A number of frustrated Star Citizen backers are asking publisher Cloud Imperium Games for their money back. And although the company is making no guarantees or public announcements, Polygon has learned that refunds are being made.
Much of the consumer dissatisfaction stems from how little of the promised game has so far been released, and how often various modules have been delayed.
Star Citizen's first crowd-funding campaign took place on Kickstarter in the fall of 2012, followed by a roiling campaign via the company's own website. The space-combat simulation has so far raised more than $87 million. The scale of the project has grown with each stretch goal.
Back in 2012, Cloud Imperium said that a space dog-fighting demo would be available by the end of 2013, with a full beta of the game world's entire universe available by the end of 2014.
In the event, the dog-fighting game known as Arena Commander only appeared in late 2014, following on from a hangar mode earlier in the year. Other elements of the game, including a first-person shooting module, planetside landing, social hub, single-player campaign, multi-crew module and final Persistent Universe have yet to appear. Some players are angry.
In July, an internal survey posted on the Star Citizen message boards revealed as many as 25 percent of the game's backers expressing an interest in a process for getting their money back. The survey received 1,173 responses.
Star Citizen's consumer agreement terms do not allow much official leeway for refunds. Players back the game at various financial levels, but all have been given access to the game's earliest modules.
In an interview with Polygon this week, Cloud Imperium founder Chris Roberts said that refunds are being given out. "We don't publicize it, but when people reach out to us and talk to us in a rational manner, in most cases we've refunded them," he said. "We don't want people to be part of the project if they're not happy."
"We don't want to keep people around. We don't want to fight with them."
He stressed that the company is under no legal obligation to offer refunds. "We don't have to do that. The terms of the agreement mean we don't. We're developing [the game], so we can't be in a position where we automatically have to refund people's money. That's how we pay salaries. If we can't spend the money we get we can't make the game. We don't want people to get the impression that it is automatic because it is completely discretionary on our part."
A spokesperson for Cloud Imperium said that a total of 1,269 refunds have so far been given out, with 93 refunds since the beginning of July. Roberts declined to say what percentage of refund applications are granted.
"If there are cases where people are really upset, or facing personal hardships, on a case by case basis we take a look and we refund," he said. "We don't want to keep people around. We don't want to fight with them."
Various promised release dates for Star Citizen modules have slipped. In January 2015, Roberts laid out a schedule in which the first-person shooter, known as Star Marine, would arrive by the spring, followed by the social and multicrew modules in the summer and the single player campaign (Squadron 42) in the fall.
At Gamescom earlier this month, Roberts showed demos of the various modules along with a new timeline, with the social module coming in days ahead, Star Marine arriving in "a few weeks" followed by an updated Arena Commander (including multi-crew) scheduled before the end of the year. There is no firm date on Squadron 42, although that will likely be announced at a CitizenCon event in England which takes place on Oct. 10. The Persistent Universe is promised some time in 2016.
Roberts pointed out that this is an ambitious game and that many games suffer from delays. He said that his team of 200 people spread across four countries are working through significant technical challenges.
The lengthy Gamescom demo was watched by an enthusiastic crowd. Most Star Citizen community forums retain an air of optimism, excitement and support. But as time wears on, and if further delays are announced, more skepticism is likely to take hold.
Paul Shelley (aka Bzerker01) is a Twitch streamer who follows Star Citizen closely and is well known among the game's loyal fanbase. "The community is cautiously optimistic," he said. "They want to see progress. There are many who are waiting for more content before they continue to support it either financially or through word of mouth."
Ryan Allen, a web developer from California, backed Star Citizen in early 2013 and went on to spend a total of $930 on various in-game spaceships, over a period of about 18 months. He told Polygon that he applied for a full refund on July 13, 2015, and was granted the full amount on July 31.
"When I backed the game, I was excited that Chris was making a new Wing Commander-type game," he told Polygon. "It was like, 'take my money.'" In 2014 Allen played the hangar mode and Arena Commander for "around 30 hours."
But Allen said that by early 2015 he had grown disillusioned with the game. "I totally believed in it, but after so much delay, I just wanted my money back."
In July, Allen contacted Cloud Imperium's customer support service via an email that outlined his grievances. "I felt they had been dishonest and that the game was going downhill," he said. After a series of emails, he was denied a refund. The customer service rep said his pledges were too old to be refunded. Official refunds are only available to people who buy the game and are dissatisfied within 14-days.
Allen was a vocal critic of the game on Star Citizen's forums and on its sub-Reddit. He says he's clashed with other backers in online arguments. He also contacted the Federal Trade Commission and the Better Business Bureau to make a complaint. A few days later he received a direct email from Cloud Imperium, promising to take care of his refund application. It was sorted out in a matter of days.
"It was like night and day," said Allen. "I don't know why they changed their minds and I'm not going to question it. After that email, they gave me the best customer service experience I've ever had in gaming. They really went 110 percent to get me my money back."
According to Roberts, unhappy backers like Allen are the exception. "In general, our refund numbers are very, very low compared to the rest of the industry," he said. "It's significantly lower than what you get with e-transactions on most games. The issue is, yes, there are some big, vocal people, but they're definitely a minority."
Polygon will publish a full feature on the current status and the future of Star Citizen in the days ahead.
Note: Post-publication, we added the size of the refund survey group and clarified that its question was about instigating a refund process.