So, Valve has finally dragged its arse into line with international law and offered refunds for purchased games. But only on the condition that it you have played fewer than two hours. This is great… kinda. As with everything Valve related, we find ourselves using the phrase ‘in theory this is great, but…’ because as usual, some spark at Valve has an idea, makes it happen, and leaves it at that. And will continue to leave it in spite of any problems (curator system, anyone?).
That is what we will be looking at in Part 1, in Part 2 we will look at why it took so bloody long for Valve to abide by laws that have been in force for a year and possible reasons why they have not had a refund policy before. There are many, but I’ll keep the tin foil hats away.
The Great Thing About Refunds
Valve offering refunds if fantastic for one main reason: previously, if a game failed to work for technical reasons you were screwed. You had to rely on Valve’s customer service, world famous for being among the worst of any company in the world. You had more chance of getting a sloth to run a marathon than getting Valve to refund a product that was either broken or advertised misleadingly. Now, thanks to this system, people can perhaps buy games without the fear of ‘what if this is shit?’ – a consideration that has resulted in me simply refusing to buy games from Steam without glowing praise from the likes of TotalBiscuit, RPS and NerdCubed. Basically, I needed likeminded people to take the bullet for me before I’d even consider buying a game from the storefront.
Now though, I can buy a game risk-free. That will go a long way to restoring user confidence in Steam that has been dragged through the mud by the likes of Chariot Wars and Air Control. Oh and it means I can finally buy Early Access games without the risk of literally getting conned out of £15 and Valve going 'well it's your fault we have no vetting process!'. That is all brilliant unless…
Valve Has Screwed Up It’s System
Let’s face it – Valve cannot do anything properly other than make Portal. The Curator system has never been updated, the mods thing was a train wreck from conception to cancellation, Counter-Strike’s infamous hitboxes remained unfixed for three sodding years. They can do Portal, and do Portal really well, but beyond that their history suggests they couldn’t change a light bulb. It is possible (and likely enough to be worth worrying about) that their system will erroneously think people are exploiting the system, which would require contact with customer support to solve, a sinkhole of despair that is only going to leave people annoyed. Because the barriers stopping me from surfing the Steam storefront are gone I will probably buy more games.
But I will probably return a lot of them for being shit – Valve quality control being what it is (or rather isn’t). That could easily result in me being flagged by the system and both having to return to my strict rules on buying games and also have the knowledge that some automation thinks I am exploiting Valve’s system and that I need to talk o Valve customer support to deal with it. That would suck, and I strongly doubt that any such errors in the system would ever be fixed based on Valve’s inability to follow through on a good idea, even one that they are legally compelled to have beacuse, you know, they work like sloths.
Other thoughts on the problems of Valve’s refund system can be found here from Nathan Grayson as much as I think he has overblown said problems, and I’m sure from a variety of other people have too. Though I will state for the purposes of not being taken out of context that I think refunds are a fucking brilliant thing in spite of implementation problems.
So Let’s Try To Be Positive
In spite of the probability that Valve has messed this up somehow, let’s assume that they have not. This is brilliant. Whilst I still cannot trust Steam’s storefront I can at least buy games with the knowledge that I can return them within two hours of gameplay no questions asked. Fortunately, the system is more complicated than piracy. That said however, Rock Paper Shotgun’s John Walker pointed out that you could easily copy the files of DRM free games to a different file directory and then ask for a refund. However this would be very obvious, and has not seriously hurt games such as Kerbal Space Program – which has had this problem since the dawn of time and never been noticeably affected by it. So it probably won’t get used for piracy, though I suspect a lot of people will try because of Valve’s relentless insistence on just letting things happen.
But hey, Valve is now selling games in a more legal way. That’s pretty good, though I wish it weren’t quite as surprising. The bad bits of this refund policy do not come from piracy potential, or Valve's inability to do shit properly, but by the fact that it took them so long - as we will see hopefully next week.