The Future Is Now: Steam Finally To Allow Refunds On Digital Purchases

from the return-these-bits-and-bytes dept

It’s no secret that Valve’s Steam platform has had a rough go of it lately. Between a general rating of its customer service coming in right around “war-crime terrible” and the whole fiasco over creating a paid-mods system, Steam needed some good news and good PR. One of the longest standing complaints about Steam has been how one-sided its setup is, favoring game-makers over customers. Between the discovery of DRM and the failure to deliver on promised features, buyers rarely find any recourse with games purchased digitally on Steam, and end up having to eat that money poorly spent. But the times they are a-changing.

That’s because this week Steam announced that it has joined the rest of us living in a normal world and will begin allowing refunds on games. There have been some complaints about when refunds will be allowed (more on that in a moment), but the policy is actually quite lenient.

You can request a refund for nearly any purchase on Steam—for any reason. Maybe your PC doesn’t meet the hardware requirements; maybe you bought a game by mistake; maybe you played the title for an hour and just didn’t like it. It doesn’t matter. Valve will, upon request via help.steampowered.com, issue a refund for any reason, if the request is made within fourteen days of purchase, and the title has been played for less than two hours. There are more details below, but even if you fall outside of the refund rules we’ve described, you can ask for a refund anyway and we’ll take a look.

You will be issued a full refund of your purchase within a week of approval. You will receive the refund in Steam Wallet funds or through the same payment method you used to make the purchase. If, for any reason, Steam is unable to issue a refund via your initial payment method, your Steam Wallet will be credited the full amount.

That’s very customer friendly, I have to say. Fourteen days and two hours is likely enough for most players to determine they’d want to return a game in most cases. It seems clear that this move is designed to engender some good-will and positive PR back on Steam’s horrific customer service record. Whatever the motivation, gamers that use the platform should be quite pleased.

But, as I mentioned, there are those that aren’t happy with the return policy parameters. Those people aren’t gamers, however. They’re game-makers, specifically non-AAA title game-makers.

Hmm, yeah, that’s actually quite true. Kunzelman and others are pointing out that some of their games are quick-plays, specifically of the adventure styled variety, meaning that they’re relatively inexpensive but don’t have a ton of replay value (they’d probably argue that last point). This refund policy seems particularly geared towards the major publishers and AAA, 60-hour games, where two hours is enough to know if you like the general premise, play, and how the game runs on your machine, after which you can decide on the refund. Shorter games could be played and then refunded.

For what it’s worth, Steam is claiming it will review such cases.

Refunds are designed to remove the risk from purchasing titles on Steam—not as a way to get free games. If it appears to us that you are abusing refunds, we may stop offering them to you. We do not consider it abuse to request a refund on a title that was purchased just before a sale and then immediately rebuying that title for the sale price.

It might be an even better solution to simply allow game-makers to have options on the game-time of their refund policy. Say, two hours, five hours, or thirty minutes. Then consumers could decide for themselves if less game-time was worth the risk of purchase. I imagine that would create more administrative work on Steam’s end, but it ought to keep the indies happy.

In the end, I expect the details of the refund policy to get ironed out. For now, I’ll just celebrate Steam finally offering refunds at all.

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Comments on “The Future Is Now: Steam Finally To Allow Refunds On Digital Purchases”

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37 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

As you said, it would take a bit of work, but steam could look at other metrics, like game completion. I’ll be honest, no idea how/if this could be implemented, but it’s a thought.

If a player tries to return a completed game… no refund. It could even be designated to look at specific ‘game completed’ achievements, or other progression based achievements.

This COULD be open to some abuse by unscrupulus individuals, but it’s a thought to be ironed out I hope.

Nussbaum says:

"not as a way to get free games"!?

Well, there goes one of Masnick’s notions.

Then there’s this: “Steam is an Internet-based digital distribution, digital rights management (DRM), multiplayer, and social networking platform developed by Valve Corporation.”

Well! If not giving away digital goods, but is using DRM, then according to Masnickal Law, Steam MUST be a dying dinosaur! — “4,500 games … 125 million active users. … estimated by Screen Digest that 75% of games bought online for the PC are downloaded through Steam.”

Huh? No free product, copyrighted and protected with DRM, yet has 75% of a BIG market, even with lousy customer service policies?

