Sales on founder packs usually raise an eyebrow; this time SOE is in the spotlight.
Sony Online Entertainment launched a 48-hour Steam sale on their Landmark Founder's Packs yesterday. According to the official forums (as well as reddit and Twitter), this sale left a bitter taste in some people's mouths.
When it comes to controversial topics such as this (especially as an active member in SOE's gaming community), I try to be fair and see it from both sides of the coin. Sometimes we need to take a deep breath and put down the pitchfork for a moment, while other times we are completely justified in feeling wronged and slighted. Unfortunately, this sale seems to fall in a grey area no matter how I look at it.
As a Pre-Alpha Founder, I Don't Feel Wronged
I had purchased a Trailblazer pack back in early December, which means that yes, I forked over $100 to SOE. Nearly eight months has passed since then, and I still stand by my purchase.
I may not be as in love with the game as I had hoped, but I know that my money went toward much-needed development, which is far from a cheap stage for a game. SOE was able to pay a huge team of employees who are not only working on Landmark but, at the same time, many of those Landmark basics also translate into development on EverQuest Next.
On the flipside, I have also taken advantage of founder pack/early access Steam sales for other games. The Mighty Quest For Epic Loot had their Steam packs on sale several times during closed beta. Prison Architect, still in its alpha phase, also regularly puts its game up for sale on Steam. That's just two examples, and I'm sure with digging I can find plenty of others. These were games I was interested in, but not at the sticker price, and those sales were what made me bite at them.
Recent Founders, However...
If anyone should feel wronged, it should be those who invested recently in Landmark. I realize that "recently" is subjective dependent upon who you're talking to but, in my own mind, I think about 3-4 weeks tops qualifies as recent.
Subjectiveness aside, I can completely empathize with recent purchasers who feel that their investment may have been diminished. If you decided to bite on a Settler pack for $30 and then see people get it for around $7 a short time later, it may be a turnoff. We all want the best deal out there and if you hadn't seen Steam sales on early access packs before, it's something that can definitely be a shocker.
To Make Matters Worse...
SOE didn't help matters at all by not handing out Steam keys to previous founders. When Landmark first hit Steam, founders asked and were simply told that they could add it as an external game to launch it through the Steam library. However, with this sale, purchasers of Settler packs were able to upgrade to Explorer or Trailblazer packs at a discount, but only if you had purchased the Settler pack through Steam, not from SOE.
As you can imagine, this didn't go over too well with some people, and could have been prevented had SOE generated Steam codes to mail out to existing purchasers from the onset. While this is likely a time-consuming task, it would have been a positive step in acknowledging early founders.
Whose Idea Was it Anyway?
Part of the equation is that we don't know whether or not SOE is directly the one who initiated this sale. Consider that Valve may require some sort of contract for people listing games on Steam, subjugating them to occasional sales. We'll probably never know if this was the case, as something like this would be privy to their marketing department.
It's also feasible that SOE wanted Landmark to get a bump in new players leading up to this year's SOE Live. With less than three weeks remaining until that event kicks off, it seems like one heck of a coincidence, does it not?
It also could have simply been what SOE perceived as good-will toward potential players. You create games with the intent of having people play them, and what better way to get someone on the fence in your game than a sale?
One thing I'm absolutely certain of is that no one sat down at a meeting and said, "Hey, you know what would be a terrific way to piss off all those people who bought Landmark Founder's Packs?"
So... Right or Wrong?
Landmark is a free-to-play game and, if you wait for the open beta or final release, you never have to pay a penny. Obviously those of us who purchased a Founder's Pack from even prior to alpha testing felt that we had a good reason to invest in the game, and those of us who chose to keep that pack and not bite on the 100% refund during alpha felt that our money had been well-spent.
Determining whether it was right or wrong is going to depend on your perspective. I have seen some of my own friends and colleagues upset or nay-saying this sale. When you look at Steam early access sales on a grander scope, though, it's impossible not to recognize that these types of sales happen. A savvy Steam user would typically wait for a sale to hit before purchasing, especially if they felt that the current price was not something they think the game is worth.
I know some readers as well as some of my friends will disagree with me on this, but really, that's what it boils down to: what you believe the game is worth. Purchasing early access for a game in development not only has its risks (what if the game is never completed? what if I end up not caring about it before it's "finished"?), but also has its rewards (early access, bonus items, in-game benefits, being able to provide valuable feedback prior to a release).
I'm sure either way, SOE would appreciate if everyone would stop sharpening their pitchforks every time someone in their office sneezed.
That's my 2cp, but I'd love to hear yours! Let me know what you think in the comments or on Twitter!
Ann "Cyliena" Hosler, Managing Editor