Steam Is Under Fire After An ‘Amazing’ Short Game Was Refunded

Steam Is Under Fire After An ‘Amazing’ Short Game Was Refunded
Image: Before Your Eyes

Steam’s refund system can work wonders if you stumble onto a game you regret buying — but a major flaw in the system was recently revealed by a developer who created a short narrative adventure that doesn’t exceed the Steam refund limits. Because Steam offers refunds on games you’ve played for two hours or less, Before Your Eyes is a game you can play through entirely and get a full refund for afterwards.

This is what kicked off a total shitstorm for developer Bela Messex.

In a tweet, Messex spotlighted a reviewer on Steam who praised Before Your Eyes for its story and concept (it’s a game you can control via eye-tracking) but stated they’d refunded it because it was too short.

The reviewer allegedly loved the game — but Steam allowed them to refund it regardless of the game’s actual length. Now, to be clear: this isn’t on the reviewer. In a follow-up tweet (which we won’t link as they’ve been the target of harassment), the reviewer apologised to the developer and made clear the refund was due to budgetary circumstances. They later bought the game back as they realised it was a “scummy thing” to do.

Regardless, it’s the loophole itself that’s the issue.

Steam is filled with great, short games — and there’s plenty of fantastic narratives that can be told within the two hour mark required for a refund. Journey comes to mind, as does SUPERHOT and Gone Home. They all deserve a chance to shine on the platform. But the unfortunate nature of Steam’s refund policy means these games are at the mercy of consumers, and rely on their goodwill to avoid refunds.

Now, asking for a refund is understandable. Life’s been tough over the last year and money is tight for everyone. Yes, it’s selfish to ask for a refund on a game you played, finished and loved — but it’s easy to understand why it happens. What’s more complicated is how easily Steam processes refunds for short games.

To prove just how strange this policy is, Messex followed up this review by submitting a ‘joke’ game to Steam called Refund This Game, priced at $US99.99 ($126). The game’s description is as follows: “Watch a timer count to 2 hours and quit within the last 5 seconds for an achievement”. At this stage, it’s unlikely to be approved by Steam but it does highlight a very important issue for games on Steam.

Short games are great, and there’s no reason why gamers should be able to play through an entire game and refund it once they’re done. Not only does it devalue the game, it also disheartens developers and invalidates the narrative power and potential of shorter games. While it’s unclear how this issue will reshape Steam’s refund policy in the future, it does present an important case to reconsider how refunds work on the platform.


    • I checked and most of my Steam games have cost me between 10c and hour and $2. so yeah $10 an hour is 100x more than i pay for my best value games and 5x more than i pay for my lowest quality ones.

      • That’s not a good way to work out the quality of a game. If we all start doing that then developers will pad their game out with repetitive, mindless activities like fighting in the same corridor over and over or “fetch me 5 wolf coats”.

        My time is important, if I enjoy a short game then I consider it well-spent. I’ll go to the cinema for around this cost and if I enjoy to the 1.5 to 2 hour movie then I won’t come out and demand a refund.

        • Also, when you finish watching the film at the cinema that’s it. With the game you can replay it as many times as you want without extra charge.

    • Yep. There is literally nothing anywhere on the main page, including not much at all in any of the highlighted reviews, that might lead one to expect to blow their A$14.50 in under two hours.

      Frankly, the dev needs to take a good look at how he is promoting his game. Sure as hell, under the circumstances, I’d be tempted to refund too.

      And the review is pretty clear why he refunded the game. The “story and concept were amazing” but the fact that the game was only 1.5 hours long invites a time/cost assessment that is not at all unreasonable, and the game came up short by that measure.

      I can’t imagine that too many people would disagree, frankly, that A$14.50 is pretty damn steep for a 1.5 hour long game. Getting this information oput there is exactly what reviews are for.

        • The vast majority of movies not otherwise aimed at kids go for longer than 1.5 hours, but in any case I don’t go to movies either for precisely the same reason. Movies have got to have one of the worst time to cost ratios of any entertainment short of renting a Ferrari or flying to Hamilton Island for the weekend.

          Regardless, I know how much time I’m signing up for with a movie up-front, and every second is immersive, edited and timed to perfection. With games that time includes fuffing in the menu, staring around thinking about what to do next, pausing to go to the bathroom, etc. The mediums are really not directly comparable.

    • The game still represents hours and hours of development time, love, care, and attention. Modern games are underpriced, and indie teams often struggle to make a profit. It’s unfair to say $14.50 is an unreasonable price when you consider the skill that goes into these games, particularly one with such a technically complex mechanic.

