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.
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.