Fan outcry pushes Pathfinder dev to delete new data-sucking tool and all its info one day after introducing it: 'The scale of the outburst surpassed worst expectations'

Demonic concept art
(Image credit: Owlcat Games)

Owlcat Games has yanked a controversial new player-tracking tool from Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous just a day after introducing it. On Monday, July 24, Owlcat introduced update 2.1.5m, a hefty patch to the game that—amidst all the bugfixes and tweaks you'd expect from this kind of thing—introduced AppsFlyer, described by Owlcat as "an industry standard tracking solution" that "allows developers and publishers to understand which part of players have purchased the game due to the impact of their advertising campaigns".

An analytics tool, basically. Owlcat explained in a Q&A on the Steam forums for Wrath of the Righteous that AppsFlyer works by sucking up your IP address, timestamp (when you launched the game), platform, the version of the game you're running, and your OS. It uses that data to create a fingerprint that it then matches against data provided by advertisers, giving Owlcat a rough idea of how many people bought the game after seeing an ad for it online.

Players were less than thrilled. Not only had AppsFlyer not been present in their versions of Wrath of the Righteous since that game's September 2021 release date, its new hunger for data necessitated an update to the EULA. Players who refused to accept the updated EULA were unable to play the game, effectively removing their access to a product they could have feasibly owned (inasmuch as we own anything in our digital libraries) for nearly two years at this point if they didn't want AppsFlyer grabbing their data. 

I was unclear as to why Owlcat waited so long after release to introduce a tool like AppsFlyer, so I reached out to ask. Unfortunately, I didn't get much of an answer to my question, but the company did offer the following comment: "First and foremost, we made a mistake and apologize to the community. Our rationale was to further Wrath of the Righteous' success by utilizing a user acquisition measurement tool to measure the effectiveness of new ad campaigns. Our implementation of this tracking solution was short-sighted, and when we saw the community response, we easily made the decision to remove it.

"Our players are the most important thing to us, and we don't want to do anything to break their trust. It was a misstep, and we will not implement any tracking solution into future Wrath of the Righteous updates or our upcoming titles."

The outcry after the tool's introduction was immediate: Wrath of the Righteous gathered almost 200 negative reviews on Steam on July 24 and 25, sending its "Recent Reviews" score down to Mixed, while a petition on the game's subreddit—calling for Owlcat to remove AppsFlyer—has attracted 3.6K votes at time of writing, with around 3.2K of them calling for the software to either be made opt-in or removed entirely.

That rather took Owlcat by surprise, apparently. According to one of the studio's company liaisons on Reddit, the pushback prompted an "emergency meeting soon after the [community management] team sounded the alarm," at which point the company made "an on-field decision to take everything down". "Some of us were quite pessimistic about this," said the liaison, "... but the scale of [the] outburst surpassed the worst expectations, and it had to be reacted quickly upon."

AppsFlyer has been removed from the game as of July 25's 2.1.5n update, just one day after the patch that put it in, and Owlcat says it has deleted "all collected data" from "those who have already accepted the new EULA" in the time between the two patches. The EULA has likewise been restored to its pre-AppsFlyer version, although players will have to re-accept it, since reverting a EULA still counts as changing it according to the arcane legal rules that govern all our lives now. "Our community is much more important to us than a marketing campaign," read an update from the devs.

Maybe I'm soft—or too inured to companies introducing tech like this and not caring about the fan response—but I have to give credit to Owlcat for responding to the negative pushback this quickly, even if I'd rather it had never tried to introduce AppsFlyer at all. According to that same Reddit liaison, "it took less than an hour" after the devs became aware of fans' vitriolic response for the removal patch to begin prep. What's more, the liaison says "all plans for usage of this software have been shut down, and it is not coming to Rogue Trader or any Pathfinder updates in any way or form." If only it was this easy every time a game introduced some new way to track us across the internet.

Joshua Wolens
News Writer

One of Josh's first memories is of playing Quake 2 on the family computer when he was much too young to be doing that, and he's been irreparably game-brained ever since. His writing has been featured in Vice, Fanbyte, and the Financial Times. He'll play pretty much anything, and has written far too much on everything from visual novels to Assassin's Creed. His most profound loves are for CRPGs, immersive sims, and any game whose ambition outstrips its budget. He thinks you're all far too mean about Deus Ex: Invisible War.