Refunds are something we take for granted. During the days when physical copies were the only option, people could rely upon the ability to take back an item if it did not work, was not what was advertised, or had any number of issues. Since we are in an all digital era, one in which people could buy online or even crowdfund ahead of launch, things have gotten trickier. It may make people wonder if the refund is something that could go extinct. But now more than ever, the idea of being able to get our money back is important. In almost every situation, customers should have a right to a refund.
I say almost, because there are of course some situations where people get ridiculous. If a person spends 50 hours with a game, beats it, then decides they want their money back, of course they are not entitled to a refund. But there are many situations where people should be getting their money back! Or, at the very least, action should be taken to preserve folks’ rights to get a refund.
After all, governments have been fighting for gamers’ rights to refunds, even in the digital space. Back in 2014, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission took legal action against Valve. Why? Because the company did not offer a refund option between 2011 and 2014. During that period, Valve maintained “that consumers had no entitlement to a refund in any circumstances.” Now refunds are available, and in April 2018 they lost an appeal to get out of paying the AU$3 million fine slapped on the company in December 2017, when it lost.
Norway is another company keeping track of what’s happening in the digital world. In February 2018, it called Nintendo to task for not allowing people to get refunds on pre-orders, saying people had the right to cancel before the game’s release date. It calls its terms saying that all purchases are final illegal. Nintendo fired back with a statement that said, “The operation of Nintendo eShop in Europe is fully compliant with European laws relating to the statutory rights of consumers." This saga is still ongoing, with the Norwegian Consumer Council filing a complaint with the Norwegian Consumer Authority against Nintendo, EA, Valve, and Sony due to the eShop, Origin, Valve, and PlayStation Store not offering the right of withdrawal.
This is important, because another situation is showing how much we need our right to refunds protected. Have you heard of Star Citizen? It is a still-in-development, crowd funded game that entered development in 2011 and still does not have any sort of release date in sight. While it initially raised $2,134,474 from 34,497 Kickstarter backers on November 19, 2012, subsequent funding through the Roberts Space Industries website has raised over $189,988,000 as of July 16, 2018. However, people are increasingly concerned over the fact that the game’s 2014 release window is long gone and there is no idea yet when it or its Squadron 42 single-player game will be released.
Except as of December 2017, Cloud Imperium Games stopped issuing refunds. It altered the terms of service to take away buyers' rights to their money. A Reddit user by the name of firefly212 took the company to small claims court and had the case dismissed with the judge not listening to issues about the Star Citizen terms of service. This now sets a precedent that the makers of the game do not have to give anyone any money back. The way the terms of service is worded and the result of this case have left people without recourse, showing how important refunds can be and how tragic it is when we lose that right.
If something goes wrong, people have a right to their money back. We should be able to cancel pre-orders ahead of launch. We should be able to return games, within a reasonable amount of time. Most importantly, if we kick in cash to help fund a project, we should get that money back when it becomes clear a company is going to screw us over. Refunds are important. As long as people aren’t being ridiculous about taking advantage of them, they should have the right to return, opt out of, and get funding money back.