[Column] Shovelware Makers On Steam Should Be Afraid

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Today marked the day that Valve took a leap forward for the cause of customer service and announced that players would be allowed to return their games, no questions asked, within two weeks or two hours of game time, whichever comes first. There are certain caveats to the deal on what can be returned and what can’t, but as far as the crucial details go, two weeks or two hours is all you really need to know.

Before I start to get critical, I’d like to point out that I have been calling for a refund system on Steam for years, as their “all sales final” policy has been more and more problematic when coupled with their laissez faire policy on curation allowing broken games to make their way into the store space. Valve already does what it can to deny these games front page coverage, but this policy will be the silver bullet to possibly knock specific developers off of Steam forever. You know the ones I mean.

I also don’t see this as a big problem for independent developers putting out cheap games at low prices. As has been echoed by other voices on the web, I feel that anyone who would buy a short indie game to play it for an hour or so and then refund it wouldn’t have gone through the trouble of buying it in the first place, and would likely pirate it. The only measurable notice that the dev will see are the sales going up, and then slightly coming down.

One are where I do see this having a harmful effect on a legitimate developer is in the realm of review bombing, an issue that is already prevalent on free to play and low cost items, but will now be easier if groups of people can buy easily buy a game, bring the overall rating down, and then all request a refund and walk out without a loss of their own. Review bombing is a problem as it is.

For PC gamers, this system is great. The small demo or benchmark download is, with some exception, just about extinct, and with the variety of PC builds available, there is no way of knowing for sure if a game will run on your system without forking over the sixty bucks and praying. Additionally, it also knocks out a good source of income for developers releasing poor quality games and cashing in before word of mouth spreads.

Which brings me full circle to the point of this article, Valve has put a bullet in the head of fly by night developers peddling their wares on Steam. Not only do they struggle to find an audience, thanks to a lack of presence on the main page, but now their source of income (ill informed customers) has been cut off at the neck.

I’ll end this by recommending that you don’t assume that every developer that has concerns about the system is hiding bad intentions, just as well that any customer who applauds the system is just looking for some easy free games. Valve’s lack of specificity and reminder that each refund is handled case by case means that we’ll need to wait until the system is actually used to see where it is ripe for abuse, and where Valve draws the line.

Overall, this system is a major leap forward for Valve as a company and Steam as a platform.

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