Which Digital Game Store Is Best For Refunds: Steam vs. UPlay vs. Origin vs. GOG

Rumour has it that the decrepit Arkham Knight port beat a retreat on account of Steam refunds. After all, what better way to get a dastardly developer to blush and shuffle its hooves than to reverse its cash flow? Until June, when no-questions-asked refunds came into force, such a feat was impossible. Perhaps, after years of pro-consumer jabs at Microsoft and other corporates, Valve sought to make a material gesture that player interests are truly the heart of the Steam empire. Or perhaps they dislike being sued. Hint: they are currently being sued.

By now, you’ve likely encountered a shop and have a reasonable feeling about how refunds should work: if it doesn’t do what it’s meant to, you take it back. Nothing could be simpler. Refunds for digital products – or, as is often the case, licenses for digital products – are a legal hellscape of false assertions and misinformation, in large part a product of outdated legislation that no one is keen to test in court. To sift through the muck, I got in touch with Ryan Morrison, founder of the New York law firm by the same name (and no relation of mine this side of the 17th century). Whether you’re European, Stateside or in the wrong hemisphere altogether, here’s the plain English version of where and through which service your purchases are best protected and why some retailers still risk refusing refunds.

Steam And The Legal Landscape

Valve issue refunds for any reason so long as the purchase was made less than 14 days prior and it has been played for less than two hours. That includes DLC – provided that the underlying game is under the two-hour threshold – and cash added to your Steam Wallet. With one sweeping policy change, Steam refunds are sticking it to shady publishers; a silent guardian against dodgy ports and false advertising.

The official line is that “refunds are designed to remove the risk from purchasing titles”, but after ten years of hosting third-party games on Steam, such altruism seems odd, particularly as Valve’s interpretation of EU law had been gaining attention of late, while legal proceedings by the Australian competition regulator rumble on in the background.

In the EU, we’ve had the ‘right to withdraw’ from (unused) online purchases since summer 2014: a 14-day window to change your mind for any reason, such as having enjoyed a few beers before deciding that sword-handle umbrella was a must-have. Confusion arises with the distinct subcategory of ‘digital content’. The legislation states that once you start downloading or streaming the content, the right to withdraw is void provided that “the trader has complied with his obligations”. ‘Obligations’ means obtaining your agreement to the download and your acknowledgement that you’re going to lose the right to withdraw. There is also the two-year EU warranty: if the goods are faulty or don’t work as advertised, you have the right to a minimum two-year refund period. From the European Union website, bold and all:

“The trader is always liable for remedying the defect and in some EU countries you also have the right to request a remedy from the producer.”

Valve’s previous set-up was different – subtly different to the point it became a legal haze. Users in the EU were asked to waive their right to withdraw, by means of a checkbox, on purchase, not on download. Imagine having a game on pre-order, undownloaded, when some scoundrel ups the system specs the night before launch. According to Valve, the right to withdraw was gone, even though the product was unactivated. In addition, they absolved themselves of responsibility for the quality of Steam’s products (and given the state of Early Access, you can see why they’d want to try). How is it they were never pulled up on this creative interpretation of the waiver?

“Few people are going to want to sue Steam, and even fewer attorneys would be willing to try,” Morrison tells me. “The law was ambiguous as to ‘how’ consumers could waive their right to withdraw; it only said they could. The top law firms in the world were unsure whether or not it could be done ‘secretly’ in the terms of service or had to be an active check mark. Steam went the safe route and did the check mark.”

Blood had clearly rushed to some heads Down Under, because the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) went looking for a fight. Proceedings began in August 2014 and continue to date, the ACCC alleging that Valve’s old policy denied statutory consumer rights under the Australian Consumer Law. Intriguingly, the ACCC acknowledge the former policy’s clause that refunds might be provided if required by local law, but are pursuing Valve on the grounds that the disclaimer was not enough to offset claims elsewhere in the policy that customers were not entitled to refunds and that Valve bore no responsibility for the quality of goods bought through Steam.

