If you break as many records and get as big as Star Citizen, chances are that sooner or later you're going to start tangling with regulators. Cloud Imperium Games has just experienced this on the legs of crossing $383 million in crowdfunding. One disgruntled backer reported the company to the authorities, which led to the addition of a new disclaimer to its unfinished ships.
It's been many long years since Star Citizen, the passion project helmed by Wing Commander creator Chris Roberts, left Kickstarter behind with a record-setting campaign. That said, the crowdfunding never stopped - they just moved to their own platform. These days, crowdfunding Star Citizen is done by purchasing game packages and in-game starships for real money.
While the game is still unreleased with no fixed launch date in sight - which is the source of a great deal of controversy - a sizeable chunk is playable with a ton of features implemented, and players who own game packages can fly around the virtual universe with the ships they own - at least, most of them.
Thing is, Cloud Imperium Games is selling ships it hasn't finished making yet. You can purchase some ships which are as early on as a concept phase, far from being in a flyable state. In many cases, due to the way the design and development process works, iterations lead to the final version being quite different from what was initially revealed - and sold. This business model is what attracted the heat this time around.
One disgruntled backer in the UK turned to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) because, due to what they claim was unclear verbiage in official CIG e-mails and listings, they purchased one such unfinished "concept ship" under the pretense of it being complete and flyable. The backer, going by 'mazty' on Reddit, documented the complaint process.
True enough, after waiting about as much you'd expect to wait with official authorities, the ASA responded - matzy was correct about Cloud Imperium's misconduct. The regulators stated that the company did "go against the Advertising Code of Practice" and that the Cloud Imperium was contacted to add a disclaimer to unfinished ships going forward.
If you have been paying attention to the newsletters and backer store listings recently, you might have noticed that ships which are not yet in a flyable state have a new wee little asterisk next to their names, leading to a fresh new disclaimer.
The Crusader Ares (Inferno and Ion), A2 Hercules, Genesis Starliner, are being offered here as a limited vehicle concept pledge. This means that the vehicle is in development but is not yet ready to display in your Hangar or fly in Star Citizen. It will be available as playable content in a later patch.
Mazty and other gamers following the development of Star Citizen are not satisfied - the new disclaimer still uses wording that treats the eventual flyable release of these ships as a fact, discounting the possibility that they may not be completed, or will be significantly changed by the time they become flyable. The Ares has been in development for two years.
Additionally, like so many disclaimers in this end-stage capitalist nightmare world, the text indicating as much is tiny and easy to miss and difficult to read. To date, no Star Citizen ship that reached the point of being sold as a concept has ever been official cancelled, but a large chunk of them haven't reached flyable states after years of being sold. Like much of the development which critics have styled as lacking in transparency while being overly monetized, this factor has added to the project's controversial nature.
Despite criticisms and now legal wrist-slaps, backers are still throwing millions of dollars at the project. While development has been so bad at meeting deadlines that they did away with deadlines almost entirely, much of the playable content and development videos show that all that cash is being turned into a game. Only time will tell if Star Citizen becomes a damning disaster for large-scale crowdfunding projects, or one of the most spectacular success stories in the history of the medium.
A lot of time.