Earlier this week we reported on a dissatisfied Star Citizen backer who managed to extract a sizeable refund from Cloud Imperium Games after contacting the Los Angeles District Attorney. An investigator from the LA Department of Consumer and Business Affairs was also involved in reclaiming $2,560 USD. Streetroller (whose real name is Arthur) agreed to speak with us about the lengths he had to go to in order to get his money back, his gradual disillusionment with CIG, and why he refused to sign updated Terms of Service.
We’re presenting this interview in multiple formats. You can stream or download the verbatim interview audio, below. Listen to the same audio on YouTube. Or read an edited transcript of the discussion (also below).
PC Invasion: Hello Streetroller, thanks for talking to us. Or Arthur, as I can call you now. You must be pleased that you’ve been able to recoup your funds [from CIG].
Streetroller: Hey Peter. Yeah, I am pleased. I just wish they had done it sooner rather than have me jump through all these hoops. It was kind of tiring, to be frank.
PCI: We can get to the refund correspondence in a little bit, but I’d like to start with some backstory. I’m curious when you first were aware of Star Citizen, and when you first started pledging money.
SR: I first started pledging January 2014. The reason I initially pledged in 2014 was because they had a limited number of Alpha slots available. It was one of the things that sold me on it.
I never actually played the Alpha, but I didn’t know at the time I would end up not playing it. Arena Commander wasn’t even out yet, so there was no Alpha to play at that point.
PCI: You were just buying a slot in a prospective Alpha.
SR: Yes, exactly. Shortly after that [CIG] started selling the slots with module passes. I bought in because there were a limited number of Alpha slots, but now they were selling them. So that was the first thing. I thought, ‘come on, really?’
PCI: That’s quite early then when you’re starting to …
SR: I wasn’t thinking at that time ‘oh, I want a refund’, but it was just one of those things.
PCI: So does that constitute the $3,000 you pledged?
SR: No, I didn’t buy in all at once. I didn’t stop spending money until the middle of 2015. I bought a whole bunch of ships. Like a kid in a candy store. I get a lot of comments that I shouldn’t have spent money I didn’t have, but I did have that money – it was disposable income. I bought the Reclaimer and the $600 ship, like the space yacht of Star Citizen [note: we couldn’t recall the name during the interview – it’s very likely the 890 JUMP].
I had a friend who played Star Citizen and he really wanted one, so I gave it to him. That’s the first thing I wanted to clear up. In your article you said there’s a discrepancy about the total of $3,000 USD [versus the total documented refund of $2,560].
PCI: So that’s where the other monetary amount is …
SR: Yeah, I’ll come back to that. Anyway, in the middle of 2015 or something like that they had the Armada ship pack, so I melted all my packages [a reference to ‘trading-in’ your owned ships] and got that. And I had one Hornet Ghost pack that I’d bought originally back in January .
PCI: You were fully into this game.
SR: Oh yeah.
PCI: Had you played other Chris Roberts games, other space games?
SR: Yeah, I played Wing Commander back in the day. I remember it being one of the few better games back then. So I’d played Chris Roberts games before. I read the Kickstarter, and saw Virtual Reality. That was the selling point for me, the VR, and the co-op.
And the problem with Chris Roberts is it’s insanely difficult to keep up with his musings about the game. So when he says ‘we’re dropping co-op’, I didn’t know about that until months after it was announced. Only because I asked about it somewhere and they said ‘no, they’re not doing co-op’. Then I mentioned VR at one point and someone said ‘no, they’re not doing VR day one any more’.
A lot of people don’t know this about me, but I’m actually disabled, I’m in a wheelchair. So VR was a selling point for me with the head-tracking. I was kind of pissed when they delayed that and canned the co-op. But even though I was disenfranchised by those things, none of them caused me to ask for a refund.
PCI: What was the tipping point, then? What changes?
SR: The first time I started having a problem with Chris Roberts as a policy maker rather than game designer was back when he wrote the letter to The Escapist. To be abundantly clear here, I was not a member of the SomethingAwful forums nor did I have any association with Derek Smart previous to me wanting a refund.
PCI: I’ve had a SomethingAwful account since 2003 if anybody wants to use that to link me to an Illuminati conspiracy.
SR: I first found out about Derek Smart through Chris Roberts’ Escapist letter.
PCI: That’s quite ironic.
SR: I’m like ‘Why is he complaining about this guy, what happened? Why is he writing this?’ And then they had this ‘Have Our Backs’ skin sale or something. I understand you have a problem with the guy, I understand you don’t like what the Escapist is reporting, but isn’t this a little immature? I had a huge problem with it.
Then in the beginning of June or late May people started writing on the forums about how [CIG] Customer Service was labelling its members with derogatory names. Things like ‘snowflake’ and ‘high maintenence’.
PCI: What’s the source for this, were there screengrabs?