If you’re familiar with Steam customer service and Valve’s reticence to engage with their customers individually, the changes that the ACCC are requesting might cause a wry smile: an email address, phone number, PO box and designated representative to deal solely with consumer refund requests and queries. Ouch.

While Australia may have its watchful protector, the US is Gotham’s underbelly. “The actual laws will vary state by state,” Morrison says. “However, the Federal Trade Commission does enforce laws meant to prevent ‘fraudulent, deceptive, or unfair business practices such as false advertising’. Still, in most cases here in the states, you aren’t buying your digital goods, you are buying a license to display them and use them on your devices. As such, they can offer a ‘too bad’ policy with regards to refunds of games or in-app purchases.”

Three major jurisdictions means three approaches to refunds: a laissez-faire ‘sod off’ to consumers, a well-meaning but ambiguous attempt at legislation, and one barking, foaming, litigating watchdog.

What Steam’s change of heart appears to have given us is a blanket policy – a one-size-fits-all attempt at pleasing everyone with as little administration as possible. As players, we’re in a much better position than we were before, and for the majority, a 14-day, two-hours-played refund window on anything and everything will be all we will ever need, but it is undeniably crude. For one thing, Morrison doubts it will go far enough to assuage the ACCC.

“It will help, but won’t cure the main issue. The ACCC’s suit is to have Valve’s products (that are sold in Australia) include guarantees about the quality and fitness of the goods. If a consumer discovers a major fault in a 100-hour-long game three hours into play, then it would still violate Australian Consumer Law to prohibit that purchaser from seeking a full refund.”

Second, the new policy is unusual in not asking a reason for the refund. If you finish or plain don’t like an otherwise truthfully advertised, well-made game in two hours, you can still get money back, meaning that small developers making short games could be stung by the unscrupulous. The system will have to run for a few months to indicate whether there are dickheads enough to endanger honest devs, but it’s already a reasonable cause for concern.

For now, US residents can rejoice and Europeans will take what we can get while keeping one eye on the outcome of Valve’s tussle with the ACCC. If it goes against them, I’ll be keen to see whether they extend concessions to the rest of the world or adopt a two-speed system – admin they seem desperate to avoid.

On page two, we compare refund policies between EA/Origin, GOG, Green Man Gaming and UPlay. Who wins? Hint: not UPlay.

46 Comments

  1. subedii says:

    Leaving aside that EA had gone further (a long time ago), it was kind of funny to see a fair few gaming websites wringing their hangs over Steam’s new refund policy and how bad it was for the industry.

    And then Arkham Knight came out

  2. subedii says:

    Almost all sales, rather. Such was the collective outrage over the state of Arkham Knight that GMG have pledged to accept returns. The catch this time is that they’ll only accept them if it’s still borked after Rocksteady’s next patch, and that discomforts me. I don’t think the right to change your mind for any reason is necessary, and I don’t think you should get money back for games that turned out a bit naff, but it feels all sorts of wrong that the retailer should drag its heels when its stock may have been wilfully mis-sold.

    Can’t edit, so just to add: No they allow everyone refunds right now on Arkham Knight right now, apparently at WB’s request. I know because I was one of them and can confirm I got a refund.

    link to blog.playfire.com

    To update our earlier statement regarding refunds for this title, all refund requests will be honoured as per WBIE’s request. If you would like to submit a request for a refund for this title, please contact our helpdesk by clicking here and submitting a support ticket. We thank you in advance for your patience in this regard ­– we’ll be dealing with every ticket we receive as swiftly as possible.

    • RQH says:

      Just jumping in to confirm that I also got a refund from GMG for Arkham Knight, quickly and painlessly.

  3. SuddenSight says:

    Though the GOG policy looks rosy on paper, I’d be interested to hear from someone who actually requested a refund. This is especially considering that their refund is intentionally tied up in their game support system.

