Steam’s two-hour refund policy forces an indie developer into hiatus

Steam’s refund policy has been both lauded and controversial ever since it was first introduced, but an announcement from a solo indie developer yesterday represents a new extreme case of how it might punish developers. Being able to refund any game for any reason within a two-hour playtime limit, within two weeks of buying it, is definitely good for customers, but is a one-size-fits-all policy the right thing?

Yesterday Alexander Reshetnikov, who runs Emika Games, announced that he would be taking a break from game development, apparently because of how little money he made from his latest game — Summer of ’58. In the announcement, Reshetnikov noted that a large number of customers had bought the game, finished it in under two hours, and then refunded it.

“I do not earn anything to create a new game,” he said. “Since I have no conditions to do something new, I have to do something else.” Despite the high number of refunds Reshetnikov reported, Summer of ’58’s Steam page as of this writing shows it has a Very Positive rating from almost 300 reviews.

Emika Games specializes in short horror games, and the description for Summer of 58 mid-way down its Steam page notes it has an estimated completion time of 90 minutes. In a follow-up tweet earlier today to express thanks for the support from players since announcing his hiatus, Reshetnikov said he doesn’t want to artificially inflate his games to meet Steam’s two-hour refund time limit. “I think you’ve noticed that my games look like short movies,” he wrote. Since then, reviews have already appeared on the game’s Steam page in support of the developer.

The store page describes Summer of ’58 as a walking simulator and psychological thriller about a video blogger who investigates the ruins of a Soviet childrens’ camp 50 years after a series of murders happened there.

In April, the developer of the game Before Your Eyes, which currently has an Overwhelmingly Positive rating on Steam, called out a user who had left a positive review but refunded it due to its brevity. Lead designer and programmer Bela Messex said in a tweet, “Yep, we made a short game. I think there should be more short games. I think short games shouldn’t get refunded for delivering an amazing experience.” The person who left the review saw the tweet and shortly after rebought the game and apologized.