Steam’s Two-Hour Refund Policy Forces Horror Developer Into ‘Indefinite’ Absence

Steam’s Two-Hour Refund Policy Forces Horror Developer Into ‘Indefinite’ Absence
Image: The Summer of ‘58

Emika Games, the lone developer behind games like the recently-released Summer of ‘58, has decided to leave game development “for an indefinite time” after Steam’s two-hour refund policy resulted in a “huge number of returns” of their latest title.

Summer of 58, released last month, has been well-reviewed on Steam, with an overall “Very Positive” rating and loads of fans leaving nice comments, giving particular praise to its atmosphere and jump scares. But as a short experience — it can be completed in around 90 minutes — that’s left the game vulnerable to Steam’s blanket two-hour refund policy.

The policy, which lets any Steam user get a full refund on a game if they’ve played it for less than two hours, means well! And if you were only 90 minutes into Assassin’s Creed Valhalla or Crusader Kings III, it would be a perfectly fair and practical way of handling the matter.

For games that can be finished in under that time, though, it’s a huge problem. As we saw back in April, when Before Your Eyes ran into the same situation, the policy means that users can buy a good short game, enjoy it then still get a refund and nobody asks any questions, leaving the creators empty-handed.

That’s left Emika Games without the funds to continue work on their next game, From Day To Day, and as a result they’ve issued a statement saying they are “leaving game development for an indefinite time to collect [their] thoughts”.

Friends! Thank you for your support! I’m leaving game development for an indefinite time to collect my thoughts. The fact is that my game Summer of ‘58 does not reach 2 hours of playing time by Steam standards, in this regard, a huge number of returns on the game, even with positive reviews, and I do not earn anything to create a new game. Thank you very much for supporting me. I am very glad that you like my games, but since I have no conditions to do something new, I have to do something else. I will immediately answer everyone who asks about From Day To Day, this game will not see the light of day in the near future. See you later.

Not every game has to be long! A short, 90-minute experience is sometimes exactly what you need after a rough day at work, and it continues to suck that the creators of these kind of games are left hanging by this policy.

Comments

  • So….. make a longer game?

    It’s easy to dismiss anyone who refunds the game after finishing it as just a their, someone exploiting the system.
    But what if someone sat down, was enjoying how it was going but then felt their time had been short changed. Or they had legitimate issues with the game.

    To simply say “all people who completed this game and refunded it just stole it” seems a bit of a stretch, and it’s certainly a convenient excuse for a failing game or a product with a very niche market.

    Besides, the obvious way around this system is to have the one game called “The summer anthology” which works as a loader and then make all the smaller 90 minute games DLC for that game, as DLC can’t be refunded under the 2 hour rule.
    ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    • The game only costs $10 AU. That’s… not a lot; it’s literally the same as ShareWare demos used to cost back in the days when they were sold on disc in stores.

      Not only that, but I suspect Streamers would have done full playthroughs of a game like this at all.

      The developer is correct in pointing out a flaw in the ‘system’ here – the combination of refunds through Steam AND Streamers who played it to completion could entirely kneecap small developers.

      Heck – “12 Minutes” is only about two hours long, but at least when I played through it I did it on Gamepass so they got *something* out of me beating it.

      There are some extremely tight, well-paced, creative experiences which complete themselves in two hours. The implication of Steam’s review policy is that those developers don’t deserve to be paid.

      • “The implication of Steam’s review policy is that those developers don’t deserve to be paid.”

        Man, EB Games’ 7-day no questions asked return policy must imply that developers of games that take less than seven days to complete don’t deserve to be paid, either.

        That is, of course, as fucking ridiculous as it sounds.

        The only ‘implication’ of Steam’s return policy is that consumer protections matter, and that a consumer shouldn’t have to jump through a million (expensive to the retailer) tech support hoops to prove that the game doesn’t work for them, but taken on faith. Any collateral damage to devs whose short games get ‘full-game demoed’ is just that. The end (in this case, consumer protection) abso-fucking-lutely justifies the means.

