Those readers who use Steam (so… nearly everyone) are likely aware of Steam’s policy on refunds. Namely, that they don’t give them. Steam updated that policy this week, however, and it is… considerably broader.
Pulling a very random (and unprompted) u-turn, Valve has announced that they will now give refunds “for any reason.” There are stipulations to this, of course, but they are not particularly stringent ones: Refunds are automatically given to anyone who requests one within 14 days, and provided the individual has not put more than two hours into a game. If neither of these requirements are fulfilled (i.e. someone has had a game for longer than two weeks), then Valve will evaluate the refund on a case-by-case basis. The page explaining this does not detail how these cases will be evaluated.
Downloadable Content works on a similar rule, provided the DLC is not used up when it is purchased (e.g. extra lives), has not been owned for more than 14 days, and the game it applies to has not had more than two hours put into it since downloading the DLC. Valve cannot guarantee refunds for third-party DLC, rather understandably.
Pre-orders and adding funds to a Steam Wallet can also be refunded – pre-orders can be canceled at any time before release, and can be refunded after release provided it has not been 14 days since release, and that two hours have not been put into the game. For Steam Wallet refunds, it is the rather simple policy of “If none of it has been spent, you can have it back.”
If any of this has made readers angry, or at the very least confused, don’t worry, we’re with you. For a majority of AAA games, this new refund policy is simply a great consumer tool. For our lovely Indies though, it’s a bit of a slap to the face. Plenty of Indie games are shorter than two hours, and though Valve claims they have an anti-abuse system in place, it will inevitably cause a loss in sales, since even a small percentage of people playing a short game and then getting an automatic refund will cause a noticeable drop in profits to developers for whom every sale matters. Not surprisingly, some devs immediately reacted to the situation, including Black Ice developer Garrett Cooper.
The problem with Valve’s new refund system is not that it makes things better for consumers (because it clearly does, and as a consumer, that’s good). The problem is that their refund policy has gone from zero tolerance to overtolerance, and it represents a serious problem for anyone whose game can be completed in under two hours. Relying on The Honor System is simply something that doesn’t work out when it comes to relationships between businesses and consumers. Plus, Valve isn’t exactly the best at customer service.
Disagree? Think Valve will have enough control to make this work? Any other thoughts? Let us know in the comments.