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The Escapist faces possible legal action over Star Citizen exposÚ

Cloud Imperium has denied accusations of mishandling funds and workplace discrimination, claims unethical journalistic practice

Cloud Imperium Games is considering legal action against The Escapist, following the publication of an article that accuses the Star Citizen developer of improper and even illegal working practices.

The Escapist's article, which can be found via this link, was based on the testimony of several unnamed sources, all of whom came forward after the publication of another article, titled, "Eject! Eject! Is Star Citizen Going To Crash And Burn?"

The first article explores concerns regarding Cloud Imperium's use of the $90 million it has raised through various crowdfunding channels, and the way Star Citizen has changed and grown since that process first started - specifically some allegedly silent alterations to the game's terms of service.

The much longer second article goes further, with sources accusing CEO Chris Roberts of being "incredibly arrogant" in his pursuit of more funding, despite having, "no concept of what can and can't be done today with that amount of money." It also contains allegation of discriminatory hiring practices against Sandi Gardiner - Cloud Imperium's marketing director and Roberts' wife - including using age and race as grounds to turn down applicants. The articles claims extend to the running of the business, portraying CLoud Imperium as a company, "Bleeding both money and employees."

"The Escapist...stands by its coverage of Star Citizen and intends to continue to investigate the developing story"

Official statement from The Escapist

Cloud Imperium's official response arrived shortly after, in the form of a five-page letter to The Escapist's managing editor, John Keefer, highlighting his legal responsibility for signing off on both the article and a subsequent podcast that discussed the matter further.

Cloud Imperium stated that The Escapist had, "violated the most basic rules and ethics in journalism in failing to properly vet your sources and giving the affected party with an opportunity to refute these ridiculous, highly slanderous and easily disproven allegations." The "deliberate intention" of the article, the letter stated, was "inflicting emotional distress and financial harm" on those involved.

The letter closes with a demand of reparations, including apologies, a retraction and a full investigation into the way the article was researched. Cloud Imperium asked for a response before the end of the working day yesterday (Monday October 5), or it would instigate legal proceedings. Since then, The Escapist has published the following statement:

"The Escapist, notwithstanding Cloud Imperium Games' notice and posting, stands by its coverage of Star Citizen and intends to continue to investigate the developing story. Since publishing our original stories, we have been contacted by, and are currently interviewing, additional sources corroborating a variety of the reported allegations. Additionally, if Mr. Roberts' offer for The Escapist to "meet the developers making the game and see how we're building one of the most ambitious PC games first hand" remains open, we take the opportunity to accept such invitation so as to hopefully provide the public with sufficient information and opportunity to vet such sources' allegations and claims for themselves. We have also communicated the foregoing directly to Cloud Imperium Games."

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By Matthew Handrahan

Latest comments (22)

Eyal Teler Programmer A year ago
I hate inaccurate titles. The Escapist has been threatened by legal action but isn't facing one yet.
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic A year ago
There's a lot I want to rant about this, but I'll keep it to a minimum:

Considering some of the accusations are state and federal crimes, not doing due-diligence - in the first instance contacting the legal department for comment (not the bloody PR department! wtf? Why would PR respond to allegations of racism?) - is just... It's bad. I mean, just jaw-droppingly amateurish.

Giving 24 hours to respond ("longer than usual since we knew Roberts was currently in the U.K") is pitiful. 24 hours to respond to things that if true are actual crimes? You're setting-up the accused to either fail to respond in-time, or to write something potentially untoward due to a constrained time-limit. People weren't going to die if The Escapist put off publishing this piece for a week, so there was no reason for that deadline.

I sincerely hope The Escapist dies a death because of this. I get that it's people's livelihoods, but this is (in my opinion) kids playing at being journalists. The ramifications are huge, and the editor made a bad-call by not allowing more time and effort to go into the piece.
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Robin Clarke Producer, AppyNation LtdA year ago
The Escapist has been a tabloid rag trading on the strength of its former reputation for a while now. It was only a matter of time before something like this happened.
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Show all comments (22)
Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic A year ago
If the allegations about behavior and expenses are indeed false...why is Cloud Imperium not playing it smarter than with threats?
Because when a piece in the media says things that are (on balance) actively harmful to the future of a company and its employees (Roberts' wife especially is alleged to have done pretty terrible things), a company has to at least threaten legal action, otherwise the piece is assumed to be correct. Certainly if the anonymous sources are correct, then CIG will pay the price in the court-room. But if the piece is wrong, it is substantially harmful to CIG and its employee's reputations, in which case threatening (and occasionally pursuing) legal action is pretty much standard practice (be it for individuals or companies of a certain standing). The Escapist can publicly apologise for defamation/libel/slander and set the record straight.

