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Steam Refunds Open New DRM Can of Worms

Posted by: , 18:25 AEST, Tue June 9, 2015

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Users may be abusing Steam's new refund policy, with refund rates going up by a hundred fold or more for some developers
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Image/Photo Credit: Valve

PC gaming platform Steam's decision to allow refunds marks the first time a major digital retailer has introduced a refund policy for digital purchases. But while this was a major win for consumers when it comes to digital ownership rights, some independent game makers have been on the end of a refund frenzy.

Steam now allows purchased games to be returned within 14 days of purchase, for any reason, if it has been played for less than 2 hours. This was an often requested feature by Steam users, many of whom had no recourse when games they've purchased did not work or was purchased in error.

Game publishers on the other hand have only given lukewarm welcome to the new policy, and many say that it will have the unintended effect of forcing publishers to deploy digital rights management tools to prevent gamers from playing games they've already sought refunds for.

According to Destructoid, the developers of the indie game 'Beyond Gravity', Qwiboo, has reported a 72% refund rate for this game.

Despite 89% of all reviews being positive for the game, Qwiboo posted on Twitter that out of the 18 sales recorded for the game, 13 were eventually refunded.

Other developers have reported a similar trend. Puppygames, the developer of Revenge of the Titans, saw the refund rate reach 55%, compared to only "5 refunds in 10 years direct".

Matt Gambell, who made the game RPG Tycoon, has also experienced a spike in refunds. But while he still supports the right for gamers to seek refunds, Gambell wishes that Steam could allow customers to provide more feedback when requesting refunds, just so he can know why the customer wanted his or her money back.

"One user purchased the game 7 times and then refunded 5 of them. (Did they buy 6 copies for friends, only to find that 5 of them already had it?)," Gambell says. "I have so many questions ... Could it be that they were having technical issues? Is it something that could have been solved by talking to me? Did they ACTUALLY mistakenly buy 7 copies of the same game, is that even possible?"

And Gambell worries that with so many refunds being requested, and with some users taking advantage of the refund system to play games they don't want to pay for, it may push some developers to add DRM to their games. 

"Now I kind of want to add DRM to the game so that you can’t play it because you’ve actively revoked your rights to it ... but doing that is against everything I believe in and is totally unfair for those that have paid for it and have paid for it to be DRM free," he said.


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