It's been a little over a year since the Steam platform finally rolled out a true refund program for digital game purchases, with Microsoft quickly following suit. While gamers rejoiced at the news that every game purchase wasn't some form of a gamble, game developers reacted in a range generally between being nonplussed to vocally angry or fearful. The overall concern was that this move to shift the balance of Steam's supportive stance towards the consumer and away from the game developer would negatively impact the bottom line of developers now faced with a negative column in their sales metrics.
Yet there are still very smart people in the gaming industry. One of those people appears to be Garry Newman, the developer for Rust, a survival game available on Steam's platform. Rust has been refunded a staggering 300,000-plus times, resulting in nearly four-and-a-half million dollars in refunds. But rather than freaking out and lashing out at the Steam refund policy, Newman instead decided to publish the refund statistics for everyone to see. And then he went on to explain why he thinks the refund policy for his game is actually a good thing.
Newman believes, however, that refunds provide Steam users who might normally keep their wallets under lock and key with some leeway. “I think in the long run, people knowing the refund system is there probably gained us more sales than it lost us,” he said.
That's the sound of a man confident in his product. So confident, in fact, that he trusts that taking away some of the fear and mental cost to a transaction for his game will ultimately result in more cashflow in by gamers who keep the game than cashflow out from gamers refunding it. We make this argument all the time about digital marketplaces: taking away barriers for potential customers to enjoy a product will grow the customer-base enough to render any negatives unimportant.
There's also something to be said for the vision of being consumer friendly in this way. Anyone reading Newman's comments must certainly favor this kind of transparency and, again, the confidence in his product that he is demonstrating. More so, the flip side makes the inverse argument: game developers afraid of a refund policy are clearly afraid of it due to the anticipation that it will used. That would seem to indicate a wavering stance on how good the product is to begin with.
If nothing else, this past year has shown us that digital goods can still come packaged with consumer friendly policies while keeping the industry successful. Hopefully we'll see more of this sort of thing.