Why do you buy games?
It seems like a simple question, but it has many answers. Do you want something that's going to last, or do you want to be told a story? Do you want to do something, or feel something? Or both? One fan of Campo Santo's Firewatch loved the game, but was thinking about getting their money back due to its length.
Here is part of the note they posted on Steam, without any edits:
So this game was 18$. I purchased it because i enjoyed games like this. And I enjoyed this game. Alot. Like, way more than a healthy amount. But it was 2-3 hours. I feel like there could of been more, and im thinking of refunding. But here is my problem: I loved this game. It was a unique game with awesome narration and storytelling. I like the developers. I mean seriously, have you seen how active they are on theese forums? What other dev is that connected to their community? I want to support the developers, but there was so much more i could of got with my 18$. Should i refund, or hold on to it?
The fan has since decided to hold onto the game after one of Firewatch's developers posted a personal message, but the larger point here is the following, and I'll make it short: What the living hell?
You can get a refund for any game
Valve's refund policy is famously liberal: You can get a refund for any reason as long as you've purchased the game within 14 days and have played for under two hours. If you fail to meet those qualifications — and the person above has played for longer than two hours — you can still request a refund and possibly, or even likely, get it.
This is, on the whole, good news. There used to be very little recourse available to players if they purchased a game that didn't work or wasn't what was advertised, and Steam's refund policy has already been helpful; the situation with the PC version of Batman: Arkham Knight is the perfect example. The game was released, it didn't work and people got their money back.
Arkham Knight was ultimately pulled from Steam while it was fixed, and it's possible that decision would never have been made if the ability to get your money back didn't exist. The addition of a refund policy to Steam is a step forward, and developers should absolutely be aware their customers can take advantage of it if they themselves feel taken advantage of.
But this isn't that situation. Firewatch was purchased, played and enjoyed, and the great sin is that it wasn't a bit longer? I don't even want to pick on this one individual, because social media is filled with people thinking they can, and should, get a refund for not liking the game. I've edited out the names and images, but here's a quick selection of what a search for "Firewatch" and "refund" got me yesterday on Twitter:
One of the developers of the game actually responded, and offered a look at what it's like to create a game like Firewatch. It's worth reading the entire response, but here is a taste (again, without any edits on my part):
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 what can we learn from this situation?
Developers, especially smaller developers working on single-player games, have much more at stake when it comes to the refund policy. If they create a short game, even if it's only sold for a few dollars and has happy players, they're at risk of people abusing the system and getting their money back after buying and playing the games.
Every "fix" for this situation is bad news for gaming as an art form. Do you pad your game to make sure you're coming in over the two-hour limit? Do you consider the added difficulty of making a profit on single-player games as a whole and decide to move away from shorter, more narrative-focused experiences?
You may not be worried about these questions, but developers are, and the reality is that the refund system creates incentives for certain games, or at least makes certain bets safer.
The bigger issue, however, is why certain players feel comfortable or even just tempted asking for refunds for games they purchased, played and enjoyed. Why are so many people so gleeful about asking for, and getting, their money back? If I go to see Deadpool this weekend I don't get my $7 returned because, even though I laughed for two hours, it wasn't 30 minutes longer.
It shouldn't take a heartfelt message from a developer to remind people that real people made these games. Once we see the credits roll on a game we loved, our first thought shouldn't be to check the clock to see if we can still get our money back.