As of today, online storefront Steam will issue refunds for most reasons on nearly all games that meet their requirements. Part of that is great for consumers, but it’s also a fine line to balance. In particular, the prerequisite of a two week period beyond purchase and fewer than two hours played could be a real threat to small games. To weigh in, we made a quick gameplay commentary below for The Yawhg, exactly one of these short bursts, to fully illustrate the dangers some developers are facing under the current refund policy.
Essentially, abuse is inevitable, certainly given the size of Steam and its history with any feature in its infancy. It’s going to happen soon, if it hasn’t already started. Creators of games that usually run under two hours now face a tough choice to bother with putting their game on Steam, since anyone can be done and throw back the game for no charge, leaving the developer without financial support. Short games will slowly start starving on the already fiercely competitive storefront.
Naturally, the full description stipulates it will monitor transactions to prevent from generating a free games carousel, but the problem is that this won’t ever be an absolute remedy for any one particular game. Only ever small portions of scammers will not be able to refund a short title, but given how many users there are on Steam, a fresh batch of people with no prior refund claims will always come through and be able to game the system. This rotation will sizably affect how much a small developer can earn, making it harder to become commercially viable. Additionally, arcade games and similar titles that are built on replay value will face these problems.
On smaller scales, neighboring policies from stores like GOG and Origin are more doable than the behemoth that is Steam, which is likely why the concern is only now popping up. Both can still work on a more human method to ensure scammers don’t come through as much. Additionally, both have a considerable amount less small games that can be quickly flipped. There are just less factors all around, though both also concentrate more on goods not being functional, rather than the Wild West of allowing any reason. For better or worse, the greater success of Steam comes with greater responsibilities. That’s why the instance of Google Play’s policy might be closer to the solution. Particularly relevant to the volatility of its smaller games, Google’s storefront only clocks in two hours after purchase to make a decision, not the long weighing period that is two weeks.
With a much smaller window, Steam’s refund policy could actually benefit users as well, without hurting the people who provide games in the first place. Since there’s more immediacy, consumers are more likely to actually check out their purchase, instead of letting it rot somewhere. With the lesser likelihood of eventually throwing the game back, users will now feel more obligated to go back to a game as well, since they might as well have returned it otherwise. Basically, users would value and appreciate their games more and developers wouldn’t get screwed. We think it’s an elegant solution, where the only problem is the backlash that store owner Valve would get for initially making its policy so open and lengthy. The reduction would feel like a loss, while it’s actually a win on both fronts. The alternative is that consumers win at the detriment of their providers and when something like that occurs, users will eventually fall back down as well, since they’ll receive less games.
Again, Steam’s refund policy has good inside of it. Let that not be misunderstood. As with all new Steam features, however, it might be a lot better with a little work and feedback. Please watch the gameplay commentary for more information.
Feel free to leave thoughts, positive and negative, about Steam’s refund policy in the comment section.