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Pathfinder dev Owlcat ditches advertising tracking solution after fan backlash

Owlcat said the fan reaction to the AppsFlyer update, which would have allowed it to collect data including IP addresses and OS details, surpassed its worst expectations.

Chris Kerr, News Editor

July 28, 2023

4 Min Read
A screenshot from Pathfinder showing a group of adventurers confronting a foe

Owlcat Games has quickly u-turned on its decision to introduce an advertising tracking solution called AppsFlyer into Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous due to a fan backlash that surpassed its "worst expectations."

As highlighted by PC Gamer, the studio rolled out an update earlier this week that included AppsFlyer–which it said is "used by marketers to improve ad campaigns–to help it better understand the impact of its advertising efforts.

Notably, the inclusion of AppsFlyer would require existing players to read and agree to an updated End User License Agreement (EULA) before playing.

In a lengthy Steam Q&A explaining what data AppsFlyer would collect, Owlcat explained players would essentially be agreeing to hand over IP addresses, timestamps detailing the date and time their game was launched, the OS version of the PC they're running, their platform of choice (i.e. Steam), and their game version and game ID.

The studio said that data would essentially be used to form a "fingerprint" that would be sent to the AppsFlyer server to be cross-referenced and matched with existing data provided by ad platforms and websites.

"Studios and publishers need to understand the impact of their advertising efforts," offered Owlcat, explaining why that process would be useful. "It helps improve advertisement strategies a lot, especially when they lack massive budgets to bombard everyone with their ads."

The response from players was blunt. Responding to that Q&A on Steam, some questioned why the use of AppsFyler was mandated instead of being opt-in, while others took the opportunity to tell Owlcat they'd no longer be purchasing the studio's products.

"Your game is uninstalled until you remove this. And there is zero chance I ever buy a game from you again until it is removed," said one Steam user. "This has just lost you a customer," chimed another.

Player reaction surpassed Owlcat's worst expectations

That reaction, according to an Owlcat community liaison posting on the Pathfinder subreddit, surpassed the studio's worst expectations and forced it to hold an emergency meeting to hash out a response.

Ultimately, Owlcat decided the best solution would be to completely remove AppsFlyer from Pathfinder via a hot-fix (which has since been rolled out).

"Tomorrow we will release a hot-fix without Appsflyer. Our community is much more important to us than a marketing campaign," wrote the studio on Steam. "We apologize for any inconvenience and ask you to wait for the hotfix. Thank you for the honest feedback, we appreciate it and will always listen to your suggestions."

Although some fans lauded the studio's quick response and transparency, others on the Pathfinder subreddit suggested the studio likely had a pre-prepared plan of action should the update ruffle feathers. Addressing that claim, Owlcat said that scrapping AppsFlyer was an "on-field decision" made by the relevant authorities. 

"Some of us were quite pessimistic about this so we were carefully monitoring social media, but the scale of outburst surpassed the worst expectations and it had to be reacted quickly upon," added Owlcat's community liaison.

As for why Owlcat decided to chance its arm when some inside the studio felt the addition of AppsFlyer might cause unrest, that same community liaison said the idea "looked decent on paper" but didn't work in practice due to a series of missteps.

"[The people implementing this] aren't out of touch, otherwise they wouldn't be able to react this quickly. It took less than an hour after the problem was brought to attention, to start preparing the shutdown," they wrote.

"It's more of an idea that looked decent on paper (effectively, it could become a good tool to vastly reduce waste of budget on ineffective content, which is crucial for a 2-year old game) but turned out ugly due to underestimation of reaction and an insufficiently clear explanation.

"Toss here some side factors such as unusual patch size due to the Unity engine upgrade ("26 GB of spyware?!!!") and a general distrust of hardcore PC gamers to these things that are traditionally more a part of mobile market, and this is what you get."

Owlcat said it has no plans to use AppsFlyer in other products including Rogue Trader or future Pathfinder updates.

About the Author(s)

Chris Kerr

News Editor, GameDeveloper.com

Game Developer news editor Chris Kerr is an award-winning journalist and reporter with over a decade of experience in the game industry. His byline has appeared in notable print and digital publications including Edge, Stuff, Wireframe, International Business Times, and PocketGamer.biz. Throughout his career, Chris has covered major industry events including GDC, PAX Australia, Gamescom, Paris Games Week, and Develop Brighton. He has featured on the judging panel at The Develop Star Awards on multiple occasions and appeared on BBC Radio 5 Live to discuss breaking news.

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