Steam Refunds are being exploited, and developers are angry

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Are Steam refunds broken?

Valve won a lot of brownie points last week. The biggest PC digital distributor finally baked in easy to use, seemingly fair refund support for disgruntled sales addicts and bad decision makers – allowing anyone to get all their money back, no questions asked, within two weeks of purchase and two hours of playtime. A seemingly perfect system, but one that has game developers grumpy.

Unsurprisingly too is the fact that indie developers are the ones speaking up. Steam lets anyone get a full refund if they don’t clock more than two hours of playtime on a particular title – a system that is already being abused to Val Halla and back on the indie market. Games that don’t even run the full two hours for a full playthrough are already suffering, as Beyond Gravity developer Qwiboo explained.

“Out of 18 sales 13 refunded in just last 3 days. That’s 72% of purchases. Rate of refunds before was minimal,”

Developer Matt Gambell, the single man behind RPG Tycoon, takes up a similar issue with the system. Although all for the refund policy, Gambell expressed his discomfort with the fact that a single refund in the whole of May transformed into 20 during the first week of June alone.

“Over the entirety of the 31 days of May, RPG Tycoon was refunded ONCE. In these first 7 days of June out of the 60 average units sold, over 20 of those have claimed a refund,”

And it’s not so much the fact that the games are being refunded, but rather that Gambell doesn’t know why. Steam doesn’t offer a way for customers to explain why they’ve requested a refund on a title – leaving developers confused about the intentions behind them in the first place.

“One user purchased the game 7 times and then refunded 5 of them. (Did they buy 6 copies for friends, only to find that 5 of them already had it?). I have so many questions… Could it be that they were having technical issues? Is it something that could have been solved by talking to me? Did they ACTUALLY mistakenly buy 7 copies of the same game, is that even possible?”

It really does seem like the system is being abused to offer extended periods of free gameplay, reaching far beyond the 2-hour play limit that the policy outlines. With no contingency in place to prevent multiple refunds on multiple sales of the same title to the same merchant, Steam users could essentially keep the cycle going as long as they please. An exploit which might invite more strict, third-party DRM measures from developers.

As Cliff Harris from Positech Games already suggests:

It’s expected behaviour though, because Valve is essentially allowing this to happen. It’s all good and well to expect consumers to be admirable with their new refund power, but the truth is that Valve need to employ stricter guidelines to govern it all absolutely. Without that, developers are going to start taking things into their own hands – and then we all lose.

Last Updated: June 9, 2015

Alessandro Barbosa

You can all call me Sandy until I figure out how to edit this thing, which is probably never. Sandy not good enough? Call me xXx_J0k3R_360degreeN0Sc0pe_xXx. Also, Geoff's a bastard.

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