said, I do agree that customers really shouldn't be investing so heavily into early development.

        Foundry 42 (the UK arm supposedly making Squadron 42) paid the three amigos (Crobbers, Erin and Ortwin) almost $420,000 in 2016 financial year alone. They were on par for a similar payout in 2017. (link: https://bit.ly/2NYNnUf )

        Now, imagine how much Chris, Sandi and co have taken out of the US arm (note: we have to imagine because the financials are secret).

        Now look at the jobs supposedly available with CIG/F42: there are over 100 ( https://cloudimperiumgames.com/jobs ). This is supposedly about 25% of their current workforce. This tells me that, either they are not offering competitive wages, or there is some other reason people don't want to work there.

          Wow that is insane! I just checked and they are at $190,000,000 in funding. There is only 1 game that cost more than that for actual development (Star Wars the Old Republic), and only 3 that total cost was above that (Star Wars Old Republic, COD MW2, and GTAV) and it still isn't anywhere near release.

          Its still in alpha for crying out loud, I'm so glad I dumped out of this game in 2014. Now I get to have no skin in the game and just watch the dumpster fire that Chris Roberts has created. He may go down in the gaming industry as its greatest ever conman.

            So what you're saying is that if it only had 100m, it still had a chance? What does the money have to do with it? Nothing. You're just worried the game will be a success and you sold out too early.

              I can't speak for anyone else but I really don't think that's what he's saying. If it's ever released and the game is good @benjamasm can jump back in anytime. It's not like they'll be stopping people from joining if they didn't kickstart.

              Personally I think any smart person would stop giving them any extra money now (or like quite a few years ago like I did) and just wait for release. It just doesn't make sense to keep spending money on things that don't exist.

      Elite for me personally didin't scratch that Wing Commander vibe but I've heard good things about "House of the dying sun"

        House of the Dying Sun is good, but the 30-odd missions you get are designed at such a frantic pace that you have no time to slow down and enjoy it. You just have to rush about with your hair on fire to escape the “mission failed, press enter to restart” message. You don’t have time to explore or do anything other than shoot shoot shoot. It’s a pity, as the environment and implied world are really quite interesting.

    This is a good cautionary tale about the dangers of spending on products which aren't finished yet. Ken (the guy who paid the $4500) makes a good point about the company capitalizing on promises of ever developing content, but we consumers need to exercise restraint when spending our hard-earned money.

    I've never contributed to a Kickstarter before, but if I did it'd be in the same spirit as lending money to a friend - I wouldn't really expect anything back. It'd just be a friendly and supportive gesture.

      That's a really good point. It's a very strong example of 'buyer beware'. I mean he was plonking SERIOUS money down, money that he could've used for much better things.

    Would be very interesting to see how this would run in Australia. We have strong consumer laws (not a value judgement - I mean you can’t contract out of some of them).

      I'd honestly invite him to come to Australia and put it through the ACCC / Courts here. One thing that the government absolutely does right is protect the refund rights of australian consumers, and a number of European governments have also found against companies who try to make their ToS throw out consumer protection.

        I doubt he'd have standing here. Australian law needs some part of the transaction to have been done under australian territory or it simply doesnt have the authority.
        Australian Star Citizen fans certainly have that option, however, as Steam, Apple, and many other US companies have learned the hard way.

      Our consumer laws cover people buying a product. He did not buy a product. He invested in one. Our consumer laws would not cover him.

      Our consumer laws and the ACCC will not cover you if for example you invest in a company but dont like the direction they are going and demand your money back.

        If you don’t end up with equity it’s not an investment, ie covered by fundraising laws. . He’s clearly buying s product (or possibly a financial service which is covered by the same laws as products).

          Crowdfunding projects fall outside the general consumer protections afforded by the Australian Consumer Law and NSW Fair Trading's jurisdiction, according to a Fair Trading spokesperson.

          This is because the project is not a form of business trading, and a consumer-supplier relationship does not exist. The risk is amplified when dealing with international sites, the spokesperson said.

          "Whenever dealing with an entity that is from outside Australia, consumers should be aware that should something go wrong, redress can be much more difficult to achieve than when the trader is domestically-based," the spokesperson said

          https://www.smh.com.au/technology/when-the-crowd-funds-a-flop-what-next-20120529-1zgba.html

    Fuck the Ts and Cs, even though what they've done is perfectly legal, it's also perfectly fucked. They've deviated from the original mission in a big fucking way, and the ethical thing to do would've been a refund.

    Legal =! Ethical. They're assholes.

    He recounted a time in 2012 when — as part of a special "Golden Ticket" promotion — he got an email directly from Chris Roberts.
    "I wrote back, explaining that my reflexes were pretty poor — I already knew I had MS — and explained that I wasn't ever going to be much of a fighter pilot," Lord said.
    "I got a heartfelt email back explaining that in the universe he was building, everyone was going to have a place. They were good people, and somewhere along the way, they lost their way."

    Fuck off. How could Roberts read that and look at himself in the mirror?

