Having a refund policy is one of the basics of being consumer friendly. Steam has one, which is pretty simple. Within two weeks of purchase, and as long as you played a game for less than two hours, it is eligible for a refund, for almost whatever reason. But it looks like this has been abused, forcing an indie dev who makes shorter games to quit the industry.
Emika Games, which is a one-person studio, announced on Twitter that they are leaving the game development space thanks to the very same Steam refund policy. Their most recent game, Summer of ’58, has gotten overall very good reviews. But because the game can be cleared in 90 minutes, many who have completed the game went on to get a refund, despite leaving positive reviews.
Friends! Thank you for your support! I'm leaving game development for an indefinite time to collect my thoughts. pic.twitter.com/q93NxWjyUI
— EMIKA_GAMES (@EmikaGames) August 26, 2021
Media coverage has since led to more people trying the game out, with less refunds. So Emika Games has that going for them at least, which is nice. But this is definitely not the only indie dev affected. PC Gamer reported back in April a similar incident involving Before Your Eyes, made by GoodbyeWorld Games.
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 ಥ_ಥ (@BelaMessex) April 12, 2021
As you can imagine, this problem arises due to the rigid nature of the Steam refund policy. Overall, there’s a lot going for it. But a flat two hours play time clearly doesn’t work for shorter games for indie devs.
A potential solution is adjusting the refund window to the average playtime. Shorter indie games may get maybe a 30-minute window, but larger games get the two hour play time. Though on a personal level, for most triple-A games, even two hours is not really enough, considering many large scale titles have very long preambles and prologue segments. And you usually don’t get access to enough of the game mechanics to judge by then.