Stream has a rather liberal, and sadly abused, refund policy. Any title purchased in the past two weeks and played less than two hours can be returned for a full refund “for any reason.” Steam goes as far as to state, “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.”
For Triple-A, massive games that take dozens of hours to complete, even Call of Duty games that take 6-10 hours to complete, the policy makes perfect sense. When it comes to independent games though, specifically ones that can be completed in 1-2 hours, the policy opens the door to an incredible amount of abuse.
Posting on the Steam general discussion boards, user Undercover Fish admitted to not only finishing the recently released Firewatch, but loving it. “So this game was 18$. I purchased it because i enjoyed games like this. And I enjoyed this game. Alot. Like, way more than a healthy amount. But it was 2-3 hours. I feel like there could of been more, and im thinking of refunding. I want to support the developers, but there was so much more i could of got with my 18$. Should i refund, or hold on to it?”
The discussion sparked arguments against, and unfortunately for, getting a refund, Firewatch’s short playtime cited multiple times. The tone changed dramatically however, after Jane Ng, a developer from Campo Santo, the independent team behind Firewatch, posted on the forum. It’s a long post, but it’s also well worth reading in full:
I thought about not responding, because normally ppl who want to refund are rude and unpleasant and I choose to not engage and dwell on it.
You seem nice and I figured what the heck, why not have a conversation about this, now that I have read it and it’s right here in front of me.
So here is what I think. As the developer. Sorry if it’s a bit stream of consciousness because I want this to come from the heart.
The 11 of us all took a lot of risk to make this, and sacrificed financially to give Firewatch a chance. We all could have had much better paying jobs elsewhere, but we all thought this game idea had potential to be something special. We seemed to like each other ok, so we all took a big leap of faith. Two years, we say. Let’s give this a go, worst outcome is we all hate each other and go back to various money jobs, but we all could say, WE TRIED.
Two years +. We are all crammed in a tiny office, sharing one bathroom. It is not a glamorous thing, making an independent game. It is just a small room full of computers and a used microwave and $10 office chairs we luckily got from craigslist. Life happened during those two years: there were big breakups, profound illnesses of loved ones, a baby, etc. The dev team got to be like family, because that’s how making an indie game is, you are all in it together, through thick and thin, supporting one another bc if you don’t, there is no way in hell this game would get made, let alone any chance of it to be worth more than a bucket of ♥♥♥♥.
We were excited, but terrified. We felt free, but were constrained. I have been in this industry for 15 years almost, and this is the hardest I have ever worked. We all gave it our all, to make this weird thing, and we had no idea if it was any good to anybody else. All we could do, was try the damn hardest to make something we are honestly proud of. At the end, if this was a commercial failure, all we have got is what we have made. Nobody could take that away.
So yes, I am sad when people think this game is not worth the money we asked for (which we thought was a fair ask). It makes me feel like I failed them. It is ok if people don’t like the game, but it affects me personally a lot, when people feel like it was not -worth- the time they engaged with it.
But do I blame you for wanting to get the most out of your $18? No. I don’t know your financial circumstances. $18 might be a lot. Or even it isn’t a lot, why shouldnt’ you try to get the most out of it? That’s a fair desire. That’s why we asked for $18 too, because money is something we could all use more of.
So I supopse in conclusion, if you do refund, I am not upset. It’s on me to learn not to care too much. All I ask is that maybe sometime in the future, when the game goes on mega dirt cheap sale, you could gift tthe experience to someone else you think will enjoy it like you did.
Following the post, the original topic was updated to reveal Undercover Fish no longer intended to pursue a refund.
Firewatch released last week on PS4 and PC. Our review found it to be beautiful, incredibly immersive, and a staggeringly emotional story, featuring fully realized, believable characters and outstanding voice-work.
While it’s doubtful Undercover Fish would have received a refund, claiming the game had taken over the two-hour limit, the fact that the consideration was there at all speaks to a continuing imbalance in the game’s industry. Money is still associated with playtime, not enjoyment level, leaving many shorter, but undeniably sweet, games like Firewatch vulnerable. Since posting on the forum, Ng has also taken to Twitter and admitted, “You know how we could’ve easily made Firewatch last longer? Take out the ability to jog. We didn’t tho bc that would suck for players.”
While things have obviously improved a lot for independent developers over the past few years, it’s still far from an easy road to travel. What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments.