Game Developers Wary Of Steam Refund Policy Because Customers Are Using It

from the oh-nos! dept

It seems like only days ago that we had written about Valve’s Steam platform finally adopting a method for customer returns. Oh, wait, it was only a few days ago. I was confused because given the way that some game developers are reacting to Steam allowing refunds, I’d have thought that there would be some massive sample size against which to judge how it all was working.

The developers of Revenge of the Titans—a well-like strategy tower defense game that’s been out since 2011—saw an unexpectedly large uptick in refunds. “55% refund rate on RoTT alone. Versus five refunds in 10 years direct,” they tweeted.

Ah, so the concern is that in the first week or so of Steam allowing refunds, customers are asking for refunds? That seems strange. In particular, it seems somewhat strange not to expect a larger uptick in refund requests within the first few weeks than you’d expect to see after the refund program had been in place for a while, as customers who might have games in their libraries that they never thought they could get a refund on were suddenly allowed to get one. You see these kinds of initial metrics in other business areas all the time, and they’re nothing to get your hair up about. When you give customers an outlet they haven’t had previously, the most traffic for that outlet is always at the outset.

Anyone else?

Meanwhile, Qwiboo, developer of a procedurally generated space platformer called Beyond Gravity, chimed in with an even higher stat. “Out of 18 sales 13 refunded in just last 3 days. That’s 72% of purchases. Rate of refunds before was minimal,” they tweeted.

Keep in mind that games can’t be refunded after more than 14 days after purchase and can’t have been played for more than 2 hours (beyond rare circumstances). If you’re getting a 72% return rate on your game under those conditions, it sounds like nobody liked the first 2 hours of your game. I guess you can blame the refund policy for that, if you want, or you can simply make better games.

Other developers had what I think are helpful requests to go along with complaints about returns.

Matt Gambell of RPG Tycoon paired his stat—”In these first 7 days of June out of the 60 average units sold, over 20 of those have claimed a refund”—with an observation about what he’d like to see out of Valve’s system: a better explanation as to why people asked for a refund of his game. That way, he could try to learn and improve—or at least patch any holes users find in his ship.

Specifically, Gambell would like more information on why customers chose to return the game, as well as information on how many people had bought games to gift to other people and then returned those copies for any number of reasons (the giftee already had the game, etc.). Unfortunately, Gambell then went on to claim, along with several other developers, that this refund policy is likely going to result in a wider adoption of DRM, since there is some concern that gamers are “returning” the games after making copies of them. This, mind you, is an assertion made in a vacuum of evidence.

And all of this is due, mind you, to customers actually using the refund option that Steam made available. It’s there to be used. I’m not sure exactly what kind of metrics these developers were expecting, but I doubt any of this early panic or calls for more DRM are warranted or particularly helpful. The whole experiment has been going on for a couple of weeks, after all. Let’s all take a breath and see how the numbers shake out a couple of months down the road before we pull a Chicken Little.

Filed Under: , ,
Companies: valve

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Game Developers Wary Of Steam Refund Policy Because Customers Are Using It”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
42 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

I think the refund opportunity is great. I have a lot of games but about 10-15% were not very good. I would return them if I could. I also agree though that it would help the developer know why their game is being returned. Maybe Steam can provide a platform for the developers to have a couple questions on why they are returning the game. Allowing both the customer to return the game and the developer to get feedback.

rorybaust (profile) says:

Game Developers Wary Of Steam Refund Policy

seems interesting that the developers would assume that people are gaming a refund system , firstly people with no interest in paying very rarely actually pay and secondly if these people are gaming the system well there is a nifty new idea for a game and if they think adding DRM is going to help they really have not been paying attention

Anonymous Coward says:

“if they think adding DRM is going to help they really have not been paying attention”

^
This

I’m sorry, but Steam is enough of a DRM for me. Bloodbowl never wound up getting my money because of this crap. They tried to sell me limited installs on my steam product, I passed up paying for my MOST WANTED GAME FOR YEARS at 50% off.