SR: Yeah, yeah. There was a short YouTube video where a guy was showing you how to find the labels. If this had happened in any other company, the guy running Customer Service would’ve been fired. It’s not acceptable. When a ticket comes in you treat everyone equally. The guy who heads CS [Ray Roocroft] even issued a statement or email at one point. He admitted to it.
PCI: And in mid June you request a refund.
SR: I did not find out about the Terms of Service change from Derek Smart. A lot of people think he approached me. I found out about the ToS change from the official forums. There was a link to an imgur showing all the changes. It had originally said something like ‘within 18 months if we fail to deliver a game you’ll be eligible for refunds’.
PCI: From the estimated delivery date, which was originally November 2014 on the Kickstarter.
SR: Right. They changed it to something like ‘if we ever cease development’. You could literally come back once a week and say ‘yep, we’re still working on it guys!’ That’s basically what Godus did, right? Molyneux says they’ve got one guy working on it, so it’s still happening.
So, you took my money. You said you’d finish a certain number of things by this date. I’m already kind of pissed off because you already broke your promises several times. And now you’re telling me you can keep my money forever. Nope. I’m out. I’m not signing a perpetuity contract.
PCI: What was the actual mechanical process when they changed the ToS? Was it when you logged into the forum, or logged into your account or something?
SR: This is the best part about it. I only found out about a ToS change because I was trawling the General Chat forums. I had spoken to a lawyer when I set about getting a refund, and he had asked ‘did they email you at any time?’ I get newsletters from Roberts Space Industries all the time, but I’d never received an indication of ToS changes. And I’d never played the Alpha, so I didn’t sign into the game and agree to it. The only time I explicitly agreed to the ToS was the checkbox I checked when I created the account, back in 2014.
When I signed up originally it actually said 12 months that they had to deliver the game. So that would’ve been November 2015. To be honest, if they’d given me notice of changing the ToS and it was to 36 months, I might have been okay with that.
PCI: Right, the scope of the project has massively expanded.
SR: Yeah. We need more time. Okay, I can understand. But to do it indefinitely … Something that CIG needs to understand is when they make big enough changes, what counts as a big enough change for someone to qualify for a refund? As far as gameplay balancing goes, I get it, changes need to be made. But when I sign up for a Kickstarter, you’re supposed to be the expert. You’re supposed to understand the engine, and I expect you to understand that you can do what you say you’re going to do, or you can’t. That’s why I paid you money. So if you tell me ‘we’re going to have VR day one, we’re going to have co-op day one, and we’re going to do it by November 2014’ I expect that to be in the game by November 2014. I didn’t set that deadline, you did!
PCI: At what point did people agree to these new ToS that were implemented without any notice? Are [CIG] saying those kick in when people make a new purchase after the changes?
SR: The lawyer I was talking to was saying companies have a better stance the more boldly they point it out. Like those services that make you scroll all the way through to the end. But it all comes down to what a judge thinks, at the end of the day.
PCI: Their ToS haven’t actually been tested, so we don’t know if [CIG] had a legal obligation to refund you or not.
SR: I did an AMA on Reddit and people were saying ‘oh, I don’t believe this guy, he’s full of shit’ or whatever.
PCI: I bet you were dead popular on the Star Citizen Reddit channel.
SR: Yeah, I got comments like ‘this guy should overdose and kill himself’, ‘he’s a waste of oxygen’. Because I wanted a refund I’m a scumbag, I guess. They don’t realise I’m supporting them as consumers. If they ever turn around and say ‘I’m not interested in this game’, they can follow my footsteps and get their money back. I’m not telling them to do it, but what I am saying is if they want to, the option is there.
But let me go back to something about the refund amount. I voluntarily forfeited a certain amount of money, because I had been a subscriber for two years, which came to $400 or something like that. And I’d gifted one of my ships away, the $600 yacht. I didn’t expect money back for something I’d gifted away, and I didn’t expect money back on the subscription.
PCI: Sure, those are things you’ve received.
SR: So I sent in the refund request, and I gave them 30 days. Some people are saying I jumped the gun, sent one email and then pressed the nuke button. That’s not how this happened. I emailed them asking for a refund. They swiftly denied me, stating their ToS. The passage they stated to me was in the new ToS, the one that I didn’t agree to.
PCI: This is the point I don’t get, because it’s almost like the old ToS were contradictory, right? One part said ‘if we don’t deliver in 18 months you can get a refund’ and another portion seemed to be saying ‘but anything you pledge is non-refundable’.
SR: Legally speaking, the only quantifiable amount I could come up with was the amount I spent for these products. The way the ToS actual reads is something like ‘all the money we receive is going to be put towards production of the game, and if we have to refund somebody we’re only going to refund them based on the percentage of the money we have remaining’. In other words, they have $100 million, they spend $80 million. That’s 20% remaining, so they would give me back 20% of the money I spent.
