Indie Game Dev Decides To Leave Industry Due To Steam Returns On Short Game

from the predictable dept

It has now been over six years since Valve finally put in a refund policy for video games purchased on its Steam platform. At the time of its announcement, I was very much in favor of this move by Valve, given how previously the prospect of buying games on the platform was laughably tilted in favor of publishers and developers. On top of that, a whole bunch of the outcry from publishers and developers over the policy seemed to mostly center around it existing at all, meaning such concerns were mostly just requests to go back to the one-sided policies that favored them. Some developers even saw large numbers of refunds as a good thing, arguing that those refunds were likely largely from people that never would have tried their games out if a potential refund weren’t in place.

But going way back to that first post over its announcement, one concern brought up by developers seemed legit. Given that the refund policy required the buyer to have bought the game within the past two calendar weeks and to have not played more than two hours of it, well, what about very short games that can be completed well within that timeframe?

That exact scenario has now impacted one indie developer such that it is quitting the game development industry altogether.

Summer of ’58 is the latest first-person horror title from indie developer Emika Games, which was released in July and features a video blogger investigating an abandoned and supposedly haunted Russian children’s camp – which of course goes very badly indeed. At £6.19/$6.92 on Steam it’s a cheap purchase even full-price, and it’s currently 23% off.

The game’s Steam page makes it very clear that Summer of ’58 only has an average play-time of around 90 minutes. However, according to Emika Games, Summer of ’58 has received “a huge number of returns” – despite being rated ‘very positive’. The developer blames this on the fact that its game “does not reach two hours of playing time” – under Steam’s return policy, any game under two hours can be refunded.

As a result, Emika Games announced on Twitter that it is leaving the games industry entirely for an “indefinite time”.

Now, we could have a discussion about whether this is an overreaction or not. We could talk about how Steam’s refund policy is completely public, meaning that Emika Games knew what it was getting into when it put its 2 hour game on the platform. We could talk about business models and all the other ways the game could have been sold to the public other than via Steam, or other ways the developer could have made money from it.

But whatever side of those arguments you’d want to come down on, it wouldn’t change the simple fact that this is an obvious flaw within Steam’s refund policy. And, frankly, it’s one that developers and industry commentators saw coming a mile away. Hell, in my first post on the announcement, I managed to come up with a simple solution to this myself.

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.

It seems Steam decided not to keep the indies happy. And now one of them is leaving not just Steam, but the entire industry. Why? Because Steam caters primarily to the AAA publishers? That’s probably part of it. Because Steam didn’t want to give up that kind of control over its policies and platform to developers? Probably another part of it. Because this would have created work for Steam that it didn’t want to do? Likely yet another part of it.

But whether it is one of those explanations or the trifecta, a good indie gaming scene means this policy has to be altered to make it workable for those making shorter games.

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Companies: emika games, valve

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Comments on “Indie Game Dev Decides To Leave Industry Due To Steam Returns On Short Game”

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Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Re: Crybaby nonsense


The Internet is a communication medium and it allows a higher democratization and transparency in many avenues including sharing opinions, other speech, software, applications, etc. This is "good" in the general sense but it doesn’t require or generate a necessary "improvement" in either the speech or software.

It was great to read recently on TD that Bethesda hired modders who had shown their mettle to work for them. This is good democratization. It is unfortunate that software not perceived as worth its price is being subjected to refunds. NOTE: I don’t use this software, don’t know its devs, so consider this an opinion in general. While I would like to say "If they wrote great software nobody would return it within two weeks" I know nothing of this. Like the OP I quoted, crybaby nonsense…

The Internet is not at fault. It’s a communication medium. Can’t blame it. Steam is not at fault. It’s a portal/store/outlet. Buy from Steam or don’t. You do have 100% of the choice there, and blaming them for ?something? is not really fair.

At the end of the day we all have options. Exercise them and live with your choice (consequences). Steam? Amazon? whatever. Go for it.


Kal Zekdor (profile) says:

Where have I seen this before?

Huh. So some people would rather find ways to consume content without paying for it? How shocking.

Certainly this must be stopped. Can’t have people abusing the refund system to play games for free, how is any developer supposed to compete with that?

PaulT (profile) says:

"The developer blames this on the fact that its game “does not reach two hours of playing time” – under Steam’s return policy, any game under two hours can be refunded."

So… he made a game that can be completed in less time than it takes for most games to be reasonably demoed before purchase (hence that time limit), but it’s Steam’s fault for applying their policy and not his for making such a short game?