I love steam dearly, but game developers? DRM isn’t just a reason for me to return your game, it’s a reason to NOT BUY IT IN THE FIRST PLACE. Please don’t try to solve your sales problem by offering an inferior product to the pirates. It hasn’t worked yet, and it isn’t likely to in future.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I agree. I passed on buying Might and Magic X on sale recently because it requires Steam AND UPlay DRM Malware to run. I cannot consent to those terms.

Playing GOG Witcher 3 has been such a pleasure. I paid for it at full price for the same reason that I refused to pay for marked-down MMX+Malware.

Voting with our wallets is the only meaningful form of voting left.

Anonymous Coward says:

“since there is some concern that gamers are “returning” the games after making copies of them”

Talk about “citation needed”; you can’t just “copy the game” and run it, provided you actually used the Steam developer tools to wrap the binary before putting it on Steam in the first place– and I’m not sure you even *can* upload an unprotected binary to Steam, even if you wanted to. And if they’ve done that, it’s going to be a hell of a lot more of a hassle to copy the game from Steam and crack it than it would be to just torrent the cracked versions in the first place.

logical-unit-738 (profile) says:

Re: Steam games without Steam

It’s actually the author’s choice to wrap the game in Steam’s DRM. Otherwise, Steam is either just a launcher or update platform, depending on what the author wants.

I have a few games purchased through Steam that you can basically just copy the game directory to another machine, and it runs just fine.

mischab1 says:

Increase in sales?

What I want to know is if any of game companies are seeing any uptick in sales. I know several people who have now bought games they were unsure would play on their pc purely because of the new refund process limited their risk.

For the game developers who are comparing refunds before to refunds now, I’d like to point out that before, unless you made a big deal about refunds, it did not occur to me I could even get a refund. If I didn’t like the game or it wouldn’t run on my pc, I assumed I was SOL.

Christenson says:

Re: Less risk in buying --> sales increase, some additional refunds

Being the conservative curmudgeon I am, I am sure there are others who are now more willing to buy a game they can get a refund on if they don’t like it.

So, the returns take an uptick? You still probably sell more games, get more exposure. Do I like gambling with 50% odds of being SOL?? No…but if it’s 10%, and the risk is because of my own laziness, well, that’s different!

And yes, Steam, when offering refunds do tell your developers WHY those refunds were asked for!

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

TotalBiscuit did some digging (Youtube) into this. Most developers seem to be taking a “wait and see” approach, but are optimistic. Most of the ones that TB pointed out that mentioned how many refunds were issued said that a high rate would be expected initially. Especially since Valve seems to be giving refunds for games purchased months ago. People who would have refunded the games would have spread out over the months if refunds were possible.

Anonymous Coward says:

Regarding DRM

There seems to be some confusion around DRM here.
Games that require steam to run already have DRM. Somehow some people, quite a lot actually, don’t perceive this as what it is.
Games DO NOT need to have steamwork DRM to be on steam. Example: Bastion. Completely DRM free on steam.
If devs say they need an additional layer of DRM, then yes, they are full of shit.
If you think it’s not totally reasonable to have at least one layer of DRM when you’re offering refunds, then you’re wrong.

Completely DRM free games (so no steam DRM nor any other) would be a boon to pirates because they could now download games for free from a trusted source.

If you care at all about your computer security, torrents are not an option. Malware could be hidden in a way that no layman notices and experts only when actively analyzing it. It’s particularly easy to catch something because everyone knows there’s so many “false positives” with your AV on pirated software.

Now, technological incompetence is rampant enough, that it may be big enough a barrier such that offering refunds might even work without DRM.
It would be a sad tale for humanity if this worked but it probably wouldn’t anyway. Free stuff is a powerful motivator.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Regarding DRM

“Completely DRM free games (so no steam DRM nor any other) would be a boon to pirates because they could now download games for free from a trusted source.”

Bullshit, but that is the excuse they use.

