Steam Refunds, Arkham Knight and Early Access Scams
With the recent removal of the “Batman: Arkham Knight” PC port by Warner Bros Interactive, it’s hard to argue that the Steam Refund policy is a bad thing. But when it comes to rampant customer abuse, all eyes turn on Early Access.
Let’s just get this out of the way: Steam is a DRM platform. Well duh, right? DRM (Digital Rights Management) has a long, notorious track history for its invasive implementation and anti-consumer policies. From the early years of matching words from the game’s manual to present-day online license checks through platforms such as Uplay, EA Origin, Steam and the dead Windows Live for Gaming, publishers don’t want you making those illegal copies of their intellectual property.
But what if DRM was actually used to protect the CONSUMER?
Thanks to the new Steam Refund Policy, Valve’s Steam platform has recently rocked the gaming industry by offering its legion of loyal consumers refunds. The conditions are a very reasonable: <14 days ownership + <2 hours of total playtime on a game to be eligible for a refund. Additionally, those who appear to be abusing the new privilege can be turned down in the future.
But despite these reasonable conditions, and even a great deal of support by game developers, there’s an undercurrent of indie developers who are contesting the new policy as damaging to innovation. However, with the recent release of the notoriously buggy and sub-par “Batman: Arkham Knight” PC port by Warner Bros Interactive and Iron Galaxy, and the game’s subsequent take-down from Steam (believed to be due to the public backlash and Steam Refunds Policy), it’s hard to argue that giving consumers some rights and protections from faulty products is a bad thing.
If a Post-Steam Refunds era would cause AAA game developers like Warner Bros Interactive to take responsibility and halt sales of Batman: Arkham Knight until it’s more presentable, while Pre-Steam Refunds era developers (including WB Interactive) were content with releasing half-assed patches to correct performance issues and game-breaking bugs — then how detrimental to innovation is the new Steam Refund Policy? If anything, it seems that the implementation of the Steam Refund Policy will only aid in consumer confidence.
However, there’s a nagging question that we prefer to dig into: Why isn’t there such a refund policy with Early Access titles? Sure, you can cancel a pre-order and get a refund on a sub-par game, but with only 25% of Early Access games actually seeing a full release, in addition to the outright crowdfunding scams, why can’t potential investors get their money back if a crowdfunded project begins to turn sour?
LaughingMan: So Max, how’s my gifted city of Tell-Tale Games’ ‘The Borderlands’ treating you?
CineMax: Well, I have yet to play the latest episode but, so far I’m having a blast. Plus, if nothing else, at least it gives me something to do while I wait for Warner Brothers Entertainment to fix it’s horrendous Arkham Night PC port of theirs.
LaughingMan: Did you pre-order it?
CineMax: Yup. And just like many other dissatisfied Batman fans, I had to ask for a refund.
LaughingMan: It looks like Steam revealed their new return policy right in fucking time for Batman: Arkham Knight. Cause within a short time after release, Warner Brothers pulled the game from Steam cause of rampant customer dissatisfaction.
CineMax: Well uh, speaking of Warner Brothers, wasn’t there also some shabby port of Mortal Kombat X that a lot of people didn’t take kindly to?
LaughingMan: Yup, and the shit ports don’t stop there. Other games like ‘Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition’, Final “Fantasy XIII’, all of em were allotted for the graphical restrictions, bugs, and general performance issues.
CineMax: And of course, all of this happened before the launch of Steam’s new refund policy. So uh, tell me… how exactly did all of these game companies rectify these issues at the time to insure maximum customer satisfaction?
LaughingMan: Well, they really didn’t. I mean, a few patches trickled in but some of the games had to get hacked by their own customers to improve things like screen resolution and to remove things like frame-per-second caps.
CineMax: And yet, with the Steam refund policy in place, Warner Brothers Entertainment felt the need to pull Batman: Arkham Knight and spend more time polishing the final product. So the real question here is: would these game companies have been as prompt to insure maximum customer satisfaction with those other games had the Steam return policy been in effect? We can’t know for sure of course, but, regardless. Steam’s new refund policy is here, and it’s already sending shockwaves throughout the gaming industry.
LaughingMan: Well, I suppose that’s my big question… is the new Steam refund policy prone for abuse by consumers towards game developers? Or does the previous lack of a Steam return policy make the consumers prone to abuse by game developers? I mean, this is not the first time that game developers have fucked consumers.
CineMax: Mmhmm. Wasn’t there a game by Double Fine that was pretty much abandoned by them?
