Star Citizen founder accused of abusive working conditions, misuse of funding and deception in new report

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If you’re at all invested in the crowdfunding mega-game Star Citizen, the last few hours must have been incredibly confusing and, more likely, infuriating. Last night The Escapist published a lengthy three page report about the development of the space-sim – a report which had numerous anonymous sources making incredibly bold claims about Founder Chris Roberts, the working environment at Cloud Imperium Games and how backer funding was being grossly misused.

The report – which takes accounts of various former and current employees at the studio – makes some remarkably big statements about the state of affairs at CIG. Reports of racial discrimination in hiring, as well as an environment where developers are scared to question decisions made by Chris Roberts. In the same line, Robert’s wife is brought up – with claims that she frequently verbally abuses employees in public company emails.

“She would write emails with so much profanity. She would call people stupid, retard, faggot. Accuse men of not having balls. And she was incredibly hostile to other female employees,” CS4 stated. “Sandi is very jealous. She has to be the queen bee at the company. Whenever I was around her, I felt like I was in the presence of a cobra who, at that moment, might not have been inclined to strike but was completely willing to. You don’t get on her bad side,” CS3 added. “There were two things you were told, when you were hired. One, you don’t talk about [Roberts and Gardiner] being married, to anyone. Ever. And two, you don’t make Sandi mad.”

Worse still, the report goes in to detail how the $90 million in crowd sourced funding (from over 1 million backers) has almost been depleted. One source claims that funds have been burnt on personal items for Roberts and his wife, including extravagant holidays, cars and trips for film and TV auditions. Another claims that a lot of the promises made by Roberts and CIG simply cannot be met with the staff on hand, and that the studio is “making commercials, not a game”. The frankly ridiculous prices for digital goods that the game is offering (goods that employees claim will never be completed) is used as an example of how CIG is trying to keep their head above water at the expense of backers.

“Personally, I felt like the company was understaffed for what they were trying to do,” CS3 stated. “Building these spaceships – every ship is equivalent of a game level. They’re supposed to be something where you can examine the entire outside, and then go inside and walk around the entire inside. And that’s a huge amount of work. And they had just a handful of people working on this.”

“The firings are both saving and costing money,” CS6 said. “The money is running out and they’re cutting wherever they can – but they’re cutting people, not frills. Chris Roberts wants a certain game – practically a movie – and doesn’t want to compromise on anything but staff. “He’s letting go people (sic) necessary to complete the game, but then wants to hire a professional linguist to create three brand new alien languages. He’s making this entire project impossible,” CS3 added.

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All of these claims (and more) were originally published without comment from Roberts himself, with the Escapist claiming that the founder of CIG had yet to respond to their email requests. In a reply that went public just a few hours later, Roberts slammed what he referred to as an attention-seeking attack on Star Citizen. Roberts states that a response was drafted to The Escapist on time, to which the publication retorted that it had not been sent to all the addresses copied into the original email. Hence, the article published without any of Roberts’ statements.

Roberts, in a lengthy response of his own, didn’t mince words. He made parallels between The Escapist piece and comments made by notorious Star Citizen pundit Derek Smart. Smart, if you recall, is known for getting his backing refunded and rights to the Star Citizen forums revoked after embarking on what Roberts refers to as a vendetta against him and Star Citizen. Roberts claims that the wording and stance of The Escapist piece clearly mirrors idea of Smart, after which he launches into an attack on the credibility of author Lizzy Finnegan.

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He began by detailing a Twitter account going by the name of Bandit:

“Bandit” is an anonymous account that was created on August 11th of this year and is almost exclusively used to aggressively attack and harass folks seen as enemies to Gamer Gate – the usual targets are all there, as are the usual proponents being retweeted.

And then proceeded to suggest that Lizzy was either closely connected to this account, or in fact behind it entirely. The account, it seems, is also no friend of Roberts and Star Citizen.

If you look at the Twitter history of Liz and “Bandit” they frequently retweet each other’s tweets and generally reinforce each other’s views / opinions. I don’t know Liz’s personal life (nor do I care to) but based on the picture of her in “Bandit’s” tweet it is not a stretch to assume there is either a close relationship between Liz and “Bandit” or they are potentially one and the same.”

This would explain her approach to the article, which was to pretty much take everything that Derek Smart claimed and report it without allowing us any opportunity to properly respond.

Eventually getting to direct responses about the allegations in The Escapist piece, Roberts denied all allegations ranging from abusive working conditions to misuse of backer funds. He closed by inviting staff from The Escapist to visit CIG studio personally, so that they could see for themselves the progress the game was making, as well as speak to currently employees.

If you guys are willing to do a proper piece then I’m happy to engage. You’re invited to visit all of our four studios, meet the developers making the game and see how we’re building one of the most ambitious PC games first hand. I’ll put my 261, their passion and energy against the complaints of a few disgruntled ex-employees any day.

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Following this, fans of Star Citizen began digging around to see if there wasn’t more to the story. What many eventually found was rather alarming. It seems that many of Finnegan’s sources to her piece had been quoted verbatim from a website know as Glassdoor. The website allows unverified employees to post accounts of their work experience, with numerous new accounts suddenly posting about CIG in close proximity to each other just last week. It’s suspicious to say the least, but Finnegan responded by claiming that all of her sources went through the publication’s legal department before publishing. Which doesn’t exactly explain why quotes have seemingly been lifted from Glassdoor itself.

What’s occurring here right now though is a confusing mess of “he said, she said” – with both sides claiming one side of an increasingly confusing story surrounding Star Citizen. What’s clear is that The Escapist spoke to former (and, as they claim, current) employees from CIG, who made bold claims that Roberts himself quickly refuted.

There is, sadly, only one way of knowing which side is telling the truth, and it’s going to require waiting. Putting all of Star Citizen’s previous issues aside (the sense of feature creep, constant delays to modules and ridiculous digital pricing), it seems that Roberts and CIG have only one thing left to do. Star Citizen will eventually be released, and it’s then that fans will ultimately decide if the crowdfunded mega-game has been a farce all this time, or a game that lives up to everything it is continually promising to be.

Last Updated: October 2, 2015

Alessandro Barbosa

You can all call me Sandy until I figure out how to edit this thing, which is probably never. Sandy not good enough? Call me xXx_J0k3R_360degreeN0Sc0pe_xXx. Also, Geoff's a bastard.

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