Star Citizen Developers Clash Over Forced Work Claims

Star Citizen Developers Texas Snowstorm PTO cover

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Star Citizen Developers Clash Over Forced Work Claims

March 11, 2021

By: Robert N. Adams

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Platforms
Linux, PC
Release Date
December 31, 1969 (Calendar)
 
 

A number of anonymous Star Citizen developers are claiming that they were forced to work during the recent Texas Blizzard, but several other employees from the company are publicly disputing these claims.

Star Citizen is a game that has had a very long development cycle. It's an ambitious title and that involves a lot of work. However, a new article is claiming that Cloud Imperium Games was overzealous in its desire to keep development going in the midst of a natural disaster.

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Anonymous Star Citizen Developers Speak Out About the Texas Blizzard

A new Kotaku article contains claims from anonymous Star Citizen developers who claim that Cloud Imperium Games' response to the recent (and disastrous) Texas Blizzard was inadequate at best.

 
 

"All I can really say is that it feels like there was a breakdown in communication, that the severity of the issue was not fully realized by the people that had the power making these decisions[.]" — Anonymous Star Citizen Developer Speaking to Kotaku

Late last month, a massive blizzard struck the state of Texas. This natural disaster left millions without power and clean water, ultimately resulting in President Joe Biden declaring a major disaster for the state and greenlighting the use of federal funds for assistance.

Cloud Imperium Games is one of many game developers that has offices in Texas. Its Austin location was one of many businesses affected by the Texas Blizzard, and the Kotaku article claims to have accounts from six anonymous employees regarding this situation. Some of these employees cite a "breakdown in communication" and a delayed response from Cloud Imperium Games.

"Head leadership for the company never appeared to acknowledge that we even faced a natural disaster and seemed to completely neglect to communicate our situation to other studios," one of these sources reportedly told Kotaku. "This lack of awareness was evidenced when some of us were discussing the aftermath of the storm, and coworkers from another studio location asked if we had been dealing with tornadoes."

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The Initial Statement from Cloud Imperium Games on Anonymous Claims

Naturally, Cloud Imperium Games provided Kotaku with a response to the claims from these anonymous Star Citizen developers.

"CIG is saddened to hear these allegations from the anonymous sources," a company spokesperson told Kotaku via e-mail. "Our staff’s safety and well-being are a priority to us at all times. The Austin offices have remained closed to general staff since the beginning of the pandemic, with teams working from home. In the immediate aftermath of the Texas storm, studio leadership reached out to all 100+ Austin employees through their managers and individually to offer support; and continues to do so with actionable assistance for all of those who were affected."

 

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Cloud Imperium Games Employees Publicly Refute Forced Work Claims

Cloud Imperium Games was not the only one to publicly respond to these anonymous claims — a number of Star Citizen developers have come out to publicly refute this article on Twitter.

"This is weird to me," began a tweet from Robert Space Industries Director of Community Tyler Witkin. "No one on my team had to use PTO at all, and I felt that CIG was extremely flexible/understanding. In fact, I just asked a load of people on the team about this and it confused everyone. Unfortunately, I think this is an outright lie. :("

"Everyone I'm checking with was 'told to clock in as if they had worked, and to focus on personal safety first, not work,'" Witkin added. "If legitimate, maybe a localized issue within a single team, which should and was likely already handled. Damn, got to get those clicks though, right?"

 

A QA tester added to Witkin's response, categorizing the Kotaku article as "somewhat bewildering" and adding that Cloud Imperium Games was "nothing but supportive and understanding." This response from Tyler Witkin was far from the only public commentary on the matter.

"Everyone I'm checking with was 'told to clock in as if they had worked, and to focus on personal safety first, not work.'" – Tyler Witkin, Director of Community at Cloud Imperium Games

"This was my experience as well along with studio managers asking if I needed food, water, or emergency help after my apartment flooded and I lost quite a lot of time, personal items, and living space dealing with it along with the power outages and lack of water for days," read another response from @Wakapedia, a Twitter user who claims to be a "Player experience nerd" for Roberts Space Industries and Cloud Imperium Games. "Along with some amazing community members and friends offering assistance and support for which I can't thank them enough[.]"

"This is a confusing article that annoys me because from everyone I know and work with in Austin it is not the experience that people have had," read another response from Lead Vehicle Programmer David Colson. "CIG has been extremely supporting and helpful throughout this and this article is just clickbait[.]"

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We've found a total of five people that have disputed the claims from anonymous Star Citizen developers in the Kotaku article, but one of these responses stands out in particular.

Michele is a former Twitch streamer who also claims to work at HR at Cloud Imperium Games. She is hesitant to comment on the experiences of others, but she was more than happy to publicly share her own history with the company during some of the worst times of her life.

"CIG has always been really good to me," her Twitter thread began. "I've not experienced what is being said in this article. They've always been there for me in dire times, especially during my double mastectomy. While I'm not aware of everyone's particular situation, I wanted to talk about my own."

"I've been with CIG for four years," she continued." We've gone through a lot together! They helped me through the deaths of my Mother & Grandmother in the same day, They were there for me through my health diagnoses and my surgeries, offering constantly kind words and support[.]"

"And even sending me get well baskets with food and essentials. Again, I don't know what others' experiences may be like. I'm not discounting anyone. I just wanted to say my piece. I love my company, and this article was not the case for me."

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The Kotaku article's author Nathan Grayson promptly responded to our request for comment, noting that two of the five employees we've listed as publicly speaking out are from public relations and human resources, respectively — departments that, in his words, "do not tend to have rank and file employees' backs at any company[.]"

Grayson did say, however, that the comments he received from these six anonymous employees are not necessarily representative of the company as a whole. That's certainly a fair thing to say considering that it reportedly had over 500 employees across five offices as of 2019.

"[Cloud Imperium Games] is a large studio, and there's going to be variance in people's experiences, as well as what they consider acceptable," Grayson told TechRaptor via e-mail. "This is a tension at large video game studios in general: Some people consider themselves lucky to be working on video games at all--a fact companies regularly deploy as rhetoric against change or demands for better. Others do not find the status quo to be acceptable. For those people at CIG, this was clearly a breaking point."

Aside from this commentary, he also added that he sent a "point by point list" of the grievances from the anonymous Star Citizen developers to Cloud Imperium Games one week prior to the publication of the Kotaku piece. According to him, the only response from the company was the statement provided in the article.

Ultimately, the claims made by the six anonymous Star Citizen developers speaking to Kotaku have been clearly and emphatically disputed, so it looks like this boils down to the classic "he-said, she-said" kind of situation. Aside from Nathan Grayson, we've reached out to Cloud Imperium Games and all of the above-mentioned employees; we'll update this article when we receive a reply.

Note: We updated Michele's name to her personal name from her previous streaming name.

What do you think of the situation with Cloud Imperium Games during the Texas Blizzard? Do you think game developers and publishers generally do a good job of taking care of their employees? Let us know in the comments below!

A photograph of Robert N Adams
Senior Writer

I've had a controller in my hand since I was 4 and I haven't stopped gaming since. CCGs, Tabletop Games, Pen & Paper RPGs - I've tried a whole bunch of stuff over the years and I'm always looking to try more!

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