LaughingMan: Oh god yeah. So Double Fine created a game called ‘Spacebase DF-9’. So it started out as part of the Amnesia Fortnight and people must have saw enough merit in it to make it a full game, so they took it into Steam Early Access. Not long after, as with most Double Fine stuff recently, it ran out of funding.
CineMax: Of course.
LaughingMan: And what they did was they took the Alpha build of this game and just said, “Here’s the full game, fuck it. We’re gonna open it up for modders.”
LaughingMan: Which means, “We don’t give a shit, you guys can finish the fucking game.” Now, imagine if you were to go out and buy Nintendo’s latest Star Fox game. Let’s be hypothetical here.
LaughingMan: Well, let’s say you’re gonna go out and buy the new Star Fox game, and you get like Steam Early Access or you get like a demo, and you get to play the first level, right? And it’s a little bit rough in patches though but they’re saying ‘Oh yeah we’re gonna make it better, we’re gonna, you know, improve it.” And then Nintendo’s like, “Well, you know what, there’s not enough demand for a Star Fox, again another hypothetical… fuck it, were just gonna release the demo as the full game, modder’s can dick around with it.” I mean, people would be pissed.
CineMax: Of course they would. And they have been in the case of Double Fine.
LaughingMan: Yes. I mean just look at all the friggin negative reviews on ‘DF-9’, it’s overwhelmingly negative. To get a negative rating on Steam is a fucking miracle. Even some of the worst games out there have at least some following.
LaughingMan: Where they’re like, ‘You know, it’s actually not that bad.” It kinda swings the vote a little bit so it’s more like a mixed review type of thing. If something is overwhelmingly negative, it’s something that is literally about 99% detestable.
CineMax: But unfortunately, Double Fine are not the only ones to use and abuse the Steam Early Access system because I have recently learned that there was this game called ‘The Stomping Land’, which from the description was gonna be sort of like a multiplayer shooter with dinosaurs, kind of like in the vein of the old Turok games, right? And it was originally a Kickstarter campaign that had amassed more then $110,000. And afterwards the developer decided to release an Alpha version of the game via Steam Early Access, so in addition to the $100,00 he had previously made via Kickstarter, he was also receiving additional funds via Steam, and also by extension, using his own backers/fans as a free quality assurance department. Unfortunately that game never came to fruition because, according to this article from PC Gamer that I’m looking at right now, this creative visionary behind the game by the name of ‘Alex Fundora’ basically decided that, ‘Eh, he’s kinda gotten bored with the game and now he’s gonna move on and do something else.” And needless to say people are pissed, as they rightfully should be.
LaughingMan: Yup. People have to realize that this is an investment, is what Steam Early Access is. It’s basically a gamble. It’s just like, you know, investing in the stock market, just like backing a company. Putting refund policy on a gamble is like playing poker and then saying, ‘Okay, well unless I win, I want my money back at the end of the night.’ Which is impractical because again, some projects in general fail, they just do. They could run out of money, ahem Tim Schafer… they could have unexpected delays or just problems, I mean just look at Terry Gilliam’s long fucking battle with the Don Quixote movie. So in anything there’s gonna be gambles, there’s gonna be risks, and to kinda take the risk out of it is kind of like cheating at cards. I see that there needs to be reform for Steam Early Access so people don’t just take the fucking money with a demo and just disappear off the face of the earth. But again that’s risk that people have to take.
Say like there was a genuine effort put in behind Crypt of the Necrodancer. And you know it has a huge Steam Early Access following and then they just you know, stop development because they just can’t overcome something, they just can’t do something. Something horrible happens to the designer; the developer gets killed in a car accident for all we know. Now, a lot of that time and money has been spent already so for clients to come back and say, ‘We want our money back.” That would probably not happen cause they’d file bankruptcy.
CineMax: Well yes, but that is a bit of an extreme scenario where the developer dies and whatnot, uhm…
LaughingMan: Right, but again, even if the developer spent all his money on hookers and blow, he can say, ‘Oh, I’m bankrupt, I can’t pay this huge Steam bill back saying that all the people want their money back.’
CineMax: This is true, and I agree with you that supporting games via Kickstarter or Steam Early Access or any other crowdfunding platform is basically an investment, if not even a gamble.
CineMax: Which is why I would advise people to do their research, because according to this article from ‘gameindustry.biz’ … and the title of the article is ‘Early Access Popularity Growing, But Only 25% Have Been Released as a Full Game.’ And according to the author of this article and I’m directly quoting here, “However, it is important to clarify that the release of an Steam Early Access version of a title does not represent the release of a full, completed game. In fact, since the launch of the program, only 25% of the Steam Early Access titles released have been released as full games.”