    And I must admit I have found the support network a little spotty. On GOG-published (republished?) games (as in, the actual old stuff) it tends to be incredibly good. I’ve asked some questions and gotten an answer within a day. But for some of the third-party games, I have found the responses rather lacking. I haven’t had any game so bad I wanted to return it, but I have been disappointed by some technical issues that I got no help for.

    • Boronian says:

      I got a refund because I bought the wrong game. I saw a discount on the Gothic games and I still missed Gothic I in my collection so I just clicked on the third title, the only one I didn’t own without realizing it wasn’t Gothic I (which wasn’t discounted) but the terrible Gothic III Forsaken Gods. I noticed my mistake after looking at my library.
      I wrote a ticket and got my money back pretty quickly. I have to admit that I didn’t download and install the game so technically it wasn’t because of technical problems.

    • JackMultiple says:

      I requested a refund on a game that was on sale when I put it in my cart, but had gone OFF sale by the time I hit the “do it” button. I didn’t even think to look at the price on the “checkout” page, so my bad. As soon as I requested a refund, GOG asked me if I wanted an actual refund, or store credit. The credit appeared on my next purchase (checkout page) and was an optional source of payment (I could have saved the credit for a future purchase later down the road). I hadn’t downloaded the game in question… not sure what would’ve happened if I had, but I was very pleased with their quick turnaround.

      • mattevansc3 says:

        I had a similar issue with different results. GOG were advertising a game as 50% off but when you clicked on it it was only 33% off. I sent them three service tickets..I’ve yet to have a reply to any of them.

    • Holderist says:

      I pre-ordered The Witcher 3 when it was first available. Later on the discount changed to a lower price, so I emailed them about it to see if their policy covered covered refunding the difference. Within hours they got back to me, and refunded the full amount in store credit because they couldn’t do the partial refund. It was the most painless customer service experience I’ve ever had.

    • jrodman says:

      Gog customer service is well intentioned, but currently totally overwhelmed. They often fail to respond at all within 30 days lately. There have been cases where refunds went through rounds of refusal because the time elapsed was over the policy due to various forms of tardiness from GOG.com.

      That said, I’m not aware of any such situation which was not eventually resolved satisfactorily.

    • TheLetterM says:

      GOG gave me a refund promptly when I got excited and accidentally ordered a game using a work Paypal account. They refunded things and I was able to re-buy before the sale ended.

  4. raiders says:

    I have over 120 games among all 4 of them. I’ve only asked for a refund once; and that was from GOG. Reason being that I bought a game for $1.19 during a sale. While it was in my cart, I was surfing their site for other games. I ended up adding another game and checked out. After the purchase, I noticed the $1.19 game had jumped to $4.79.

    I asked for the price that I placed the game in my cart. Eventhough I had downloaded the game already, i hadn’t played it. Long story short, they took the game off my library and gave me a $4.79 credit. I stated I wanted to keep the damn game, just refund me back the overcharge. No dice. So I ended up getting that game from Steam at a similar sale price and am stuck with a $4.79 credit on GOG. Ya live and learn.

    • mattevansc3 says:

      Valve has the same policy. They were advertising Shogun 2: Total War at 75%, clicked on it, purchases it and then noticed it was only 50% off. This was within five minutes of purchasing the game. I asked for the difference back. They said no, the deal had expired. The front screen still advertised it at 75% off. I told them this…they refused. I took a screenshot of the front page showing the deal.

      They told me that I this instance they could offer a full refund and remove the game from my library. They could not do a partial refund as they could not override the system.

  5. Eight Rooks says:

    Still not convinced among all the PRAISE THE HOLY CONSUMER chanting that all this is for the good of the industry or that it’s being brought about by people who know what they’re doing. Christ, imagine if any multiplayer-centric online game had to guarantee it would “work” (presumably, remain operational) for a minimum of two years – I’m pretty sure a significant number of publishers would instantly become unbelievably risk-averse to the point their current behaviour would look like Jackass. “That’s an awesome idea for a MMOG you’ve got right there! I’ve never seen anything like it! What guarantees can you offer it’s going to make huge sums of money for at least 24 months? No, not good enough, sorry, no deal. Where was that generic near-future military shooter we were looking at the other day?”

