A new debate has erupted surrounding Steam's two-hour refund policy.
If you weren't aware, Steam offers a refund for all game purchases, no questions asked, as long as your playtime is less than two hours and it's within two weeks of purchase.
It's a pro-consumer policy (or a cost-effective way to reduce the number of customer service staff, depending on who you ask), and the two-hour playtime threshold is intended to stop less trustworthy consumers from exploiting it.
But while most AAA games easily exceed the two-hour length (looking at you, Assassin's Creed Valhalla), smaller indie games with short stories can fall short. This potentially leads to a situation where players can finish a game and return it within two hours.
That's the exact situation faced by indie developer Emika Games, who recently released Summer of '58, a psychological thriller that's received an overall rating of Very Positive on Steam. Unfortunately, the game can be completed in about 90 minutes, which leaves plenty of time for players to exploit Steam's refund policy.
In a statement posted on Twitter, the developer said they are "leaving game development" and referenced that they aren't earning enough to develop more games because of the high amount of refunds.
Friends! Thank you for your support! I'm leaving game development for an indefinite time to collect my thoughts. pic.twitter.com/q93NxWjyUI— EMIKA_GAMES (@EmikaGames) August 26, 2021
It's an unfortunate situation where a consumer-friendly policy is harming the very developers who can least afford to be losing sales. It's also a difficult problem to fix.
Reducing the threshold from two hours will only hurt consumers getting through extremely long AAA releases. Steam could potentially have a separate policy for shorter indie games, but that would require additional staff to verify that games are indeed shorter, which Valve is unlikely to do. Another potential technical workaround is using Steam achievements as a signifier of game completion. If a player gets the final achievement for finishing the story, the option to return the game could be removed.
How do you think this could be resolved that strikes the right balance between consumer rights and security for developers?