Here’s the reality – the vast majority of games infected with DRM have been hacked or otherwise altered to make the DRM irrelevant to people who pirate the game. From that point on, the ONLY people it affects are legal customers. To the pirates, it’s effectively DRM-free.

Fortunately, some sources (most notably GoG, but there are many others) are making good business out of not assuming their customers are pirates before they’ve even had a chance to run the game. That’s partly why I’ve spent around $60 in the most recent GoG sales and exactly $0 on Steam. Refunds don’t matter to me as much as the ability to run the game I own without being spied on.

“If you care at all about your computer security, torrents are not an option. Malware could be hidden in a way that no layman notices and experts only when actively analyzing it.”

Again, bullshit. If you’re using torrents to download unauthorised pirated software, sure. Most trusted projects that use torrents for distribution, especially open source ones, will come supplied with an MD5 checksum you can use to see if the file has been altered from the original. If malware is what concerns you, protection is out there. If you choose to pirate, you take your chances, but DRM does nothing to stop it.

“Free stuff is a powerful motivator.”

So is operating your computer without DRM checking to see if you’re a pirate every time you do something and often actively blocking you using your own legally purchased content. That’s why GoG is making money, even while the Steam sale is on.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Regarding DRM

“If you care at all about your computer security, torrents are not an option. Malware could be hidden in a way that no layman notices and experts only when actively analyzing it.”

Again, bullshit. If you’re using torrents to download unauthorised pirated software, sure.

So, “Bullshit, but you’re completely right in the context we’re talking about?”. Nice one.
You also seem to have an irrationally high trust in AV software. They cannot and will not detect everything.

DRM will not stop pirates. DRM will stop pirates from getting secure downloads for free.
I don’t pirate anymore for that reason. But I have no illusions regarding other people not caring about or understanding this.
After all, if I can’t find it, that means there is no infection, right?

Now I like GoG, but they’re a niche store with a fraction of the games I’d like to buy.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Regarding DRM

“So, “Bullshit, but you’re completely right in the context we’re talking about?”. Nice one.”

I’m sorry, I thought I was addressing the idiotic claim that distributing non-DRM software would be more dangerous than what we have now. Apologies if I misunderstood.

“You also seem to have an irrationally high trust in AV software.”

No, I have a trust in legitimately distributed software from developers who aren’t intent of infecting my machine with crap to try and guess if I’m a pirate. This may be misplaced given the buggy crap some of them release, but it’s what I look to right now. I don’t pirate. If you do, you’re on your own.

“DRM will not stop pirates. DRM will stop pirates from getting secure downloads for free.”

So, by your own admission it doesn’t work. Pirates will still pirate despite the risk, so why the odious malware and other restrictions forced on legitimate customers (yes, a lot of DRM does actually count as malware)?

“Now I like GoG, but they’re a niche store with a fraction of the games I’d like to buy.”

That’s at the hands of idiot developers who faun over DRM, not realising that its existence put a lot of people off the PC gaming market years ago, but still insist on more restrictive DRM for every release. GoG do an excellent job for the developers who are more forward thinking, and they’re the ones who get my money.

John85851 (profile) says:

A few points...

1) Is Steam asking customers why they want a refund? It would be helpful to the developers if they knew there was a bug, or if the customer got bored, or if the game was too hard, or the customer just didn’t like it.

2) Yes, having a better refund system may increase sales, but how many of those sales will be refunded because people can now treat their purchase as a “demo”: they buy, play for 2 hours, then ask for a refund.

3) When the refund is complete, does Steam completely remove the game from the customer’s hard drive? I have no idea how these mechanics work, but I wonder how many developers are worried that customers can ask for a refund, but then still play the game. After all, this isn’t like a physical product where the store gets the item back in exchange for the refund.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: A few points...

“I wonder what percentage of those answers would be “it sux”.”

Probably quite a lot. However, it’s possible that the presence of the refund option is something that makes people more willing to take a chance on the game than they would do if it was a guaranteed sunk cost. Long term, this will probably cause things to even out.

