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 / no”. This is all thrown into light with the recent tweet from Emika Games re: leaving the game development industry because nearly 70% of their recent game, “Summer of ’58”, have gotten refunds for the game 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 by Emika Games.

As you can probably surmise, 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 – it is currently $7.92 CAD or about $6 USD ish. 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 think it should not be. 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 a) expected this to happen (the Steam policy has been out for quite some time) and b) whether he / she / they 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?

In terms of the first question, I think the Developer probably knew, or should have at least expected, a number of people to refund the game (human nature is what it is) however they probably couldn’t have predicted 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 / rails about fairness in the gaming industry (take a look at what is happening at Blizzard for just one example). Gamers shouldn’t be complaining about “unfair and unsafe work practices” at Blizzard, for example, while simultaneously requesting a full refund for a game they have FULLY COMPLETED.

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 some 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 industry. It is 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.

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 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 they are being asked to do pointless quests or ridiculous things to increase time in game, they will know. And they will tell the world via Reviews, social media, and more that they don’t like it.

All in all I think Steam has to seriously reconsider their policy re: refunds. 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 perhaps reduce it down to 1 hours? There are a lot of options to reduce Steam refund abuse, I hope Steam chooses one, and chooses wisely!

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