Yesterday, Valve announced that they are now offering full refunds for games purchased on Steam. The rules are pretty simple: you can request a refund for any reason as long as it's within 14 days of the purchase and you haven't played the game for more than 2 hours. There are some edge cases and a bit more information about the process, which you can read about on the Steam website.
A lot of people are chiming in on the subject, and it seems to be a polarizing one. Personally, I think this is great for game developers. The new refund policy will enable more people to buy with confidence on Steam.
I'm sure some developers will be concerned when they first read the refund policy. There are probably a few out there right now thinking:
What if a bunch of people beat my game in two hours and get a refund? I'll never make any money!
But here's the thing: by reducing the risk involved in buying a game on Steam, your games are going to be exposed to a bunch of people who otherwise were interested, but not interested enough to spend the money for one reason or another. Maybe they were worried it wouldn't run on their computer. Maybe they weren't sure if they would like it or not.
But Nick, we can offer a free demo!
There's a lot of work that goes into creating a compelling demo. What levels do you show off? How do you handle story spoilers? What features do you gate off? This is all time that could be spent on making the game better.
Under this new refund policy, you don't have to worry about any of that. Consider this mindset instead: the first few minutes of your game are the demo. Think about it. Your Steam page helps people decide whether or not they should play your game. The first few minutes of the game help people decide if they should keep playing it. Let the real game speak for itself instead of building a second, gated experience that will quickly morph into its own beast.
When all is said and done, I think Steam refunds will have a largely positive effect on the industry. I'm sure there will be obstacles to overcome, and some developers are going to have bad experiences. Overall, I think giving Steam customers more buying power is a good thing for everyone.