A Lot Of People Are Getting Refunds On Steam

A Lot Of People Are Getting Refunds On Steam

Steam refunds are a thing now, and they have proven pretty divisive. Creators of smaller games are worried that the policy is too easy to exploit. But what do the numbers say?

Steam refunds — previously offered rarely and on a case-by-case basis — can now be requested under almost any circumstance provided players have 1) spent two hours or less with the game and 2) owned the game for two weeks or less. The feature’s been in the wild for nearly a week, and developers have started reporting stats, with some claiming that their refund rate has skyrocketed to anywhere between 30 and 70 per cent.

The developers of Revenge of the Titans — a well-like strategy tower defence game that’s been out since 2011 — saw an unexpectedly large uptick in refunds. “55% refund rate on RoTT alone. Versus five refunds in 10 years direct,” they tweeted.

A Lot Of People Are Getting Refunds On Steam

Meanwhile, Qwiboo, developer of a procedurally generated space platformer called Beyond Gravity, chimed in with an even higher stat. “Out of 18 sales 13 refunded in just last 3 days. That’s 72% of purchases. Rate of refunds before was minimal,” they tweeted.

A Lot Of People Are Getting Refunds On Steam

Matt Gambell of RPG Tycoon paired his stat — “In these first 7 days of June out of the 60 average units sold, over 20 of those have claimed a refund” — with an observation about what he’d like to see out of Valve’s system: a better explanation as to why people asked for a refund of his game. That way, he could try to learn and improve — or at least patch any holes users find in his ship.

Initially, this data doesn’t really show much except the fact that people ARE almost instantaneously using this refund feature. It’s also worth mentioning that 7 of those refunds show no purchase data (which would only mean that these are claims on the game purchased towards the end of May) and the other refunds were interesting. Looking at sales data it’s not unusual for some users to purchase multiple copies of the game (I imagine for gifting to other players) however 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?)

This is part of the problem. There’s no way of knowing WHY users have claimed a refund. There’s no communication with me as a developer. 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?

He also worried that developers of DRM-free games — that is, games that don’t actually require Steam to run — might consider turning to DRM due to the ease with which someone can now make a copy of their game and then get a refund on Steam.

Cliff “Cliffski” Harris of Democracy and Gratuitous Space Battles fame echoed that concern, albeit with a significantly lower refund percentage. He tweeted:

“Bloody hell steam refund rate has gone from 0.09% to 17%. Methinks people are taking the piss. Here comes DRM again sadly.”

Others like Phil Tibitoski, president of the company that created Octodad, offer a slightly less alarmed reaction. “Hoping it’s just an initial surge, but we got a 30% return rate since refunds were implemented. (For copies sold on sale a while ago.),” Tibitoski said on Twitter. “We’re not panicking, but are trying to understand and find a correlation to guess as to why they were returned.”

He added that it seems like Valve is also approving refund requests for games purchased months ago and played for more than two hours. An odd wrinkle if accurate, and one I’ve mailed a question to Valve about. For now, though, it’s worth noting Valve’s announcement post on refunds does include this bit: “Even if you fall outside of the refund rules we’ve described, you can ask for a refund anyway and we’ll take a look.”

Now, it’s important to note that these stats alone do not necessarily indicate that people are abusing the system. There was bound to be a sizeable uptick in refunds after Valve lowered the barrier to entry. On top of that, many of the above games — while made by smaller developers — are not inherently short. Revenge of the Titans, RPG Tycoon, and Democracy are all about replayability. Things will get far more interesting (and telling) after a few weeks or months have passed and we’re able to measure how often people are saying, “shut up and un-take my money” and what sorts of games they’re most frequently doing it with.

For the moment, all we can know for certain is that people are definitely making use of Steam’s new feature. That’s not a bad thing, nor is the idea of refunds on the whole. But it does signal both change and a possible need for further change, especially if it’s hurting makers of certain kinds of games or not serving its intended purpose of making people feel comfortable taking chances on new games. Whether that will come on the part of Steam, developers, or users, well, that remains to be seen.

