It’s no secret that Valve’s Steam platform has had a rough go of it lately. Between a general rating of its customer service coming in right around “war-crime terrible” and the whole fiasco over creating a paid-mods system, Steam needed some good news and good PR. One of the longest standing complaints about Steam has been how one-sided its setup is, favoring game-makers over customers. Between the discovery of DRM and the failure to deliver on promised features, buyers rarely find any recourse with games purchased digitally on Steam, and end up having to eat that money poorly spent. But the times they are a-changing.
That’s because this week Steam announced that it has joined the rest of us living in a normal world and will begin allowing refunds on games. There have been some complaints about when refunds will be allowed (more on that in a moment), but the policy is actually quite lenient.
You can request a refund for nearly any purchase on Steam—for any reason. Maybe your PC doesn’t meet the hardware requirements; maybe you bought a game by mistake; maybe you played the title for an hour and just didn’t like it. It doesn’t matter. Valve will, upon request via help.steampowered.com, issue a refund for any reason, if the request is made within fourteen days of purchase, and the title has been played for less than two hours. There are more details below, but even if you fall outside of the refund rules we’ve described, you can ask for a refund anyway and we’ll take a look.
You will be issued a full refund of your purchase within a week of approval. You will receive the refund in Steam Wallet funds or through the same payment method you used to make the purchase. If, for any reason, Steam is unable to issue a refund via your initial payment method, your Steam Wallet will be credited the full amount.
That’s very customer friendly, I have to say. Fourteen days and two hours is likely enough for most players to determine they’d want to return a game in most cases. It seems clear that this move is designed to engender some good-will and positive PR back on Steam’s horrific customer service record. Whatever the motivation, gamers that use the platform should be quite pleased.
But, as I mentioned, there are those that aren’t happy with the return policy parameters. Those people aren’t gamers, however. They’re game-makers, specifically non-AAA title game-makers.
Steam Refunds really screws you over if you make games that are less than 2 hours long.
— CMRN KNZLMN (@ckunzelman) June 2, 2015
Hmm, yeah, that’s actually quite true. Kunzelman and others are pointing out that some of their games are quick-plays, specifically of the adventure styled variety, meaning that they’re relatively inexpensive but don’t have a ton of replay value (they’d probably argue that last point). This refund policy seems particularly geared towards the major publishers and AAA, 60-hour games, where two hours is enough to know if you like the general premise, play, and how the game runs on your machine, after which you can decide on the refund. Shorter games could be played and then refunded.
For what it’s worth, Steam is claiming it will review such cases.
Refunds are designed to remove the risk from purchasing titles on Steam—not as a way to get free games. If it appears to us that you are abusing refunds, we may stop offering them to you. We do not consider it abuse to request a refund on a title that was purchased just before a sale and then immediately rebuying that title for the sale price.
It might be an even better solution to simply allow game-makers to have options on the game-time of their refund policy. Say, two hours, five hours, or thirty minutes. Then consumers could decide for themselves if less game-time was worth the risk of purchase. I imagine that would create more administrative work on Steam’s end, but it ought to keep the indies happy.
In the end, I expect the details of the refund policy to get ironed out. For now, I’ll just celebrate Steam finally offering refunds at all.