The Building Controversy of Star Citizen

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Chris Roberts made the decision to move Cloud Imperium Games to a new office. But this building might end up being more costly – after the legal dispute over payments between him and a contractor are settled.

This article isn’t an in-depth history of the main four Star Citizen studio locations. To get something more along those lines, there’s a dedicated section to that in the article/mini-novel I wrote a while back about the main arguments against the project. The vastness of that endeavor meant I wasn’t as focused in some particular places as I would’ve liked, as I was bound to making sure I related the content back to the overall point of the piece in the first place.

One of those places where that article glossed over was the transition of the Star Citizen California office from one building to another. As was stated in my piece:

The Star Citizen project got a new California office by November 2015 (at least it was under construction by that point). For reasons unknown, Roberts decided to move his operation to a place with spaceship decorations and adornments from top to bottom. As it was stated way back in the Holiday Livestream of 2014, they moved to this new location because it had more conference space, room for a motion capture studio, and room for a normal filming set-up. But on top of all that, they went all out with decor in this studio. The most obvious of these examples is the fact that they decided to make a door that’s designed to look like something from one of Roberts’ ships.

This needs to be fleshed out a bit on my part. Both the office in the door in question. But the only way to really understand the building at the center of this controversy is seeing a tour of the office. Thanks to a video from CGSociety, we get a glance inside.

When it comes to video game development, Star Citizen‘s team is not only comprised of people. They need a building to make it all happen. This is the place where the staff spends their work week (and then some) trying to make the vision of Chris Roberts come to life. But what has been overlooked are the road bumps that happened to the Los Angeles studio itself. One of the obstacles is a legal battle over the construction work that’s been done to it.

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Thanks to documentation on the LA Court website, we get a basic peek into what exactly is going on. Cloud Imperium Games is named in a suit as the defendants. D & M Contractors are the Plantiffs. The other parties involved are Vanilla Shell Inc. which is run by Ira Siegal. According to a person familiar with the project, Siegal is the real estate agent for Chris Roberts. But the rest of this information was publicly available on a local government website. To get an idea of the amount of money involved, one website claims Vanilla Shell Inc.’s annual revenue is $86 million. That may or may not be the case, but that number can certainly be backed up with the deed records associated with Vanilla Shell as a company. Joining them and Cloud Imperium as the defendants are Barco Investments Inc. According to records, Barco is the owner of the land and building involved here. They acquired it sometime in 2007, and the value of the property is nearing $5 million.

On the surface it might not look like much, but allow me to expand upon what’s depicted there with context information. I called the Plantiff’s Lawyer’s Office and I was able to learn the basics of the unfolding ordeal from his assistant. They explained to me that D&M Contractors were looking to get paid for work they did at Cloud Imperium Games, and for whatever undisclosed reason that didn’t happen. When asked about specifics on the matter, they refrained from elaboration as the proceedings are still ongoing. But we can still get an idea of the circumstances ourselves, however.

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The address of Cloud Imperium Games is public knowledge and can be found on their official website. The building permit records (publicly available) that line up with the timeframe of RSI owning the complex reveal more of the story. The earliest known work done on the building started in April 2015 and continued throughout the summer ( <— these were all done by D&M). But in August of that year it’s stated there was “construction done without permits or inspections,” which is one red flag and point of interest. From what we can safely assume by the September 30th 2015 “Transfer of Permit from, D and M General Constructor Inc,” that was when the point of contention happened between the plaintiff and defendant.

The point of mentioning that is to just make it clear that D and M General Constructor did work for RSI, and what the lawsuit appears to refer to. To get a building in tip-top shape is a lot of hard work: electrical, plumbing, and heating are vital factors of consideration. However the line between necessity and luxury starts to blur when decorative items are involved. “PROPOSE (2) ON-SITE NON ILLUMINATED INDIVIDUAL CHANNEL LETTERS WALL SIGNS: SIGN “A” 91″ X 61″ AT STREET FRONT READS <CLOUD IMPERIUM> WITH LOGO AND SIGN “B” 62.5″ X 28″ FACING PARKING LOT READS <RSI>,” being one of these.

But a more prominent case was noticed directly by the public back in April 2016.

spacedoorimageThe sliding door located in Cloud Imperium’s California office, that happens to be custom-made to look like a Star Citizen set piece or prop, will be referred to here as Space Door, for the sake of simplicity. Now Space Door serves to highlight the criticisms people have toward Chris Roberts and his spending habits when it comes to the choices he makes for the project. On April 15th, Space Door made a debut in a Vine post from one of the Cloud Imperium employees. By swiping his keycard, Space Door slides open to allow access to the main cafeteria of the studio.

Does Chris Roberts really need a custom made Space Door? The concern from the gaming community is that backers are paying for luxury purchases like this. This sort of critique may seem arbitrary, but in this particular case there’s a clear distinction between what you would consider a normal door, and an “over the top” expense of a door. How much did they say it cost? Shortly after the demonstration video surfaced, an email from CiG Customer Support was firmly against financial disclosure (in general), but assured the sender that  “its simply some wood with a garage door opener painted by the team, so you can rest assured it was done in the most economical way possible!,” CS Rep Ray Roocroft stated.

But that’s far from the apparent truth of the matter, as analyzing the door up close reveals more of the story. The downside of Chris Roberts wanting the best available of anything means a professionally done Space Door is easy to distinguish. The door in question was identified as a Dura-Glide 2000, based on the key similarities between the images available. The top motor and belt casing looks the same, you can see it above in both of these pictures. How much did it really cost? An estimate given by another SomethingAwful user ballparks it. “I just called my Stanley rep and he says $8500-$9500 for barebones supermarket type set up. With that amount of custom work to design, build, and refit the doors, I would double the costs to around 17k with another 4k added in for the door frame work and card reader control kit. That space ship door frame might just be furred out drywall that was shaped/smoothed/painted with the stanley door frame kit inside.”

This is just one example of the decorative choices made when it comes to Star Citizen‘s current California office. What should be a simple object, like a door, turns into an elaborate and complicated procedure based on the decision making that went into the process.

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The studio itself is the place where Cloud Imperium Games employees work every day. “Construction done without permits or inspections,” opens up a whole slew of possible questions about the safety conditions of the building itself. Is it considered normal to have employees and staff working in an environment with ongoing construction?  As stated earlier, assessment of the building permits revealed that renovations began back in April 2015, with a contractor dispute happening by the end of September. But then we see work happening at the very start of November, and by the end of the month the team is already moving in. How much time was lost with employees not having a proper desk to work at, or spent doing building related chores to help the renovation process along? The overall potential of occupational hazards here seems noticeably higher than what’s considered a safe level.

Then consider the “Open Development” mantra that the Star Citizen project is supposed to adhere to, due to their crowdfunding campaign that made the choice to continue raising funds for almost four years now. An ongoing court case is a project risk that backers need to be aware of, as there’s a fair chance that it might affect the production time or outcome of the product they were looking to receive. $123 million isn’t just a number, there’s a responsibility that comes with that too. Given the example provided in this article, the question of “Are backer funds used to cover legal expenses?” is now on the table.

That’s a question I can’t answer myself. All I can do is write about the already existing concerns out there. Feel free to check out the rest of the Star Citizen essay collection below.