Smaller Devs Abused By Steam's "No Questions Asked" Refund Policy

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Smaller Devs Abused By Steam's "No Questions Asked" Refund Policy

puppygames bottom line

Smaller indie devs are seeing a massive surge in refund rates after the implementation of Valve's "no questions asked" refund policy.

Earlier in the month, Valve finally decided to match one of Origin's most well-received features with the implementation of a "no questions asked" refund policy that allowed gamers to get a full refund on games purchased within two weeks and played for less than two hours. However, unlike Origin which features mostly EA-made games, Steam features a wide variety of games from thousands of different developers, ranging from the very big to the very small. While the big boys will no doubt simply absorb the costs of additional refunds into their bottom line, smaller devs are starting to feel the heat, and many are considering resorting to drastic measures - like DRM - to combat it.

Qwiboo, for example, is the developer behind Beyond Gravity, a small indie game on Steam. A small game (it's main story can be completed in under an hour) for a small price (just $2), Qwiboo has seen a massive uptick in refunds ever since Valve implemented the feature. As you can see from the graph to the right, it's sales have absolutely plummeted. "Out of 18 sales 13 refunded in just last 3 days. That's 72% of purchases. Rate of refunds before was minimal," they Tweeted.

The key factor in Qwiboo's story is the length of it's game. As Beyond Gravity can be finished in an hour, and Valve's refund policy puts a blanket 2-hour grace period on all games, there is nothing to stop someone buying the game, finishing it, and then refunding it like some kind of free rental.

Elsewhere, other devs are considering more drastic measures. Cliff "Cliffski" Harris of Democracy and Gratuitous Space Battles has always proudly sold his games completely free of any sort of DRM, but is now worried about people simply buying his games, downloading them, getting a refund and then continuing to play them.

"Bloody hell steam refund rate has gone from 0.09% to 17%. Methinks people are taking the piss. Here comes DRM again sadly..." Harris lamented.

While many people initially celebrated Valve's refund policy, the blanket "2 weeks, 2 hours, no questions asked" doesn't seem particularly well thought out, and after the whole paid mod fiasco may be turning into another "Valve is completely out-of-touch with its fans and its partners" PR fiasco.

Source: PC Games N

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Are you kidding? This is the best thing Valve has done in years, without question. In what bizzaro world is this a PR nightmare? Players love it, and the primary complaints against it are from developers that have created games with no lasting value. Arcade games can be beaten within a couple hours and have been like that for years. The difference is that their gameplay is rich enough that multiple playthroughs continue to provide enjoyment and further depth. There will always be idiots that buy a game and get a refund after a single Playthrough, but the answer is to create games that are worth keeping, not alienate customers further by screwing them with DRM.

That sucks but a return policy was desperately needed. I hope Valve fix this issue for smaller games.

Also "that guy" is back. The return policy is for 2 weeks/2 hours, not 2 months/2 hours.

Steven Bogos:

Earlier in the month, Valve finally decided to match one of Origin's most well-received features with the implementation of a "no questions asked" refund policy that allowed gamers to get a full refund on games purchased within two months and played for less than two hours.

While many people initially celebrated Valve's refund policy, the blanket "2 months, 2 hours, no questions asked" doesn't seem particularly well thought out, and after the whole paid mod fiasco may be turning into another "Valve is completely out-of-touch with its fans and its partners" PR fiasco.

It's two weeks, not two months. It even says so in the links your provided.

OT: If a game can be finished in under 2 hours and doesn't have enough replayability or post-game content to make people want to keep playing, it's not worth even a single dollar. If people can now get refunds for these games, then I see it as the system working.

Make games longer and the game devs won't have this problem. Rarely short games are worth the money spent unless it is for less than $1. Basically I have no sympathy for these devs as unless it is stated in the game's description it is a short game it feels at best like a scam to buy a game and have it end so quickly.

