Steam’s Two-Hour Refund Policy Continues to Hurt Developers of Small Games

Developer Emika Games goes on an indefinite hiatus after "a huge number of returns" on their game, Summer of '58.

Steam’s refund policy can be incredibly useful in helping you save money on games that aren’t for you. Unfortunately, despite good intentions, it disproportionately impacts developers of small games. Emika Games, developer of Summer of ’58, is one of those developers. On August 26, they announced they will be taking an indefinite hiatus from game development because of the impact the policy has had on their game.

“Friends! Thank you for your support! I’m leaving game development for an indefinite time to collect my thoughts,” writes the developer behind Emika Games in a tweet. Attached is an image of their full statement.

“The fact is that my game Summer of ’58 does not reach two hours of playing time by Steam standards,” the statement reads. Steam’s return policy is that you can ask for a refund on a game as long as you play it for less than two hours. Games that aren’t longer than two hours face the very real possibility of being returned even if a player enjoyed playing them, and ultimately struggle to make a profit. This is what has happened with Summer of ’58, which has had “a huge number of returns on the game, even with positive reviews.”

“I do not earn anything to create a new game,” continues the developer. “Thank you very much for supporting me. I am very glad that you like my games, but since I have no conditions to do something new, I have to do something else.” The developer ends the statement by saying they will answer any questions on From Day To Day, their upcoming game which will now “not see the light of day in the near future.”

This has once again sparked discussions on Steam’s refund policy and whether the platform should make changes so that it’s less harmful to small developers. Personally, I’d love to see Steam try to mitigate this problem by reducing the window by half. I feel like an hour is enough time to get a feel for whether you’ll like a game if trailers, previews, or reviews don’t accomplish that well enough. It’s also a small enough window that spares the creators of genuinely great, shorter experiences from the possibility of not making a profit.

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Earlier this year, another developer of a small game highlighted how damaging this generous refund policy can be. In April, a developer on Before Your Eyes — an incredible game that you’ll surely see on plenty of Game of the Year lists in a few months from now — made a tweet that ended up going viral. In the tweet is a screenshot of a Steam user who left a review praising the story and concept while citing its length (approximately 90 minutes) as a negative. They refunded the game, which costs just ten dollars, as a result.

“Yep we made a short game,” tweeted Bela Messex. “I think there should be more short games. I think short games shouldn’t get refunded for delivering an amazing experience.”

This prompted a passionate response from the community, resulting in over 30,000 likes as of the writing of this article, and many extra eyes on Before Your Eyes. While the reviewer later re-purchased the game and cited their reasons for the refund as budgetary, it’s a problem they were able to pay for a game, enjoy it, and know they could still refund it for no other reason.

There’s no telling if Emika Games’ tweet will have a similar impact, or if that will be enough to encourage them to use their talents to make another game in the future. It’s gone viral, sitting at almost 14,000 likes since it was posted three days ago. The developer came back on social media to state they’ve received “both good wishes and support, and a lot of negativity that leads me astray.” Overall, they say seeing the support has given them “something to think about.”

If you’d like to check out Summer of ’58, a first-person psychological thriller in which you explore a haunted and abandoned camp in Russia, you can do so here.