      Just to be clear: 'If you wanted your money back, you shouldn't have trusted us for as long as we asked you to!' as a response, makes you a villain.

      Last edited 18/07/18 12:16 pm

      You mean the solid gold mirror sitting in his bathroom?

        He's currently crowdsourcing to have that sucker upgraded to platinum...

      Not so sure it isn't ethical. If it was the single payment and scope change then sure I would agree.
      But when you know you are funding development, and you make 60 individual payments that to me is a sign that you are agreeing with what is happening and have signed off on your money being spent.
      Also has the FPS section been confirmed as essential rather than another activity you can choose to do? I didn't think that level of gameplay was complete.

        I"m not so sure. How many ships have they declared up for limited-time-only backer sale? Dozens at the very least, possibly a hundred? If someone was signing up for the original vision, it's not at all unreasonable to see every purchased ship as something they didn't want to miss out on, when the original vision is fulfilled. It's been a very, very scummy tactic to bring in the funding.

          Agree that it is a scummy tactic to raise funding.
          But the flip side is people are buying the ships so RSI can argue that continuing to spend that money to produce new ships is something the backers want.
          Saying I like your vision here is $50 60 times over 6 years and then saying, uhhh actually I don't give it all back isn't right in my books. Sure you can argue it is exploitative, but it is your choice.

            I guess this is the point that my moderation-locked comment was about: 'If you wanted your money back, you shouldn't have trusted us for as long as we asked you to!'

            They're continually for literally years saying to have faith that they will, eventually, achieve their initial vision. That's asking all backers to demonstrate and stick with that faith in their eventual fulfilment of the vision over years... while the refund period is weeks.

            I get that you're seeing every transaction in response to the new shinies as a renewal of support, but I don't. I see it as fear of missing out, should the vision eventually be delivered on. But once you reach that point that you feel it simply won't... well... their response is literally, "Tough luck, sucker, you shouldn't have believed us!"

              'If you wanted your money back, you shouldn't have trusted us for as long as we asked you to!'

              They did offer full refunds to early backers for years. The person in the article was essentially only denied because he waited for several years past the point he he could have gotten it(Q1 '16), which was well after they introduced the FPS elements('12) or dropped co-op mode ('15).

              And that's despite the ToS essentially saying "no refunds" even in the original version.

              I see it as fear of missing out, should the vision eventually be delivered on.
              I mention this in my other reply to you(but it's awaiting moderation), but there isn't anything to miss out on. All of the ships available for backing will be in the game, and earnable through gameplay.

              I won't deny that CiG plays on people's desires to have everything, and leverages artificial scarcity to help drive sales, but it is something that's purely optional. There is definitely a benefit to paying extra to get a ship that matches your desired playstyle from the get go, but after that if you it's IMO foolish to pledge for any other reason than a desire to help the project.

              That is after all, the point of crowdfunding.

          All the ships sales are "backer only". Their sold for funding, and the act of funding makes one a backer.

          The ships aren't exclusive, and no one is going to "miss out" on them. Simply buying the base game and not spending another ship grants you access to every ship, you just have to earn them through game play instead of starting out with them.

          The ships people back for aren't used in SQ42 either. Backed ships are soley for the PU, the MMO game, while SQ42 is a single player game that all players start out the same with. It did lose it's drop in mode, but that was back in '14 or so.

          All ships will be acquirable in game, I haven't heard of any backer only ships

            Backers *permanently* own their ships. RSI calls it LTI, LifeTime Insurance. Any time a backer's ship is destroyed, it *is* coming back to them, only the amount of time to fulfill varies. When a "regular" player's ship is destroyed, they may have a limited term insurance that will cover part or all of replacement cost. If they have no insurance, that ship is gone forever, and they will need to save up and buy it again.

      S42 was always going to be the action game. There was never any comment to the otherwise. Once the Kickstarter started, Roberts realized that he had enough to do what he really wanted: Star Citizen, MMO. In SC, you CAN do whatever you want. CR's comment of "Everyone having a place" was true at that point. Not before.

    I feel really bad for the guy and giving him his money back would of been the right thing but 61 pledges? That's insane

    I’m very glad I never backed the game. It looked like it would become a fiasco.

    I suspect this kind of thing wouldn't fly over here in Australia: putting forced arbitration clauses in the T.O.S. won't override consumer law, and there is a good argument that Star Citizen as it exists today isn't the product people thought they were buying.

      You've got a point there. It's one that CiG acknowledged as well. They offered full refunds to early backers for years, only ending the practice in the last year.

      The person in the article however made what? 61 separate pledges over 5 years?

      It's hard to argue that it's not the product they though they were buying.

        The information that doesn't appear in the article is what the timing of those purchases were with the decision to switch focus from multiplayer co-op to first person shooter for the story.

        It also seems a bit shady for the developers to equate him playing an alpha build with them delivering the product he paid for. If some of the money he paid could be classed as paying for the "access to alpha builds" service, then consider that delivered. Any money that was for the final game should not be considered delivered.

    All Star Citizen does though is market to peoples FOMO, you don't need to have a top of the line ship to play the game.

