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Why Don't Game Companies Offer Refunds For Digital Downloads?

Ever download a video game to a console or handheld and want a refund? Tough. Can’t do it. But in the world of Amazon’s Kindle, you can download books digitally – and return them. A workable idea for gaming?

I don’t have a Kindle nor have I found anyone yet who has returned a book through the online retailer’s hot-selling electronic book reader. But I discovered last week that books, bought digitally and downloaded to the device, can be returned.

This is something I didn’t think was possible with digital content. I’ve downloaded games to my DS, iPhone PS3, PSP, Xbox 360, Wii and not once did I see an option to return a mistaken or bad purchase for any reason. Of course, in physical stores, products can be returned, sometimes only if in shrink wrap, usually within a set number of days. Regardless they can be returned, offering the consumer some security in their purchase.

The Kindle offers the consumer some of that security through its digital content return and refund system. Here’s the official Amazon policy on that:

Returning Kindle Content

Any content you purchase for Kindle from the Amazon Kindle store is eligible for return and refund if we receive your request within 7 days of the date of purchase. Once a refund is issued, the item will be removed from Your Media Library and will no longer be readable on your Kindle. To request a refund and return, click the Customer Service button in the Contact Us box in the right-hand column of this page to reach us via phone or e-mail. Please make sure to include the title of the item you wish to return in your request.

Compare that to, say, the Steam policy regarding desired refunds for games downloaded through that popular PC service:

As with most software products, we will not offer refunds for purchases made online as outlined in the software licence – please review Section 4 of the Steam Subscriber Agreement for more information.

We can make an exception for pre-ordered games if the request is received prior to the release date.

And here’s Microsoft’s Xbox Live purchase policy, pretty much nixing refunds there:

Refund Policies. Unless otherwise provided by law or in connection with any particular Service offer, all charges are non-refundable and the costs of any returns will be at your expense. There are, however, certain circumstances under which you may be entitled to a refund for certain Services.

I don’t believe there is a policy for allowing users refunds for the PlayStation Network or Nintendo download stores either.

So, in other words, consumers of digital books using the Kindle have a shot at returning titles within seven days of purchase. Gamers have no such option.

I’ve inquired with Amazon about why they have this policy and how often it is used, but it has me wondering about the applicability of a return/refund system for digitally downloaded games. A seven-day window similar to Amazon’s could be abused by gamers who play a downloaded game through and return it. Or it could provide gamers the peace of mind to download a game they otherwise can’t re-sell to a store or friend, things they might do to alleviate the cost of a game and minimise the risk of a bad purchase.

Amazon’s either ahead of the curve, about to learn some hard lessons or operating with a medium that plays by other rules. It’s hard to tell yet, but it bears watching and hopefully stokes conversation about what digital consumers have a right to do with the content they pay for.