    (I’ve got close to 600 games across the various digital clients and there’s only one I wish I’d never bought and could return. And no, it’s not Assassin’s Creed Unity, which I bought practically day one and other than a couple of minor – I mean very minor – glitches, worked fine from the word go.)

    • Xzi says:

      “Christ, imagine if any multiplayer-centric online game had to guarantee it would “work” (presumably, remain operational) for a minimum of two years”

      Why do I have to imagine that? The chances of anything like that ever happening are slim to none. You talk like refunds are some new form of strangling regulation that no business has ever had to deal with in the past. Really, though, every other industry has managed to turn ever-increasing profits for decades despite much more generous refund policies than what Steam (or even its competitors well before their new policy) has on offer. Refunds are common sense, not some consumerist power grab, as if such a thing could ever exist with the mega-corporations of modern day.

      • nearly says:

        You’re missing the point that the legal policy is fundamentally not really practicable in a number of instances in order to argue against some strawman about how refunds are strangling the industry. They’re not, no, but they could have a negative effect on some developers (which is why intelligent persons are agreeing that Valve’s new policy merits a wait-and-see as primary response) and very well could strangle a number of entities if they were actually enforced to the full extent of the law with the least charitable interpretations.

        • Xzi says:

          What’s so different about Steam that warrants such pessimism? GOG and Origin had similar refund policies for years before Steam implemented theirs, had no real abuse to speak of, and people praised them for it. The only developers that a refund policy can possibly hurt are the ones that make bad games.

    • Aninhumer says:

      >imagine if any multiplayer-centric online game had to guarantee it would “work” (presumably, remain operational) for a minimum of two years

      I imagine there’s a fairly reasonable legal argument to be made that hosting the servers is a free service separate from the product itself. It might mean they have to provide private server software, but that seems entirely reasonable to me, and a good thing for the consumer.

  6. caff says:

    Recently, I’ve requested a few Steam refunds for games I picked up on the off chance I might like them. My last request was refunded, but I had a notice in the email that they might withdraw the service if people overuse it.

    I think that’s fair – I had perhaps slipped into treating it as a “demo testing” opportunity, which is not fair on the developers, and lessens the need to find quality reviews or WITs like you get here.

    • Pazguato says:

      “I had perhaps slipped into treating it as a “demo testing” opportunity”

      Yes, it seems like it.

    • UncleLou says:

      So have I, but it should be noted that Steam actively encourages that. From Steam’s official refund page:

      “Maybe your PC doesn’t meet the hardware requirements; maybe you bought a game by mistake; maybe you played the title for an hour and just didn’t like it. It doesn’t matter.”

      And from Steam’s news when they introduced the refunds:

      “we hope this will give you more confidence in trying out titles that you’re less certain about.”

      That is pretty crystal clear to me.

  7. Cut says:

    @Angus Morrison: I am slightly confused…

    A “refund” surely means that I get my money back. Store credit is not the same thing at all.

    Do any of these on-line market places actually offer refunds?

    • Boronian says:

      I got real refund from GoG. But it wasn’t refund for technical problems, I just gave a game back I bought minutes ago and had never downloaded.

    • slerbal says:

      Yes that issue troubled me too. Store credit isn’t a refund in the UK. Plus it means Valve for instance never has to give money back which is troubling.

    • MattK23 says:

      Steam does. I bought Goat Simulator and just didn’t like it. They gave me a refund directly to my credit card.

    • Aninhumer says:

      I’ve only asked for a refund from Steam once (game outright broken on startup) but I got a real money refund. I was actually quite pleasantly surprised to see the option. The policy might vary depending on what local regulation requires though. For reference, I’m in the UK, and paid with Paypal.