I can understand the frustration, and I don’t morally agree with the idea that people are OK to abuse this refund policy to get a free game after they’ve done playing with it. But, the rules are there, and you decided to make a sub-2 hour game in an industry where even shorter games can often run 3-4 hours, and you opted to use Steam instead of a competing platform despite them telling you upfront that refunds for sub-2 hour games are likely. This may be annoying and potentially unjust, but you made some of these decisions for yourself…

"At £6.19/$6.92 on Steam it’s a cheap purchase"

Which, if you consider entertainment per hour, is pretty expensive compared to the average game. In fact, it’s actually just enough for people to feel ripped off after they get to the 90 minute mark and go "wait, that’s it?", while they might not be as likely to do that if it were in the sub-5 pound range to start with.

"It might be an even better solution to simply allow game-makers to have options on the game-time of their refund policy."

The problem is that control can be wide open to abuse, depending on the developer, and will inevitably lead to confusion among players.

Phoenix84 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Honestly, I agree with this.
It made sense to make the argument for titles that already existed on the platform at the time the policy was enacted.

However this developer chose to knowingly publish a game that takes less time than the refund window that already existed at the time of development/publishing.
I don’t have much sympathy for this developer, and I am a developer.

Sabroni says:

Re: Re:

That’s a ridiculous statement, the running time of a game depends entirely on what it’s trying to do.
This is like saying Batman vs Superman is a great film because it lasts so long. That’s not how this works, some great films only last 30 mins and there are some stinkers that run for 4 hours plus.
Plus, if the purchaser read a description that says "This game typically lasts 90 minutes" and still bought the game they are not surprised when it’s done in 90 minutes, they’ve got exactly what they paid for.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

"That’s a ridiculous statement, the running time of a game depends entirely on what it’s trying to do"

I certainly agree here, but people want value for money and for some people that means length. I’ve seen much waining and moaning about full priced games that "only" last 6-8 hours, despite even the detractors admitting that those hours were excellent.

This is unfortunately part of the reason why these industries are the way they are. AAA games have pointless grinding or tacked-on multiplayer to increase the playtime, blockbuster movies often have pointless meandering side plots to drive the time past 2 hours.

I don’t personally agree with that mentality, but these are the realities of the marketplace. If people are asked to pay $X for a game, they will feel cheated if they don’t get Y hours out of it, and the value of Y changes greatly the higher the price is.

"That’s not how this works, some great films only last 30 mins and there are some stinkers that run for 4 hours plus."

…and if the cinema had a policy of guaranteeing a full refund if people walk out before the one hour mark, it would be silly of a studio to release a short movie on its own and then act surprised when people take advantage, equally so if they release the original short movie of Saw and expect people to be as happy with it being priced the same as the latest Saw sequel (for example).

"Plus, if the purchaser read a description"

Bold of you to assume that most people actually do that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

…and if the cinema had a policy of guaranteeing a full refund if people walk out before the one hour mark, it would be silly of a studio to release a short movie on its own and then act surprised when people take advantage

I’m pretty sure a movie theater could not get away with showing movies for free by citing a refund policy. They would have to still pay the studio or be sued for copyright infringement

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

Balram Char says:

How long can a snail sleep?

Although this is not the most pressing of questions, it is still a question we must answer. How long do snails sleep?

Forget about pondering on your own existence and wondering if there’s life beyond Earth. We are currently learning about the sleeping cycles of gastropods.


Some are very large while others are quite small. Some people despise them and some love to eat them. You have to think about the fact that snails are incredibly diverse. Similar principles apply to their sleeping habits.

The answer to the question, "How long do snails rest?" is 3 years. Sadly, that’s inaccurate. Such a statement is not the whole truth.

We know that there are many types of snails. From the common Garden Snail to the Giant African Land Snail. You may have different sleeping habits depending on your environment and species.

Like many other creatures, some snails hibernate through the winter months. They may also estimate during dry and warm seasons.

Hibernation is not the same as sleep. Although animals are still asleep during these states of hibernation and estivation, their bodies are going through extreme physiological changes.

Sleep predominantly alters psychological aspects. Hibernation and estivation, however, are more focused on physical alterations such as the change of body temperature.

So, how long do snails sleep for? Technically, it’s not 3 year. Sometimes they can hibernate from one year to the next.

How long do snails really sleep?

The average sleep cycle of a snail isn’t too astounding. Snails will sleep on and off for several hours at a time. After they have slept, however, they can remain awake for up to 30 hours. You might even be familiar with others who have similar sleeping patterns.

Snails don’t tend to pay attention to the day and night cycles. Instead, they’ll sleep as and when they feel the need to.

What is the point of this topic?

It’s actually quite funny. Google is probably familiar to many of you. You may also be aware of their ongoing efforts to improve user experience.

Nowadays, when you type a question into Google it’s a lot more likely that you’ll be presented with an immediate answer. These answers tend to be siphoned out from higher ranking content for the search term in question.

A Redditor whose name is "Unidan_nadinU", may have thought of the question we’re tackling today. Google brought up the astonishingly accurate answer of "How long do Snails Rest" after they typed in their question. The only unit of measure that is comparable to three is "three".

