Lately a number of games, especially F2P games, have started selling "Founder Packs". These packs give some goodies, but mainly give you access to the Alpha and Beta tests. Many people in the community see this as the game companies taking advantage of their players. However, I am generally okay with this practice. Here's my reasoning.
First, Founder Packs allow F2P games to sell time. Eventually they will open up the game for free. The Old Republic does something similar by giving subscribers early access to features. In my view, this is more or less the same as sales of regular games or hardcover books. A regular game is available for $60. In a couple of months, you might find it on sale for $40. In six months or more, it starts joining bundles and crazy Steam sales where you get for $10. Or consider books. A book is first released in hardcover for $40. A year or so later it comes out in paperback for $10. Or consider movies. You pay $15 to watch the movie in the theatre. If you wait 4 months, you can rent it for $5.
All these are roughly the same situation. The consumer chooses to pay to access the content earlier. If the consumer is willing to wait, she gets the content later, but cheaper. This is same thing for Founder Packs. If you wait three months, the content will be free.
Second, Founder Packs are strictly better than Pre-Orders. How many people have pre-ordered Warlords of Draenor? That isn't coming out for months. What's better: pay upfront and get immediate access to alpha or beta, or pay up front and not get any access at all?
Third, it's good for the game company. I think that Founder Packs give the company a more realistic idea of who is interested in the game. I'm drawn to the example of The Secret World, which had over a million people in the beta, but only 100,000 or so at launch. As well, the people who are willing to pay are your core audience, and it's better to get feedback from them rather than get feedback from people who just signed up for fun, and aren't planning to play at all.
Perhaps a thousand Founders who paid for Alpha access would have done more for The Secret World than the million who signed up for free.
Of course, this can go too far, in that the devs are listening to very small minority. But it's a small minority that's proven their willingness to pay. In an age where people expect everything to be free, this is not to be taken for granted.
Not to mention that the company gets a little bit of cash flow, which is always helpful for an industry that runs on the edge.
Fourth, wanting access to Alpha/Beta can be rational. A lot of people dismiss Alpha/Beta access as "paying for the privilege of testing". And there is some truth to that. But Alpha and Beta are also the times when the games can be changed. Once the game hits release, change becomes a lot slower. If you want influence in how the game develops, Alpha/Beta access is your best chance. You can test things out, and arguments drawn directly from in-game testing, which makes it more likely that the devs will listen to you. Without Alpha/Beta access, it's just armchair theorycrafting.
Ideally we expect to play these games for a long time. If you're considering spending the next three years in MMO X, paying for Alpha/Beta access so you push the game in your desired direction is a rational choice.
Ultimately, I think that most consumers are somewhat rational. If many of them are willing to pay for Alpha/Beta access, may as well let them. It's worth it to them. Those of us who are unwilling to pay can just wait for the game to be released.