Of course, there's The Streisand Effect, which considering how small The Escapist is (compared to the papers that will report on the court-case) might actually be more harmful than the piece itself. But, *shrugs*

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 6th October 2015 4:12pm

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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic A year ago
That would more efficiently shut down the claims reported by the Escapist and by association the public would probably think that every thing else, every other allegation is fallacious.
If we were just dealing with consumers, yeah, you'd most likely be right. :)

But tell me something: Even if the financial part was disproven, do you think any company would hire Sandi Gardiner as a VP of Marketing, without any reservations, knowing that CIG hadn't actively tried to disprove the allegations surrounding her in court.

If there's any doubt in your mind about that, then you'll understand why CIG have done what they've done (and will probably do more).

Also, this kind of thing (threatening legal action of libel/slander) happens quite a lot in the world, especially in the UK.
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic A year ago
I don't know. I am sure if Sandi Gardiner can sell a company he/she (sorry too lazy to investigate)
She. :) Not trying to be rude, but you should read The Escapist article to really get my point... I'd paraphrase the article here, but there's no way in hell I'm repeating unproven libelous comments about an industry professional on an industry website. :)

To your wider point of...
if you have the solution to a problem like that... then why do not use it straight away and then indeed request an apology (and threaten to go to court if the expected reaction fail to show up)
I think because it becomes he-said/she-said, which just looks bad (very childish), and doesn't do much. When an article is so badly researched as this one seems (for instance, the writer admitted on Twitter that the "company IDs" she saw were just generic RFID keycards), then what good does brandishing actual evidence do you? Sure, some of the public might care that you disproved some allegations without threatening legal action, but what about everyone else? Fortune 500 companies and senior executives would (I imagine :) ) still have some doubts in their minds.

I would also imagine that there is a certain "making an example" mindset. Trashing a person or company's reputation is a deeply serious thing and it can have long-lasting consequences. So, making the owner of the publication that did the trashing pay large amounts of money, with a grovelling apology that is shown on TV and splashed on front-pages of websites and papers... That's a very real punishment, for a very real crime.
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Jeff Kleist Writer, Marketing, Licensing A year ago
I will say that Derek Smart has been running a rather dubious campaign, and the vast majority of the information in the piece was likely fed from him and his network. Given Mr. Smarts history of holy wars, and extended development time of bad, overreaching games, and his previous interactions with CIG, I'm disinclined to believe it without named, corroborating sources and preferably an independent review or hearing in a court of law. Anonymous accusers who fail to provide direct evidence are usually found later to be angry little trolls.

Chris Roberts has demonstrated large pieces of his game, had been open and direct about the status of development, probably more than is wise, I'm sure that hasn't helped perception, but everything seems to be moving forward, and if he needs additional funding, he has a pile of VC he hasn't taken advantage of to tap.
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Ron Dippold Software/Firmware Engineer A year ago
I'm stunned that legal threat was written by someone who claims to be an attorney, and a practicing one. It's basically a forum rant with the childish demands you'd expect of some random crank claiming he's going to be filing a lawsuit on you real soon. I realize the irony here - but I don't claim to be a lawyer. It may have been damned if you do, damned if you don't, and I can certainly understand that Roberts is angry, but CIG 'legitimized' the article by responding and as such it probably should have been a much calmer response. Instead they guaranteed this will escalate.

As far as the letter itself, trying to make this a GamerGate thing was also dumb. They're Gaming Hitler, which makes it an attractive strategy, and there are certainly GamerGaters involved, but it just wasn't that polarized - there were plenty of Manly Gaming Men who just wanted to blow up weaklings in space and plenty of non GamerGaters who were just wondering where the game they Kickstarted was. Well now he's made all the hornets angry (or angrier) and gave Smart an own goal.