Reddit was then used by the individual to post a screenshot under the caption "Units Of Measurement are for Suckers". The post gained a lot of attention. Multiple memes that were based on it also started to surface.

We have it! We have more than just the answer to your question on how long snails rest. We even went as far as to inform you about why people care.

How to Fly on a Plane to Sleep – Take a Jet to Dream Land

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If you’re reading this you either plan to travel by plane or have already booked your flight. For short flights, rest may not be necessary. However, for longer trips, it may be a concern. These are some tips to help you get a better night’s sleep on the plane.


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When working out how to sleep on a plane, it’s important that you fully understand what works best for you. You can then take steps to make the plane a more comfortable place for sleeping.

How to Sleep on a Plane – Things to Try

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You can’t sleep on a plane if you aren’t paying attention.

Earplugs can be a good option if your preference is for quiet sleep. These will reduce noises both from the plane and others inside. Alternatively, if you prefer certain noises whilst you sleep, bring a device which will allow you to listen to them. It could be soothing music, white noise, or something else.

Lighting – Sleeping on a Plane

Bring a sleep mask if too much light is bothersome to you while you are sleeping. The mask will block out all light which might interfere with you getting good rest. Alternatively, if you prefer a little more lighting while you sleep, most planes come fitted with a small reading light for each seat.

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Sometimes, it can prove difficult to be comfortable in a plane cabin. Small amounts of legroom and extended periods of sitting can be hard going. visit website

Anonymous Coward says:

The article is missing a couple of bits of info that would lead some context to the situation;

  • At the time of the initial tweet with the dev announcing they were leaving game dev, the game had four reviews that had been refunded (out of ~200 reviews) and at no point did the dev (as far as I could tell) reveal either the numbers or percentage of refunds, so we don’t actually know if there was a high amount of refunds or the dev like some others was just unhappy at any refunds.

  • The review score was around ~90% positive which means 10% of users didn’t like the game, so would it have been wrong for those users to refund it?

  • Also at the time the store page made no mention of the short length of the game, they only added that note to the store page afterwards, so it’s possible users liked the game but were unhappy it ended after an hour and thus felt it then wasn’t value for money.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Yeah, I generally apply a formula to a game based on how much beer I could afford for the same price and how long that’d keep me feeling good for. If the game keeps me feeling happy as long as the same amount of beer I could buy for that price would, it was worth the price.

I have plenty games that are sub-2h experiences I still have installed to this day.

I’ve also refunded games (Thanks to MS customer support on XBox being top notch) after over a year when the studio responsible pulled content I had paid for from the game, and it was no longer the product I had bought.

Consumer protection always trumps protecting businesses that cannot adapt to the marketplace.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

For me it’s about quality rather than length, but pricing factors into it as well. If you’re charging me €10 for a game I can complete in less time than the average movie, I’m going to have a different opinion than if you charged me €3. Disappointed customers are more likely to ask for refunds.

"I’ve also refunded games (Thanks to MS customer support on XBox being top notch) after over a year when the studio responsible pulled content I had paid for from the game"

I assume you mean they changed the game with a mandatory patch after release and not that they removed DLC? MS tend to be very good about keeping content available even if it’s delisted, but I presume they have little real control over what the developers decide to do with free updates if they’re not introducing bugs, etc.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"The review score was around ~90% positive which means 10% of users didn’t like the game, so would it have been wrong for those users to refund it?"

That’s always a good question. Personally, I’d prefer to say it is wrong – art is subjective and it’s not the artist’s fault if you chose something that’s not to your tastes. That’s what reviews and communities are for – research before you buy and/or accept that not everything is for you.

On the other hand, if people know they can get a refund for everything they buy if they do try it and not like it, they might be more adventurous. In that case, it’s not their fault if someone decides to release a full product that’s shorter than the average demo.

I’d prefer it if refunds are based purely around functionality like they generally are in the physical world, but I can see the argument the other way to a degree.

"Also at the time the store page made no mention of the short length of the game"

Well, there we go. If customers are allowed to have a refund if they were disappointed, and you disappointed them by giving them a shorter experience than they expected at the price, you shouldn’t be surprised when some people exercise that right.

maybe a reason for small developer anger says:

Re: Even simpler solution

Not a Steam publisher but I would think that Steam would not disburse funds until after the refund period so no monetary loss there beyond the expectation of earnings. The catch would be credit card refunds which may cost a transaction fee to the seller thus cost the publisher /dev.

