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Steam dropped a bomb on both suck and fail this week when it announced consumers can request refunds on nearly any purchase made on Steam for any reason.

Customers can contact Steam support and refunds will be given within seven days of approval, either to the initial payment method or to the Steam wallet. Steam adding protections for consumers against bad products is a very, very good thing.

Not everyone is a fan of serving the customer, apparently. Nate Grayson over at SocJus cesspit Kotaku has wrung his hands until they bleed over Steam refunds. He quotes Nina Freeman, “designer of brief, heartfelt experiences (NOTE: not games) How Do You Do It, Freshman Year, and the upcoming Cibele … ”:

What I find most insulting is just how little respect Steam seems to have for smaller games,” she said. “They also don’t let you write reviews for games that you’ve played for less than five minutes. So like, I put freshman year on Steam, and it barely has reviews because no one wants to play such a sad thing twice just to write a review. They basically just keep doing things that say they don’t care about small games succeeding on their platform, which is bad because they’re one of the biggest and most important platforms for releasing games.

Based on the video on the Steam page, Freshman Year has zero mechanics in it. It’s not a game; rather, it’s another CYOA e-reader masquerading as a game because the gaming industry is projected to make 100 billion dollars in 2015. How Do You Do It might have a mechanic, but it’s unclear based on the video on the … um, story’s Steam page whether it does or not. Finally, Cibele might have some substance to it, but the promo video on the main page of the … um, “currently undefined expressive entity” doesn’t give any hints as to whether it has mechanics or not.  Instead of being angry, Steam is offering refunds; feel fortunate not-games get listed on Steam in the first place.

I shouldn’t have to say this again, but given the last paragraph, I feel I should. Just because I don’t think any of Nina Freeman’s self-expressions deserve to be called games does not mean they didn’t take hard work to make or they don’t deserve to make money. They are having a disservice done to them by being called “games” and being marketed on Steam. She goes on:

It just feels like Steam is always doing things that are based on play time, which reinforces the idea that games should be a certain length, which is obviously an unhealthy expectation.

At this point, we have to stop and talk about the difference between how long it takes to complete an iteration of a game and how much content the game has. The first example is a game like Fallout 3, where one can run the credits on the main story missions in six hours without breaking much of a sweat. However, Fallout 3 has 40-50 more hours worth of content to explore, interact with, and participate in. A Second example is The Binding of Isaac (either classic or Rebirth). A well-played game of Isaac can be finished in 15 minutes. The layperson can finish a game in 30-45 minutes. To unlock all the items, defeat the end bosses on all the characters, and touch all the items in the game requires many, many hours. My first run to Platinum God on the original Isaac took over 160 hours to finish, to give a sense of scale. Every GTA from three on and all its clones are further examples. You can bludgeon your way through the “story,” true, but the meat of the game is in the optional side stuff that has nothing to do with the main storyline.

So, if your, um …”experience?” doesn’t have any mechanics, and a player can roll the credits in under five minutes, perhaps that’s a sign the experience isn’t robust enough as a game, or isn’t a game at all. Perhaps it should be marketed with other stories in an e-book store?

Turning Consumers Into Predators

I will give Grayson credit for one thing, among all his hand wringing. He does rightly mention Steam refunds as written could be abused by people who are angry at a gaming company for past transgressions. It would be a nasty environment if people were speed running Borderlands DLC then requesting refunds to stick it to Gearbox for Anthony Burch’s asinine ramblings on Twitter.

So, from that end, I get the criticism to some degree. I also get the specific criticism around Steam trading cards acquired in the first two hours of gameplay can still be sold for cash. It’s clear, based on some of the criticisms in the Grayson piece, Steam refunds as a policy needs updating.

But, and this is a massive but, the service being done to gamers supersedes any of this bit of hand wringing. The next time Polygon misleads consumers by giving a not-game a perfect score, Steam consumers will be protected. The next time Kotaku senior writer Patricia Hernandez fails to disclose relationships with people she lives with in a review of a bad product, Steam consumers will be protected. The next time a game is misidentified in terms of genre, Steam consumers will be protected.  Consumer protection is something everyone in the gaming industry should be doing, but there’s a set of underhanded developers trying to dupe consumers out of their money.  Since developers can’t, don’t, or won’t police themselves, I’m a-okay with Steam doing it for them.

Drop the Review Bomb, Twice!

So the “Review Bomb” is a thing.  Apparently, “review bombing,” is the process of submitting negative feedback about something based on reasons other than the content (or lack their of) in the thing being reviewed.

I suppose someone could buy a game, leave a negative review, and ask for a refund. Theoretically, the bad review is still there after the refund is given, based on the way the policy is written at the moment; however, there is a clause written in to the policy, which says if Valve perceives a user to be abusing the refund policy, they could lose the ability to get refunds. It’s not clear in the refund policy how this “Right to Refuse” process works, but the fact it does exist should placate the “criticism is harassment/bullying/abuse” crowd that’s making products of dubious quality.

A Policy for The People, Just Not YOUR People

Grayson finishes his critique of Steam refunds by saying Valve didn’t consider how their system would affect people. I disagree. I think Valve considered how their policy is going to affect their consumers, the people with the money who are keeping the gaming industry alive.

It’s true Steam refunds are going to affect some people negatively, but who are those people? People making bad products are those people. Development houses providing very little value for the dollar are those people. Ideologues masquerading propaganda as games with free advertising from a corrupt games press are those people.

If those people are driven out of the industry or forced to make better products, doesn’t that mean gaming gets better?

Todd Wohling

A long time ago on an Intellivision far, far away my gaming journey started with Lock n' Chase, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons The Cloudy Mountain, and Night Stalker. I earned both a BS-Physics and a BS-Mathematics from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Today I spend most of my time on PC. I left a career of 14 years in aerospace in Colorado, so I could immigrate to Norway.