      I have an upgrade to the starter ship and that's it. Once I saw all the other ships being released and the money they were asking I was out. And that was years ago, now they're even selling virtual land. It's really amazing this world we're living in.

        I backed it at Kickstarter for 110USD because I was worried it wouldn't succeed!, still I got a sweet freelancer with all those founder perks so I'm happy.

          Hahaha. Hindsight huh? Freelancer should be sweet though. I got the legionaire I think. I spent about $50 for the base game and the upgrade to the ship. This is so many years ago that my memory is a bit foggy on the exact $$$ It has a nice green paint job though.

          I tooled around with the beta for a bit but it's not my thing. I like a finished game. Squadron 42 was the one I really wanted. They don't even talk about it now :(

          Ditto. Did the Freelancer. Then saw the Elite: Dangerous kickstarter. Thought "I've already backed a space sim..." but then it got funded and I backed it anyway...

          ...and I've got about 5000 hours in ED. And about 10 minutes in SC. So there we are.

            That is uncanny, I did the same with ED too! ED is really great in VR.

              In SC I have a small pirate ship. Or rather, I might, someday. In ED I have a fleet, I think I owned every hull in the game for a good long while. Need to log in again and re-complete my collection.

    Well NMS NEXT patch might scratch your adventuring needs.

    Originally I spent around $350usd on the game, then sold all that for 400usd, and bought back a $35 starter pack.

    Can't argue with that math, I know others made allot more but I was just trying to recover what I spent at the time since the game was clearly going to take 10years to make.

    People buying these expensive packs just don't want to actually play the game, they want to load up and spend 10 minutes in their bling starship and logout. Kinda defeats the point of playing the game if you start at the TOP of the food chain at get go.....

    Last edited 18/07/18 5:56 pm

    I feel sorry for this guy but the sheer volume of pledges he made show so he had plenty of time to back out. Not to mention it was mentioned well in advance on the forums (that he would have to visit regularly as an evocati member) that refunds were going to be limited in the future. Pretty disgusting of kakdo to be reporting on this guys experience in a clearly unballenced article. Wannna interview me on how I play sc pretty much every day and can clearly see the direction the game is going. As a game developer myself I understand that what they are trying to achieve has never been accomplished before and the feature creep was driven by the community. Cig had to put a stop to it and did in order to make a game. Those of us who actually play are being as patient as we can be but outsiders don’t seem to realise that we drove the scope of the game to expand because we believe in what they are doing. If this guy dropped this sort of money he obviously felt the same way as us. I’m sorry he isn’t happy with progress but the bones of the game are already far beyond what anyone else has accomplished. You show me one other game where I can get up in a bed walk to a terminal, spawn a ship outside on a landing pad of a space station. Then walk to that ship through fully simulated air locks. Power up my fully functional spaceship which I entered and sat down in a pilots seat. With my mate waiting to join me as a copilot/engineer/gunner. Then takeoff jump to orbit a planet in another part of the galaxy, enter the atmosphere and then exit the ship and engage in FPS combat with another crew. All without loading screens or trickery. IT’S NEVER BEEN DONE BEFORE!! Not even close. And they already have all that. All the while they built studios around the world to achieve it starting with a small team. Yes the game is buggy and yes it’s taking longer than we expected but that’s game development. So be patient or go home!!

    ive been waiting 6 months for a specialist.

    i dont expect a refund anymore, not sure i ever really did though to be honest. this game is more of a running joke now supported purely by the uneducated and the fan boi's.

    I dropped about AU$200 on it several years ago, I think I've logged in and wandered around a hangar for like 10 minutes. Pretty much written it off at this point. I emailed them once requesting a refund just to try it on, but that was a no-go.

    Like others, I've got several hundred hours in E:D - I'm sure Star Citizen will be out eventually and probably be great, but I'm not waiting around.

    Star Citizen is the biggest gaming scam of all time. The game will NEVER be completed, and they're going to keep all the money they swindled out of people. It has one of the worst fucking communities all of gaming, too- like the No Man's Sky community taken up to 100, who will threaten to murder your family if you say a single bad word about the fucking game. They need to get a fucking life.

      Scam? Swindle? Wow slow down there.

      They could offer players a piece of the moon itself. But do you know who is equally at fault... gullible people who believe it. Kickstarter, by its very foundation, is a risk venture. If you arent willing to lose what you gambling, you kinda deserve to lose all you put in. Just like early access. Hell even pre-orders to some degree.

      I bought into Everquest Landmark a few years back and it seriously hurt when that all went pearshaped but here is the thing, it was my risk. I knew what I was getting into. Sure I felt angry and wanted a refunded but I knew I wasnt entitled to one, and took it for what it was a lesson.

      People like this cant just gamble on a 'sure' thing then get upset when the sure thing funny enough isnt as sure as it seemed. The cornerstone of gamiong these days is NEVER preorder, this has stand 1000 times more important when sinking thousands into someone else's days dreams.

      So scam and swindle really are the wrong words.

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