    • Wulfram says:

      The refund I got from Origin was a real refund, not store credit

    • Cut says:

      Good to know. The references to Steam Wallet had me worried.

  8. mattevansc3 says:

    Valve’s two hour limit is a bit shit really. I’ve had game breaking bugs ten hours+ into a game. Is also very easy to spend two hours troubleshooting some games.

    • jrodman says:

      To be fair, have you tested the results for this situation since the policy went into place? It’s possible they’ll grant them anyway, with a little more scrutiny, and be more ready to put the kibosh on people doing this in a pattern.

      Then again, I pretty much agree 2 hours is kind of shit.

    • Unsheep says:

      In my experience the more serious bugs don’t appear until the middle or end of the game for some reason. Skyrim is a good example for me, it worked great at first but the longer I played the more often it seemed to crash.

      I think some developers are more aware of programming quality during the initial part of a game’s production, but as their funding diminishes and/or deadline approaches they care less and less about quality and just want to finish the game.

    • Cantisque says:

      Most games aren’t 10 hours so it’d be very unfair on the smaller, cheaper games.

  9. Jalan says:

    I’ve only requested one refund (and it was from Steam) thus far. Even then, it was only due to the fact that the game went on a cheaper sale a day and a half later – the plus side was that the request was processed timely (this was shortly after the big rollout on the refunds) and I opted for the wallet credit (I’d intended to buy the same title again anyway and I did, just not with the wallet credit since it does take its sweet time to appear once the refund is processed) option.

    I’ve had no need to put in refund requests on other services (thus far, at least) so the pool is pretty shallow for me to draw experiences from.

  10. xyzzy frobozz says:

    I don’t think it’s a stawman argument at all.

    The fact is that other industries have contended with refunds and managed to survive. Why should the games industry be any different.

    If it is the case that refunds threaten the viability of a developer then the wuestion has to be asked whether they deserve to be in business at all.

    The notion that a developer would get cold feet on developing an MMO on the basis of fears that they couldn’t guarantee its existence for a minimum of to years is, quite frankly, outlandish. No developer in its right mind would fund an MMO if it had fears of it making a return for at least two years. You don’t invest millions of dollars in development without good prospects of realizing a decent return.

    Refunds have nothing to do with it.

  11. montorsi says:

    I’m pretty sure Arkham Knight was pulled due to horrendous publicity. Even if everyone who preordered and bought the game after release requested and received a refund they wouldn’t care if it wasn’t being talked about literally everywhere to the exclusion of the console versions.

  12. zarthrag says:

    Alpha Protocol. Amazing game that I bought on steam, played 32 glorious hours, and ran into a game-ending bug half-way through the story. Sega has completely abandoned the title. None of these refund policies are fair, in that respect. If a product is defective, it’s defective.

    I’m still bitter, I wanted to finish the game.

    • Jalan says:

      Dark Void Zero was similar for me (though I haven’t clocked that much time on it, but it’s a different type of game entirely) – the game has SecuROM locked into it and the notion of anyone fielding support for it is a complete joke entirely (just two separate gripes, though I’d venture a guess that crappy DRM certainly isn’t helping the game). Though I didn’t pay a vast amount of money for it, what I did pay for amounted to me having a game that I can complete a single level for while encountering a persistent crash each time the game attempts to transition to its second level.

  13. shutter says:

    As someone who worked at Origin (and on the policy) while they planned and rolled out the refund policy, I can safely say I never once heard the ACCC mentioned, and I’d be willing to bet all the money currently in my pockets that most of the people involved wouldn’t even know what ACCC was if you mentioned it to them. Australia, and the 3% or whatever it is they contribute to digital sales, can probably be safely assumed to not be a driving factor in games storefront policymaking.

    But thanks for the article, it’s always a chuckle watching games journalists utterly whiff when trying to imagine how games companies’ internal processes work.

