638 Words, One Opinion: Steam's Refund Policy

For my next trick, I will - in 638 words or so - flesh out the latest and pack on my own personal thoughts on it! Today's topic is something new to Steam users and devs submitting to it, and it's generating all sorts of reviews. To some, it's a wallet-saver that insures the most bang for one's buck. To others, it's the death of demos and even a potentially income loss for certain developers. What one thing could span across bought DLC, games of all types, and both the player and developer base as a whole?

That's right, folks - Steam's officially offering refunds. Here we go! Wordcount begins....now!

Sorry, Kairo. I love you and things, but...
Steam's refund policy allows people to return games for a large variety of reasons, whether it be computer compatibility issues, unexpected and unsolvable problems specific to a game, or simply from lack of enjoyment. The only restrictions on the service are that the game (or DLC) would have to have been used for under two hours and two weeks. So my copy of Kairo, whose static effects unfortunately made me nauseous enough to be unable to play, would be ineligible for refund due to me having gotten it in December, but my copy of Dark Echo, bought in the past two weeks, would be eligible if I decided that the freak-out factor just wasn't worth it.

For Customers: Unwanted games and DLC can be returned for a full refund under certain circumstances, so satisfaction is guaranteed! Right? 

Well, right, but that's where the circumstances kick in. Thankfully, they seem to make sense: Abuse is thoroughly accounted for by the approval systems (hopefully human?) so that customers don't make a dirty buck by refunding recently-bought games when they happen to go on sale. For that portion, I think that for customers, a good deal has been awarded.

Away from normal device due to the heat, so this'll do for the time being.
What does this mean for developers, though? Let's take this under some new terms. One of the most significant games in my experience has been Dear Esther. One playthrough took me just under two hours. Potentially, a customer could buy it, play through it, then get it refunded for some made-up reason. Same can go for games like Tengami, the beautiful and (in my browsings) unparalleled short game, which was created by an indie developer. Indie developers have been known to work with lower capital rates than larger companies, and when players can essentially play their games for free when buying via Steam, they risk income loss.

For Developers: For developers of short games, this refund policy can be a death spell. So much hard work put into a short and meaningful game may soon mean lowered profits from Steam! While it's hopefully not all about the money, so much hard work getting so little credit from a major consumer source will be difficult.

Okay, here goes - let's see what I personally think on all this. My complete low-down on this, while I have games that I'd like to get refunded since I can't play, I'm against game refunds. I feel that the games that would have been most vulnerable on my list are the ones that I have grown into absolutely loving. For instance, there's Kentucky Route Zero, which I didn't necessarily like due to its point-and-click mechanic, but after a few weeks I cashed in and got a 360 controller, which quickly moved Zero up the rankings. I don't use a lot of DLC, but the fact that the underlying title of the DLC must follow the 14 days/two hours rule just makes it especially difficult to comprehend the numbers of people 'renting' games to play with their friends and thriving off of refunds.

And what about really expensive games, one may ask? My thoughts are that for such a big game, people will be able to afford it that won't be as worried about a refund, people that can play and post videos or reviews before you buy. Unless buying on the day of release is a really big deal, a lot of the major, more expensive titles can be backed by player opinion very quickly after they're initially bought.

All in all, I feel that the new refund policy for Steam is going to hurt more than help, and I'm talking about both player experience and developer income. While refunds sound like a good idea to have in mind, and while I'd like to have them for certain reasons, I feel that the current, too-loose standards for sending a game back in may be a little bit too loose for the main reasons I mentioned above. This system could use a lot of refinery and redefinition of process.

What do you think? This is definitely open for discussion in the comments section below, or on Twitter by tagging me @SGMSoultamer. Thanks for reading!


  1. I can understand wanting a refund for computer incompatibilities, You can send them your Dx Diag file to prove it won't work, That way abuse chances are really lowered. I agree that having one for just not liking the game is wide open for abuse and will bite them in the end.

  2. I work in a bookshop. You can come into our store, buy a brand-new book, take it home, read it all, bring it back, ask for a full refund and you will get one. No questions asked. Technically you have to return it within 30 days so you have a month to finish it but in practice, providing you can bring it back in perfect condition, we'd still take it back for much longer than that. Even if you've lost the receipt and have no way to prove you bought it from us we'll let you swap it for something else of the same value.

    That's considered to be normal retail practice these days. Our customers expect it. I frequently use "if you don't like it after you've read a few chapters just bring it back" as a sales tool. I'd be very surprised if Steam didn't offer something similar. The days of "Buyer Beware" ended some time back in the late 1980s I think.

    1. Hey, Bhagpuss! Thanks for reading - I don't think I've seen your name pop up here before and I'm plenty honored that you've taken the time to comment. Secondly, I'd like to bring up the fact and sheer awesomeness of you working in a bookshop, which sounds like a dream come true, in my opinion. Have you experienced people taking advantage of that policy very often? I as well suppose that there's a difference between returning bought books and refunding bought games when it comes to the ethics portion, but your point still holds fast. I really appreciate you posting your perspective.

      Would a 'thanks, come again' be in order? :)


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