Last week, Steam finally did something many people have been waiting for, for quite some time: it instituted a refund policy. If you ask for a refund within 14 days of purchasing the game, and you’ve played the game for less than two hours, congratulations! You can get your money back.
Whether or not the system will stay in its current incarnation is up for debate – it’s open to quite a lot of exploitation, and it’s apparently already hit the indie scene quite hard, with games shorter than two hours in particular being completed and then refunded. Will Valve change it up, maybe to make the “time played” equate to the price of the game? Should they change it up? That’s beyond the scope of this article, though I’ll probably make some ill-thought-out comments nearer the end.
But no, this article is simply to say: this is how the refund process works from a consumer standpoint, and this is how long it takes to happen.
The unwitting target for this was Hatred, the controversy-baiting isometric shooter that has you murder a town. I picked it up for £15, played it for about 20 minutes, and discovered that it’s actually quite arse. Sort of like a slightly less arse version of the original Postal, in fact, but that’s not much of a compliment: when you can barely beat out a dreadful 1997 shooter for controls and playability, you’re in trouble.
Now, as ever, PC Invasion review policy demands that we finish games, so this is absolutely not a review. Hatred might blossom into a beautiful ballet of bullet-spraying murder. It’s just that the perspective that got in the way, the art style that got in the way, the controls, and the gameplay that managed to get tedious within those 20 minutes didn’t actually give me any indication of this at all. Or even that it’d ever be even remotely fun. But hey: 20 minutes.
So, at around 11pm on 2 June, I initiated refund procedures.
First things first: where do I actually go to get a refund? The Steam support page! This brings up the helpful dialogue you can see below:
Clicking on Hatred at the top leads to some more options…
And after indicating which one of this is the issue, I can request a refund.
This brings up a fairly simple form that needs to be filled out. You can choose whether or not you want the money refunded to your Steam wallet or to a listed credit card (I’m not sure whether it has to be the credit card you used to purchase the game or whether it just has to be one registered to your Steam account), offer a reason as to why you want a refund, and add some extra notes to the bottom. I opted for “It’s not fun” with the note “It is spectacularly rubbish”, because if they’re willing to offer me a refund for that, I think you’ll probably be okay with whatever reason you give.
And then… success!
This was when the waiting game began. I opted to have Steam refund my Steam wallet because I assumed that would be a lot faster than transferring cash back to my bank. I don’t actually know whether that’s true or not, because it took an awful long time to happen anyway.
On 5 June, I got this email:
And, at 2:45am on 9 June, I noticed that my Steam wallet has another £14.99 in it. I’ve seen no email notifying me of this, and I’m guessing none has been sent, so it may have actually arrived a few hours earlier. Nonetheless: one week, and then I get my money back, while Hatred is no longer in my account.
If you’re going to take a few things away from this, one would presumably be that the Steam refund process works, and it’s entirely painless. Another would be that it’s far from instantaneous, so if you’re low on cash and aren’t sure whether or not you’re going to need that £30 in the next couple of days, you still shouldn’t pick something up because it’ll take awhile before you get it back. Fiscal responsibility first, everyone, particularly if you deal with the baseball bat-wielding type of moneylender.
I do still feel the system needs a few things ironing out, but bizarrely enough, I think it needs this more for the developers than for the consumers. I’ll grant you that I’ve only claimed a refund on one title so there might be issues I haven’t seen, but the simplicity with which you can claim a refund is perhaps a teensy bit worrying for devs who push out short, low-price titles – and it’s not like Steam is short of those.
There are loads of tiny but brilliant games on the service, and two hours is enough to… well, if not finish them, then see most of what’s on offer. The Stanley Parable, Gone Home, and McPixel, for instance. It’s maybe a teensy bit worrying that someone could shell out £3.99 for the sublime VVVVVV, finish it, and then claim that money back. Will that count as abuse under the refund regulations? Hmm. We’ll have to see how this shakes out.