Money For
Nothing
14-06-15
Posted by Ben at 15:47

For most of us the news that Steam had changed their refund policy from "no" to "yes" is welcome news. Granted living in the EU as we do, until a combination of the Conservatives, UKIP, and the Daily Mail ruin it for all of us, we should in theory have had some protection anyway. Anyone who's ever tried getting a refund from Steam will tell you that despite that, it was like pulling teeth. So it was a pleasant surprise that Valve have provided a fairly no-quibble policy, although not everyone is pleased.

Essentially Steam's refund policy is this; if you bought a game and want a refund within 2 weeks, so long as you've played it for less than 2 hours, you're almost certainly going to get it. In fact even if you don't meet those requirements you can still ask and Valve will have a look at it. If you're a developer that isn't quite such good news. It's one thing for the likes of Activision, Warner Brothers, or Ubisoft who will sell tens of thousands of games on Steam, it's another for smaller developers who might just sell tens. That's not to say they should get a free pass, only that you can see why just handing the money back no matter the reason might feel a little unjust.

There's also the issue of game length. An increasing number of games on Steam that could be completed in the 2 hour refund window, theoretically turning Steam in to a deposit down gaming library. It's a concern shared by a number of developers including David Szymanski. It's worth noting at this point that Valve have stated that if they think you're gaming the system then they will stop giving you refunds.

Again another important point of clarification, the developers in the Twitter reactions don't seem to be against refunds in principle, no doubt they're also customers and gamers themselves,only the way it's been implemented. One suggestion was to cut the gameplay time allowed to 15 minutes. While I sympathise, 15 minutes is far too short a window. I've talked before about my issues with Rage, a game I really enjoyed, but had huge troubles getting to run. Starting the game, struggling with it, editing ini files, booting it again to test it. I quite quickly got to 2 hours before I'd got close to getting it running correctly.

As another example, think of your typical AAA game. From the moment you boot the game how long does it take to actually start the game properly. You've got the developer logo, probably a couple of them, the publisher logo, the video codec logo, Speedtree, then the start screen, then the menu screen. Great, now you've got a load, then a cut scene. Now you're in to the game, but it's the tutorial so it's hard to judge, and after that you've got another cutscene and a load. Now you're in to the game and you've been playing 30 minutes. You need time with the game.

That's not to say there isn't issues with the system. put it to the test by purchasing the soundtrack to The Moon Sliver, then simply requesting a refund. Soundtracks from Steam are drm free, so he made a copy and requested, and was given a refund. This is where the warning that Valve give regarding abusing the system should come in, but how many times could you get away with before Valve call foul.

Again the counter for this is that, would you really go to that trouble for a soundtrack you could just Google and find. Same with the games, why risk the wrath of Valve on your Steam account when you could just search the net for a pirate version of the game. I'd also argue that we're at the point where people kind of know what they're getting on Steam. Dear Esther might have been in trouble, as might Gone Home, but now 'walking simulators' are a known concept, same with visual novels and any number of indie genres. They cater to a subset of gamers, the kind who probably don't begrudge handing over money for an experience, and aren't likely to claim an unjust refund.

Of course that's all speculation, and it seems that the refund system might have had the unexpected result of encouraging sales now there's less risk. And I'm not about to start lecturing developers, I've never made a game but I do know from experience that customers are arseholes. It also seems to be the case that there's a huge surge of people taking Valve up on their offer of refunds. Hopefully this is something that will die down, and judging from forum chatter there's a lot of people claiming legacy refunds

Still, I do think it's right that Valve have addressed this, and I'm pleased it's erred more to the consumer side than not, hopefully that sets a precedent.
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