One of the drawbacks to buying a game digitally is that players are stuck with the game if it is poorly designed or boring. In fact, most of the time, it has been almost impossible to get refunds for games from digital storefronts like the Xbox Store, but that could be changing. Members of the Xbox Insider program are now testing a new feature on Xbox One that allows players to get a refund for any digital game they've purchased, as long as they have owned it for less than two weeks and have played it for less than two hours.
This new self-serve refund policy will presumably make its way to all Xbox One and Windows 10 users in future updates once Microsoft finishes its tests. If there's no clear issue with the feature or its functionality, then it's possible that the refund system could be released to the masses as soon as the very next update.
Microsoft's digital refund system, while not an original idea, may end up being much more influential than services that preceded it, like Steam's refund policy, for example. By offering convenient, self-serve refunds, Microsoft has another bullet point it can use to convince consumers to purchase an Xbox One over a Nintendo Switch or PS4, and may prompt its competitors to adopt a similar policy as a result.
Of course, other popular Microsoft initiatives this generation haven't seemed to caught on with PS4 or the Switch. Xbox One's backward compatibility with Xbox 360 games, for instance, has proven to be very popular among Xbox One owners, but not popular enough to force Sony or Nintendo to go a similar route. The closest thing PS4 offers to backward compatibility is its PlayStation Now streaming service, and the Nintendo Switch uses cartridges instead of discs, meaning BC with Wii or Wii U is impossible at this point.
However, Microsoft may actually be able to increase game sales with its new refund system, which could be what ultimately convinces Nintendo and Sony to follow suit. Now that people know they can get a refund for a game if they don't enjoy it right away, they may be more willing to take a risk on a game they otherwise would have completely avoided. And if they happen to enjoy whatever game they took a chance on, it could be a sale that never would have happened without the refund policy in place.
It's hard to predict exactly how Microsoft's new refund policy will pan out, but on paper, it seems like an idea that will be popular with gamers. When it gets out of the testing phase and rolls out to all Xbox One and Windows 10 users, we should know definitively if it's a game-changer or not.
Xbox One is available now.