Anonymous Coward says:

this whole situation is a symptom of publishers being deceitful and greedy. we wouldn’t need such strong return policies if they still released demos instead of "simulated gameplay footage"

if every game had a playable demo i’d be ok with weaker return policies (though they’d still need to allow for returns if the game isn’t as advertised, has bugs that affect playability, or an update removes content you’ve paid for)

Ninja (profile) says:

There are some ideas that could help here both for quick games and for those long games that trick you into exceeding the 2 hour period with tons of cut scenes, it’s just a matter of wanting to solve the problem I think. First, a game that averages 100+ hours (considering all players) and several Gbs of size should have a higher time limit to use the return policy. I’m fairly sure that there was a good % of buyers that acted like functioning, civilized humans and didn’t return the game so, how long did they spend playing? 2 hours? then the return limit should be lower. Set up a policy where you have to wait a few days before requesting the return when the game launches and determine the minimum play time while this "return ban" is up. Say, 2 weeks of ppl playing should be enough to determine what’s an average play time and then set up the max threshold. That and some input from the devs (punishable with sanctions for abusers) should help a ton. I’m sure there are other ideas that can help as well.

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

Possibly and maybe

I have serious problems with software refunds. This coming from someone who develops under the IDGAF premise.

I could understand maybe a 15 or 20 minute, 30 minute window. Making sure the game actually plays on your setup. GTA V for example has a massively long intro of on-rails play.
Driver as well. Etc.

2 hours? 2 long!

First of all little squirts that want to play fraud should have just pirated the game. Not only did you take it from the developers, you cost the platform money in the transaction, and refund.
That’s worse than “piracy” alone!

I’m not sure about windows but the Mac games I have from steam are full single bundle packages.
Meaning once I have the game, I have the game. The package can be copied elsewhere and still runs just fine. Without steam.

So these users can refund the game and keep it, as well. Giving rise to my concern about refunds.
There’s a reason (many) stores don’t take physical returns when the item is opened.

I understand not playing a game, or it not running, or it being a scam, etc.

But if 20 people buy a game and give it a 1 spam rating there’s and obvious issue. If 20 people buy the game and 19 give it 10 and 15 returned the game, there’s a problem with the system.

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Timeframe for return

Many times I personally purchase something (usually a real object on AMZ, not software on Steam, but then also Google App Store stuff for my phone).

Sometimes I have the time to USE or review it within minutes. That’s not the usual case. Sometimes within days I can do so. That’s not usual either. I have a UPS NIB I’ve yet to open after a year. I have an HTPC server NIB I’ve yet to open after two years. I have two teak benches I’ve yet to Allen-wrench let alone open the package.

The best methods should be… buy the thing, then when you open it, timer starts then. I shouldn’t have to open it when it shows up. I bought it. It’s mine. If I want to leave it on a shelf till I make time for it, that’s my right.

Same for software.


basstabs says:

Price-Dependent System

Not something I’ve fully thought through the pros and cons of, but what about a price-dependent refund system? I.e., the amount of money the game costs determines how much time before your refund is no longer automatic. A five dollar game gives you thirty minutes, a fifteen dollar game is an hour, 30 bucks is an hour and a half, 60 bucks is the full two hours. Or whatever specific numbers you want to pick.

This could be based off of either MSRP (i.e. non-sale price) or the price paid at time of purchase.

basstabs says:

Re: Re: Price-Dependent System

I don’t think our goal is eliminating abuse, as that seems fairly impossible. Either sellers will abuse buyers or buyers will abuse sellers, or both. But more granularity in the system might be more beneficial for more actors compared to the current system. I think there are plenty of valid arguments for why the current system is as good as we’re going to get in balancing the concerns of everyone involved, but I think that’s an argument that needs to be made and backed up by some numbers. I don’t think we should dismiss possible solutions just because they would have problems, because the current system has problems. We should give some concrete justification about why the potential problems of an alternative solution outweigh the existing problems (or at least are so insignificant an improvement as to not merit the work of changing things.)

I don’t really agree with the assertion that the game in question was priced too high. It’s 9 dollars, which is pretty competitive for Indie games with comparable review scores and visual quality. It’s not a genre I am familiar with enough to comment on how the intended audience feels about it, but the consistent number of positive reviews even before surge generated by the news about the game suggests it’s not a particularly bad price.

Comparing it with other titles in the "More like this" page, its price seems to be lower than most and higher than a small few titles that Steam considers its competitors. There’s also not a lot of room to lower the price to the point where refunding it isn’t worth it: if you’re willing morally to refund a game you completed and enjoyed for 9 dollars, are you going to not do so at 6? 5? 3? There’s some price point where the initial gain is just not worth the (minimal) effort it takes to refund something, but we don’t have a clue where it is. (And there’s only a slim margin for it to be such that is a fair price for the amount of work the developer put into the game.)

Additionally, the fact that, in theory, a lower price would have avoided the issue doesn’t make it okay for people to abuse the system. It’s sort of like getting mugged. There might have been things you could have done to avoid getting mugged, but that doesn’t mean it’s your fault you got mugged and that we shouldn’t do anything to address the larger mugging problem.

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