I've already written about how a recent change in Star Citizen's Terms of Service (ToS) has made it more difficult for backers to request a refund.
It turns out there is still a way to get a refund, you'll just need the help of the LA Attorney General, FTC, and DCBA.
One Star Citizen backer, Streetroller, who had backed the game to the tune of $3,000 was looking to get their money back after growing tired of waiting for the game to be released. In its current state the game is a series of alpha modules that show elements of the game, but are not yet the unified whole that backers supported.
Streetroller has uploaded screenshots of his entire exchange with Cloud Imperium Games (CIG) online (via PCInvasion).
It starts with Streetroller writing an email to developer CIG on June 24th, saying:
To Cloud Imperium Games and / or Robert Space Industries:
Because of various changes of policy by Cloud Imperium Games or Roberts Space Industries, the product remains unfulfilled and no longer constitutes the product(s) I originally purchased.
To bring this to a resolution, I am requesting a full refund.
In a long response from Cloud Imperium Games, the company explained what it was not going to refund Streetroller's $3,000 pledge, saying:
You made your pledge to the crowd funding campaign to raise funds for the development of ‘Star Citizen’. When you contributed your pledge it was applied to the building of the game and the team and resources needed to make it happen. The funds are not idly maintained in a bank account for months or years in case someone wants his/her money back. Cloud Imperium Games has been working diligently on the development of the game and has published extensive information on the development process on its website at robertspaceindustries.com. We are very serious about accomplishing what we set out to do, which is to build a great game. We endeavour to keep everyone informed and educated on the progress of game development and what is accomplished with their support: reports, updates and web shows have been made available regularly, and our first game play offerings came online as early as fall of 2013. These offerings have been progressively and incrementally expanded over time to share access to the work in progress. We have created substantial foundation for the game, and early release versions are currently available.
As noted above, your payment was a deposit to be used for the ‘Game Cost’ as defined in your crowd funding pledge agreement […], and the deposit has since been “earned by CIG and become non-refundable” since it was “used for the Game Cost…”. You also agreed to “irrevocably waive any claim for refund of any deposit amount that has been used for the Game Cost and Pledge Item Cost …”. The only exception would be a return of unearthed funds remaining in case of an abandonment of the project; this exception does not apply as we have not abandoned development. If you pledged on Kickstarter, you agreed to these terms when you transferred you pledge account to robertsspaceindustries.com.
Star Citizen is a project for gamers, by gamers. By financing the project using crowd funding, our team is not beholden to a publisher who would insist we ship a game unfinished, de-featured, or broken to meet a particular schedule. Thanks to continued backing of our community, we have the needed creative freedom over the project to push the boundaries of what is possible in gaming technology and to create a unique game with a unique approach. We feel the results such as unparalleled immersion and fidelity which have been highlighted in many reviews and community reactions, are already speaking for themselves!
Streetroller didn't take that without a fight. Drawing attention to the ToS CIG referred to in its reply, Streetroller pointed out that he had agreed to an earlier agreement than the recently changed contract. This is something I covered in an article last month, one which our lawyer said would make it significantly harder to claim refunds through, but that was supposed to only apply to new backers.
I have not agreed to your terms of service, nor do I have any desire to play a product described by your development team as an “alpha” product.
I do not recognise your terms of service, as according to a recent case in Washington, a person who ‘crowd funds’ a project has the same legal benefits as any consumer of a product. [Here Streetroller is referring to a recent case where the makers of Asylum Playing Cards had to refund backers.]
This means if I agree to a specific date of delivery (in this case, May 31st, 2016) and you fail to deliver a product by that date, I am entitled to a refund. It may have been the “community’s declared desire to have the initial release version of the game developed to a much greater depth, detail, and fidelity than contemplated originally upon start of the campaign’, but it was not mine.
You may not be beholden to a publisher, but you are beholden to me as a consumer.
In the terms of service to which I am referring states: “Accordingly, you agree that any unearned portion of your pledge shall not be refundable until and unless RSI has failed to deliver the relevant pledge items and/or the Game to you within eighteen (18) months after the estimated delivery date.”
The estimated delivery date was November, 2014.
In its reply CIG remains firm and says it will not refund Streetroller:
I am sorry to hear that you are not happy with the outcome, however I am afraid that we cannot offer you a refund since all of your pledges are outside of the statutory 14 day grace period, regardless.
Streetroller then tells CIG he is going to be getting third parties involved, including Los Angeles' attorney general:
I know my rights, and I won’t let any company - even on I may have liked - to take $3,000 from me.
I’m informing you that I’m filing with the FTC, DCBA, and IC3.
I’ll also be contacting the attorney general of Los Angeles and filing fraud claims on Paypal.
As well as contacting the organisations listed above, Streetroller files for a refund through Amazon. He is shortly returned $900.
Streetroller was later forwarded a response from CIG's lawyer through correspondence with the LA attorney general:
Contrary to complainant’s statements, terms to this effect have been in the ToS and/or Commercial Terms ever since Star citizen's crowd funding began. None of the revisions to our ToS have affected complainant’s position in the regard which is also is in line with typical crowd funding terms as they can be found for example on Kickstarter, the world’s most preeminent crowd funding site. In accordance with the above, complainant’s pledge has been used for the game development, and therefore has been earned and is no longer returnable to complainant at this point.
Having reviewed complainant’s interactions with our customer service agents, we have determined that it is also in our interest to terminate his participation in our fundraising community. We are therefore agreeing to close complainant;s account permanently and we will issue a refund of his pledge promptly.
Two days after that Streetroller receives the rest of the money he had pledged to CIG.
So, it is possible to get a refund for Star Citizen, you just have to get the LA attorney general on your side.