Indie Devs Not Happy with Steam's New Refund Policy

Steam's new refund policy creates more security for buyers, but leaves the door open for abuse of the system.

Digital content is largely bought and sold according to "all sales are final" policies. While this certainly doesn't prevent consumers from making digital purchases, it does generate large amounts of buyer's remorse. Earlier this week, PC software giant Steam rolled out a new refund policy, to adulations from gamers across the board.

And why not? There's no reason for digital content consumers not to be happy with refunds on Steam. You can now purchase a title with the confidence that, if you aren't satisfied, you can return the license for a full refund within two weeks or two play-hours. That confidence certainly makes gamers less afraid to take chances on unknown indie titles, and this, in turn, drives indie sales numbers upward.

Yet some indie developers have recognized a significant problem with Steam's new policy. As Cibele developer Nina Freeman points out, games like hers may not have over two hours of gameplay, meaning Steam users can easily purchase the game - and experience it in its entirety - before returning it for a full refund. Brianna Wu, the creator of Revolution 60, agrees:

Many indie games clock in well over Steam's two-hour cut-off, but many don't. The potential financial benefits mentioned earlier are all but lost on these indie devs, who will undoubtedly find their products bought, used, and returned like an expensive evening gown.

This might be a different conversation entirely if the gaming community wasn't beset by a toxic mean-spiritedness of late. Last month, developer 2Awesome Studio was crushed to learn that its apparently successful Kickstarter for Dimension Drive had been derailed by a fake 7000 Euro donation. Because the donation wasn't detected before the campaign's closing, 2Awesome and Dimension Drive were left without funding, per Kickstarter policy.

This is only one of the many cruel and vicious attacks on indie game developers. The potential for abuse within Steam's refund policy isn't lost on the gaming community, but the few viable alternatives - such as giving creators the ability to modify refund terms on their games - are unlikely to be implemented any time soon.

For now, indie devs have to hope their customers will be kind. That, or come up with a creative way around the new terms:


I'm a freelance writer and editor from the rural American South. I write. I read. I play video games. I also sleep sometimes. Talk to me about ampersands, blankets, and the Oxford comma.

Published Jun. 2nd 2015
  • Kdogprime
    Let me be totally clear, this has been a feature Steam should have had, FROM THE BEGINNING.

    Does anyone else think that all that complaint from the indie devs really says is that they see their customers in exactly the same way as the triple A devs do; as thieves? Dishonest, looking to get something for nothing, THIEVES. This refund policy has served to show these indie devs' true colors.

    So if even the moral, upright, shining knights of gaming justice are going to treat me the same way as the dark, greedy, unethical gaming tycoons, then why should I care what they think about a store putting this basic consumer right into place?

    Make your games longer indie devs, then you'll have nothing to complain about. There are plenty of popular indie games that have playtimes much longer than two hours.
  • GameSkinny Staff
    As an alternative/tweak to the refund policy, I'd like to see Steam have a limited number of refunds available to users.

    For example: each year, each user is allotted 2-3 refunds to be used in this way. That way you've got 3 'undo buttons' to spend, but no more than that - to prevent abuse. That's 3 more refunds than we all currently get and should mostly prevent refund abuse.

    Even if you're a total troll, are you going to spend a refund on a $1 micro game, or on a $60 game that you didn't realize you don't meet the min requirements for?
  • The Soapbox Lord
    Featured Contributor
    So like LoL's refund system eh?
  • K.W. Colyard
    I actually really like this idea.
  • The Soapbox Lord
    Featured Contributor
    This is simply Valve making another huge decision with little foresight or thoughts to how it affects parties involved. Steam needs a refund policy, yes. The fact they have not had one for this long is ridiculous. It needs some work though.

    And Valve saying they will "monitor" anything inspires me with as much confidence as a blind, deaf, and limbless nature guide. Valve can't even monitor if the games being sold on Steam bloody work, much less this new policy.
  • Amanda Wallace
    Former Staff Editor
    Yeah, it seems like it's a policy that's set to be abused on some developers who create smaller experiences. And I feel for Nina, who has gotten some hate in the past for her short vignette games and is therefore a ripe target for those kinds of abuses (her games are pretty fantastic though).
  • Si_W
    There is a simple solution.

    1. Exempt certain games
    2. Make games a little longer than 2 hours

    No idea who she is or what sort of games she makes, does she get loads of threads demanding refunds the same as all the AAA games?

    You will never get a completely level playing field, no matter what the policy but offering refunds is a good policy (even though it matters not to me in general).
  • K.W. Colyard
    Agreed. I know Cibele caught a good bit of flack from some corners, though most praised the game. I need to buy it. *rubs hands and waits for Steam Sale*
  • David Fisher
    Featured Columnist
    I don't think this will be a problem per-se. The FAQ stated that this is "not a way to get free games" and so I'm giving Valve the benefit of the doubt in that their actual terms and conditions probably does not allow people to get refunds on short games.

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