This week, Microsoft announced a trial of a digital refund policy for Xbox One and Windows 10, and video game fans in general have been happy about the prospect of getting refunds on below-par digital products. However, not everyone only sees the positives in the move, and several independent game developers have raised issues with the fledgling refund policy.
Chief among them is acclaimed studio The Chinese Room. The BAFTA-winning developer behind such beloved titles as Everybody's Gone to the Rapture and Dear Esther specifically talked about how the new policy could affect independent studios whose games do not fit a traditional gameplay model. The Xbox and Windows 10 refund trial aims to allow users to claim a refund on digital titles if they have owned the game for less than two weeks, and have a playtime of less than two hours.
However, for some narrative-driven video game experiences, this means that a significant portion of the game - or even the entirety of the game - could be completed, potentially meaning that users could complete the title and still claim a refund on it. Instead, The Chinese Room suggested an alternative on Twitter, stating "refunds should operate off a percentage of game completed. Simple, fair, representative."
The Chinese Room was not the only developer speaking up about the Xbox refund policy, which has garnered the same kind of concerns as the similar system put in place by Steam some time ago. Pietro Righi Riva of Santa Ragione, behind such titles as Mirrormoon EP and Fotonica, also raised issues, stating "Yay self service refunds on Xbox! Now you can get your money back for all the <2 hour narrative games and invest in quality AAA shooting!" Meanwhile, Garry Newman gave a much more tongue in cheek response to the discussion, stating "My game takes 2 mins to complete. Refunds should only be available if they've played less than 6 seconds."
Indeed, The Chinese Room's suggestion of a refund based on percentage of game completed does bring with it its own problems - after all, for multiplayer games or expansive, open experiences such as Minecraft and No Man's Sky, it's hard to put a timestamp on completion. It's a difficult problem to solve from an independent game perspective, but one that Microsoft may have to tackle should The Chinese Room's predictions come true.
Based on experiences from the introduction of Steam refunds, the jury is still out when it comes to exploitation. Some developers, such as Qwiboo and Blooming Buds Studio, have shared their own stories of gamers using the refund system as a free rental service, but others have said that the additional security gamers feel before stepping into a unknown game that could have bugs or optimization issues has actually led to better sales. Hopefully, Xbox and Windows 10 fans will use the system as intended.