My favorite part is the dev quotes that are absolutely ridiculous and thoughtless. "Bloody hell steam refund rate has gone from 0.09% to 17%." and " Rate of refunds before was minimal". Holy shit, you mean that, before, when we weren't allowed to get refunds for crap games(of which gratuitous space battles falls under in my opinion) there were less refunds then there are now that people can get refunds for bad games. I'm sorry but the laws of the universe must have been suspended because you're talking magic!

I'm a little more sympathetic to Qwiboo since alot of people seem to be abusing the policy, but then again I looked at the game and the part of me that hates games that look and play like mobile ports to PC kicks in and I'll give him a 50/50 split for abuse/legitimate desire for a refund.

Ftaghn To You Too:
Players love it, and the primary complaints against it are from developers that have created games with no lasting value.

Indeed, the players do love it, but this policy is still turning out to be a bad one for - as the article is about - smaller companies. Not everyone has a massive budget and some have to start out with smaller games. Qwiboo wasn't trying to rip anyone off with their game. $2 for an hour or so of gameplay is a fair price...it's not like they were just raking in the cash even before the refund policy, but now they're making next to nothing.

I'd say they could solve this by putting a minimum payment requirement for the refund...like no refunds for games under $5. But that would just encourage devs to jack their prices to be above that mark.

The point is that a balance must be met. Yeah, we hate it when a policy like Paid Mods comes around and completely screws over us, the consumer. But there is another side to that coin, and this policy is detrimental to the smaller devs that are trying to make (in this case literally) a couple bucks for a small game.

Edit:
To be clear: I am all for this refund policy. After all, a refund is a basic consumer right that Steam has been lacking for too long.

WickedBuddha:
Make games longer and the game devs won't have this problem. Rarely short games are worth the money spent unless it is for less than $1. Basically I have no sympathy for these devs as unless it is stated in the game's description it is a short game it feels at best like a scam to buy a game and have it end so quickly.

Should the value of a game be decided by it's length, though?
Padding a game doesn't magically make it better.

Long games can suck. Short games can be fun. Portal is a short game. that doesn't make it bad, it arguably makes it better since it doesn't wear out it's welcome.

As long as the developers are honest about the length of a game, a customer shouldn't get angry about getting exactly what they paid for.

Still think this system is better than the previous "no refunds" one, though.

If a game is good enough and offers good replayability - you know, makes people actually want to own it - why would someone refund it? Is it wrong that customers should have more control over their buying? This return policy really helps with impulse buying, something that has really plagued many Steam users (all but ones who take more than 3 seconds thinking when buying). As much as I really dislike many decisions Valve has been making in the past few years, this one is definitely something I can appreciate as it really helps give power to consumers.

heres the sure-fire way to solve this problem:

Stop making shitty Indie games.

WOW.Mp4

If you game is under 2 hours long that shit had better be free because if you are going to put in the minimal amount of work into your game, then I'm going to pay the minimal price I feel your game is worth (namely, jack shit). Also I'm gonna love how those Indies are gonna put in DRM in their games, because DRM is completely flawless and it isn't like there are groups of people out there than can crack your DRM within a few days of your game being released.

On that note also, people have already said how much easier it is to outright pirate games instead of going through the refund process, if they have seen a massive uptick in refunds, then they probably have a 90-99% piracy rate for their games.

Possibly out of pitty for how bad their games are to begin with.

It sucks for people who genuinely care about making games, but considering most of the garbage that Steam lets through the greenlight process, I'll take small sacrifices to keep the shit out. If this keeps those parasites and consumer predators from abusing customers, I'll take it.

Why are people blaming the devs for this? What about Portal? This game was universally lauded as one of the best games of 2007. It can be completed in under two hours easily, even for a first-time player (under one hour for an experienced player).

Length and quality are not the same thing. Just because a game is short doesn't mean they put in minimal effort. Further, if the game is cheap enough ($5 or less), then it's especially hard to fault 'em for the length.

