Valve’s Imperfect But Necessary Refund System

June 24, 2015

It was only about a month ago that Valve Corporation, one of the most recognizable video game companies in the world, was making headlines with their paid mods feature. As we mentioned in our article covering this short-lived experiment, there were plenty of contrasting opinions concerning what kind of impact it would have on the modding community.

Whether you thought buying the original software should be the only cash you have to spend, or if developers deserve support for the mods they work hard to make, the result was the same: Valve backed down and removed the feature. Now it seems that the American developer is drawing similar attention with their new system that allows you to refund any purchased games on Steam.

Refunds With Requirements

This of course sounds like a dream come true to gamers everywhere. After all, who hasn’t downloaded a title only to regret it after realizing it isn’t quite what they expected? Just like any physical game you pick up at your local retail store, many gamers have, for a long time, wanted the ability to refund their digital games if they weren’t satisfied with their purchase. Valve has finally introduced this option, but not without a few rules in place to avoid people taking advantage of the system.

The requirements are that you can only receive your money back through the same payment method used if the request is made within 2 hours of gameplay and 14 days of purchase. The goal is obvious: Valve doesn’t want a bunch of people buying games, playing through them quickly, and then asking for their cash back. Additionally, refunds for in-game purchases are available within 48 hours if the game is a first-party Valve title.

Players vs Developers

As it turns out, the system isn’t working. Gamers are already exploiting Valve’s new feature, leaving indie developers with an obvious problem: games that are short in length are being completed and then ‘returned’, resulting in nothing for their hours upon hours of hard work. In fact, many developers have already begun voicing their concern via social media sites like Twitter over the devastating effect the refund system is having on their profits.

One example is Beyond Gravity developer Qwiboo, who tweeted that 72% of his game sales are being refunded back. The developers behind Revenge of the Titans are also experiencing the same issue, as now more than half of their game purchases are being refunded, as opposed to only 5 refunds in the previous 10 years when the feature didn’t exist.

Improving The System

It’s unfortunate to see hard-working developers suffer thanks to the abuse of a system they probably didn’t even agree with in the first place. However, it’s also important to realize that a refund system is a good thing for gamers, just maybe not the one that’s currently in place. As most would argue, those who do find themselves wanting to refund a game they didn’t like shouldn’t be stripped of this option simply because other are exploiting it.

Thus, it is very important that Valve works together with developers of all sizes to figure out what’s best for them and their audiences. One option could be to have the gameplay and time limit for the purchase depend on the length and size of the game, which would be tricky to do but may serve as a better system than what’s currently in place. For example, if a game’s average playtime is only 5 hours, cut the time limit from 2 hours of gameplay and 14 days down to 30 minutes of gameplay and 3 days.

All in all, it’s good to see people making use of Steam’s new refund feature, even if it’s currently hurting smaller devs. With Valve’s reputation of listening to both their gamer and developer audience, it’s quite likely that they will figure out how to tweak their new system in a way that leaves them both satisfied.

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