PCI: So their stance, effectively, is ‘no, all the money has gone into the game’?
SR: But in order to follow through on that term in the ToS they would have to produce financials. They would have to tell me all the money they spent, and what they spent it on. I know that’s something Derek [Smart] is pushing for. I don’t particularly care about that, I just wanted my money back.
Another thing I brought up when I responded to CIG was a case in Washington State, the Asylum case.
PCI: It seemed like the Attorney General there used the Consumer Protection Act to build a case.
SR: Right, [Asylum] took a whole lot of money to make a board game, I think it was. And they just never produced it. The guy stopped updating, stopped communicating with backers. He failed to produce the product by the date. The District Attorney created a lawsuit against him under the Consumer Protection Act that basically says if somebody agrees you’re going to produce a product by a certain time, and you don’t, that person is eligible for a full refund.
A lot of people are saying ‘that money is spent, CIG can’t give it back’. As a consumer, that’s not my problem. The Asylum guy ended up paying either double or triple what he received from Kickstarter. Now if that was CIG, I can only imagine … people’s heads would explode.
PCI: That’s presupposing that a Consumer Protection Act was successfully brought against them. Which feeds back into the CIG ToS not being tested, legally.
SR: Right, and really that’s what this is. I see people say ‘CIG just did this to get rid of him’ and others saying ‘oh, he strongarmed them into getting his refund’. First of all, my Streetroller name is not even associated with my RSI account. There’s no association. And I only have something like 200 posts on the forums. I don’t go there or post that much.
They didn’t want their ToS to be tested. That’s what it comes down to. They didn’t want me to take them to court. By just giving me a refund, I don’t have any damages any more.
PCI: What was your reaction when you read Ortwin Freyermuth’s [CIG’s Star Citizen legal counsel] response to the District Attorney, where he basically trashes your complaint but agrees to refund you anyway?
SR: I understand why they did it. By writing the letter the way they did, they don’t admit fault. Some people might say ‘by giving you the refund it means they’re guilty.’ It doesn’t mean they’re guilty. It just means they didn’t want the ToS to stand up to a legal test. Maybe they didn’t feel it would, but that’s just speculation.
PCI: I’m very curious what might happen if someone else tries the same route as you.
SR: They might refund them, they might not. If it keeps happening, it’s going to end up in court. Again, that’s speculation. But there may come a point where CIG think ‘okay, we have to go to court over this’.
But here’s the interesting thing. A couple of days after receiving the letter from the DA with Ortwin’s response, all of my claims on PayPal were denied. The reason given was: ‘we received shipment tracking from the merchant confirming that the merchandise was delivered’. Shipment tracking on a digital item that I can’t even play in the game.
PCI: That’s bizarre.
SR: I called PayPal, because I really wanted to know what information they sent for it to say they’d received shipment. I’m really curious. PayPal said they couldn’t give that information to me. They said in order to get it I’d have to subpoena them. To do that I’d have to have a legal case.
PCI: So that’s a bit of a dead end.
SR: I got the DA’s response at the beginning of July, and then the PayPal denial. I’d been talking with a lawyer, gathering all the information. I was getting ready to put in a lawsuit. It was getting to that point. Funnily enough, right as we were getting there, on 11 July, investigator Anthony Wai calls me up. He’s from the LA Department of Consumer and Business Affairs. He said he’d read the letter from the District Attorney and was going to call CIG in order to resolve things amicably before they escalate.
I talked with him for about an hour, telling him pretty much everything I’m telling you now. I said ‘these guys took my money, they’re saying this thing on PayPal, telling me they’re going to give me a refund, then denying my refunds’. I was getting to the point where I was getting really annoyed. I told him I have friends who’ve paid smaller amounts to Star Citizen, and they’ve been denied refunds. And they’re not willing to sue over $60. CIG are kind of taking advantage of the fact that they know these people won’t go to court over that amount. It’s too much of a hassle.
He said if anybody else has complaints, have them file complaints with the DCBA. The more complaints they get, they can build a case. They’ll be forwarded to the DA and they’ll be able to build a case to go after CIG for Consumer Protection. I asked him if there was an investigation into CIG currently, but he said he couldn’t go into detail about that, he was more interested in solving my individual complaint.
I get off the phone with him, less than 24 hours later the money’s in my PayPal.
So the reason I’m doing this interview, the reason I want people to know about this, is because … I hope Star Citizen succeeds, I hope it comes out … but CIG needs to understand that consumers have rights. They can’t just do whatever the hell they want. If someone does want a refund. If someone feels disenfranchised to the point where they want out, I want them to know that they have a resource.
PCI: I think we’ve covered pretty much everything I wanted to talk to you about, and more, thank you. I’ve taken up more of your time than I said I would, so I apologise for that.
SR: No, it’s fine. I’m a talker.