To preface this article, I would like to say that if you want to fund Star Citizen, I don't want to discourage you. At this point in time, you know where the development is at, where it's heading, how it's going along, and you can make an informed decision. I'm not in any shape, form, or fashion justifying Derek Smart's criticisms of Star Citizen, nor am I leveraging accusations with any validity. I hope, like everyone else in the video game industry, that the game releases successfully and that every single backer is as happy as they can be and that CIG delivers on their recent promise of incredible progress. Additionally, I don't believe the game is vaporware, but I do believe something should be done for legacy backers who backed an entirely different project in scope at the time.
What I am doing, however, is sharing my opinion on something I find absolutely deplorable - revoking the access of a game for criticisms posted on a third-party website while announcing the reason for the revocation. I've never known a game company to publicly announce the reason why a player was banned without their permission, followed by revoking someone's access to a game because they criticized the game in any capacity.
As a brief summary of events, Derek Smart, a game developer of similar projects to Star Citizen (very large complicated systems, I believe the manual for one of his games spanned over 100 pages) with a history of urban legends posted two scathing editorials on his personal blog about Star Citizen, with the later calling for backers who bought in during the Kickstarter days to seek relief through the FTC, as the game has yet to be released, and posted his strong beliefs that the game isn't possible as promised on the funds they currently have.
Up until this point, Derek Smart was yet another voice sharing his opinion on how Star Citizen is vaporware (an opinon that will be proved or disproved with time), with the only difference being he's had a bit more experience in dealing with creating large scale projects than the regular naysayer. There is nothing wrong with him doing this, Derek Smart is advocating for consumerism, the idea that we must protect the consumer, and he has every right to do so considering he was an original backer (at the time), and if everything is in shipshape condition at CIG then an FTC investigation would be quashed with a few back and forth letters.
This is all here or there, time will tell the validity of the project and that's not the issue here, it's not so much what the content of his post was, but CIG's reaction. The issue went from yet another comment about Star Citizen, to an atypical event where Cloud Imperium Games decided to not only revoke Mr. Smart's access to the game, refund him the money, but to also publicly outline why they took action on his account even though Mr. Smart has never posted on their website or interacted with any of their first-party tools.
CIG banned Derek Smart from the game, removed the items that he bought, and refunded him the money by saying he is using Star Citizen to advertise his own game, publically. There is a lot wrong here and it's not the fact people are spending thousands of dollars on spaceships in a game they can't even fly them in yet. To give you the simplest explanation:
A player purchased a game, then several years later posted their concerns about it online, on their personal blog. They were then banned from the forums, had their game access revoked, and refunded their money, then the game developer went to the forums to highlight why that player was banned. At no time did the player in question utilize any first-party tools to write their criticism, they did it all on third-party websites, but because they had a dissenting opinion their access to the game was revoked.
No matter where you stand with Derek Smart, who he is, what he has done, or even anything his article said, he was still an original backer of a game and a player, or even more so at the end of the day, a Human being. Every MMO on the market takes player privacy to an all time high, never releasing information about bans or actions taken against accounts (outside of collected statistics), and never touching an account for third-party interactions that don't interfere first-party (like talking about the game on Reddit).
If CIG is allowed to get away with this, this means that any game developer from this point forward will possibly look at shutting down accounts for anyone who gives them a bad review, for anyone who posts that their game sucks on a forum, or any editorial that criticizes their game. It gives them free reign to ban players not only for misbehavior inside the game on the official site, but also anywhere else.
Thankfully, many game developers that I have met, talked to, and had the pleasure to interact with over the years take a lot of pride in their players and collectively would never shame, alienate, or even involve themselves with something of this nature. This behavior thankfully isn't typical, and this is so far an isolated event over at CIG, but it does raise a lot of questions about how CIG will handle player's accounts in the future.
Sure, this is Derek Smart, and sure he upset the community, but here's the deal - no matter who it is, there are boundaries game developers should never cross, and this is clearly one of them. You can't just say, well this guy here has an opinion we don't like, he's no longer allowed to play the game, then after violating that sanctity, move forward to publicly out the reason for doing it.
I'm not going to try to defend Derek Smart, but I am going to call out bad behavior. This is one time that a game developer shouldn't be allowed to get away with what they've done. There should be some ramification from this, either some form of apology, or measures implemented to make sure that they don't oust players who criticize the game on websites that aren't even part of the game's ecosystem.
Mob mentality isn't welcome in gaming, in my honest opinion, and because someone says something to upset the community on a third party site doesn't validate a public dressing down by the developers, nor the denial of service due to their opinion. Websites like The Consumerist rail against companies all the time, when they launch a crusade against specific brands, should those brands be able to disconnect their utilities? Should Consumer Reports, when it gives a product a bad review, be able to deny them from ever purchasing their product again? If Vogue fails to highlight a specific designer, should Vogue editors not be allowed to purchase from them? How about major news outlets, if you uncover a *possible* food health violation at a food processing plant, should they be able to raid your home and take any products with their label on them?
This act by CIG has far reaching implications and shines a very negative light on the company, the way that it intends to handle its playerbase, and gaming as a whole when a major company can react this way to criticism. Imagine if the bigger studios, like Ubisoft, EA, Square-Enix, etc. who are constantly lambasted across every medium, were to start uninstalling their software from anyone who complains and began monitoring sites like Metacritic to make sure no one speaks poorly - else their access is forfeit.
If Derek Smart had just posted his article, I would have gracefully assumed someone had said his name three times and moved on. If he had went on their forums and spammed links to his website, I would haven't really cared when he got banned. If CIG didn't post the reason for his ban publically, this wouldn't be as newsworthy, but as it stands this isn't right.
Knowing all of this, I leave you with a very simple thought - should game developers be able to revoke your access to their game for criticizing their game on a third-party website? In a CRASH_Academy stream that PC Gamer referenced, CIG defends themselves by saying Derek Smart was stressing the staff and community out, but again - if he's just noise, then why would anyone feel stressed? How is that going to help anyone? Alienating someone, revoking their access to a game, isn't going to stop his blog. Personally CIG should want Derek Smart as a backer so he can see the glorious final version of the game and prove to him and all the other naysayers that they're wrong.
In closing, let me just highlight that this is my column, and my personal opinion (not our websites opinion). My colleagues have opinions of their own, but this is my own personal opinion - the idea that a company can act in this manner isn't appropriate and I hope that something is done at CIG to make sure they can be purely confident in their game alone, and not need to utilize the ban hammer against dissenters.
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