Epic Games Provides Price-Adjusted Refunds in Special Cases
Since announcing its own digital storefront just two months ago, Epic Games has made clear that it intends to shake up the digital distribution space doing some things a bit differently than its long-established competitors.
Although it can be argued that some of these changes are more to the benefit of developers than gamers, the waves Epic has made are nonetheless industry-altering.
When the digital distribution shakeup began, Epic came out swinging with a profit-split deal that leaves developers with higher profit shares than Steam. Then things began to tidal wave when Ubisoft snubbed Steam, electing to release Tom Clancy's: The Division 2 on Epic's store.
Soon after, Deep Silver not only elected to publish Metro Exodus on the EGS, but it actually pulled listings for the game from Steam and other platforms. And, of course, early yesterday, Phoenix Labs announced it would be shutting down its own Dauntless launcher once the developer moved the game over to the EGS platform.
Amongst all of that, the Epic store managed to make yet another, if smaller, wave when WCCFTech published an article stating Epic had refunded one of WCCFTech's writers after it adjusted prices on some of the games currently listed in the store.
According to the article, the writer received an email from Epic stating that the company had adjusted pricing in his region "to be more [sic] favourable," and that Epic would be refunding him the difference.
However, according to Epic, such refunds aren't part of an innovative new business practice. Instead, such refunds are only applied in special cases.
In an email to GameSkinny late Thursday afternoon, representatives said if users have overpaid for games prior to the application of regional pricing in a certain area, the company refunds the user the difference.
Looking at the Bigger Picture to See the Finer Details
WCCFTech's article ponders whether or not Epic might be looking to fix some of the pricing issues often brought to bear by regional pricing. To better understand what's actually going on, we need to take a quick, oversimplified look at how prices are affixed to games around the world.
In the United States, taxes are applied at the register and vary from state to state. This means that when a game costs $60, gamers can easily pay upwards of another $6 in taxes.
However, in the case of, say, the United Kingdom, taxes are accounted for in the sales price of the game. So when a U.K. citizen buys a game, it costs exactly what the sticker says it costs.
Of course, digital sales have been somewhat of a different beast. For some time, certain U.S. states have charged tax on digital products while others have not, even despite a recent Supreme Court ruling.
Let's look at an example: Subnautica: Below Zero currently retails for $19.99 on Steam. If a gamer buys Below Zero in the state of Georgia, which currently exempts "canned software" purchases from its sales tax, that gamer pays $19.99, or face value upon checkout.
However, if a gamer were to purchase Below Zero in another state, such as Ohio, which does not exempt digital purchases from its sales tax, that same gamer would be charged $21.14 upon checkout.
This type of discrepancy is often exacerbated in other regions of the world. As laid out by this in-depth article by PC Gamer and referenced in the WCCFTech article above, publishers adjust game prices based on region so that they are more balanced with specific variables, such as brick-and-mortar storefronts.
Of course, there are myriad reasons why certain pricings might be more or less competitive in specific regions. However, this oversimplification of the forces at work might become increasingly moot as governments the world over continue to make changes to tax laws in relation to digital sales.
A quick look at the site Quaderno shows how countries are adjusting tax laws to increasingly include digital sales and the companies that make games. But of course, even if taxes are initially paid by the seller, its a safe bet gamers will be paying in the end.
Circling Back to Epic and Its Price-Adjusted Refunds
With this in mind, it's easy to see why some would hope that Epic's recent price-adjusted refunds are a signal the company is stepping up to encourage developers and publishers to adjust regional prices so that things are more balanced.
So, while Epic generally won't make changes to game prices on its own, it would be nice to think they might convince publishers to do so.
Considering that, it's not inconceivable that some might think that's exactly what happened here; that this price-adjusted refund might be the first in such a pivot. But as it turns out, the refund was the result of Epic Games implementing regional pricing in the EGS, something that Steam and other stores already have.
Being that Epic recently added more than 230 countries to its regional pricing list, it's safe to assume any further adjustments will be relatively minimal.
That said, even offering an automatic refund for such an issue seems to give Epic extra points.
In the amount of time we've used Steam, we don't recall the company ever automatically refunding players for an error on their end, although there have been players who have received free games due to pricing errors during a Winter or Summer Sale.
In fact, if you take a peek at Steam's refund system FAQ, you won't see anything like this mentioned at all.