A solution to the videogame refunds question

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A solution to the videogame refunds question

The issue of returning videogames for a refund is one I touched on when speaking with Rob Wright on the issue of games testing, or “trying before you buy.” These days an awful lot of, if not all, stores which sell videogames will not refund opened games.

They will happily exchange an opened game for another one if it is faulty, say the disc came scratched, but they will simply not accept an open game and give you your money back on it. The reason for this is quite elementary: Not so long ago, when many of the top shops had ten day no-questions-asked returns policies, they found themselves refunding dozens, if not hundreds, of games; particularly PC games.

People were buying the games, taking them home to copy and crack them, and then getting their money back in order to go again. Essentially buying videogames became, for many, a simple matter of investing their capital for a day or two and then getting all their money back and still having the videogame they “paid” for originally. Money goes in, money and videogame come back out.

It was a massive gravy train, and I agree completely with the position taken by retailers and the games industry. However, as inevitably happens with such things, punishing the law breakers with a big stick is hurting Joe Legitimate Consumer as well.

The case of IT Hitman blogger Dratz has been generating a lot of feedback during the week. The long and the short of it is that he bought the rather B-rate Xbox 360 game Blazing Angels, and he ran into a bug in the game which doesn’t allow one to progress past a certain level. He did some checking and found that this is a bug that many have been encountering, so he went back to the store to get a refund.

The company policy kicked in, the manager told him he could only exchange the game which, in this case of a fundamental error in the game code, wouldn’t do much good. Eventually Dratz got around it by accepting the exchange, and then getting a (rather reluctant) refund on his unopened copy. Clap, clap, clap goes the audience at large.

In this case Dratz was, of course, in the right. However this is a loophole that anyone could exploit, including the good old crack ‘n return brigade, so expect to see an amendment to company policy in very short order to close said loophole. In many stores they already open exchanged products before they hand them over to you anyway.

While they’re at it I do think that the videogame industry, from publishers to retailers, should have a closer think about how to fairly implement their overall strategy with regards to combating this form of piracy. For one, to address the specific case cited above, the industry should put out alerts to all retailers when a game is found to have such a critical bug in it which cannot always be rectified. This should include all games with widespread critical bugs such as this, as not everyone in the known universe has an Internet connection and the ability to easily download 50 MB worth of patches. In these cases staff on the floor can advise that there may be patches available, but refunds should be taken.

Secondly, the hot potato of many defective games should be cooled down. In many cases where there is a legitimate claim the retailer will attempt to have the consumer go to the publisher, and vice versa. There is no clear “This is who you go to” guideline for consumers and the industry needs to figure it out.

The third item on my list applies to consumers: Make sure the game is worth the money. If someone goes out and buys a game which they later think is crap, that’s tough. Read reviews. Similarly it might save you a lot of bother if you read the tech support forums of a particular game you’re looking at buying to see if there are any recurring themes.

I know a lot of you out there want to be among the first to buy a popular videogame (console, etc). If you have to rush the queues and be the first person to buy a game and you run into something that’s not, per se, a refundable issue then again, that’s just tough. If the industry takes my above advice (well, they’ll probably take it from someone far more important than me, but you get the idea) then you might get lucky when an amnesty is declared, but frankly I wouldn’t ever rely on corporate generosity to protect my money. A little patience (even 12 hours of it…) can potentially save you a lot of money.

Finally, there is the mitigating issue which myself and young Mr Wright debated on in our point, counter-point on games testing. The increasing trend in the videogame world is to tantalise consumers with marketing efforts not exactly indicative of the final product. I have to smirk every time I see the latest Ghost Recon advertised on the TV with seeming in-game footage. The advertisement watchdogs were having none of it and so now it’s plastered with a “Not actual in-game footage” notice.

More substantively, demos are becoming more and more prone to “tweaking.” For example Star Wars: Empire at War looked a rather fast game in the demo. Play the full game and it positively crawls along compared to what one might have expected having played the demo. Sure it’s still a good game, but there are different types of strategy gamers and for one slow-paced gamer you’ll get one fast-paced one who will get quite an un-refundable shock when he or she gets to the full game. One also doesn’t have to stretch the imagination far to see less provident games getting a good “tweaking” in the demo.

This misleading marketing has to stop in a realm where refunds are out of the question. One cannot present a misleading image of a game and then tell consumers that it’s just tough that they don’t like what they actually get.

The current refund system for videogames is not fair on consumers. Similarly the previous crack ‘n return system was not fair on businesses. Compromise must be found somewhere in the middle, and I believe that the above would be a good way to go about reforming the system so that, even if we can’t totally agree with one another, consumers and industry can at least have a working relationship that everyone doesn’t feel too bitter about.

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