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

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.

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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:


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K.W. Colyard
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.