Thanks, PCGamesN.


  • “Yes, I want a full refund for this game I bought in 2010. What? I think it’s irrelevant that I have unlocked all achievements and have spent 457 hours on it. Thank you.

    Oo, that game I just got a refund on is 90% for a sale. Better snatch that up!”

    • And of course you cannot do that at all because that would be bloody stupid.

  • So people play a game for an hour, don’t like it and can get a refund. What is the issue exactly?

    • The biggest issue is that people can buy a game with no DRM, copy it from their Steam folder, then get a refund to essentially steal the game. It makes piracy of DRM-free games so much easier. There are other issues too, including the ability for people to cash in when games go on sale by refunding and re-buying games thus disinsentivising developers from putting their games on sale. It’s a complex issue.

    • Not sure about overseas consumer law but in Australia I think you’re only entitled to a refund if the product is proven faulty. You can’t get a refund simply because you changed your mind or “didn’t like it”.

  • I wonder how it’s impacted on sales. I can imagine there would be a chunk of gamers using the refunds as a ‘try before you buy’ mechanic, who wouldn’t have purchased the game without the refund option. If you have a 30% refund rate, but sales are up 50% because more people are trying your game… that’s a win.

    • It would be very interesting to know if sales have risen to accommodate the increase in refunds, but going off the info and graphs above alone, it doesn’t look like they have.

      In fact, to my understanding of those graphs, it looks like they are showing fewer total ‘sales’, after taking refunds into account.

      Meaning, again to my understanding of those graphs, that even if more people are in fact buying the game to try, more people are now buying and returning it than were originally buying the title, leading to fewer actual sales than before the refunds policy?

      I.e. It looks, to me, that after the new policies fewer people are keeping the game than previously were buying it, leading to a drop in final/ kept ‘sales’ after refunds are taken into account. Seeing as it’s a well received game this seems to be a pretty unfortunate situation for devs to me. I could be misinterpreting the data though.

      • I’m interpreting it that prior to the availability of refunds, people were buying lockboxes with the promise of a good game contained within. If that turned out not to be the case, the buyer was stuck with their lucky dip booby prize. Now? We get to see how many people are holding on to games they want to own, rather than hanging on to unfulfilled hopes.

        • I think that will probably factor into things for sure, but I also think it’s another issue altogether. A symptom of the larger problem, if you see it that way.

  • Hopefully it’s just people trying the games and deciding it’s not for them, having not had the ability before. I don’t put much stock in the average consumer, though (I’ve read too many Google Play/iTunes reviews), so it could be jerk-y behaviour.

  • With the amount of articles I’ve seen around the internet written about Steam refunds with the writers going through with buying a game and refunding just to try it it’s not surprising 😛

    • Even Total Biscuit did it during a co-optional podcast, just to see if it worked.

  • Maybe I am looking at this too simplistically, but isnt the truth that if you create or make something that people are willing to pay for and keep – then people will. This is essentially (in some cases, not all – relax, I read the article about the multiple purchase thing) the users way of saying the game isnt good enough for them to want to play

    B&M stores like EB allow you to do the same thing. Try for 7 days and if you dont like it, refund back

    • Does a brick and mortar refund effect the developer like a digital refund does? I don’t know the ins and outs but for brick and mortar haven’t they already purchased that stock any way whereas for an online licence it’s generated and the dev paid as each sale happens? Anyone know if that’s how it works?

    • Yeah. While I think it is a bit simple to say it like this, at the end of the day a big part of the ‘problem’ is that people aren’t being forced to keep games they don’t want. Obviously there are kinks to work out and people should try to be more responsible so they don’t waste everybody’s time, but there’s also a big adjustment coming for developers who have been enjoying success selling games that are popular impulse buys. They need to break the mindset that someone legitimately returning a $10 game isn’t costing the company $10.

