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Prey devs: use Steam refunds in lieu of a demo on PC

Usually when I hear developers talking about Steam’s refund system, it’s all Wilhelm screams and gnashing of teeth because it’s a) backlash for a game shipped in a rickety state b) the brutal bursting of an impossible hype bubble or c) calculating scrooges have worked out that they can blast through something short and still be eligible to get their cash back. Rare is the day when I hear a dev actively encouraging use of the system if a player’s not enjoying their game.

That’s the line taken by Prey [official site] lead dev (and nemesis of press sneaks the world over) Raphael Colantonio. Unlike the console versions of Bethesda and Arkane’s System Shock’em-up, there’s no demo available for PC. There’s no need, argues Colantonio, cos you can just holler at Steam’s refund elves instead. Hmm.

Defending the lack of a PC demo in an interview with Ausgamers, Colantonio (who headed up Prey while Arkane’s co-creative director Harvey Smith was busy Dishonored 2ing) offered that:

“It’s just a resource assignment thing. We couldn’t do a demo on both the console and on the PC, we had to choose. And besides, PC has Steam. Steam players can just return the game [prior to playing] 2 hours so it’s like a demo already.”

A BOLD CLAIM. What’s odd is that I played the section of the game that’s in the console demos on a PC at Bethesda’s UK HQ a couple of months back and it all seemed entirely ship-shape, so it’s a little harder to outright accept that the studio just “couldn’t do” a PC demo too, but I do understand completely that staff are horribly stretched during the last mile of game development, so compromises inevitably happen.

As for the refund aspect – well, a bit to unpack there. “So it’s like a demo already” isn’t quite right, in that you have to fork over a forty-odd quid “deposit” just to access to it, and though Steam’s refund system is generally quite reliable, there’s always that worry that you’ll be the poor shmmoe who it doesn’t work out for.

From Bethesda/Arkane’s point of view, they also miss out on a bit of pre-orderage because the demo is not available pre-release as it is on console. But hey, that’s their problem.

Then there’s having to keep a close eye on the clock while playing to make sure you don’t accidentally go ever two hours even if you’re having a perfectly awful time. Not exactly difficult, but it is one more block removed from the teetering “it’s like a demo already” Jenga tower.

I guess suck-it-and-see is one of the reasons the refund system exists, and certainly its main use, but it’s unusual to see a big dev actively encouraging people to use it. Let’s hope it speaks to genuine confidence in his game. After all, the PC version of Arkane’s last title, Dishonored 2, made a bit of a mess on the floor upon release, though subsequent patches more or less cleaned it up.

In context to that, Colantonio also says that “I also want to clarify that there’s no PC port. I keep on hearing ‘oh they’re going to screw up the PC port’ there is no PC port. We do the game on PC. It’s a PC game. It’s a different engine to Dishonored as well. So we might have our own sets of problems, but we are of course very careful because of what happened with Dishonored 2. So we wanted to make sure the PC version of Prey is good.”

As is the new Bethesda norm, review code is only available a day before release, so having just got hold of ours we can’t speak to how it runs just yet. I did play two different sections of Prey on PC at Bethesda’s offices, and saw absolutely nothing in the way of performance problems there, but those were carefully controlled conditions. In any case, we’ll let you know if all seems well or not as soon as we can. And if you can’t wait but get burned – well, like the man says, “Steam players can just return the game”, right?

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Alec Meer

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

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