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.
yep we made a short game. I think there should be more short games. I think short games shouldn't get refunded for delivering an amazing experience pic.twitter.com/bdngjVUpBD
— Bela | Before Your Eyes available now! (@BelaMessex) April 12, 2021
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.