The whole resoponse really seems like the best thing that could happen for the Escapist since Zero Punctuation. There are still a few decent columnists left from the old days, but mostly they went to crap quite a while ago and stopped being a major source for anything. Now suddenly they're they're right in the middle of biggest, angriest, (okay, dumbest), most active Drama in gaming.
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic A year ago
Instead they guaranteed this will escalate.
I wouldn't be surprised if CIG want it to go to court at this stage. Considering the influence of Derek Smart here (who by his own admission gave The Escapist names of "credible sources"), and the fact that losing side pays court costs, going to court to take down both Smart and The Escapist in the public-eye is I'm sure very tempting.

Edit: Oh, and because I like to reference everything, Smart's latest blog entry is where he reveals he gave sources to The Escapist. :)

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 7th October 2015 5:49am

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Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft GermanyA year ago
I find it quite Ironic that a online magazine that sided 100% with gamergate is accused of "unethical journalistic practice". Of all things.
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Andrew Watson Tools Programmer A year ago
@Alfonso
Is there any reason why you feel like you must bring GG up in almost every article you've recently posted in?

Here's your reply comparing you to hitler because we might as well start filling out the rest of the "internet argument" bingo sheet.
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Dan Wood Visual Effects Artist A year ago
This is an interesting read on the subject:
https://popehat.com/2015/10/04/in-space-no-one-can-hear-you-threaten-lawsuits/

While the article is obviously agressive in tone, and designed to be provocative, CIG have done themselves no favours by predictably reacting like righteous internet forum dwellers.
... a company has to at least threaten legal action, otherwise the piece is assumed to be correct.
This is where I wonder - this seems more wisdom borne of the internet than of actual legal president. From a PR point of view, maybe, but from a legal point of view, I think the less said the better. As the article I linked to above points out... if you genuinely want to persue legal action, you damn well shut the hell up, and hand it over to the real lawyers who won't cry "slander! libel!" and will instead simply build a case and present a court summons.
Serious legal action isn't threatened for dramatic effect before it's persued.
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic A year ago
From a PR point of view, maybe, but from a legal point of view, I think the less said the better. As the article I linked to above points out... if you genuinely want to persue legal action, you damn well shut the hell up, and hand it over to the real lawyers who won't cry "slander! libel!" and will instead simply build a case and present a court summons.
Not to be argumentative (you do indeed have a good point :) ), but CIG aren't the first, and won't be the last, to act like this (even if they end up being on the wrong side).

I give you "The simple sword of truth!", Part one, and Part two. Probably the most famous libel case in the UK, and something I've been thinking about ever since The Escapist article broke.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 7th October 2015 3:43pm

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Jeff Kleist Writer, Marketing, Licensing A year ago
Here's the thing though, they made an offer to have the people down and show them the game doe a new piece that's legitimate and not the journalistic equivalent of ambulance chasing. Most people have no idea about integration, they have no idea how a game goes together Hell, there was a hilarious request on Cbox feedback by a guy who thought they could take cars from one game and just slap the, into Forza using nothing but the assets on your HD. Or the idiots who thought you could just slap a female protagonist into ACU 4 months before launch.

I had an individual who wanted to apprentice under me, but when I gave him homework to even see if he was capable, he didn't do it. It's the job of every journalist to learn the ins and outs of how what they're reporting on works. Hell, when the Xbox BC was announced, all these people told me I was wrong that I said in the past direct emulation was impossible. Sure it took me some thinking and asking questions, but I figured out what they were doing (static binary translation) in a few days. I was then told I was wrong again. A few months later MS admitted that's what they were doing.

People are lazy, and online journalism definately pushes toward "publish and retract later" so you can get the hits. The fact CIG is inviting them down as option one instead of filing and settling shoes what nice guys they are. Not sure Derek will be so lucky, as he's starting to get to Jack Thompson levels. He may be right, but the fact that he keeps making public statements he doesn't back up (nasty emails aren't enough) , due to his alleged need to hold things close for the Feds and such doesn't inspire confidence. The whole thing is starting to smell like Tucker automobiles ;)
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic A year ago
None of our sources were Derek Smart and we did not get our information from Glassdoor
But the sources came from Derek Smart (Ctrl-F "I gave them some of my credible sources"). The above quote is quibbling in the hopes people will assume that Smart was not involved at all, which is incorrect.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 8th October 2015 3:47pm

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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic A year ago
Oh, yeah, sorry, I didn't mean to imply anything with any of my comments... And I do agree with you that, if there's anything bad then it should be brought to light. (Peace yo! :) ).

