I'd been mulling this over for a few days now, trying to come up with the right way to address this, because as a concerned customer, in the FS community, recent events pertaining to a vendor has me throwing up my hands. I won't name names, as it wouldn't do any good and since most of the time, we only get half the story, but the truth is, how can we as customers be assured that what we purchase online, from a vendor, will maintain the integrity and high standards set by the vendor?
Allow me to explain: A recent customer of a well known FS content business had been desperate to receive communications from the vendor over an issue concerning an activation (stop me if you think you've heard this before). Supposedly, the customer claimed to have submitted a ticket to address the issue, only to be ignored. Further emails and ultimately, shaming the business on various FS community sites, proved less than fruitful but what it DID do, is raise awareness over EULA. The EULA, or End User License Agreement is anything but boilerplate. Every business has one, that sells content...heck, just about any business online who distributes license for digital products has one, and with that, they all vary in their liability for themselves, as well as the customer. Point #1, everyone should read through an EULA, because it is more than just legal mumbo jumbo, it contains certain protections for the vendor and the customer, so in case something goes wrong, arbitration can be expedited.
Long story short, that customer was dealt with, but only after choice words flew back and forth, worse than a political campaign. Throughout it all though, there were several other customers who came forward to back up the claims made by the customer, as well as customers who came to the defense of the vendor, but all in all, those who read everything who weren't involved, appeared to be either confused or downright settled on the fact that they wouldn't purchase any content from the vendor. It wasn't that long ago, that another big name vendor in the community came out with harsh and sweeping changes to the way they did business, and in turn, the public was upset. Most of that has died down now, and I think it's mainly to do with the market this vendor has cornered, knowing full well that upset customers would ultimately return. Again, the EULA was at the heart of the discussion, and while the sweeping majority of customers complained about fairness and value, the vendor ultimately won out.
I'd been using the term "voting with your wallet" as of late, and there is a lot of truth to that. We are a part of a niche market, but that also doesn't mean that we don't have choices. When a developer creates something and chooses to sell it, they too have choices, but it is the terms of sale that dictates who gets a bigger piece of the pie and whether customer's experiences will be an easy or difficult one. Take the previous case I mentioned, in that a product was purchased, but with a clear stipulation that there would be limited activations. Now I know things can happen on a computer, and usually at the most inconvenient time, which requires a reinstall of a product, so having extra activations are necessary, but to cap them at such a low amount and on top of that, if you exhaust them, you are required to jump through several hoops to get a reset, and that can take days. We all live in the "I want it and I want it now" world, and no one wants to have to wait for anything, so a lot of the anger vented by the irate customer stemmed from that fact, but some folks claimed to have waited several weeks, which in my opinion, there is a severe disconnect in communication.
The point to all of this, Point #2, is that customers, whether new or old, need to stay in the know when it comes to what is going on with the vendor. If the vendor is having staffing issues, or authentication server issues, or any issue that would hamper the proper and timely delivery of digital products to the consumer. I think this is a fair trade off, sicne the user must pay for everything up front and expects to get what they pay for, which brings me to Point #3, piracy.
This is the ringer that no one was fully aware of in the case I've been discussing. it appears that the piracy, widespread and somewhat out of control, has taken hold at this vendor's site, with many customers complaining about activation are really just pirates who are trying to get a free product. The sharing of codes, license keys, customer info is pretty bad right now. We all know that no one or no thing is truly secure from the likes of pirates...if they want something bad enough, they will get it. I looked into this further and found three separate forums whereby customers were complaining about the same exact thing. More in-depth research uncovered more truth and back and forth claims from the customer to the vendor about who legally owns the license, the terms of activations, who's been sharing information and who's been cut off from activation altogether. now I could easily side with the vendor, considering they have rock solid statements of knowing exactly who the offenders are, being able to trace IPs and/or requests for resets from different parts of the world. Bottom line: the vendor appears to have enough security in place to thwart any further piracy, but that still doesn't guarantee it'll cease completely.
Now, from my own standpoint, I have one product I purchased a license for, and had been bugged incessantly to upgrade for a nominal fee. After reading about all of this shady business going on, it did have an impact, in that negative attention had been brought forth, which could hurt the vendor. The other problem I see is that there are several great products this vendor sells, due to the developers agreement with the vendor for sales, but if the vendor cannot honor the claims they make in handling customer service, it could lead to lower sales, developers getting upset that their products aren't selling due to the negative attention and customers upset that they cannot get certain products anywhere else.
On the other side of the fence though, are a good deal of developers who sell their own products but don't have any security in place. A keycode or license key is sent via email and could easily be shared between many people, but is never followed up on or monitored. The developers choice is their own, but when you stop to think about it, there could be a lot of lost potential sales because of their simplified methods of distribution. More often than not, these simplified methods are embraced by small businesses who cannot afford to have a staff of c/s people to field emails about activations or they just plain don't want to overly complicate matters.
What COULD work though is an independent organization, designed to arbitrate disputes between customers and vendors to resolve issues that may arise, including piracy. I know it sounds like a monumental task, but considering that the FS community is large enough to drive some serious revenue around, preservation of digital rights as well as customers' wallets are equally important. It's just a wild thought, but after I read everything that was out there about the aforementioned case, it has me concerned, worried and angry that for a FS community, the exposure of seedy, dirty and shady dealings are tarnishing our beloved hobby and now has me thinking twice about purchasing anything for flight simulation now, because I may be selling my soul, or having to have a lawyer on retainer.