      • Which is fine… as long as the description includes the fact that the game is short. The the customer can make an informed decision (which is what the refund policy is all about anyway).

      • Which is an entirely different argument, and one that could easily be made about a great many things, such as those designer sneakers made by someone in Bangladesh for 39 cents an hour.

        Personally, if I’m going to donate extra money to developers I’d rather it be distributed a little bit more proportionately. Some indie games I’ve bought for less than $14.50 are still having new content added years after release, games that I’ve played for 60, 80 or even 100 hours; games I’m frankly embarassed that I’m unable to throw more money at. Why this guy? Particularly when he’s not been up-front about how much game you’re actually getting for that money.

    • Would you spend that to see a movie? Most theatres charge that or more for films. Which for the most part are 1hr 30mins.

  • That is tragic. I imagine anyone making a game less than 2 hours will now need to add a 1 hour intro of twiddling thumbs.

    I want more story games (that aren’t just walking simulators), so I hope Steam will change their policy to support short games or based refund amount based on how much of the game you finish

    • This issue is not new, in fact the potential prblem was debated to death when Steam initially launched its current refund policy.

      The debate has since largely disappeared because all available evidence has been that the vast majority of people simply do not refund <2 hour games even where (as in this case) the devs have not been up-front about how short their game is.

      It's a non-problem that this particular dev has decided to make an issue of because he now feels as if he's down a couple of Happy Meals. Seriously, cry me a river.

    • That was terrible English. I meant “change their policy to support short games or base the amount refunded on how much of the game is finished”

  • Wow, there are some entitled babies here. It’s the quality of the game that matters.
    Gone Home springs to mind. Amazing game. 2 hours long. Completely worth the 10-15 bucks it cost.

    Would you rather have a 200 hour game which is mindless box-ticking for 60 bucks? Would that make your purchase seem more legit?

    • #AdHominem #StrawMan #FalseEquivalence

      Congratulations, you have won today’s game of fallacy bingo!

    • When you say “It’s the quality of the game that matters.” and your example of quality is a walking simulator, it shouldnt shock you when the majority of people might prefer to buy a 200 hour game that checks boxes on what people want rather than a walking simulator for the same price.

  • Oh man, if anyone has a problem with Steam’s 2hr time limit on being able to refund a game, EB Games’ 7 days no-questions-asked policy must straight-up cause a fatal coronary event. Nobody tell them!

    • Or do tell them… so folks can get some perspective.

      And maybe while they’re at it, dig up some stats on how many people abuse (or hell, even make use of) the Steam return policy on short games. Based on past reading from various devs (I’d link some reddit threads but past links have died in moderation – just search for ‘steam refund rate’), I suspect it’s approximately one molehill.

    • Well, in all my years of buying games from EB games. Ive only used that policy twice. Once was because of a really, REALLY awful collectors edition (MvCI) that i was told by a few people in here i should get a refund and use the policy, which i did. Wish i did it with the Dragon Age 3 Collectors edition too.
      The other time. Brink, after playing a pre owned copy for a few hours and then because i was playing it single player, i came across a bug with their poor bot ai which meant i couldnt get past a level because my team AI refused to move.
      I dont think anyone can blame me for returning that one the next day.

      • But if it’s present, it will be abused! Right?
        Yeah, nah, that’s not been my experience either. And I’m pretty sure that EB Games – just like Steam – has exceptions in their refund policies to thwart serial abusers. Much like you, I think I’ve only returned maybe two or three games total in a lifetime of buying and playing.

        I definitely remember Homefront, because it was awful and the guy at EB had actually recommended it to me. (I came back and asked him, “Why did you recommend this?! I thought we were friendly!”) Pretty sure I returned Resonance of Fate, too. I just bounced off it quickly and had serious buyer’s remorse. Those are the only two EB returns that I remember. I might’ve returned a scratched disc or something? In my early 20s my life was essentially just working insane overtime and blowing all my money on either games or overpriced alcohol in bars, and I had Netflix mailed-DVD style subscriptions to The Game Guys and Bigpond movies, so I played a LOT of stuff. It’s such a blur.

        • I dont doubt it will be abused by SOME people, but to kick up a stink over a very small fraction of a sub 1% percentage isnt worth voiding it for everyone, Especially when they dont list the game as being 90 minutes.

  • I agree with Angorafish.

    And I think the game-movie comparison is a bit silly. With the rare exception, a good 90 minute experience these days usually costs several millions of dollars, something I suspect the indie company in question did not spend.
    For another comparison, if I went to the cinemas to watch a film and it finished 20 minutes later, while never explicitly stating it was that short, I’d probably ask for my money back too.

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