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Indie Developer Quits Steam – 2 Hour Refund Policy – Good or Bad?

Steam 2-Hour Refund Rule

Should Steam gamers have the ability or right to get a refund if they play less than two hours of a recently purchased Steam game? That is the question du jour on many gamers’ minds and the answer is not as simple as “yes” or “no”. This is all thrown into light with the recent tweet from Emika Games regarding leaving the game development industry because nearly 70% of the sales of their recent game, Summer of ’58, have gotten refunds because it can be beat in under 2 hours. More on that below.

2 Hour Or Not 2 Hour? That Is The Question!

First off, it should be noted that Steam currently offers full refunds for all its games if you a) have played under 2 hours of tracked game time, and b) the game is less than two weeks old. This is a no-questions asked refund with a very bright line (either you are over or under – no grey areas).

The first question we have to ask is, is two hours a fair cut-off for refunds? Secondly, should this apply to ALL games, from the biggest budget AAA games down to the smallest indie games? The biggest issue at the moment is that all games appear to be treated equally. Playing under 2 hours of a AAA title like Resident Evil, for example, is not the same as playing and finishing a small indie game like Summer of ’58.

As stated, Summer of ’58 can be completed in under two hours – 90 minutes if you go quickly. The game, while quite short, did manage to get a 90 rating on Steam/Metacritic and deservedly so, as it is very good. Also, and this is a key point, the game is priced appropriately. It is priced as a short, enjoyable indie game and is currently $7.92 CAD or about $6-ish USD. This is a very fair price.

So, should the time to refund be the same for both a 2-hour game and a 20-hour+ game? I don’t think so. For short games, they should reduce the time to refund to, say, 1 hour or so.

Another question is whether or not the developer, knowing Steam’s rules, should have considerd the possibility that this might happen (as the Steam policy has been out for quite some time) and subsequently should have made the game longer to avoid the policy. We don’t want developers focusing on padding their game vs. delivering the best possible experience, do we?

I think the Developer probably knew, or at least expected, a number of people to refund the game (human nature being what it is) however, they probably didn’t predict a 70% return rate. That so many people would take advantage of a loophole is, no doubt, quite surprising, especially as the gaming community continually speaks about fairness in the gaming industry (take a look at what is happening at Blizzard for just one example). Ideally, gamers shouldn’t be complaining about “unfair and unsafe work practices” in the games industry (see aforementioned Blizzard), while simultaneously requesting a full refund for a game they have FULLY COMPLETED and presumably enjoyed.

This smacks of serious hypocrisy. Luckily, not all gamers are like that and in fact a great number of gamers have purchased the game (even those who don’t intend to play it!) to show solidarity and appreciation to Emika Games. Turns out there are a lot, and I mean a lot, of honourable gamers out there and actions like this reflect well on our community. It’s sad that it seems to be so binary (good gamers/bad gamers) but it looks like the good guys are going to win in the end this time.

Steam Refund Abuse

In regards to making the game longer to avoid refunds, I think this is a slippery slope at best and is a bad idea overall. Simply put, if you have a fixed cut-off like what exists now, developers will be incentivized to pad their games with fluff. Games should be made entertaining and enjoyable – any action that takes away from that should be excised. Gamers are smart people, and if they feel that they are being asked to do pointless quests or ridiculous things to increase time in-game, they’ll catch on quick. And the world will know via reviews, social media, and word of mouth.

All-in-all, I think Steam has to seriously reconsider their refund policy. Perhaps they could attach it to game specific achievements? Once you hit achievement “X”, you are no longer eligible for a refund? Alternatively, they could put in a weighted system where large games have the 2-hour limit but smaller, budget, indie games go to the halfway point or even reduce it down to 1 hour? There are a lot of options to reduce Steam refund abuse, I hope Steam chooses one, and chooses wisely!

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