        Steam and EB games both have policies in place to thwart excessive abuse of the system as well. And obviously games under 7 days in length aren’t being driven out of the industry by EB’s overly generous return policy, either. Two hours is fucking nothing by comparison. To claim that this is some kind of dismissive hostility towards devs is absurd.

        • It’d be worth investigating to find out if a game returned to EB is written off by the publisher, or if the publisher then recovers royalties they paid to the developer: There’s a wildly different service and distribution model in place between Steam and EB.

          I can’t walk into an EB and say “Would you sell copies of my game?”

    • I’d suggest if they successfully told their story in about 90 minutes and sold the game at a price point that resulted in so many positive reviews they might not have been as well received if they padded out the story just to sit over some arbitrary refund point.

      A blanket 2 hour refund policy doesn’t reflect examples of warranty or refund policies in other retail sectors. Consumers have varying protections when buying a DVD compared to a car, for example.

      Why should Steam be a special case?

      Would it be unreasonable to say to steam “How about games below $10 have one return period, games below $40 have another, everything else has another”?

      The reality is, we’re the consumers and if we want good products and good services we need to hold retailers to account as much as goods and service providers.

      Doing otherwise is against our own interests.

  • Whilst I’m not discounting this is happening, I’m not sold that this is an endemic widespread issue, or if it is high, that its from people who would have necessarily bought the game anyway.

    • I heard that story come up a lot on shorter titles, but it is hard to say what the gamers motivation is. Are they targeting quick games, are they serial offenders who refund lots of games.

      The problem is data to see if this is an issue.

      Valve would have the data on if this is an issue comparing playtime with ratings against refund rates across all game titles. Maybe even compare it to end-game achievement unlocks.

      But Valve prefers to be as hands off with customer service as it is, they won’t care.

    • It really wouldn’t surprise me if people were doing this. There is a certain portion of the human race that is incredibly stingy with their money and will do anything to make themselves feel like they have scored a bargain (e.g. people changing price tags on items in stores to get expensive items for cheaper).
      Steam has 120 million active users and even if just 0.1% of all users abuse the refund policy, that is still 120,000 users doing so (which would be $1.2m worth of refunded sales for this particular game if they all did it).
      I really don’t see how Steam could do anything about this without running afoul of the ACCC again. They could make it so that if you have finished a game then you are no longer eligible for a refund but then you would run into shady developers making short but expensive games to basically scam people out of money.

    • Keep in mind from a small business perspective ‘a huge number of returns on the game’ doesn’t have to mean 90% of copies returned or even 20% of copies returned. A lot of these games operate on razor thin budgets so what we’d consider small volumes of returns can tip the whole thing over.
      Also a game might be financially successful and only 2% of people wanted refunds, but when that 2% is delivered via a steady stream of notifications that saps motivation to continue. Especially when you see just how many of those refunds were given to people who chose to play the entire game.

      Personally in his shoes I’d be worried that a high volume of returns would impact visibility and hurt my ability to sell the game long term/sell the next game I release. I’d want a definite answer to that before I started budgeting my next project.

  • Poor management on their behalf. Not saying games need to be over 2 hours, especially at the price this one was.

    However the developers really should have done some basic research on the platform the game’s being released on. The 2 hour refund issue is pretty well known and quite a basic thing to forget when releasing a short game.

    Maybe then finding another project is indeed the best course of action.

  • Short games are a great way to create a break in your weekly gaming routine.

    I like to play and finish something in a single sitting once a week, just to get me away from the “I’ve been playing this MMO for years”, “I’ve been playing this open world game for 6 months” and “I’ve been revisiting this game I love over and over for a decade” grindstone.

    Short games that have a comparable duration to a movie are awesome. Any developer that can tell a concise story should be encouraged.

    Promoting conditions that discourage these people only hurts us, the consumer. Why should WE put up with it?

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