A backer of Star Citizen [official site] has successfully received a refund of $2550 from Cloud Imperium Games after bringing his complaints about the company to the L.A. Attorney General and consumer watchdogs, including the Federal Trade Commission. He went on to publicly post his correspondence with all the people involved, so everyone can see how laborious the process was.
The backer, known as 'Streetroller', has put the back and forth on the SomethingAwful forums. It's a lengthy enough correspondence, so we'll break it down for you.
He first made a refund request directly to the developers. "The product remains unfulfilled and no longer constitutes the product(s) I originally purchased," he writes. But Cloud Imperium Games sent him a lengthy rejection, saying: "We are not able to accommodate your request for a refund."
"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."
"It would not be appropriate to use our current backers' development pledges to refund an earlier pledge which has already been used for Game Cost. Put simply, "takebacks" are not in the spirit of crowdfunding."
After asserting his refund request should be honoured he received another curt rejection. Finally, he sent letters to the Attorney General of Los Angeles, the Federal Trade Commission and the LA Department of Consumer and Business Affairs, telling them about the dispute. Within a week he received the first part of his refund of $900 from Amazon Payments. Soon after he got the rest of the money ($1650) through Paypal.
It's worth reading the whole thing if you are a huge nerd for legalities and consumer rights. But basically at the heart of it all is the fact that Star Citizen recently changed its terms of service. Previously, these had said that backers would be entitled to a refund if Roberts Space Industries "has failed to deliver the relevant pledge items" after eighteen months had passed from the release date (see that archived here, under the heading 'VII . Fundraising and Pledges'). Star Citizen's initial release date was November 2014. This means that by now any backer who pledged under these original terms is entitled to a refund (people like Streetroller). But the developers still dispute this. Even as they finally accepted the request, they said that the backer was not legally entitled.
"Nonetheless, having reviewed complainants interactions with our customer service agents, we have determined that it is also in our interests 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."
Basically: we are just doing this as a gesture of good will, not because we have to.
Whether this will set any kind of precedent or cause more people to demand refunds we can't yet be sure. Where do you stand? Is this a victory for consumers against companies who hold millions of dollars? Or does it simply set the scene for an exodus of disenfranchised consumer-investors?