Wednesday, November 03, 2021
Pay before you play
There have been many complaints about various business model for games in which you get a game for "free", only to then be enticed to pay a lot of money for lootboxes, gacha characters, and the like. While this can be problematic, these games also have a positive side: If the game isn't any good to start with, you'll never spend any money on it. Genshin Impact makes people spend a lot of money *because* the free game is so good.
The other side of the medal is the classic buy to own, but increasingly there are business models in which you are asked to pay before the game is even ready. That could be on Kickstarter, where paying for something before it is ready *is* the business model; or it could be buying a game on Steam in "Early Access". And this business model can also go wrong for the customer.
The fundamental problem of pay before you play is that the seller is making all or most of the money very early in the process, and thus that is where his motivation is. Some people clearly put more effort in creating an attractive Kickstarter *campaign* than they later put into the actual project. Kickstarter projects are notoriously nearly always late. I just recently did a late pledge for The Isofarian Guard with some hope of getting the game in 2022, but the "estimated delivery date" on Kickstarter is December 2020.
On Steam, when I want to know whether a game is good and legit, I check mostly the "recent reviews" rather than "all reviews"; quite often you can see in the recent reviews that people complain that the game has been abandoned. A developer launches an early access game, and when the flow of money becomes less and less, they "release" a still rather unfinished version 1.0 and never work on it again.
So it is interesting to see that at least Kickstarter recognized the problem. They recently changed their rules on running multiple projects. You now need to have fulfilled at least 4 Kickstarter projects before you are allowed to run multiple Kickstarter campaigns, and even then there is a limit of how many (it's 3 for games). Before you can tap Kickstarter for money again, a content creator needs to fulfil his previous project(s). New creators can't simply create a second campaign if the money for completing the first project ran out.
On Steam there is no special protection against early access fraud. You do have the standard refund policy, but that requires that you didn't play the game for more than 2 hours, and bought it less than 2 weeks ago. Thus if you buy an early access game, find it unfinished, but wait for an update that never comes, you are probably out of luck with the refund.