Star Citizen, the Winds of Winter of video games, has recently come under fire for misleading advertising practices, at least in the eyes of one British regulatory body. Eurogamer reports that the United Kingdom’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has told developer Cloud Imperium Games to clarify that Star Citizen’s so-called “concept ships” aren’t technically available yet—even if players can fork over very real money for them.
The ad industry in the United Kingdom is partly self-regulated. Though legislation obviously has some authority, independent regulatory bodies also write and enforce code that dictates what advertisements can and cannot say. The ASA is the primary agency. Think of it as like a Federal Communications Commission that’s untethered from the government—in terms of both funding and oversight—but still allowed to tower over an entire industry. (Albeit in a toothless, ex post facto way, that few advertisers take seriously - British Ed.)
First funded via Kickstarter in 2012, Star Citizen is a massively multiplayer online flight sim that’s been mired in development for nearly a decade. Though no full game is out yet, backers have been able to play parts of the game piecemeal, including first-person shooter and ship combat modes. Its chief architect, Chris Roberts of Wing Commander fame, has no clue when the full game will be out.
In July, Reddit user Matzy filed a complaint with the ASA regarding Cloud Imperium’s practice of selling concept ships for the purposes of funding Star Citizen’s long and rocky development. (Eurogamer verified Matzy’s complaint.) Concept ships aren’t yet in Star Citizen—a game which has raised more than $350 million in crowdfunding to date—but are planned for inclusion at...some point. Of course, not all plans are guaranteed to come to fruition.
The offending ship in Matzy’s complaint is the Gatac Railen, a purple and silver beast that looks like what would happen if you froze Optimus Prime in the middle of an air squat. An advertising email offered a “last chance” to grab the Gatac Railen, urging players to “act fast before it departs.” It did not fully clarify that the Gatac Railen may or may not ever make it into the game.
The ASA responded by issuing an Advice Notice—essentially, a slap on the wrist that says, “Cut that shit out.”
As of today’s writing, the bottom of the Gatac Railen’s web listing—which says that ship is not currently for sale—includes a disclaimer: “The Gatac Railen is being offered for the first time as a limited vehicle concept pledge. This means that the vehicle is in development but is not yet ready to display in your Hangar or fly in Star Citizen. It will be available as playable content in a later patch.”
In the interim, players who pledged will receive a “loaner vehicle” that’s roughly the same size and functionality as the Railen.
Star Citizen, currently in alpha, is scheduled for release in 2014, 2016, and so on.