Gloves Come Off as Escapist Joins the Star Citizen Derek Smart Drama
For those who love high internet drama, the ongoing Star Citizen Derek Smart feud is the gift that just keeps on giving. The fur has really been flying the last few months after Derek Smart has been rattling his saber through his blog and on social media demanding that CIG (Cloud Imperium Games) open their books to a full financial audit and accusing Chris Roberts of essentially running a scam on mmo gamers with promises that can never be delivered. For a while, Chris Roberts did not respond at all, but he eventually vented his frustration over the entire fiasco at Gamescom. Now a new player has entered the fray: the Escapist. A recent article of theirs is quite scathing over the running of CIG and the development of Star Citizen. This prompted Chris Roberts to write a lengthy rebuttal as he addressed many points brought up in the article. The gloves are definitely coming off over this entire situation even as the virtual worlds mmo has surpassed one million backers. Let's grab some popcorn and take another look as the Star Citizen Derek Smart drama gets even bigger with the addition of the Escapist.
As most online gamers are aware of, the Derek Smart Star Citizen feud has been going on for some time, with the end result of Smart being refunded his pledge and banned from the game's forums. A back-and-forth ensued with Smart saying that he had never received his refund and then threatening legal action against CIG and Chris Roberts for slander and defamation. Things quieted down for a week or two when another salvo was fired, but this broadside was in the form of an Escapist Star Citizen article that was rather scathing. Depending upon which camp you're in, the article is either a troubling expose or a blatant hit-piece designed to get page views.
The Escapist Star Citizen article does have some rather pointed allegations expressed in it. It alleges that CIG employees felt that they were part of a scam, that there is a toxic work environment, a gross mismanagement of company funds, that Chris Roberts is out of his depth, that the Austin studio is closing, that the game is focused more on crowdfunding than on developing the game itself, and that company funds has been used for personal gain by specific parties. One person highlighted in the Escapist Star Citizen article is Sandi Gardiner, Chris Robert's wife and Vice President of Marketing. The article alleges that she was responsible for discriminatory hiring practices, using age and race as determining factors in hiring. They also allege that she and Roberts have misused company funds for private purposes. The Escapist writes, "[Follow the money.] This statement was the common thread that linked all of the sources who reached out together. They truly wanted me to follow the money - a feat not easily accomplished. Multiple sources from within the company stated that the Pacific Palisades mansion that Chris Roberts shares with Sandi Gardiner is being paid for with funds from the company, along with the couple's personal vehicles and personal vacations. CS5 stated that Gardiner would be out of the country on vacation or auditioning for movie or television roles, allegedly paid for with company money, but would post images of the office - taken by another employee - to make it appear as though she was at work. Multiple sources confided that several videos were filmed using company resources and employees, both in Cloud Imperium Games' offices and in the couple's home."
After the Escapist Star Citizen article appeared, Chris Roberts penned a lengthy response where he disputes the allegations made in the article. He also posted a legal letter on the virtual world mmo's website that threatens legal action for the perceived slander. He writes, "I have, to date, attempted to stay above the internet drama currently surrounding Derek Smart and his claims about Star Citizen. My feeling has been that it is most important to speak with actions instead of words, and to date I feel that we have done that with the multi crew demo, the launch of the social module and everything else you see here in this space on a daily basis. However, with the publication of today’s article (I can only call it a hit piece) on The Escapist, I believe it is necessary to address the issue directly. In the interests of openness, I am making available right now my correspondence with The Escapist’s managing editor. What follows is his original e-mail to our Director of Communications, David Swofford, and my response, sent to them three hours before their deadline and not included in the piece."
So what do we make of the addition of the Escapist to the ongoing Star Citizen Derek Smart drama? First off, let me be clear that I have no dog in this fight. I'm not a backer of Star Citizen, and I admit that I have worried about feature creep affecting the game. On the flip side, Derek Smart does not have the shiniest credentials in the gaming world. He has his defenders and detractors. Personally, I've never played any of his games, so I have no opinion on their quality.
But let us turn our eyes towards the Escapist Star Citizen article. If the allegations in the article is true, then the mmo is in dire trouble and many players will have wasted thousands of dollars. Yet I must admit that the allegations in the article seem to parrot what Derek Smart has been saying. There are a couple of troubling aspects for me as it pertains to the article. The first is the use of anonymous resources. With any project the size of Star Citizen, people are going to be hired and fired. This can lead to a disgruntled ex-employee spouting fabrications in order to hurt the company that fired them. In addition, it seems that quite a few of the anonymous sources came from a review site that does no real background checking or verification. Another issue is that the Escapist sent an email to CIG about the allegations the article contained and asked for CIG's rebuttal. However, they gave them slightly less than 24 hours before the article would be posted on the Escapist website. Such a time window is incredibly insufficient for the vast array of charges made.
So what's my verdict on the entire Star Citizen Derek Smart drama (now with Escapist flavoring!)? I think that the best way for Chris Roberts and company to respond is to put out something playable for everyone to see in order to silence the critics. CIG is guilty of still not having ships that original backers bought being usable in the game while newer ships have already been introduced for more recent backers. Some players have expressed anger that ships that were supposed to be available for one time only, which led to massive purchases, have been brought back for sale several times since then. CIG does need to address such issues and keep, as best as they can, to a release schedule. On the flip side, it ill behooves gamers to have an article posted that only cites anonymous sources and does not present any hard evidence except "someone said so." Giving less than a day to refute a laundry list of very serious allegations (and many of those could be criminal offenses of a felony nature) is not fair at all. In the end, I think that the drama surrounding Star Citizen will continue for some time, so grab and seat and enjoy the show.