The Two-Hour Clause for Steam’s Refund Policy is a Nightmare for Some Developers

It’s always tricky business for any company in the position of Valve to be revamping their policies that in turn have a sizable effect on its user base. In the case of Valve’s enormous digital platform Steam, a balance has to be maintained between not only the players but also the developers. A slight shift in the scale, and those new changes in policies might begin to look pretty unfriendly.

Last week, Steam announced that it would be allowing users to request for a refund for any purchase made less than fourteen days ago. A second clause was that players must have less than two hours of recorded playtime or else their request for a fund will not be processed.

It was the latter that had everyone looking into the matter from different perspectives, neither of which had a pleasant outcome. In the case of games like GTA V and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, titles that feature monstrous worlds with a guaranteed total playtime over over a hundred hours, many argued that a mere two hours of restriction was way too less from Steam.

I would agree to that to the extent that two hours would indeed be minuscule for open world games. In fact, I’ve personally been telling many of my friends who have yet to play The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, that the tutorial stage alone will require two hours.

However, it’s important to ascertain first as to what primary reasons should have you asking for a refund. The popular consensus for larger games is that players want to play enough to determine whether they loved it or not. In my books that doesn’t qualify as a good enough reason.

We have previews and reviews for that, discussions that begin running long before the release of the game, references from close friends. The matter of whether the game falls in line with your taste should not have you asking for a refund. Instead, it’s important to debate just how much time is required for a player to determine that such large games are not broken.

In the case of Assassin’s Creed: Unity, that title was broken from the start, and players didn’t have to put in long hours to ascertain that fact. In the case of Watch Dogs, it became apparent from the moment you started playing that the game had indeed gone through a terrible downgrade.

However, others might require a bit more time. I, though, personally believe that in this scenario, two hours is doable. That is enough time for you to put in to make sure that a game is playable or not.

This time slot will also ensure developers in the future to release as polished a game as possible. The current trend of having players ‘beta test’ the final release until future patches can be put out to improve experience, has to be put out of its misery.

NetherRealm Studios should thank their lucky stars that Steam went live with this policy just weeks after the abysmal release of Mortal Kombat X on Steam.

The discussion of the two-hour policy, though, takes on new light when we consider games that are short to begin with. These mostly include indie titles, but there can also be ones from major publishers, like say Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes.

Konami’s prequel can essentially be completed within three hours. Hence, it would be pretty vicious for players to issue a request for a refund after having played more than half of the game. This in turn would also spell out as a disaster for the publisher and developer.

In the case of indie titles, most bring linear gameplay. This means that not only are indie titles short to begin with, you can play two hours and think to yourself that you’ve pretty much played the entire thing.

Limbo, a fantastic puzzle-platformer, can be finished in a single sitting. Recalling my own run, I’m pretty certain that anyone can finish the game within three hours. Since the gameplay is pretty much similar throughout, having played an hour or two can basically leave you satisfied or bored.

Is the reason of boredom or being unimpressed with a game enough to have a publisher give you your money back? That’s a pretty important question, and one which game creators believe works against them.

In theory, Steam’s Refund policy could have you playing games for free. Many indie developers have already experienced a large case of refunds, which they have marked for no apparent reasons, ever since Steam went live with the new policy.

Developer Qwiboo recently voiced displeasure for its procedurally generated platformer, Beyond Gravity. Out of eighteen sales within a span of three days, thirteen were refunded. The game has been out for more than nine months and has garnered favorable reviews by Steam users. This new apparent disappointment shown by players for a quick refund, has not caught sight of the developer before.

Like other indie developers, Qwiboo also agrees that the addition of refunds to the Steam Store is a very good step taken by Valve. However, the two-hour policy needs to be altered in the case of short games.

On that note, Steam has already stated that it will be keeping an eye out for players that try to abuse this system. Those caught will have the privilege of refunds taken away from them. However, considering the mammoth number of users on Steam, it would be a hectic job for a small team such as Valve’s to investigate each request. The fact of its slow Support service also works against the company.

As I mentioned at the start, a delicate balance must be maintained between all parties. Currently that balance is in the favor of the players. It’s important that Steam rectifies this situation before it festers into something worse.