P.S. Thanks

Doom972:

Steven Bogos:

Earlier in the month, Valve finally decided to match one of Origin's most well-received features with the implementation of a "no questions asked" refund policy that allowed gamers to get a full refund on games purchased within two months and played for less than two hours.

While many people initially celebrated Valve's refund policy, the blanket "2 months, 2 hours, no questions asked" doesn't seem particularly well thought out, and after the whole paid mod fiasco may be turning into another "Valve is completely out-of-touch with its fans and its partners" PR fiasco.

It's two weeks, not two months. It even says so in the links your provided.

OT: If a game can be finished in under 2 hours and doesn't have enough replayability or post-game content to make people want to keep playing, it's not worth even a single dollar. If people can now get refunds for these games, then I see it as the system working.

I disagree. Sometimes I want to play a short game like Dear Esther. I find them to be very calming and relaxing and I don't mind spending a couple of bucks to help support the developer. If people are buying short games just to beat them and then get refunds for them I find that to be a very crappy thing to do. I view those people as nothing more than scum.

well as Jimmy said in his latest Jimquisition it's way to early to cry foul about this yet. We need to wait a bit until things even out a bit. Also no offense to the devs but it may be that your game just isn't good, and the old policy made it pretty much impossible to refund games unless they straight did not work for you, and even then steam would be suspicious of it. Also the system has real people monitoring it, so it's not like it's an automated system that can be abused like the Youtube copyright system. I follow a few indie devs and they have said that their was an initial spike in returns but it has leveled off quickly

here is a link to the Jimquisition for those interested,
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k1-0dgDsCtw&feature=youtu.be

Steven Bogos:
may be turning into another "Valve is completely out-of-touch with its fans and its partners" PR fiasco.

Are you serious? I mean really, pretty much every other online retailer (like GoG for example) has a return policy, many more lenient than Valves. The fact that Valve hasn't had one till now is ludicrous in it self. I mean imagine if Steam had had this from it's inception and now had taken it away, THAT would be a PR fiasco.

And anyway "PR fiasco's" only happen when the public is mad, not developers. PR being PUBLIC relations, and game buyers outnumber game makers by a large number. So unless this angers a large number of game PLAYERS than valve wont be feeling any heat from it.

Sorry but have to bring up Jimquisition pretty much debunked this nonsense already. Also massive uptick, on a iOS port game that pc gamers don't like anyways, compared to when refunds weren't allowed. Duh gee I wonder why... derrr

Hey, Escapist. Enforce journalistic integrity among your writers. The title is biased and the story is seriously one-sided and lacking information that doesn't take much digging to find.

Covarr:
Why are people blaming the devs for this? What about Portal? This game was universally lauded as one of the best games of 2007. It can be completed in under two hours easily, even for a first-time player (under one hour for an experienced player).

Length and quality are not the same thing. Just because a game is short doesn't mean they put in minimal effort. Further, if the game is cheap enough ($5 or less), then it's especially hard to fault 'em for the length.

P.S. Thanks

Portal had replay value, challenge maps, and a lasting charm that made people want to play it. That experienced players exist and have run the game enough to rush through it like that is proof of that. Games are much more than a single run, often. If a game is fewer than two hours long and has absolutely nothing to keep you interested or coming back, it probably isn't worth what they're asking, outside of a dollar or so.

Zeljkia the Orc:
If you game is under 2 hours long that shit had better be free because if you are going to put in the minimal amount of work into your game, then I'm going to pay the minimal price I feel your game is worth (namely, jack shit).

How do you know they put a minimal amount of work into their game? You can't judge how much effort was put into a game just by it's length. There are long games out there that are complete crap like all the games in the FF XIII trilogy. Perhaps a developer has a small interactive story they want to tell and doesn't want to pad it out with stuff they don't feel is important. Some of the best games I have played that have had the most effort involved are shorter games.

steam: "we will now institute a no-questions-asked refund policy on games you spent less than 2 hours playing."

gamers: "yay"

unity game developers: "HEY, WTF steam!?"

good game developers: "I am fine with this."

templar1138a:
Hey, Escapist. Enforce journalistic integrity among your writers. The title is biased and the story is seriously one-sided and lacking information that doesn't take much digging to find.