    • molamolacolacake says:

      What about your lawyers? I don’t always share my legal opinions with the whole company, but decisions based on that advice filter down, usually never mentioning whatever law or regulation I was advising on since it doesn’t matter after the decision is made.

      I’d be surprised if no digital storefront operating in Australia hasn’t talked about the ACCC internally at some point, whether or not it had any impact on current refund policies. If they haven’t, their legal counsel is negligent.

      • molamolacolacake says:

        **no digital storefront HAS. This is what happens before I get caffeine in me.

  14. Unsheep says:

    Definitely GOG for me, their response is a bit slow at times because its only a small team that seems to work there and because they keep growing in popularity. They treat their customers as individuals though, not as sheepish money-bags. Gamersgate and Shinyloot were also good.

    Steam has had no respect for customers. How many Steam users are stuck with games that don’t even work on an acceptable level ? Steam has been around for 12 years but hasn’t refunded broken and unplayable games unless they or the publisher “felt like it”. Its only now in 2015 that you can refund broken games, sort of anyway.

  15. SuicideKing says:

    Well, seeing that you don’t cover any country in Asia, and that India probably doesn’t even have laws on digital purchases (or maybe does, I don’t really know – we get the US stores for Steam and GoG anyway), I’m happy that Steam and GoG have a blanket policy.

  16. melnificent says:

    Isn’t it strange that these companies instigate a global blanket policy for refunds and yet they split the world into regions for buying games at different prices.

    UK law (I’m not familiar with others) sales law states 6 years for faulty goods. With the first 6 months the assumption is that the goods are inherently faulty. The following time it is for the customer/consumer to prove the goods were faulty. There are exceptions to this, but buying a physical copy that registers to a digital service means that it should be covered as you bought a physical good (even if it’s kept digitally). See St Albans v International Computers Limited.

    The 14 days that Steam offers is under distance selling regulations. There are no exceptions to this despite what companies say.

  17. Stepout says:

    I didn’t realize just how awesome it was that you can refund PC games until I bought Mega Man 3 on my PS Vita (not knowing it was the Japanese version). I didn’t think it would be too big of a deal since it’s Mega Man, but it ended up being a pain, so I opened a chat support with Sony asking if I could refund it. The reply was something like “Sorry, all sales are final, but you can contact the developer and ask for a translated version.” What horseshit.

  18. GeneJacket says:

    GMG’s refund policy may sound not-so-great, but the one time I actually did request a refund, they were very gracious about it.

    Of course, this was for Aliens: Colonial Marines, which barely worked to begin with… When I asked them they said that they were sorry for the problems and that, because it was out of their control, I couldn’t get a full refund, but they’d be happy to issue a partial refund (which equated to around half of what I’d paid for the title). It’s also worth mentioning that I’m in the US and it had been part the 7-day mark, which didn’t seem to be a problem. As far as I can tell, it’s really more up to their discretion than nay kind of hard-line policy, but perhaps that was a special case.

  19. Dean478 says:

    I’ll vote Steam here. Especially now that their refund policy is here and they are adhering to Australian Consumer Law.

    I had to take EA (Origin) to Victoria Consumer Affairs (VCCC) and VCAT (small claims court), before they would restore my $69 Mass Effect 3 purchase they falsely accused me of purchasing through fraud (which I did not and still to this day have all of my receipts). They didn’t even properly apologise for the 12 month ordeal which frequently saw me being cut off during phone calls or live chats before I finally managed to get the contact details for their office in Sydney, Australia and deliver my evidence personally….

    I have not bought a game on Origin since and I never will.

    I had a similar issue with Ubisoft when keys were being registered to the wrong account (due to a bug with linked e-mail addresses). They told me to contact Steam who told me to contact Ubi who told me….. eventually I just decided not to purchase any of the expansion packs for the game on that unwanted account.

    GOG.com I’ve had no negative experience with. I doubt I will. Especially for $5 AUD purchases! xD