Long-winded rant about the "evils" of capitalism or "Why Some People Need a Wahmbulance"
In any transaction, two entities have stuff the other wants. Typically, one is a consumer who has money while the other is a company which has a product. If we're eschewing setting strict pricing controls on non-life-dependent goods, which I'll assume for this discussion we are, the person with the product will naturally do what they can to make its purchase more valuable to the person with the money so the company can in turn extract as much cash as possible in the transaction. That involves making sure the product is worth buying in the first place, creating good word of mouth, sharing its merits with potential customers, and adding value in any given way that will not inhibit profit for the company (this also includes opportunity costs as return on investment drops over time).
The consumer tries to determine the value they'll derive out of the product, both intrinsic and extrinsic, and will decide whether it's worth the current price based upon their own decision model. That model will include considerations such as history with similar products, knowledge of any current competitive products, and their own opportunity costs (could the money be better spent, elsewhere). This way they'll be better informed on the expected end result of such purchases.
If the perceived value is less than the price, the consumer doesn't buy. If the consumer doesn't buy, the company will naturally act to change the perceived value by usually either lowering the price or improving the product (if able) until it's no longer advantageous for them to do so. When it hits that moment in its life cycle, they offload inventory at the best potential price point and move on to making a different product.
That's business, in any market. Food, video games, housing, whatever. There's nothing evil about that, just two competing paradigms (consumers looking for the best value, companies looking for the best profit) finding equilibrium.
The "whale" phenomena present in SOME FTP game companies exists outside of this general model, as the company does not target the general consumer and instead specifically targets people who have impulse control issues. These individuals do not have functional decision models. This allows the company to heighten their products perceived value for these specific consumers to levels which can financially cripple them, and yet they feel compelled to purchase regardless. It's almost like having a wet bar at an AA meeting. Sure, everyone ostensibly has a choice ...
I personally think the easiest way to see the difference between the whale- and non-whale- dependent game companies is to look at the spending cap, but even that gets tricky. For instance, Kickstarters may have a "$1000 for blah, blah, blah" level. That's a pretty freaking huge spending cap, and could certainly financially cripple many consumers. So why is that not automatically an example of being a whale-dependent gaming company? It's because they normally haven't established the compulsive need in the at-risk consumer yet, which is what initiates that "whale cycle" within their maladaptive decision models.
Additionally, someone may perceive an unusual extrinsic value in wanting to see a game get made. Maybe they're friends with the developers, maybe it's the revival of a game they used to play with a family member who has passed away, maybe they have extra money and see an opportunity to improve their own sense of worth by fostering a better, more fertile environment for the art of game-making. The environment of Kickstarters lends itself well to those scenarios. Now to be sure, there may well be some person who just feels like they have to spend as much money as they can for whatever game comes up on their screen, but this model doesn't specifically target that person.
You may have noticed that a certain not-gonna-name-it-but-we-all-know-what-I'm-talking-about space game became infamous with its tiers, and felt some concern about that. Their approach is paired with a hyper-marketing system designed to emulate that predatory model, and it likely succeeds in triggering the "whale cycle" in many. That's not what Stardock has been doing.
When I see Stardock offer a Founders Program for $100, I see nothing nefarious whatsoever. It allows people to participate in the process of honing the game if they find extra value in doing that. If there is value in this, it makes sense for Stardock to charge for it as a product distinct from the retail game as it only appeals to a subset of their consumer base and not specifically any at-risk group who can't help themselves. It's somewhere between $40-$70 (I don't know the cost of the 2017 version of Star Control, but I'm guessing somewhere from $30 to $60). That's not some super crippling amount.
Rather, I think it's a great idea and I wish I had a spare $100 to drop on it. I'd probably name a planet after my son, if I could. That's so much more fun than the "Star Registry" thing, imho.