I'm not sure how many actual writers they have. The news is mostly copy/pasted from elsewhere, or re-typed with errors.

Another great example of Valve finally doing something, but without thinking of the consequences. Though, we really did need some sort of Steam refund system, and I hope they fix this without completely pulling the plug on refunds.

Setting the two hour limit for all games was stupid. Games with some complexity to running them and those that have length before you get into the "meat of the game" do need longer limits, while these short indie titles need smaller limits (and maybe some disclaimer that they can easily be finished in 1 hour or whatever amount).

Another thing that has me thinking is what the sales numbers were for these hyper short indie games before and after Valve implemented their new policy. While we've read at least one comparison of the refund rate before and after the change, how has their total revenue been affected? Maybe some devs are getting hit hard, while others are doing about the same financially (except for knowing someone played their game for free). This issue does need fixing (or their asking price also needs dropping, as comments above imply), but I can imagine someone might be twisting statistics around to help their argument.

Some people probably are deciding partway through a game that they would try to get their money back, even if they enjoyed their time with it. Some others would never have played it at all, if there was no way to get it for free, kind like the one of the (worse) reasons why people pirate games. Abuse is definitely happening.

Doom972:

OT: If a game can be finished in under 2 hours and doesn't have enough replayability or post-game content to make people want to keep playing, it's not worth even a single dollar. If people can now get refunds for these games, then I see it as the system working.

So you would never buy a $60 game that you get less than 120+ hours of gameplay out of? Not many will make that cut. The policy should be tweaked a bit to combat gaming the system but yeah, the refund policy is definitely needed. Maybe track a game completion achievement and block the refund at that point.

Edit: I'm pretty sure my first play through of Portal didn't even take a full two hours, and I still consider it worth a solid $30 on it's own.

or maybe make better games that people wont want to refund before 2 hours.

RJ 17:

Ftaghn To You Too:
Players love it, and the primary complaints against it are from developers that have created games with no lasting value.

Indeed, the players do love it, but this policy is still turning out to be a bad one for - as the article is about - smaller companies. Not everyone has a massive budget and some have to start out with smaller games. Qwiboo wasn't trying to rip anyone off with their game. $2 for an hour or so of gameplay is a fair price...it's not like they were just raking in the cash even before the refund policy, but now they're making next to nothing.

I'd say they could solve this by putting a minimum payment requirement for the refund...like no refunds for games under $5. But that would just encourage devs to jack their prices to be above that mark.

The point is that a balance must be met. Yeah, we hate it when a policy like Paid Mods comes around and completely screws over us, the consumer. But there is another side to that coin, and this policy is detrimental to the smaller devs that are trying to make (in this case literally) a couple bucks for a small game.

The sub 5 dollar games are some of the ones most in need of a returns policy, so much shovelware has been stuffed onto Steam in the last year that prices itself cheap to grab sales. The only way to change this would be for Steam to revert to how they used to add games, but I doubt these small indie devs would be in favour of that.

Plenty of other digital retailers have looser returns policies, pretty much every industry have to put up with returns.

The hell is this garbage?
You equate this to paid mods because some shitty IOS port gets refunded a lot and someone whines that they need to "reintroduce DRM" because people can't pirate that stuff anyway if they wanted to?
The fuck does this even have to do with steam, who cares if a game that is tethered to steam anyway has (additional?)
DRM? Steam IS DRM.
You can't "refund and then keep playing" unless you do stuff that would enable you to keep playing regardless of DRM.
And how nonsensical is it anyway to boast to never use DRM and then have your games on steam only?

So devs now need to make worthwhile games and if it's less than 2 hours long, it better have replay value?
Games need to be, like, good now or people return them a lot?
Boo fucking hoo, cry me a river.

