You both make fair points. I was under the impression that many people spend large amounts of money on F2P games - if that is not the reality, then it might not be a pressing issue. It's a shame I don't have a detailed breakdown of the numbers, as I'd love to see what exactly is going on.
My gripe is mainly with the marketing strategy.
I studied Psychology and am now finishing a Ph.D. in Psychological Research - basically learning how best get accurate data from people. There is a detailed ethical approval behind every data collection I do. I have to submit a 4-page document for each small study I do. A series of people have to assess it, try to point out possible flaws and ultimately approve it. For something bigger, I'd have to meet in person and be interviewed about the design. This is because people are very easily influenced - it's fairly easy to "trick" people into doing/feeling something, even unknowingly by poor design. The large majority of studies in the University settings won't try to exploit people, so all of this happens due to a concern that I might be unethical on accident.
Now imagine how critical this is in settings where people are exploited on purpose. What scares me, is the fact that there are no ethics frameworks when it comes to F2P games - why would there be, it's not in the best interest of the company. I know many of the games are designed with maximising spending in mind. The developer has access to fine-grained data on human behavior, knowing when and how people spend, in what contexts, in what social settings, how they respond to different kinds of artworks, game systems, etc. They use this to design an experience where people are mathematically most likely to spend the most money.
I often hear the notion that people are not "forced" to spend, and that any payment is optional. If someone wrecks their paycheck on a F2P game, it's their stupidity and their fault. I don't think that's true. If the system is designed in a certain way, people will play along. For example, in countries where organ donation after death is opt-out (it happens by default), the large majority of people do it and are happy with it. If it is opt-in (it doesn't happen by default), almost no one agrees to it. This opt-out tactic has been proven to work in many different environments - it's just a simple way of phrasing something differently and suddenly you make the majority of people behave the opposite.
In F2P games, they use many tactics like these at once. And they tailor everything based on specific data. I think a person is not really a master of their own fate anymore.
I don't have a good solution to it - and I'm not sure it's a legal problem. It's just something that's been on my mind lately, and I'm not too comfortable with the idea of it. If you download my free game and I then use maths to tell the game to treat you in a specific way, making you spend with a high probability, is that ethical?
This article is a good summary of what's wrong with people's mentality today.
Games used to be creative experiences with a price tag on them. A team of people would come together and create something fun. Sometimes a publisher would try to cut corners and shift the vision, but in the end, you'd have an experience for a set price nevertheless.
Movies are still like that. You pay a set price and get a set experience. Some box sets have bonus content, but the core experience is always there - whether it's a DVD, BluRay, TV or going to the movies. People wouldn't tolerate this excessive micro-transaction bullshit there, why do we tolerate it in games?
When I go watch the new Star Wars movie, they don't pause the movie at the first big battle and say "We will play this battle 50 times. But you could pay $1.99 for a chance to go on with the story". If that was the case, people would walk out the cinema. They would not be writing editorials saying "I like these new movie lootboxes, before, I'd have to wait 2 hours to see the ending. Now there's a 0.01% chance I'll get to it right away! And if I'm unlucky, I can always watch the battle 50 times. Win win right there."
These days, games are clearly money milking machines first, experiences second. Battlefront 2 is a prime example of this - the core design is literally about buying loot boxes, with a game play moulded around it.
I requested a refund a year ago (Summer 2016) and didn't get one. There was little space for discussion with customer service - not even a partial refund was possible. I think refunds have not been as readily available as people made them sound.
I am pretty sure I'd be able to claim all of the money back in court, but I won't willingly go through that ordeal. The money is not worth the stress, to be honest.
There is a pretty clear distinction between a donation and a tangible purchase, at least in the UK. Most larger crowdfunded projects (Star Citizen included) actually charge VAT, which implies it is a purchase of a product/service, not a donation. There is an expectation of delivery within a reasonable timeframe. If the product differs substantially to what you bought (including delivery timeframe), you should be eligible for a refund.
This is not only CIG's fault. It's a broader, more general issue. The legislation and expectations around crowdfunding are in a very strange place. One one hand, everything is advertised like a product. You have "reward tiers", with spreadsheets detailing the items you'll get. You are adding virtual items into a shopping basket. A good chunk of the crowdfunding campaign is about the rewards.
On the other hand, when it comes to delivery, everyone is suddenly pointing out it's merely a donation. I think that is simply an excuse. It is not the case legally, nor by perception. People are very clearly pledging concrete amounts of money, based on the tiers. If rewards were not the driving motivator, and people were donating out of the goodness of their heart, you'd see people pledging 50$ on a game that only has a 25$ and a 100$ reward tier. This clearly isn't the case - people would mostly be pledging either 25 or 100 in this example. If there were no rewards, the projects would obviously not have raised nearly as much.
It's a difficult conundrum. I don't have a good solution to it. One approach is to more strongly guarantee delivery - but that would ruin the appeal of crowdfunding to the very creative projects (where delivery really is uncertain). The other approach is to really make it a donation - remove the rewards from the purchasing decision ("Pledge however much you think it's worth, we will give you some rewards at the end"). This would drive the sales down significantly.
I backed the game in 2013. Since then, the game has perpetually been 1 year away from release. The whole thing was supposed to release in 2014 back then. People will say this is due to increased scope, but did you know the original pitch had 100 unique, detailed star systems in it? Now, we are crossing our fingers for at least one complete system in 3.0, which probably won't be the case (the landing areas, such as city districts, simply aren't ready).
Those who love the project always say "But they are making the best game ever, I'm happy to wait, if it means getting a better game." While I admire their patience, this could go on endlessly in theory. I've been waiting for 4 years, with no finished product in sight. Did you know 2014 was the release date for the whole 100 system online universe, a single-player campaign with 16 chapters and a set of modding tools, to fully support player driven content? The latter two being completely in the dark as of last year.
This 3.0 patch was announced in fall 2016. People were expecting the full game once more, so they needed to announce something substantial at that conference. It was announced for winter 2016. Today, it was released to a testing group of 1000 people, with a public release probably in a few months. As far as we can tell, the 3.0 release has some parts missing from the promised feature list shown a year ago. Those will likely come in 3.1 and 3.2, but the release dates of those? No one can make a guess. I'd not be surprised if those features came next winter, in 2018.
I have to give credit where credit is due. Some of the ships look and feel nice. The actual flight is fun and responsive in the right way. I think a full game is coming at some point, but my personal guess is that it's at least 4 more years away. I also think it will be much reduced in scope. If they finish 10 unique detailed landing zones (they planned water stormy cities, lush green cities, desert cities) by 2022, it will be a miracle.
My interest and patience has run out. I have gone through 4 release announcements by this point - I don't have the drive of some of these fans anymore. Now I'm simply like "meh, ok".
I think they eventually found a formula that works.
At least for me, the game fills a niche that no other game can fill. It blends RPG storytelling with arcade-like elements.
It was a lot of trial and error though. People probably don't remember this (since it never came to fruition), but GW2 was supposed to be a strong narrative roleplaying experience. It was pitched as a game about creating a meaningful story that is unique to you - a "build your own adventure" with the detail of a single player RPG game. That never happened.
I am also not sure where raids fit into all of this. They feel marginal to the whole experience. GW2 was always against "meta builds", dps meters and a LFG experience. Their argument always way "We don't want people with a specific class waiting for a group." The raids they implemented are an exact combination of what they said they'd never do. I think they could have been more creative in that space.
The game is amazing and I love it. But it's a result of many missteps, not some magical fairy developer with Midas' touch.