      • Perhaps the refund should come out of steams pocket rather than the developer, which might force a level of quality control?

        • In essence, this is a form of quality control.
          Steam have been big on community based reviews and most of us will check the reviews before purchasing a game.
          That said, there is still a lot of crappy games out there that Steam can’t assess, so for some devs it will be a brutal experience, but it boils down to survival of the fittest.

          In fairness, Steam are probably sick of trying to fend off irate gamers, who having bought a digital pile of poo, now want to spend their money on something more worthy, or in a pique of anger, stomp off to Origin (only to stomp back rather quickly).
          Steam is simply a delivery service, nothing more, and if they are spending more time and money on fielding complaints about game quality than technical issues, then it’s pulling them away from their core service.
          To be honest, this is a business decision to make devs more accountable for what they put on the Steam service, with the secondary win of making gamers happy (or at least happier) which naturally equals more business for them.
          It wouldn’t a long stretch to say that some devs have previously taken advantage of the fact that (until recently) Steam did not issue refunds.

  • Wait, are they letting older game purchases get refunded. So the refund rate doesn’t correlate to the purchase rate?

  • It’s a good feature over all, the only issue I can see is with games that take less than two hours to complete. Can see people finishing the game, seeing that they’ve only played for an and a half then refunding it.

  • the shift comes in with:
    Do you want to buy the game? to
    Do you play the game and like it

    and that is a big shift

  • Too soon to be looking into potential exploits? Could some of these people be redeeming codes from bundles they’ve bought for next to nothing, then requesting a refund from Steam?

    I’d like a “trade in” system, return a lot of my junk games I’ll never play for credit towards ones I will, though how that could work is a mystery – I dont think Valve track how much I bought a game for (90% off daily deal!), nor would they know what I paid for a key from a bundle. Even a refund of 25% of the purchase price as Steam credit would be pretty cool.

    • That’s actually a fantastic idea. I’d gladly ‘trade in’ a bunch of my Steam games for some credit, and would accept the fact it wouldn’t be anywhere near the purchase price I paid.

    • If I had to guess I’d say they just go by the invoices not the game entries. You say ‘hey, refund me on Deus Ex’ and they pull up the invoice and refund the price paid. With bundles I’d assume it’s all or nothing.
      Right now the only exploit I can think of is Steam sales. Set yourself a budget of say, $50, then buy literally everything during the Steam sales. If something goes on sale at 75% you buy it, then if it goes down to 25% later you buy it again. Refund the higher prices, refund all the games you didn’t want, keep $50 worth. You wouldn’t make any money, but you’d min-max your purchases while annoying just about everyone.

  • I got a refund already. Bought crusader kings 2 and while I want to love that game the lack of a tutorial had me a bit confused and I don’t have the time to learn the ropes in a game like that at the moment. Got a refund with like an hour or so played and will buy it when it’s cheaper or I have my free time.

  • Yet again a new feature on steam is proving to be problematic. They have come up with some fantastic idea’s but how they execute and manage the platform (steam) needs to change.

    Every new feature is designed with a “self-managed” style system either with blanket rules such as this 2 hour rule that simply won’t apply to every game or so open it allows it to be exploited with no review system to check. It almost always relies on users to report etc.

    All of these features fail, at least to some degree, because of valves refusal to appoint an appropriate sized team to manage tasks. The latest feature, refunds, seems like a great feature but once again they lack any type of review system, and it was created simply because they lack any sort of real customer service, a widely known fact.

    2003 is when steam first came about, since then it has grown to epic perorations, and managing it would be a logistical nightmare for sure, I do not dispute that at all. The latest figure I could find states steam users at a massive 75 million.

    I have no Idea what the answer is but Valve is quickly making it apparent they are not longer up to the job of managing such a large community. Gamers are starting to rethink if Lord Gaben is really our “Savoir” for PC gaming as they question things like profit vs service such as the laughable share they got with the the recent mod feature.I think it would almost be best to see communities start splitting up into smaller groups.

