The entry point to this topic is a seemingly-innocent one: "How do pre-sales and ICOs work?".
First, you're given a special opportunity as an early adopter. Second, it's time-limited and quantity-limited; there are only so many coins available at this price. The pressure builds. Last, you pay with something of value. Often this is fiat money (with all the caveats as to how much is fiat money *actually* worth -- the devs think that it has value). Sometimes you pay with a different cryptocurrency, which has *established* value.
You are transferring your money into the wallets of others, in exchange for something that has no established value. You assume the risk; they get the crypto or the cash. To be fair, they are taking on the responsibility of implementing the product. Is this an acceptable risk? Only if you trust the project developers.
Despite the fact that crypto is a ordinarily a trustless exchange, there's a substantial amount of trust in this case. You are trusting that the devs will stick around to ensure the project succeeds. The devs are trusting that their plans will work out. Both of you are trusting that the coin will rise in value. When I am asked to give, I like to be assured of the character of the people involved. Are they worthy of my trust?
How you approach these offerings depends on your risk appetite, and I have realized why I'm not gung-ho for pre-sales or ICOs. I'm being asked to give to and trust in something that hasn't demonstrated it's worthy of my trust. Even worse are the strings. Getting in on the ground floor often involves doing free PR work and recruiting others like I had joined a multi-level marketing (MLM) company.
If you look through the MLM lens at the promoters of various coins and games and NFTs, you start to wonder if everyone is doing this just for financial reward. However, even if they were, why the frantic pace? Why are they creating so much content that is just one barely-disguised ad after another? Why the fervor?
In new coin Telegram channels, I've seen people pushing out GIFs every day like they were in some kind of fake worship experience, trying to will the crypto price higher through their digital tithes. If the price rose, all was well. If the price fell, they mourned that their god had failed them, or suspected that they had not bought enough, memed enough, or recruited enough.
That lays bare the difference between authentic faith (or religion if you will) and a cult. In a cult, how well the god or gods are pleased with you depends on your personal effort. You end up thinking you can control the gods by what you do, and because they are always distant and unknown, you're forever insecure. Have you done enough for the project today? How much is enough, anyways?
So, crypto is not religion, but some aspects of it can be cultic. Cults thrive on control, either physical or emotional/spiritual; control breeds demands for obedience, in this case, crypto fervor. But how does this all happen? People get swayed by FOMO, peer pressure, or trust other people who are in the same boat, and before they know it, they are in the game with too much to lose. They are hemmed in by their investment, their friends/social group, and the desire to join the crypto success club. Result: crypto fervor.
Avoiding situations where you are likely to make bad decisions and then justify the original decision are a whole different article, but let's just close with this -- if you find yourself required to act like a cultist in order to participate in a crypto project, run as fast as you can the other way.
For another look at this phenomenon from a slightly different perspective, see this great article from fellow PublishOxer, Maximillian.
(Picture from a Vermont Country Store catalog with some graphic and font magic).