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Steam’s Refund Policy Needs Another Look

In a world of difficult customer support processes, jargon-filled FAQs and oblique policies, Steam feels like a breath of fresh air. If you’ve played a game for less than two hours within 14 days of purchase, you get your refund. You literally can’t say fairer than that – unless you’re an indie developer.


Because the system is absolutely ripe for abuse if your game is less than two hours long, and customers are frequently taking advantage. Play the game, leave a positive review, then get your money back.

The problem has caused an indie developer to hang up his keyboard this week – and they’re not the first to complain about the issue.

So what can be done? Is this an issue that needs fixing?

The End of Emika Games

Emika Games, developer of Summer of ’58, announced they are leaving the industry indefinitely because they can’t make money from the shorter experiences they want to develop. For context, Summer of ’58 has a “Very Positive” ranking with nearly 300 reviews.

It’s a shame that this is a big enough problem to cause someone to give up their dream. And the generic advice of “make your game a bit longer” doesn’t really help either. The market should work like this: Make game, release game, if it’s popular you make money, if it’s good you sell further games. But an extra step has been added, in which even if it’s popular, you end up making a loss. The length of the game or anything else – outside of quality – shouldn’t play a part.

If developers aren’t rewarded for good games, they stop making them. Or they take their good game and they pad it out unnecessarily. Suddenly, a good game becomes bloated. The quality suffers and sales are impacted.

They can stop releasing their games on Steam, of course. But in doing so, they cut off the bulk of their market. Without fundamentally changing their product or otherwise damaging their own intentions, buyers can take advantage of an otherwise great system.

As usual, a small minority is hurting it for the rest of us.

Steam’s Only Option

Steam arguably doesn’t need to care about this. They have the PC market tied up. But it’s a major problem that keeps popping up again and again.


Summer of ’58

And so the question becomes, how can you solve this? The only option, at first glance, is to add a checkbox for short games. If your game is less than two hours, getting a refund must be harder.

But even this is ripe for abuse. What’s to stop someone making a game that’s stunning for 30 minutes and then becomes a hodgepodge of reused assets and claptrap? What’s to stop someone making something that’s inherently broken for the newly limited play period, and then refusing a refund at the last minute?

These are issues that will impact the consumer far more than refunds impact developers – at least on the face of it. Angry customers will make a stink, and they’ll be right.

And yet there’s no other option, without adding another layer of playtesting from Steam, a step they’re unlikely to take.

But something needs to be done. The longer this goes on, the more great experiences we will miss out on, and the more our industry becomes hellbent on homogenizing everything into the giant blockbuster.


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blank Mat Growcott has been a long-time member of the gaming press. He's written two books and a web series, and doesn't have nearly enough time to play the games he writes about.

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