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Refunds For Buggy Games: Good Idea/Bad Idea?

There’s an almighty debate going on between the creators and consumers of videogameland today – whether a proposed European law that allows refunds for buggy games is good or bad for the industry.

For the defence: the right to get your cash back if there’s some showstopper bug in there. Or if it fails to meet “fair commercial conditions”, to use the legalese. Potentially – less games released in a hurried or unfinished state.

For the prosecution: developer/publisher fear of this becoming commonplace preventing them from taking risks. Additionally, the potential for consumers to abuse the system and claim there’s an error once they’ve finished playing (or copying) the game.

Who will you fight for?

The proposed law isn’t singling about the videogame industry as such, but rather aiming to putt it on equal footing with other commercial products. Which seems fair enough, really – the problem is that, unlike a kettle or an iPod, there’s a whole lot of ground between “works” and “doesn’t work” with a videogame – and especially a PC videogame, which has to cater for a vast range of different hardware configurations.

What constitutes justifiable grounds for a refund? Would Demigod’s initially broken multiplayer count? What about Boiling Point’s raft of hilarious screw-ups? That crash-to-desktop from the boat in Vampire: Bloodlines? What about a game that runs fine on your mate’s PC, but freezes on yours? What about a patch that introduces new problems, or indeed a patch that fixes the initial problem but the refunder hasn’t yet tried?

There’s a lot of ground to be covered to make this a watertight system – if it’s based solely on the judgement of shopkeepers, based upon the word of customers, all hell could break loose.

What I’m a little less convinced about is the argument that it could force the industry to play it safe. Creative risks are not technical risks, after all – crazy-concept games aren’t inherently any more or less buggy than Shooting Grey Men With A Submachine Gun VII. But then again, perhaps this law would convince publishers to lean even more on guaranteed money-spinners than they already do if they’re braced to lose a certain percentage of all profits to refunds.

The Business Software Alliance has its own somewhat sinister take on things: “”Digital content is not a tangible good and should not be subject to the same liability rules as toasters. It is contractually licensed to consumers and not sold.” In other words “the consumer’s just borrowing it and so has no right to complaint.” Bloody copyright.

An incredibly thorny issue, then – conceptually, the right to return something that doesn’t work properly is bang-on. In practice, there’s so many vagaries involved in software performance that coming up with hard and fast rules seems almost impossible.

Seeing as we’re all here, let’s be all Text The Nation about it with an insta-poll:

n

{democracy:26}

(Excuse that floating ‘n’ – a bug in our polling plugin)

Original story, with quotes from both sides, on the Beeb.

Original photo by liewcf, used under a Creative Commons license

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Alec Meer

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Co-founder of RPS. Dungeon Keeper & X-COM 4 Life.

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