Last June, Valve released its automated refunds system, which utilizes a strict criteria for determining if you’re eligible for a refund. The basic criteria is as follows:
- You must refund within 14 days of purchase(or 14 days of launch if it’s a pre-purchase).
- You cannot refund a title if you’ve played for more than 2 hours.
- DLC and in-game purchases(also called microtransactions) are up to the developer if they wish to provide refunds.
This marked an improvement, as previously, the only time Valve provided refunds is when a game is so terrible that the entire community complains. In theory, their new criteria seems like it will cover anything, and is completely fair. However, there are many circumstances that the refund system does not consider, such as:
- Games might contain their own ‘patcher’, and may take hours to update, depending on the size of the patch and the quality of the user’s connection. Not all games fully update through Steam’s downloader. The time spent patching and updating is still counted as play time, as Steam’s play time counter doesn’t recognize the difference between leaving a patcher open and actually playing the game. Valve could potentially fix this by checking if a window is in focus when counting game time, and allowing developers to specify which executables are associated with patching, and not the game itself.
- Some games fail to terminate their processes upon closing the game, and continue counting time spent in game. I’ve noticed that some games leave a few background processes running, or keep the app running in the system tray upon exiting. The mighty quest for epic loot is notorious for this- I personally have over 1500 hours played on it because I forget that it hides in the notification bar. My friends think I’m addicted to it, but the reality is that I actually only play it a few minutes a day.
- Online games, especially MMORPGS, often encounter server issues or queue times on release day. Time spent waiting in queue is logged as game time. It’s not abnormal to see queue times as high as 10 hours in popular MMORPGs. I personally have experienced queue times of this length in Wildstar, Archeage, and Blade & Soul. It’s understandable to have queue times in an online game during launch, but Valve’s system needs to account for this.
- Games often come bundled with in app purchases, making the game non-refundable. Rockstar Games received a lot of criticism for this, by creating a bundle of Grand Theft Auto V that came with in game items, then launching a “sale” of the bundle, which cost the exact same as the game normally costs, without the items. By selling it as a bundle with in games items, the game itself could not be refunded.
No Humans, Only Robots
Steam’s refund policy states “even if you fall outside of the refund rules we’ve described, you can ask for a refund anyway and we’ll take a look.”
This sounds promising, but is far from the truth. The reality is that the entire system of contacting them for an exception is a placebo effect. The system attempts to lead the user to believe that someone actually took the information they provided into consideration, which is absolutely not true.
I personally requested a refund on a title that I only played for 30 minutes, that counted as 3-4 hours according to Steam due to some of the reason’s stated above. I made it very clear in my request that I had only played for 30 minutes, even linking a Stream VoD as picture proof that the vast majority of the time was spent waiting in queue. Despite this proof and information, my request was denied every time.
A Bizarre Pattern
When requesting refunds, I noticed a particular pattern. I would first get a notification saying the refund request was received, then 1-2 hours later, seemingly a psuedo-random amount of time after the request, I would receive a scripted response saying that I could not get a refund because I played over 2 hours, even they I entirely proved within my request that I did not. Thinking I received a customer support agent that either had poor reading comprehension or that did not fully understand their policy, I tried at different times in the day to get a different person, to see if it would be dealt with properly.
I also noticed the time of day did not matter. I could request a refund at 3 am Seattle time, where Valve is located, and it would still take roughly the same amount of time as if I requested it on a weekday during normal work hours. Some may think this just means that Valve goes above and beyond to provide reliable, 24/7 customer support. This would seem believable, if it wasn’t for the fact that Valve’s customer support in other departments that aren’t fully automated(such as billing and account support), often takes weeks or months to provide a response.
Overall, Steam’s refund system fraudulently provides false expectations for it’s users regarding the ability to have their case looked at and reviewed. The system carefully waits to provide a response by a set amount of time to mimic the process of a human reviewing the case, then sends its automated reply 1-2 hours later. If you’re within their specified criteria, you’re guaranteed a refund, however if you’re outside the criteria, don’t expect to have an actual employee read your ticket.
If Valve would admit that they don’t review refund requests manually, it wouldn’t be a problem. It’s incredibly frustrating for them to offer a text box that allows you to clarify exactly what happened in your ticket, only for that input to be completely thrown out or ignored. The text box only creates false expectations, and the system would be better out without it. It’s understandable that Valve would want to automate everything to reduce costs and increase profits, however they should not be falsely stating that refund requests are manually reviewed on a “case by case basis”.
If Valve wishes to comment on the issue, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org