Steam has now became the largest distributor of video games anywhere to my knowledge. The last estimate I read places them at 80% of all game purchases. With such a footprint, it is obvious that anything they do will have a ripple effect in the gaming community.
Steam's return policy in a nutshell
Recently I logged on and was greeted with a notification that Steam's return policy had changed. I didn't pay much attention to it, because I instantly thought they were just going to make it more difficult to return something in truth. After all. their support response for broken games is next to none. Then I started seeing all the uproar about it from the Indie gaming community.
The policy basically says that if you haven't gotten more than 2 hours of gameplay from a game in 2 weeks you can get a refund for it, no questions asked.
Isn't this policy good?
After seeing the massive amount of push back from the indie community, I sat and thought about this, and I think the policy is a good one. Think about it. If "you" a consumer buy a product, and it isn't up to your expectations or is defective in some way, don't you expect the right to a refund? Wouldn't you want to have your money back. Even if you went into a McDonald's and bought a burger and they gave you a chicken sandwich, or a burger that was ice cold...you would instantly expect to get your money. So why should software be any different?
Has bad return policies led to poor quality games?
A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, games used to come in boxes on store shelves. It was standard that if you bought a game, and it didn't work, or it sucked, you could bring it back. Many of the stores had shrink wrap machines to reseal the boxes and put them back out for sale. Unfortunately this lead to a lot of piracy, so it was like the early days of DRM free games <snicker>
Then in the 90's stores changed their policies. You couldn't bring a game back even if it didn't work. I remember buying the first release of 7th Guest and not being able to get it to run because there wasn't enough RAM since the CD-ROM drivers and sound drivers took up too much of the first 640K of RAM. So you could only play the game if you had 1 of two CD drives. (Even with stuff loadined in to high mem it wouldn't work) Guess what, you couldn't bring it back, even though you spent $50 bucks on it.
The no return policy has created a market space where lots of games looked good in the box, but where shit when you got them home. Those companies still made money though because nobody could get a refund. Thus the cycle continued.
Watering down the quality?
I am old school, and I have never quite understood how the term Indie came to be. Before the late 90's everyone was just a "Game developer". So I might use the definition incorrectly. Trip Hawkins created and published his own games in the beginning from a super tiny company called EA. Yet I would hardly think anyone would use the term Indie to describe him even when they were three people. Every major company or publisher you can list started out like this. It wasn't until the super conglomerates like GT Interactive, Eidos, and now EA started buying up every studio in site that the term Indie even existed...but I diverge.
Today I think there are Indie developers (which Neuron probably falls in the definition of, I don't know) and other "hobbyist" developers that call themselves Indie. These are people that aren't software engineers, but got a copy of Unity, some assets, and slapped something together. That doesn't mean there stuff is bad all the time, but a large majority of it is not of the highest quality. However; because of this group there are a ton of really bad games that have flooded the market. Due to no return policies and bundling, lots of these people made money and are surviving just because they got bundled with something that people wanted and were forced to download there game. Like adding pork to a bill in congress. Unfortunately there was no direct feedback telling them their game sucks because after all they are selling them.
What Steam's new policy does
IMO, the new policy is great. This will raise the bar on quality level of games. First it will allow people making really good games to have more profit since they don't have to do splits with bundled shitware, and second it will narrow down the marketplace. By having a return policy where people can return what they don't like, it is like a "bubble sort" where the good games of higher quality and less errors will bubble to the top and the companies and hobbyist making really bad stuff won't be around much longer. The market corrects itself.
What do you think?
Forget what I said. What do you think about a return policy on software in general?