Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto 5 [official site] has made an appearance in the Steam Summer Sale. But the ensuing discussion is less "let's all go a-heisting" and more "what is this shady nonsense you're trying to pull?" I thought I'd take a peek and see what was going on.
The issue here is that GTA V isn't part of the sale as a single game, it's a bundle deal involving a cash card which gives you $1,250,000 in-game cash. After the summer sale discount is applied the cost is about £1 less than the full price game. There's still a saving and you get a cash card you wouldn't normally but the deal has garnered a lot of ill-will.
Y'see, when the sale first started the original game was not available outside the bundle deal so you'd go to the GTA V page and be faced with this game deal trumpeting 25% off but with no option to jettison the cash card if you didn't want it. It felt shady. Green discount stickers all over the place but you were paying pretty much what you would have paid the day before the sale.
Given it was the only option available on the page, some people assumed that this was the same content you got normally when purchasing the game and that Rockstar had raised the price by over a tenner to fool users into paying full price thinking it was a good deal. That's not what was happening but I can easily see how it would look like the case. The game has since been added back in as a standalone purchase which helps flag up that there's a difference when you reach the page but I can see how people felt misled or irritated.
The other issue is that when I click through for Grand Theft Auto deals from the store home page (the franchise is featured on the daily deals panel on the Steam homepage) the listings which involve GTA V break down those deals in a scummy way.
Let's take the first one on the list. You get Grand Theft Auto V, GTA: San Andreas and a Tiger Shark Gift Card. The breakdown lists GTA: San Andreas as 75% off, costing £2.49 down from £9.99 which it is as part of the daily deal. It also lists GTA V as 25% off, costing £38.98 down from £51.98. That's only the price and saving when you include the Great White Shark Cash Card and NOT the price of the standalone game.
Reading the descriptions, this bundle doesn't include the Great White Shark Cash Card at all so to use the Grand Theft Auto V listing for it AND make use of the 25% off sticker is disingenuous, implying the deal is a heftier discount than it really is. To make things even more confusing, the final price and reduction is £38.99 down from £53.17. £53.17 comes from the standalone price of GTA V, the standalone price of GTA: San Andreas and the price of one of those Tiger Shark cards. So that data at least is correct, it just doesn't tally with the listed items.
The whole messy mess of implementation thus still gives you screens which imply you can get GTA V – just the game, mind – at 25% less than the normal retail value and that that normal retail value is £51.98. This happens on the deals screen. It's also at the bottom of the Steam front page. When I'm logged in I see the bundle deal but also a panel devoted to what you'd assume to be a standalone purchase deal. That's what the screenshot at the top of this post shows. I don't know if that information is directed by Rockstar or curated by Steam or the result of an automated process. Regardless, if I'd seen that and considered buying it for a friend I'd feel totally misled when I got to the game page.
Another accusation I've seen is that in bundling the consumable cash card with GTA V Rockstar are trying to avoid having to give refunds. I've been looking at this for a little while and I can't find a definitive answer. One Reddit user claims they were able to get a refund on the game despite the inclusion of in-game cash but that was for the pre-order deal. Steam's refund policy isn't clear on the issue.
This part of the Refunds policy implies that an in-game purchase from a third-party developer isn't eligible:
"Third-party developers will have the option to enable refunds for in-game items on these terms. Steam will tell you at the time of purchase if the game developer has opted to offer refunds on the in-game item you are buying. Otherwise, in-game purchases in non-Valve games are not refundable through Steam."
But bundles are treated slightly differently. In the case of bundles, the terms and conditions on the refunds page state: "If a bundle includes an in-game item or DLC that is not refundable, Steam will tell you if the whole bundle is refundable during check-out."
I'm staring at my shopping cart right now and there's nothing to imply one way or the other whether a refund would be available, just a warning that I already own GTA V so won't get another copy of the game. Does this absence of information mean that the DLC is by default refundable or does it mean that the system isn't working properly? I tried taking one of the cash cards to the checkout by itself in case it flagged up a giant NON-REFUNDABLE sign but nothing doing. This was perhaps a bigger issue when it seemed the bundles were the only options for purchase but it's a subject which needs clarification. For one thing, the question mark on this situation is making Rockstar seem pretty scummy on the sales front, for another, it might be highlighting a part of the checkout process Steam need to bring in line with the new policies or to clarify within the policy itself.
I emailed Rockstar with a bunch of questions – whether the GTA V standalone purchase option was removed deliberately, whether the daily deal submissions came from Rockstar or Steam, whether they would be addressing the confusion on the bundle pages, whether the cash cards are refundable or not... They haven't got back to me at time of writing. I'll update if they do.