Saying that the refund rate is higher than before isn't much of, well, anything. No one is about to jump through the hoops required to get a refund on steam to get a refund for a two dollar game, however, if it's literally a click of a button and someone has no desire to keep playing a game, then them wanting a refund isn't a problem. The problem is the developers making a game that was so uninteresting that it wasn't even worth two dollars. You wasted your time buddy, and so the refund system means that you at least won't waste anymore than two hours of mine.

It's something that I imagine will get ironed out going forward. Consistent use of the refund service will probably send up a flag in their system marking the user for review and possibly having their ability to freely submit refund requests via this system revoked.

Also, whilst I'm not personally a fan of short games, I don't think the effort that has been put into an experience even of that length should be ignored if it's priced appropriately. I have to wonder if this will discourage developers from releasing short games on Steam, or worse: putting arbitrary treadmill progression systems in.

Actually, the key factor in Qwiboo's story is the game JUST finished a 50% off sale right where the graph flatlines. Step it up.

"Bloody hell steam refund rate has gone from 0.09% to 17%. Methinks people are taking the piss. Here comes DRM again sadly..." Harris lamented.

OK I do not get this at all. So... a company is going to implement DRM because they HAD been supporting DRM free, but because a DRM client decides to cut into their profit they are going to abandon DRM free?

I think my brain just broke.

Eric the Orange:
well as Jimmy said in his latest Jimquisition it's way to early to cry foul about this yet. We need to wait a bit until things even out a bit. Also no offense to the devs but it may be that your game just isn't good, and the old policy made it pretty much impossible to refund games unless they straight did not work for you, and even then steam would be suspicious of it. Also the system has real people monitoring it, so it's not like it's an automated system that can be abused like the Youtube copyright system. I follow a few indie devs and they have said that their was an initial spike in returns but it has leveled off quickly

here is a link to the Jimquisition for those interested,
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k1-0dgDsCtw&feature=youtu.be

Steven Bogos:
may be turning into another "Valve is completely out-of-touch with its fans and its partners" PR fiasco.

Are you serious? I mean really, pretty much every other online retailer (like GoG for example) has a return policy, many more lenient than Valves. The fact that Valve hasn't had one till now is ludicrous in it self. I mean imagine if Steam had had this from it's inception and now had taken it away, THAT would be a PR fiasco.

And anyway "PR fiasco's" only happen when the public is mad, not developers. PR being PUBLIC relations, and game buyers outnumber game makers my a large number. So unless this angers a large number of game PLAYERS than valve wont be feeling any heat from it.

I was just about to post the Jimquisition when I saw this as he was completely right. It really is too early to know how badly it's going to be abused (sure some abuse is to be expected, such is the problem with every system ever). Give it a few months, it was just implemented so of course there's a surge of people doing it. Like anything else it'll balance out in time.

How many of the returns are people gaming the system and how much of it is people actively returning something that just wasn't worth even a couple of bucks?

Sure devs are going to complain but how legit is their complaints? I've seen a LOT of absolute crap show up for sale just to milk people (War Z or Assassins Creed Unity anybody?) and my level of sympathy for most of the devs is close to zero. too many false promises, vaporware, misleading statements and games that are absolute garbage or so completely derivative that I may as well play the game they are copying for a better experience.

Steam refunds means game devs better have their stuff in order and of a better quality.

Oh no, now indie devs will have to actually make a game worth buying instead of pushing shovel-ware that only continues to exist because with the old policy people who got burned couldn't do jack about the fact they've been sold something not worth the space it takes on their hard-drive.

This is an all around win of a policy. Valve gets a PR boost which has made us forget about paid mods for the most part, consumers get a damn return policy we've waited years for, and for legitimate developers and publishers nothing really changes, though it may turn out better for then as people who otherwise wouldn't buy their games may do so on a "trying it out" basis and figuring that it's worth it, increasing their sales (though in all likelihood by only a marginal amount).

