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Some developers hit hard by new Steam Refunds policy

by Mark Tyson on 9 June 2015, 14:46

Tags: Valve

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Game industry reports are coming in concerning the impact of the recently introduced Steam Refunds policy. MCVUK has compiled quotes from a number of sources, some of which in turn report refund rates of over 50 per cent since the change in Steam policy. One possible implication, if the indie developers continue to suffer, is that they will have to implement some form of DRM so that refunded games cannot simply continue to be played by the purchaser.

Refunds for any reason

Valve's Steam Refunds policy arrived without fanfare just a week ago. A client update around the time provided the facility to process refunds for "nearly any purchase on Steam – for any reason". Basically Steam users were given a 14 day period in which to apply for refunds. Games which the user wanted to get refunds for must not have been played for more than two hours. Some in game items and power ups were excluded from the policy for obvious reasons.

While welcoming the introduction of the refunds policy, HEXUS readers flagged a serious potential issue straight away in our forums. Developers of short games, even if these games are priced appropriately, could suffer from penny pinching Steam users finishing a game and then asking for a refund. Though Valve promised to monitor user attempts at policy abuse it's a definite sticky area.

Case studies

One small games developer has seen its brief but reasonably priced game (with a 'very positive' review rating from the community) suffer from an incredible 72 per cent refund rate in Steam. Beyond Gravity sold 18 copies in the last three days but 13 of them have been refunded so far. This well regarded platform game is priced at £1.59 in the UK and can be completed in around an hour. Purchasers can thus complete the whole game and then get a refund, thanks to Steam Refunds.

Further similar examples include Revenge of the Titans suffering from a 55 per cent refund rate, RPG Tycoon refunds have hit 30 per cent and Octodad has been hit by 30 per cent refunds too.

The Octodad developer, Kevin Geisler, welcomes the introduction of the Steam Refunds policy but notes that people have successfully applied to get refunds for games bought as long as five months previously. Apparently the current Steam Refunds process presents purchasers with a list including games bought within the last six months.

As mentioned in the introduction, some independents are worried that their hands might be forced towards implementing some kind of DRM in their software. They are faced with such a high number of returns and the uncertainty that the purchaser has or has not done the right thing and deleted the refunded DRM-free product. We shall have to wait and see if Valve acts concerning the above cases. Hopefully it is monitoring serial 'buy it and get refund' Steam users targeting DRM-free games.

HEXUS Forums :: 31 Comments

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If Devs were forced to publish expected completion times (or categories, 1-2, 2-5, 5-10, 10+ hours etc) then the refund limit could be set to, say, 10% of the expected time rather than a fixed 2 hour period.

Unscrupulous developers could advertise their games as taking less time to complete to minimise the number of returns, but potential purchasers may then see the short game length and not buy it due to poor value for money - i.e. it's self limiting.
It will probably lead to DLC or episodic releases in that case - doubt you can get refunds for the same game twice so people wanting the next dlc/episode will have to buy again.
The refund period could be based on the average time taken to get the ‘game completion’ achievement, or achievement progress. The only problem with that I can see is the period between when the game is released, and when the refund eligibility time is determined, and how refunds are handled during this time.
Its early days, you would expect quite a few people just trying it out.

Swings and roundabouts. Its good for gamers, less so for devs. Though maybe people will try things more? So you get 3 out of 10 returned, but you would have only sold 5 before.
It certainly seems that having a “Micro-Game” category for games with 1 to 2 hour completion times would fix this. Of course, games in this category would have a far lower price ceiling within the Steam store.

I know it's a bad analogy, but a Micro-Game could be seen to games as an episode of Bugs Bunny is seen to a full length cartoon film (e.g., Madagascar).