    I don’t think a new platform like GOG would become the new heavyweight but if they start to really dig into Steams massive market share they could split the communities up into much smaller manageable groups, making this side of the market competitive again. Of course the downside of that is GOG and Steam could approach dev’s to add exclusive items for there platform only, something no one likes I am sure.

    As GOG brings new feature I hope to see people start shopping with them choosing the platform that offers the best deal rather then remain loyal to a particular service. I will be doing that as soon as they bring in a few features I think are missing. Having to run 2 or 3 DRM services may seem painful but the benefits will soon outweigh that as they compete for customers. I am sure if that happens some smarty pants will make some sort of software that manages them all in one platform.

  • I’m a GoG man through and through, I have never used Steam. It’s always just come across as overbearing and potentially unsupportive of both developers and gamers.

    GoG has been DRM free forever. You also don’t need to be online to verify your software, and you don’t need to use their launch client at all. I really appreciate those features in my multi PC, not always online set up.

    Something else that GoG has offered for a while now is a 30 day money back guarantee. I’m not sure the specific terms and conditions of that offer, as I have never had to use it. My understanding is that it is there in case you find the software unworkable for your system, then you ask for a refund if this is the case.

    I know not all the developers listed in the article are on GoG, but some of them are. I wonder what their return rate is, or if they have had similar problems with GoG. If they had, you think it would be older or more relevant news.

    I’d love for the author to check to see if developers on GoG have had similar problems, if at all. Might give a broader perspective to the article as a whole. 🙂

  • I think Valve have probably implemented this to deal with the increase in people asking for refunds as more and more games aren’t really release ready at release. And, also, Australian consumer law entitling us to such services, it’s just streamlining really.
    I doubt they did it out of the kindness of their hearts, maybe something that came up after being sued/wristslapped by the ACCC? They probably had pressure from other countries/consumers too.

    In any case, i like it. I’ve already got my refund on Project Cars, i had tickets outstanding for 2 weeks before this announcement was made. Followed the new process, and voila. So, owned the game for nearly a month, but had submitted my first ticket 15 days after purchase, and had no more than 2.5 hours on it (less than 2 hours at first ticket).

    As for these little studios seeing massive returns, people can be greedy pricks. Stop being pricks people.

  • They’ve gone from making it too hard, to making it way too easy. Time will tell, but this could be the end for many small/indie studios, and anyone else who can’t absorb a 30%+ returns rate.

  • I just got a refund on Reign of Kings, only took about 1 hour.

    I fell for the Frankie hype, but after 30mins knew I would probably never play it again.

    Should I blow my refund on Ark? lol

  • In shocking news to no-one – refund rate has gone up since they’ve made refunds accessible instead of taking forever before getting denied.

    I was denied a refund (way back when) for Red Orchestra 2 which did nothing but crash to desktop. I have 85 minutes played just trying to get into a game

    • Yeah, I haven’t tried it yet, but I’ve got a few older ones I definitely wouldn’t mind getting some refunds on. Buggy pieces of shite that didn’t work, games which didn’t get finished before the developers dropped it like a bad habit… I wonder if they would go online complaining about how their piles of shit were suddenly selling terribly now that there’s actually some consumer protection and fucking developer accountability beyond the old system of, “Haha, caveat emptor, bitches!”

  • Pretty sure gog have had a 30-day refund policy for ages and no one’s been crying about that.

  • The Qwiboo graph is misleading, at least according to info I got from gamasutra comments. Qwiboo was on sale during the spike and the end of its sale coincided with the refund policy introduction.

    I think it’s too early to to tell if its going to be an issue. Most retailers, online or offline (origin, GOG, etc) offer some sort of refund policy. And though they may not compare in market share to Steam, similar issues would have arisen…

  • Yeah? What I’m seeing is normalization of the market to where it should be. People have been buying ‘regretware’ on the understanding that instead of having some consumer protections, they are effectively gambling on their purchase. That’s shit, and not where things should be.
    Now that there are protections in place, the risk to consumers is gone and placed back on developers, which – honestly – is where it belongs.