Maybe I’ve missed that The Masnick is parody. He seems so earnest.

And now this bizarro turn that Geigner here is actually more interesting than Masnick all day! The “Eric Snowden” piece, sheesh, what drivel.

Nussbaum says:

"not as a way to get free games"!?

Well, there goes one of Masnick’s notions.

Then there’s this: “Steam is an Internet-based digital distribution, digital rights management (DRM), multiplayer, and social networking platform developed by Valve Corporation.”

Well! If not giving away digital goods, but is using DRM, then according to Masnickal Law, Steam MUST be a dying dinosaur! — “4,500 games … 125 million active users. … estimated by Screen Digest that 75% of games bought online for the PC are downloaded through Steam.”

Huh? No free product, copyrighted and protected with DRM, yet has 75% of a BIG market, even with lousy customer service policies?

Maybe I’ve missed that The Masnick is parody. He seems so earnest.

And now this bizarro turn that Geigner here is actually more interesting than Masnick all day! The “Eric Snowden” piece, sheesh, what drivel.

MrTroy (profile) says:

Re: "not as a way to get free games"!?

Huh, what?

Well! If not giving away digital goods, but is using DRM, then according to Masnickal Law, Steam MUST be a dying dinosaur! — “4,500 games … 125 million active users. … estimated by Screen Digest that 75% of games bought online for the PC are downloaded through Steam.”

Where do you get that Masnickal law from? Mike has said a number of times that DRM adds no value to the customer, and in many cases removes value from paying customers that doesn’t affect “non-paying customers”.

With specific reference to Steam, we can turn to this story by Mike:

Bill Bliss was the first of a whole bunch of you to write in with a version on the story of how Valve has continued to show how to compete with free. This alone, isn’t new. We’ve been covering these kinds of stories concerning Valve and its CEO, Gabe Newell, for years.

More links in that story, in which Mike documents Steam successfully competing with free. Granted, most mentions of Steam’s DRM on this site cover things going wrong (some by Mike, some by others), but isn’t that what DRM does best?

Perhaps the Masnickal Law you’re trying to refer to is “innovate or die”, though I don’t think Mike can claim credit for that one.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: "not as a way to get free games"!?

“Masnickal Law”

“Maybe I’ve missed that The Masnick is parody”

Perhaps if you exercised more brain power on understanding the issues discussed and less on designing kindergarten level nicknames, you would understand better that he’s not.

It’s very simple. DRM adds no value to the customer, and often (usually) takes it away. Merely adding DRM not only does nothing to reduce piracy, it actually encourages it by making life more difficult for legal owners than pirates.

HOWEVER, Steam does not merely add DRM. They offer an entire platform with a huge number of features and benefits to game publishers and consumers alike. As part of this, publishers are given the option to use DRM, which many have – but not all of them. It’s possible to play DRM-free games through the platform, and the existence of DRM titles does not magically invalidate the value of other parts of the system that is offered.

Does that help, or do you need it spelled out in words with less syllables?

“The “Eric Snowden” piece, sheesh, what drivel.”

Funny, I had a quick glance over there and didn’t see your detailed comment on what was wrong and why you say that. Did I miss it, or is attacking him on an unrelated article with childish jabs the best you can do in response? Do you actually support the fact that important intelligence officials in your country can’t even get the name of a man they’re investigating correct? or is this one of those cases of “waah! Masnick isn’t writing what I want him to write about” that occasionally rears its head here when people can’t argue with the issues raised?

PaulT (profile) says:

“Steam Refunds really screws you over if you make games that are less than 2 hours long.”

Erm, not really, just as long as it wasn’t sold as a 20+ hour game. You can’t really go back to store with a disc and demand a refund because you though it sucked after playing it through to completion so I don’t see why that’s applicable here. Movies don’t typically let you get your money back just because you didn’t like it (if they did, lots of people would just lie after every movie), so why should a game of movie length? If you played for 2 hours, you got 2 hours of entertainment, and if you weren’t enjoying it, why did you continue playing?

Yeah, if you’re particularly feeling ripped off (perhaps havign paid $60 without knowing it was particularly short game), maybe. Otherwise, stop whining and welcome to the world of caveat emptor. Research your purchases, and buyer’s remorse won’t be so common.