I do think, though, that there's two real issues here. One is the allegations about CIG, which if they have any merit whatsoever, should be taken to the relevant US authorities immediately. That these things are being published long before any sort of Federal investigation beggars belief, since the US do not treat these kinds of things lightly.

The other issue (and the main reason I take an interest in this :) ), is the atrocious "journalistic" practices of The Escapist. Regardless of if what is said is true or not, there should be a "punishment" of sort for such awful reporting. I do think the kids are playing journalists, because anyone with a journalism degree would know not to publish a story in this manner, with such poor fact-checking. I mean, I know not to do it, and I don't have a journalism degree. :)

Anyways, after saying in my first comment I was going to keep it brief, I appear to have ranted in a rather madcap fashion. :D Apologies, and no offense meant. :)

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 8th October 2015 4:49pm

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Dan Wood Visual Effects Artist A year ago
But the sources came from Derek Smart (Ctrl-F "I gave them some of my credible sources").
That isn't confirmation that the sources came from Derek Smart. It's Derek Smart claiming that that sources came from him. Given his track record, I would take anything he claims with a monumental pinch of salt. It's entirely likely that he's simply sniffed a chance to appear like the "powerful self-made alpha male" he loves to tell himself he is, dictating the flow of things he actually had very little/nothing to do with.

All we know for certain is that he's been leading his own personal s**t-stiring campaign, which to me seems like something The Escapist is highly likely to have sought to distance themselves from, given how seriously most of the industry takes anything Derek Smart says.
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic A year ago
That isn't confirmation that the sources came from Derek Smart. It's Derek Smart claiming that that sources came from him.
True... This never occurred to me. It seems unlikely, but mustn't be discounted. :)
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"The other issue (and the main reason I take an interest in this :) ), is the atrocious "journalistic" practices of The Escapist. Regardless of if what is said is true or not, there should be a "punishment" of sort for such awful reporting. I do think the kids are playing journalists, because anyone with a journalism degree would know not to publish a story in this manner, with such poor fact-checking. I mean, I know not to do it, and I don't have a journalism degree."

Can you give an example of 'poor fact-checking' in the original article?
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic A year ago
Sure... I'll rephrase slightly first, though, and say "What appears to be poor fact-checking." :)

From the link Eric posted in comment 20 above:
the seventh did not use his real name, but did show pay stubs and a Cloud Imperium Games ID with the name blacked out.
As per their 5 page letter, CIG does not use company ID. The author of the article (Lizzy Finnegan) appears to actually confirm this well after-the-fact on her Twitter, when she affirms that what she thought was a company ID was a generic RFID card:

https://twitter.com/lizzyf620/status/650617503450841088

Obviously, one mistake does not nullify all the claims of the article. But considering the ease with which she could've found this out prior to publication, I'm gonna say it's poor fact-checking.

Edit: I want to hasten to add that even if it is poor fact-checking on the part of the author, the buck stops with the editor. I am not wanting to "pile-on" the author of the article.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 8th October 2015 7:26pm

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Peter Shea Games Director, Chunk GamesA year ago
I gave up on the Escapist many years ago when they wrote a dreadfully researched article backing Tim Langdell- possibly the only people ever to defend him online. I clearly remember how they tried to defend their woeful journalistic practices back then.

Now I hear they are backing Gamergate and listening to Derek Smart. Plus ša change...
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Jeff Kleist Writer, Marketing, Licensing A year ago
https://www.reddit.com/r/starcitizen/comments/3n6lum/escapist_anonymous_sources_uncovered/

The whole thing is starting to stink as a hit piece designed by people who don't like Chris Roberts, or DO like Derek. Sure, there might be a disgruntled real ex-employee in the mix, but the fact that many of these reviews are cut and pasted from elsewhere in the site, and share a similar writing style stinks to high heaven.

I have used exactly one "email source" in the past, but I didn't publish virtually anything he told me. Instead I'd use it to springboard asking questions to other people. And virtually everything he told me checked out. And until I had a good half dozen things that checked out, I didn't even deem him credible.
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