Steam Refunds is the new program launched by the mega-popular online game platform. The program will finally allow gamers to return games that are defective, don't work with a user's hardware specifications, or just aren't to the player's liking. But despite its many benefits and positive effects on the gaming industry, Steam doesn't have the greatest record with customer service.
A Steam refund program has been a long time coming. Prior to this release, refunds were dished out on an individual basis, usually after a lengthy wait. The new policy isn't automatic—not all refunds will be granted, and all requests will still be reviewed by Steam—but it does give some power back to the consumer. The ability for consumers to refund games is incredibly important, as it's been the standard for buying physical copies as well as digital ones from services like GOG.com and EA's Origin.
Like Steam's other major changes, such as the brief introduction of paid mods and the newly granted ability for developers to ban players from their games, there's been some pushback. This time, it's a little different—consumers are largely happy with the choice to offer refunds, and for good reason, but indie developers have some early concerns about what this means for their games.
Concern #1: Steam Refunds Based on Time Penalize Some Indie Devs
Few people are saying that Steam refunds are anything but a good move, but that doesn't mean that the change is without skepticism. For developers of alt games and art games, which can easily take less than two hours to complete, Steam refunds could allow devious players to play a game to completion and return it for a full refund, meaning they get the enjoyment without paying the developer.
It's a shady thing to do, and probably not something developers are worried about on a wide scale, but for indie devs even a few lost sales can equal a big hit.
There's also the concern that this time limit reflects a bias against these smaller games on Steam's part, as Steam refunds tend to apply most aptly to AAA games. When indie games frequently struggle to be taken seriously as games (such as Gone Home and Three Fourths Home, both of which can be completed in about two hours), this feels like a slight.
There are some tweaks Steam could make to appease indie devs who are worried about how Steam refunds will affect them, such as making refunds dependent on percentage of game completed (under twenty percent would be eligible for a refund, for example). It remains to be seen whether Steam will take these concerns seriously, but it's hoped that Steam will consider how to prevent abuse rather than dealing with it as it happens.
Concern #2: Steam Refunds Profit Splitting is Largely Risk-Free for Valve, Not for Devs
Other concerns about Steam refunds include the way that refunds are issues on Steam's end. In purchasing a game, there's a roughly 70/30 percent split between developer and Steam, respectively. As developer and writer Andrew Pellerano points out, when a customer refunds a game, they have to choose how the money will be refunded, with refunding directly to a user's Steam Wallet being the default option in a drop-down menu. If money is refunded directly into a Steam Wallet, it's ready to be spent on other Steam games, meaning Valve loses nothing in a refund situation, as the money will go right back into Steam.
That's certainly within Valve's rights to set it up that way, and is a staple of other game refund services, such as the one offered at GameStop. It's hoped that other people will click through the options and find the one that suits them best, but setting a default option is a good way of encouraging people to take it. And, even if Valve meant no harm, having it set up this way means that developers could lose profit, but Valve wont.
Concern #3: Steam Refunds May Allow Players to Farm Trading Cards for Profit
Another potential concern could be the ability of users to collect trading cards, refund the game, and sell the cards for profit. Given that the average price for a trading card isn't much (and Steam takes a 15 percent cut of each sale), it would rarely be a huge loss, but this could still add up if practiced repeatedly.
To end the potential for abuse, Steam could easily implement a warning that selling a card will void your ability to refund a game and vice-versa. There's also a significant chance that Steam may classify this behavior as abuse, meaning refund privileges could be revoked—but, given the vagueness of the Steam refunds policy, it's hard to determine their stance on it.
Others worry about increased piracy due to DRM-free games being transferred to other directories and then refunded. It's possible, but, as many have pointed out, the amount of work involved is far greater than torrenting a game. If someone is going to refuse to pay for a game, they'd probably take that route rather than jumping through hoops to successfully wheedle a refund out of Steam.
Overall, Steam refunds are a great step forward. Like any big policy change, especially one on a platform as big and important as Steam, there's bound to be some pushback. For consumers, Steam refunds are a long-awaited feature. For developers, there may be some kinks to iron out, and it's hoped that Valve will take these concerns seriously and find ways to make the system work for everybody.