The only ones who loose out are developers who public garbage, unfinished games that are broken beyond belief or are too short to justify their price tag. I've seen games that are free (and I mean legitimately free, not Free 2 Play) that take longer to finish then 2 hours. If someone can play your game to completion with enough time to get their money back, that's your problem, and no one else's.

Finally, a way to screw those guys flipping assets into hellish concoctions and selling them on steam to make a quick buck. If it cuts down on shovelware popping up on steam shelves I'm glad they did the easy refund policy.

Do we really have to jump automatically from "New policy has kinks that need working out just like ALL newly implemented policies do" to "Is Valve completely out of touch?"

Yeah, it might need fine tuning. I'd be surprised if it didn't. Why is anyone else?

Doom972:
If a game can be finished in under 2 hours and doesn't have enough replayability or post-game content to make people want to keep playing, it's not worth even a single dollar. If people can now get refunds for these games, then I see it as the system working.

Zeljkia the Orc:
heres the sure-fire way to solve this problem:

Stop making shitty Indie games.

WOW.Mp4

If you game is under 2 hours long that shit had better be free because if you are going to put in the minimal amount of work into your game, then I'm going to pay the minimal price I feel your game is worth (namely, jack shit). Also I'm gonna love how those Indies are gonna put in DRM in their games, because DRM is completely flawless and it isn't like there are groups of people out there than can crack your DRM within a few days of your game being released.

On that note also, people have already said how much easier it is to outright pirate games instead of going through the refund process, if they have seen a massive uptick in refunds, then they probably have a 90-99% piracy rate for their games.

Possibly out of pitty for how bad their games are to begin with.

And do we really have to go through the "length is not a sure indicator of quality" speech again? I'm not saying it shouldn't factor into cost at all, and for less then two hours you'd really have to have one hell of a fried gold masterpiece to charge anything more then probably $5 at the very most. But are we really going with a game under two hours automatically has minimal work put into it?

A couple years back I picked up this tiny experimental thing called Dinner Date. You play as a man's subconscious as he slowly realizes he's been stood up for a date, through an array of little internal monologues and small actions. It was a fun little idea and I liked the execution well enough, and while it wouldn't make any personal top 10 lists I was happy to give it the two or three bucks or whatever I paid for it at the time. It only lasted about half an hour, and almost certainly would have started to overstay it's welcome if it had lasted any longer.

I hate to resort to such a tired cliche in it's defense, but what exactly is two or three dollars worth? A soda? A couple of minutes with a candy bar? Not a little glimpse into some small story or odd little mechanic or whatever? We're willing to pay almost ten dollars, sometimes more depending on the showing, to go see a movie for two hours, but a game tries to tell itself with the same pacing and suddenly it's automatically only putting the bare minimum of work in?

Now this doesn't mean that it can't also be a bad game. Bad games happen. A lot of people didn't like Dinner Date and I can certainly understand some, though not all, of the complaints. At the least it's not for everyone. But more often then not games are bad because of how they /use/ their length, not what they're length is. Games aren't shit because of what they are, they're shit because of /how/ they are what they are. That's what execution means.

For games under two hours that actually are by whatever measure 'good', I can see this being a real concern. I don't know that I have a good solution that doesn't also present it's own logistical problems. But it's definitely worth investigating, because why wouldn't it be?

shial:

Steam refunds means game devs better have their stuff in order and of a better quality.

You know what? I think that's what this is, quality control. Think about it, for the past 4 years or so Valve has had an issue with quality control. Before 2010-2011ish they had an issue of not enough third party games being sent onto the platform due to their at the time strickt rules of quality for what could be sold (this is relatively speaking, of course, there where still bad games, but compared to other outlets it was a pretty safe bet for decent games). Then, since everyone complained about the lack of content, they opened the floodgates and now for the past few years we have had quality control issues. This could be an attempt to have the market fix that. It allows Valve to continue to have a massive library, while also allowing the consumers to not have the issue of being burned by the crap that keeps getting past the radar.

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