Anonymous Coward says:

Those that complain the loudest...

…usually have an ulterior motive about it.

Steam right now is completely flooded with completely broken, unplayable and, frankly, worthless pieces of “indie games”. Those “games” have been created solely to milk some cash from unsuspecting victims and their creators quickly abandon ship — changing “studio” name, contact information and so on — to elude customers’ anger.

They will be the most hit by this policy, not those who create high quality but short games.

Violynne (profile) says:

This isn’t news to celebrate, though I can see why some people would feel differently.

As a reminder, the article was written by Timothy Geigner, the same person who ripped into Microsoft about its XBox One console, decrying how “it’s DRM”. Steam uses DRM, so I’d like to know what gives between the differences of its use.

What most people didn’t hear, because they were too busy screaming at the top of their lungs with fingers firmly placed in their ears, was Microsoft was going to allow people to sell their digital games.

When this becomes news, and I don’t care what service offers it first, then we’ll have something to celebrate.

Getting a refund on a digital purchase should have been a day-0 option. It should have been known by service providers and game publishers not every purchase is worth the price (but shovelware sells!).

Alas, looks like we’ll have to wait again until someone breaks the de-facto service SoP and offers users the ability to sell their purchased digital goods.

Bets on who does it first?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“This isn’t news to celebrate”

Why?

“the same person who ripped into Microsoft about its XBox One console, decrying how “it’s DRM”

You should have carried on reading the articles. The problem with Microsoft’s DRM wasn’t the fact that it was DRM. It was the fact that it was a DRM that required a constant internet connection and would stop your console functioning in any way if your internet connection was interrupted. Steam, on the other hand, has an offline mode so that you don’t need an internet connection to ask if you’re allowed to access your legally purchased content every few seconds. It was horrific, which is why it was removed when people said they’d not buy such a piece of crap (a reaction that is affecting their sales to this day).

Do you see the difference?

“Microsoft was going to allow people to sell their digital games.”

…and all you had to give up in return was your privacy and your ability to access to content you’d purchased at a whim. I don’t give a shit whether or not I can sell a game without leaving my couch – I’d rather be allowed to play the damn thing even if my local ISP is having issues. There are MANY ways to achieve the resale option without that kind of DRM – Microsoft’s solution was the one they preferred. It just also happened to be the one that most screwed over customers as well. Whoever comes up with a solution better make it a fair one, else it won’t work.

Oh, and this isn’t really a related issue. This is a contract between retailer and customer, not a relationship between two customers mediated by the console manufacturer. Very, very different issues with very, very different ideal solutions.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Too little

“as long as steam doesn’t let me sell my game”

“GoG is the way”

GoG lets you sell your games now? If not, why is this a dealbreaker for Steam but not for GoG?

“exchange $ to € in 1:1 ratio”

Why would you want to do that when that’s not the exchange rate? In one direction, you’re asking to take a loss, in the other you’re asking the retailer to lose money on the transaction.

Anonymous Howard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Too little

GoG lets you sell your games now? If not, why is this a dealbreaker for Steam but not for GoG?

Officially you can’t(?) sell your GoG games either. The difference is GoG doesn’t prevent you from giving the copy to anyone and receiving money for it with DRM, like steam does.

Why would you want to do that when that’s not the exchange rate? In one direction, you’re asking to take a loss, in the other you’re asking the retailer to lose money on the transaction.

I think you misunderstood me.
Steam, at the moment, exchange $->€ in 1:1 instead of their true exchange value. A 60$ game becomes 60€ game in Europe (the $->Ł conversion is even more ridiculous).
How is this even remotely fair?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Too little

“The difference is GoG doesn’t prevent you from giving the copy to anyone and receiving money for it with DRM, like steam does.”

You might want to re-read the licencing terms, sport. They don’t do anything to actively prevent you, but the same rules apply. DRM free doesn’t mean that the content is free of restrictions, it just means they presume you won’t break the rules, rather than presuming that you will as with DRM . If you’ve kept a copy of the game in your account after selling it (and AFAIK there’s no option to remove it), you’ve technically been selling pirated material, and you’re the reason companies implement DRM to begin with. DRM or not, you’re not meant to be reselling the games until such a system is put into place that allows you to transfer your licence.

“I think you misunderstood me.”

