Following a Polygon investigation into several high-value refunds requested by backers of the Star Citizen project, representatives from Cloud Imperium Games (CIG) and Roberts Space Industries (RSI) met with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) of Los Angeles and Silicon Valley. At CIG’s request, its executives met with BBB chief executive officer Steve McFarland for an introductory meeting. They discussed, among other things, ways to improve transparency.
“We did have a good meeting with the BBB,” said CIG in a statement provided to Polygon. “It was a very cordial and constructive meeting. In fact [McFarland] complimented CIG on our responsiveness to our customers and the constant stream of information we provide for our fans.”
The BBB is a council formed of non-profit consumer advocacy groups in North America with a history that goes back more than 100 years. It provides ratings on more than 5.2 million businesses and 11,000 charities, and plays roles in “dispute resolution, advertising review, and industry self-regulation.”
Star Citizen is a collection of spacefaring games as imagined by Chris Roberts, the creator of the Wing Commander series. Roberts’ team at CIG and RSI has become a target of abuse and harassment these past few years, because their game projects are not yet finished. This is despite their being supported by the single most heavily-funded crowdfunding campaign of any kind, on any platform, for any thing.
Since its initial Kickstarter campaign, CIG and RSI say they have raised more than $178 million. To put the amount into perspective, understand that the project raised more than $71 million in the past two years alone. That’s more than twice the amount raised by every other video game on Kickstarter combined over the same period of time.
In December, two backers came forward to Polygon to complain about how they had spent more than 80 days each trying to get their money out of the project. At least one filed a complaint with the McFarland’s west coast offices of the BBB.
CIG’s statement explains that the meeting went well, and that the BBB was not alarmed by the rate of inquiries or complaints “in view of the size of our customer base and our transaction history.” They also pointed to their current rating of A+, the highest given by the non-profit consumer watchdog.
“My focus was to encourage CIG to improve communications and transparency on their production schedules to existing and new clients that may reduce confusion and frustration on future product/revision deliveries,” McFarland told Polygon in an email. “Delivery issues are the most common BBB consumer complaint.”
McFarland said that CIG shared with him a detailed product roadmap, the same roadmap recently made available online, as evidence of CIG’s commitment to transparency.
“This conversation was more about how we always strive to enhance our communications with our backers, and [about] what we have done recently in this area,” CIG said. “We showed Steve our recently released website which includes our new roadmap which has been in the works for several months now and the caveats section at the beginning of the roadmap. The roadmap is fed directly from our internal JIRA database [the team’s internal production management platform], for greatest possible transparency. He told us he was very impressed with the concept and how we were making it available to our backers.”
Changes have also been made to CIG’s terms of service. McFarland told Polygon that some of those changes are the result of that company’s interactions with the BBB, but CIG denies that is the case.
“There have been some updating changes to our ToS with the release of our new website which happened a few days before the meeting,” said Swofford. “We also added an introductory paragraph to most sections explaining them in plain language, and we also added a Table of Contents as an overview. But the ToS were not a topic of our meeting. What was discussed was the different iterations of our checkout language over time, and how we have always tried to point out as clearly as possible CIG’s particular position as a crowdfunding independent studio working on its games in open development.”
CIG went on to emphasize that refunds are not generally granted.
“We’ve always been very upfront in this section regarding how the funds are used in development, the potential for schedule delays and bugs in our alpha releases during the process, and that this can’t allow for refunds,” CIG said. “It’s worth noting that we have always had a 30 day ‘no questions asked’ refund policy which allows everybody to check out the game and its status without any risk. Very, very few of our backers (less than one percent) have regrets down the line and ask for a refund — in our mind a testimony that our efforts to clearly communicate are working while thousands of additional backers join every month.”
McFarland also told Polygon that he encouraged CIG to streamline its checkout process such that it makes a better effort to “inform potential buyers there may be product delivery delays and to check the roadmap site before he/she chooses to click the final OK box and provide payment.”
“We made the language [at checkout] even simpler in an effort to be even clearer,” CIG said, “added a link to the roadmap, and we also changed the layout so that it stands out even more.”
Final changes, they said, will be completed by this week.
“CIG was quite receptive to my requests and appears, at least for now, to be making worthwhile improvements,” McFarland said. “Let’s hope they continue on this path.”
CIG is not currently a member of the BBB, nor do they plan to join.
“Since we are making Star Citizen with funds from our backers, we don’t feel we can currently use those funds for anything other than developing the game,” CIG said. “However once we reach a point where we are bringing in regular sales revenue, we’d certainly be interested to support non-profit organizations such as the Better Business Bureau.”
The Star Citizen project’s online game, referred to as the Persistent Universe, was recently updated to the 3.0 version but remains incomplete and, at times, buggy. The single-player game, called Squadron 42, has not had a release date of any kind since 2016.