LaughingMan: Mmhmm. But then the fact that since the fan input seems like it’s pushing the probability of something actually getting made higher, even though 25% is still abysmal. It seems like you’ve got a higher likelihood of making a project actually come to fruition then if you didn’t have that public backing.
CineMax: Oh, yeah I agree, it is uh…
LaughingMan: I don’t have any stats for any of this shit, I’m just pulling it out of my ass, but-
CineMax: No no, I agree and I think the best way to describe this kind of relationship between the game developers and his clientele is basically kind of like a symbiosis. Because if there’s no one who’s interested in playing your game, guess what, your game is not going to be published because there’s no demand for it. But-
LaughingMan: Yeah, if you’re not going to advertise your games, Nintendo, then people aren’t going to play them.
CineMax: Uh-huh. But I think the surprisingly low percent of Steam Early Access titles actually getting released is a good lesson for all the gamers out there because I’ve seen this video from a ‘Gather Your Party’ member by the name of Highwang. He has made this video called ‘Kickstarter & Romanticizing Game Development’ where he argues that, due to the advent of crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter, Indie-Gogo, or even Steam Early Access to a certain degree, a lot of the more successful projects on those platforms are basically fueled by hype and high expectations and a lot of people think that all they have to do in order for a game to be successfully released is to just throw a bunch of money at the developer and go, ‘Here’s all the funding you need, now make that game.’ And then, when said developer runs into a couple setbacks or creative disagreements or some hurdles, that’s when the gamers get a unique opportunity to play the role of an investor, if not even a publisher, and understand that not every creative enterprise, no matter how promising it is in the beginning, is going to be a success due to a plethora of different factors that might be out of your control or reach.
LaughingMan: But, the fact that if a developer pulls the wool over the public’s eyes, then the public will give that developer a black eye back.
CineMax: Yes, once again, look at Double Fine.
LaughingMan: Yes, this is the type of PR nightmare that a lot of companies avoid. So if you buy a game and it turns out to be a steaming pile of crap and it wasn’t what you expected you can rate it down and you know not to invest in this particular person again.
CineMax: If nothing else I would say that it’s a nice reality slap to both the gamers and the game developers-
LaughingMan: It is.
CineMax: Because now the gamers understand that game development as a process is not as simple as, ‘Here’s the money, now make the game.’
LaughingMan: Yea exactly, Steam Early Access is not buying a completed game, you’re buying the game kinda as is, and then you’re hoping that it gets better.
CineMax: Yes. And in return, independent game developers now understand the importance of good PR with your own consumers, because thanks to Steam Early Access you can use them as basically, you know, free quality assurance. And if you’re not gonna touch base with your consumers on a regular basis, if you’re not gonna update your game, sooner or later they’re gonna get pissed and they’re gonna demand their money back.
CineMax: As they should, because like I said, that’s commerce 101. If people are not satisfied with a certain product they’re gonna demand their money back. And I don’t care if you think of yourself as basically the universe’s gift to us, ahem Phil Fish… you know, no matter how genius you think your game is, if no one wants to play it, people are not gonna pay money for it.
LaughingMan: Mmhmm. I just hope out of this that the developers are gonna start making better games. I mean if your game is literally ‘touch the screen to jump’ while one song keeps looping in the background, you should get your money back. But again, if it’s only like a dollar to begin with, eh, might not be worth your trouble.
CineMax: Well, that’s actually the good thing because from what I’ve seen, most developers seem to embrace the refund policy and they understand the importance of having a good relationship with consumers, because there is this Tumblr blog that was created by Total Biscuit which contains testimonies from various indie game developers sharing their thoughts and experiences with the Stream refunds program. And most of them seem to be willing to put their trust into their own consumers. And that’s pretty much all that we’re asking here. Because think about it, you have all these people, these godfathers of game development like Tim Schafer or the creator of the Castlevania game, basically asking us, the fans, the consumers, to put our faith and trust into him and give him the money. But at the same time, the moment Stream implemented this refund program, we had certain indie game developers basically pointing their fingers at us, the consumers, and calling us potential thieves because we might demand our money back.
LaughingMan: I think the refund policy is kinda neat because since there is DRM in place that you can get a refund and have that game shut down and not copied, you know?
LaughingMan: So basically, this is the one time where DRM is helping the consumer. What they just need to do is they just need to make demos again. Decide early on whether or not you like the game and if you don’t like it you just don’t buy the game. But see, now they have Steam Early Access so now you pay them for the demo.