Spidey, I don't think you understand what a Ponzi Scheme is.
I'm quite aware what a Ponzi scheme is. You're welcome to think otherwise but the idea of paying people for bringing in more people is decidedly Ponzi'ish. Yes, I'm quite aware that there are certain differences, particularly since we're not actually talking about an investment scheme here, but the key part is that whole "customers making money from making other people pay for the product" thing. I could've called it a pyramid scheme instead, and it would arguably have been more correct, but Ponzi is the more known word and the difference isn't too relevant to the point I wanted to get across. Regardless of the name, it's a marketing cancer that really needs to die.
Call me a radical ideologist, but products should be sold on their merits and not by making up fancy schemes that serve exclusively to remove focus from product qualities. And let me be blunt, I ****ing hate those rotten piece of turd anal cavities who engage in these schemes. It's one thing for a regular customer to not see the issue here, but trained professionals should have higher standards. They know the difference between product qualities and quality obfuscation through an appeal to making money, and if they're engaging in these stunts anyway then it's because they don't care. That lack of care annoys me. It's like the industrialist who knows he's hurting the environment by dumping toxic sludge into a nearby river but does it anyway, because hey, more $$$ and who gives a frack about the damn fish anyway? Smaller scale, same mentality.
I have to wonder what you think about giving the game away to select individuals who then try and sell others on the merits of the game which is exactly what is being discussed by giving the game to certain youtubers.
The talk is about giving game reviewers a free copy to review. They're getting it in a professional capacity, in the hope that they'll do their job, and they're getting a free copy exclusively because their job involves reviewing games. That's a perfectly reasonable marketing effort.
The reviewers are under no obligation to actually convince people to buy the game, they're simply getting a free copy so they can tell people what they think. Some times they're positive, some times they're not, and Matrix can't do much to control that, can they? So trying to pass that off as something that is remotely connected to a referral arrangement where customers are in fact earning money on recruiting new customers is a bit silly, isn't it?
As an aside, just because something is on Steam does not mean it needs to be cheap.
You're quite right that games on Steam don't absolutely have to be cheap, but how many niche 2D games have you seen sell at $70 or whatever they're going to price Universe? You're comparing that with various other titles that have way more name, production and / or community value. Yes, Civ 5 and Skyrim can sell at 50-60 bucks. They're freaking Civ 5 and Skyrim, for crying out loud. Now imagine DW:U being even more expensive than that. How many people will spend sixty bucks buying DW when the super well-known triple-A title Civ 5 is available right next to it at a lower price?
You mentioned Wasteland 2. Have you checked the names associated with that title? Avellone? Fargo? They've been involved with two of the best RPGs in the entire history of computer gaming and RPG-fans damn well know as much. That's some major star-power that Code Force Elliot simply doesn't have. South Park? That's a damn well known brand that's even getting some added PR from the censorship rubbish in the EU version. DW:U doesn't have that brand value at all. It's probably a better game, pound for pound, just like Gossow is pound for pound a better vocalist than Hetfield, but which one of those two has more pull?
Then there's DayZ at 30 bucks for early access, which is benefitting big time from being the next popular thing in survival horror zombie multiplayer rubbish, which in turn happened because it started out as a popular mod for ARMA 2, all in all placing DayZ in a more popular genre with more name power than DW:U. Finally you mentioned Dark Souls 2 at $50. A brand spanking new action-RPG released in 2014 that's getting tons of acclaim. And it's cheaper than a gold version of a four year old 2D indie game with increased mod support. How do you see that comparison working out well for DW?
The problem with Steam, among a few other things, is that you're getting so many alternatives for comparison all the time. Many games drown and games with high prices stand out. I bought DW + expansions during the recent sale at ~70 dollars and given the amount of entertainment provided, it wasn't expensive at all in terms of cost per hour, but the price tag in itself looks intimidating as hell. When you've got a ton of alternatives at a much lower cost, all of which have more name power or more community pull, that price tag becomes a problem. At 70+ dollars, DW:U is going to be the overpriced item that makes the other items in the Steam store look fairly priced.