3000AD founder Derek Smart backed the Star Citizen Kickstarter at the $250 tier, back in the days before it raised a great many millions of dollars through its own internal crowdfunding campaign. More recently, however, he's become one of its most vocal critics, going so far as to call for an FTC investigation into the game, the developers, and the crowdfunding. Shortly thereafter, his pledge was canceled, and his Roberts Space Industries account was deactivated—against his wishes.
"It was obvious he was not a supporter of our project and was just using our visibility as a platform to gain attention and promote his current game and his past games," a Cloud Imperium Games rep explained in an email. "We have strict rules about people using our forums and chat for self-promotion and it was clear that he didn’t care about the project, or the backers, or a good game being made. He was just trying to create a huge fuss to make himself relevant at a lot of other people's expense and distress. So we enacted our rights through Kickstarter (that we also have on our own TOS) and refunded him and turned his account off."
But the unsolicited return of funds has led a number of other backers to wonder if they're also eligible for refunds: A poll posted on the RSI forums earlier today indicates that roughly 30 percent of the more than 800 respondents believe a refund option should be available to all backers. In a post in that same thread, however, CIG's Ben Lesnick explained that Smart's refund is "the videogame equivalent of a 'we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone' sign in a restaurant," and said that while the studio does try to "work with backers who are facing hardships," the money received through the crowdfunding campaign is being spent on making the game and, by implication, is thus not available to give back to anyone who wants it.
But Smart said on Twitter that he believes something more sinister is going on: that Cloud Imperium is moving to refund all Kickstarter backers, totaling $2.1 million in pledges, which would leave all remaining backers "screwed" by CIG's more restrictive terms, "unless they sue or FTC steps in." That's a significant amount of money, but it's also just a small fraction of the more than $85 million in total funding it's currently brought in. As for his personal situation, he thinks he's been shown the door because, well, he's Derek Smart.
"They want me not as a backer, as that weakens any legal action that I initiate or become a part of, since I'm the only person on the planet capable of completely destroying their dev nonsense with regard to the game," he said. "In other words, I'm voted most likely to cause trouble."
Smart also emphasized that he has never posted on the RSI forums, or any other Star Citizen-related forum, and that he has never violated the Star Citizen terms of service. That last point is iffy, as the TOS explicitly states that RSI reserves the right to refuse to provide accounts to anyone it likes. But those terms also commit RSI to "notifying you of your breach of these Terms of Service" prior to canceling an account, and that's something that both Smart and Cloud Imperium acknowledge did not happen.
Smart expressed some satisfaction that Cloud Imperium now appears to be issuing at least some refunds, adding that "those who want to stick it out to the inevitable end are welcome to do so." But he also has great reservations about what his situation could mean for other backers who step out of line.
"When you have an account on RSI, they convey ownership of those [in-game] items, which is why the grey market exists. I own all those items. I can sell them, trade them, etc., because on the RSI service, they are owned. I could fly them in Arena Commander, view them in hangar, etc. So yeah, I paid for them, and own them," he said. "Now they took them away without my asking. And I wasn't selling any items which would give them cause to take them as a violation [of the TOS]."
All of this sound and fury will signify nothing if Star Citizen comes off as creator Chris Roberts has promised. But the confluence of delays, departures of two high-profile employees, and the continued sales of items that don't actually exist yet has some backers feeling nervous. That's a raw nerve that Smart is hitting with a hammer, and there's no denying that he's stirring things up. But it's also not reasonable for his concerns to be dismissed out of hand; I think CIG has actually been quite open and accessible about its development plan, but moves like this have an air of stonewalling.
We've asked Cloud Imperium to confirm that Smart has never used its forums, and that it therefore views its terms of service as extending beyond RSI "properties" and into the internet at large. Smart, meanwhile, said he's about to write a third commentary on the matter. We'll keep you posted.