    Cries about people using sub-2hr indie games as a form of ‘weekend-rental’ or a quicker way to grab DRM-free titles than torrents are consciously choosing to ignore Valve’s own words:
    Abuse: Refunds are designed to remove the risk from purchasing titles on Steam—not as a way to get free games. If it appears to us that you are abusing refunds, we may stop offering them to you.

    There may be a few early casualties as Valve waits for abusers to establish a pattern of behaviour, but then those abusers will be gone.

    I’ve seen a lot of arguments about how demos hurt sales, and I’ve got to say I have very little sympathy for that argument. I’ve always found that demos only reduce my odds of buying a shit game, and increase my odds of buying a great game.

    What the refund policy almost does is make EVERY game have a kind of demo. Obviously, if you don’t commit to any purchases then you’ll probably fall afoul of the abuse tag, but the real benefit here is that people aren’t saddled with a game that they were interested in the marketing of but consider pure shit in the playing, and don’t have any recourse to recover from that losing gamble.

    Maybe now that consumers are actually keeping games they want to play instead of finding themselves stuck with the hopes and promises they bought, the ‘success’ of those games will more closely reflect the quality of the game, and not the allure of the promise.

  • Not sure what the point is of comparing refund rates from before (when refunds were difficult to get, if they could be got at all) to now, when they’re easily available. More likely that what you’re seeing now is the true rate, based on how much people actually like the product, rather than before when it was difficult to get a refund.

  • The only time I’d ask for a refund is if I feel like I’ve been ripped off.

    Heavily broken games – Gone

    Falsely advertised – Gone

    Additionally, if they abuse Early Access, then we will ‘abuse’ the Refund Policy.

  • quite simply.
    as with bricks and mortar.
    make good games, that work, and i will continue to play.
    i am not spending 20 hours trying ot get a game to work with a developer, and when they agree that they can’t fix it, they no longer try to help LOOKING AT YOU CODEMASTERS

  • The fact is this was bound to happen and Valve knew it. They prey on people to impulse buy during sales, and without a refund policy people just accepted it. Now those games that seemed like a good idea on sale, actually weren’t worth buying at full price or you would have, and can get a refund for the buyers remorse.

  • Its 14 days or 2 hours played… I think it is fair, but placing an arbtrary set of rules to cover all games is a bit damning, needs some flexibility and player performance monitoring. I do find that the 2 hours should be valued against the average game time played, time to complete, and the achievement progress.

    If consumers feel safer spending money cause they can get a refund, they may risk playing newer games and as such should see a rise in Indie game sales over time. Sales should also increase when the quantity of complete garbage on Steam diminishes and the quality of Indie development improves to guarantee sales sticking will eventually prove to be better both for consumers and developers, as well as confidence in both the Steam market place and the game industry as a whole. Seriously Ubisoft would of gotten the message real clear if everyone returned Assassin Creed Unity… then again 2 hours played would of not been enough time imo to prove how collassally broken that was.

    And honestly, any player willing to abuse the refund system to return multiple games will end up being flagged by Steams Sales Department as just a terrible customer and they will see their refunds getting knocked back imo… and if they are honestly doing it for FREE GAMES, they wont play the refund spamming game, they will just pirate it.

    To point at a metric graph and yell I AM DOOMED!!!! is as narrow minded as Chicken Little.

  • I feel that this is a big indication for some game makers: if your game doesn’t grab the user enough to have it open for 2 hours before they ask for a refund then there must be something they’ve disliked about your game.

    Personally I reckon Valve should tighten that length of time to 1 hour. If the game is broken and won’t work? It’s worth a refund. If the gameplay is horrible and you want your money back after playing no more than an hour? It’s worth a refund. People have been complaining about the poor quality of a number of games making it to steam and this is honestly the best solution – put the onus on the developers to make their games good enough to play for a reasonable period of time.

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