Yes, I did, since you wrote this:

“as long as steam doesn’t let me… exchange $ to € in 1:1 ratio”

You implied that Steam doesn’t let you use a 1:1 exchange, not that you thought they shouldn’t.

I do like the fact that GoG charges everyone in dollars, but that can introduce bank charges (many banks in Spain at least charge a fee when paying with a different currency – although I can avoid those by using Paypal).

So yes, a point in their favour, but then again Steam can also offer cheaper prices depending on the current offers and how they package titles. That’s why you shop around, not boycott one retailer forever because they don’t display things the way you prefer.

Anonymous Howard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Too little

Did you read my whole reply, or just the quoted parts? Did you understood what I wrote? If yes, then you’re willfully misrepresent my opinion.

I started with Officially you can’t(?) sell your GoG games either

you’ve technically been selling pirated material, and you’re the reason companies implement DRM to begin with

If you honestly believe that piracy is the main reason behind DRM, then you’re hopelessly näive.

As for the second part, the “…”-d part contains an “and” which should – at least somewhat – separate the two parts of the sentence. Maybe an additional “,” were due, my bad.

I do like the fact that GoG charges everyone in dollars, but that can introduce bank charges

My purchase of The Witcher 3 were paid in €. They explicitly state that. https://www.gog.com/support/website_help/payments_pricing_promos
1. point.

not boycott one retailer forever
I never said I boycotted steam (although I boycott Origin and anything EA related), because it wouldn’t be true. Steam has some great sales and very good features (ad-hoc streaming being one of them), but nothing compares to the feeling when you download a game and can run it without any more hassle, without activating, being online or just running a pesky steam or galaxy.

Also, they included an EULA-like stuff in TW3 which I actually read through, because it were written in human readable language!

Rekrul says:

Re: Re: PC game Demos

We already have a great system for trial purposes – tpb

Except that most cracked games today are a mish-mash of loaders, patches, replacement executables, reg files and more.

Just look at the comments for any recent game.

USER1: This doesn’t work!

USER2: Just install this version, then apply the patch from the XYZ version, then use the loader from the ABC version.

USER1: OK, the game loads, but it crashes on level 2.

USER2: Go into the game directory and delete the qqq.dll, then copy over the patched ddl file from the DEF version. Load the game, but don’t start it. Alt-tab back to the desktop and double-click the fix.reg file, then go back into the game and set your resolution to 800×600, load your save for level 2, then go into the menu and set your resolution back to whatever you want!

USER1: When I do that I get “Error 1187653: Unable to execute Blor.exe” and the game crashes.

USER2: Well, you may also need to hex edit the main executable to search for every occurrence of $4C8D91 and change it to $4D8E92.

USER1: OK, level 2 doesn’t crash any more, but all the graphics are messed up…

Rekrul says:

Re: Re: Re:2 PC game Demos

I’ll admit that I haven’t looked for that many recent games. I was going to download a copy of Madness: Alice Returns (I would be willing to buy it if it didn’t require online activation), but every single copy on Pirate Bay has a long list of comments claiming that it doesn’t work for half the people who download it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Valve implemented refunds for legal reasons, they were sued for not allowing refunds

I’m surprised no one has mentioned this, but Valve implemented refunds because it was taken to court for violating consumer protection laws in other countries by not allowing refunds.

http://steamcommunity.com/app/263440/discussions/0/35222218715391210/

So this isn’t really a “lets be more consumer friendly” decision by them. It’s more of a “lets try to get some good publicity by announcing we’re going to obey consumer protection laws we were violating in a few countries”.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Valve implemented refunds for legal reasons, they were sued for not allowing refunds

Has there been a verdict on that case? A quick search around gave a lot of articles about the case being filed, but nothing on the court’s ruling or the stated date of October 7, 2014 for the hearing. Did it actually happen?

Anyway, regardless of why they did it, it’s a significant move that’s in favour of the consumer. Whether forced or something they wanted to implement naturally, it’s a good move.

Other companies may have responded to the court case by only allowing refunds in Australia, blocking sales to Australia, or setting up some other scheme to bypass/absorb the court ruling’s effects. Some might even have tried using their might to change the laws in their favour. They should still be congratulated for giving a consumer-friendly option that sets a nicely publicised precedent, even if their hand was indeed forced.

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