Error7x says:

On day one of the new refund policy, I requested a refund for Final Fantasy XIII and XIII-2. Steam wouldn’t refund the first because I actually spent 6 hours (4 hours over their refund threshold) trying to figure out if the game had anything more to it than just an interactive hallway. (spoiler: It doesn’t, don’t buy the game, it sucks)

Then there’s the trove of other games that I hadn’t played for more than 20 minutes. I WON’T request a refund for them. Why? The developers took time creating these games, providing a much better storyline or game play than that 71 Million dollar flop, FFXIII.

Even if I’m wrapped up in another game and don’t have time to get to one I’ve purchased or if didn’t like a game, I can tell you that I won’t turn in games unless they show a serious lack of design or general effort to make the game playable.

Steve R. (profile) says:

When DRM is Used Refunds Must be Allowed

In a moment of weakness, I bought Civ5. During the install, it had the usual TOS that took away all your rights. I declined to accept. No screen popped-up for getting a refund. Of course my complaints were denied.

If those who impose DRM are not going to refund your money if you decline their TOS, why should you have any sympathy for them? The whole purpose of DRM is to prevent piracy, yet it is the game manufacturer who is being the pirate by declining to refund your money if you don’t accept their TOS.

The credit card company did give me a courtesy refund. Good for them.

Arsik Vek (profile) says:

There do appear to be some hiccups on steam’s end. Young Horses (developers of Octodad: Dadliest Catch) reported that something like 80% of the returns they’ve experienced were outside steam’s two-week return window. Specifically purchases from 2-5 months ago. The opinion from the dev seems to be that this is something that will be fixed soon and isn’t worth stressing over.

Anonymous Coward says:

One of the main problem is that the last year or two steam have been absolutely flooded with short cheap games, they kinda start behaving like app developers instead of pc game developers

And these short, cheap, semi crappy games get a huge refund rate, because its sold in the wrong place. Steam is for “real” games not small quick apps and that is why the refund policy isent working for them

Short.. Make longer,better games instead of spitting out quick shit and try to make a buck

Anonymous Coward says:

Yeah im sure people are going to go through all tha crap, give Valve money and do the whole refund process just to “make a copy” of a game.
Every single one of those games is up to date on most pirate sites. A lot less bullshit to get a copy.

As for these games, they are the flash games of the 2010’s. Most of them are crap. Good to know that they only convince a dozen people a week, those low-quality games should not be up for sale.

Anonymous Coward says:

“I guess you can blame the refund policy for that, if you want, or you can simply make better games.”

One of the issues with games is that someone new to it is usually going to suck at it compared to someone that’s been playing it (or very similar games) for a long time. The fact is that games have winners and losers and many people don’t like to be losers. So newcomers to the game come in, find they suck compared to those that have been playing for years, and so they quickly give up. Game developers try to find ways to attract newcomers but if you try to make a game that doesn’t result in different people with different skill levels that will frustrate experienced users that want to be better than others and enjoy the challenge. Another option is to try to find ways to encourage good players to play against other good players while having beginners play against other beginners (or, perhaps if you’re playing team matches people naturally try to team players up evenly).

Jacob H (profile) says:

?

as customers who might have games in their libraries that they never thought they could get a refund on were suddenly allowed to get one

This doesn’t make any sense, given that you note:

Keep in mind that games can’t be refunded after more than 14 days after purchase

So anybody that has games they don’t play in their library can’t, in fact, get a refund on them all of a sudden (unless they bought those games in the last two weeks)

crade (profile) says:

Something not mentioned in the article, but I am curious about.. Has the number of daily sales been consistent for these devs? You would think the added confidence in the medium would bring a few more buyers. A 55% increase in refunds paired with a 65% increase in sales isn’t necessarily so bad. Even a slight sales increase might paint a much less depressing picture since the return rates could certainly drop

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...
Loading...