Valve have recently announced they’re going to allow refunds on just about any game or DLC on Steam. This is a great thing for consumers for a multitude of reasons, but as with any system such as this, there are caveats.

There are limitations on what can be refunded of course: movies, games bought outside of steam, games that have been gifted, and games where the player has clocked over two hours of playtime are all ineligible for a refund. This change to Valve’s policies has some pretty big ramifications for the indie scene, some good, some bordering on the apocalyptic.

ss_b3885e9f3074bb6a010bff2bbd6d231f9a8d3dee

On the one hand, there is now the freedom for players to more safely gamble on a game they’ve never heard of. Smaller games which maybe didn’t get the coverage they deserve can now be purchased and enjoyed. Meanwhile, the increasing quantity of duds on steam can simply be refunded and forgotten about. Be it a broken or buggy game, or one of the many dead multiplayer games, you can now simply pretend it never happened.

Caveat emptor no longer applies when you’ve got two weeks after purchase, or two hours of playtime, to scrub it from your library. This is fantastic for smaller, experimental games that players were wary of before.

This allows for a relationship built on trust to develop between the player and the developer. The developer now has to work to provide a quality game if they want to be paid for it – games such as The Slaughtering Grounds and Air Control can no longer make their money of fof people seeing how bad they really are, and that can only be good.

ss_5e3bc7cf329a284ce6726b3cdded3a03cb9639e9

Unfortunately, there is also a huge problem for those very same games. Smaller, experimental games such as Mountain or Dominique Pamplemousse are designed to be short experiences, often lasting shorter than that previously mentioned two hour limit. What becomes of them? It’s now incredibly easy for gamers to buy these games, give them a whirl, maybe play them through to completion, and simply refund the game.

The experience has been had. I greatly enjoyed my time with Dominique Pamplemousse, but it’s also a game that after only playing once I’ve felt I had my fill. I’m probably not going to go back to that game any time soon, and so what would stop me from simply asking for a refund and moving on to the next game?

ss_6c46efbe1664f89160472592134eea3624a7f44f

While Valve claims anyone abusing this system may have their right to a refund revoked, there are two things to consider: “abusing the system” is a completely arbitrary distinction based on a particular user’s use of the system. Revoking that right ‘just because’ could conflict with a lot of consumer protection laws in various countries, however I am by no means a legal expert.

It could also cause a huge PR storm when the first person is refused a refund because of “abuse”, as the lines simply haven’t been drawn in the sand just yet. People will get angry, and it’s possible Valve would want to avoid that by being incredibly lenient in what they consider abuse.

ss_6c765e6a902c9f0cf9a8e4b67c9beb3105eb0493

So what can indie developers do? Steam’s just become a safer place for buyers, but a bit of a wild west for sellers, and so the only sensible answer I can think of in these early days is to just not sell through Steam.

Offering Steam keys without directly selling through Steam initially appears to offer the best of both worlds: players get to keep the game on the platform, but they are also unable to refund because of it being purchased from a third party.

Unfortunately this is hardly ideal, as the publicity being on Steam brings can be its own reward. Players would still have to find the game off of Steam, which could dramatically cut in to the potential sales of the game.

Opting for platforms such as Humble and Itch.io to sell games through may be an alternative for developers, but unfortunately the lack of any current major competition with Steam is still a major hurdle for many developers.

ss_8db923dd66a0fdfc7c4fdc24fabdb735a18147e8

Overall, this feels a lot like another half-baked, poorly planned system. This wouldn’t be the first time Valve’s made a mess with big, sweeping changes to their business practices, lest we forget the recent paid mods debacle.

For players like me, it’s a great move and I applaud them for it. Players absolutely deserve refunds, and it will allow for previously risky purchases to be made in confidence. But I’m also incredibly concerned about what will happen to genuinely interesting experiences that are shorter than Valve’s arbitrary two hour limit. It’s definitely going to be a turbulent time.

About The Author

Former Managing Editor

Joe Parlock is an opinionated pop culture writer from the British midlands with 3 years of experience and a passion for being a general grump about games. Starting out before he could walk with a Sega Megadrive and a copy of Sonic the Hedgehog 2, his favourite genres of games includes platformers, stealth, fighting, roguelites and the budding survival sim genre. Joe also writes not only about games, but also other areas of pop culture such as film and TV.

Related Posts

  • Andrii Vintsevych

    So those are basically free now?

    Real Horror Stories 2$ 25 min
    Jazzpunk 15$ 60 min
    thirty flights of loving 5$ 10-15 min
    Light 35 min 12$
    4pm 30 min 5$
    Home 2 hrs 2.99$
    Dear Esther 1 hr 9.99$
    The Graveyard 9 min 5$
    Gravity Bone 15 min
    Samorost 15 min 5$
    Dinner Date 22 min 2.99$
    They Breathe 41 min 1.99
    Octodad 43 min 15$
    Proteus 1 hr 9.99$
    Haunt the House: Terrortown 1hr 4.99
    The Yawhg 30 min 9.99
    DLC Quest 1 hr 2.99
    Samorost 2 5$ 1 hr

    • Joe Parlock

      If you’re a butt.

    • There could be a sliding scale based on how long the game’s natural running time is. You only really need 15 minutes tops to know if a game is junk or not. 2 hours is only useful if the game is a really long one where nothing can happen for like hours.

  • Funny, I was like the only person saying Steam just needs a refund policy so people (Jim Sterling) can stop complaining about scam-y games.

    I said quit talking and start demanding a refund policy instead. Like less than a week later voila. I gotta admit I expected a policy would be credit based, and would’ve recommended to Steam a list of objective criteria that people asking for a refund could check off so their non-people based systems could make sense of it all.

    This article seems to suggest that you just get your money back if you don’t play the game X hours or wait X days, but I have a feeling Steam doesn’t deal directly in money like every other digital store except for maybe GOG? so it’s credits before you buy the game and no refund of credits.

  • Jon S.

    I believe that one of the requirements for a Steam refund is that you can not complete the game. So, I assume that stipulation would protect some of the indie devs who make short quality experience games. Really, this new refund policy is only going to hurt the “devs” who sell cobbled together asset packs and hope they make a profit.