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Praise Gaben, for he has seen the light and given power to the consumer once more. And boy have we put it to use!
Just when I thought it was about time to give up on Steam ever giving a shit about customer service, they totally redeem themselves by announcing a new refund policy. Before this policy was announced, getting a refund from Steam was a blood-from-a-stone process, no matter how broken or poor the game was. This, in conjunction with the poor moderation of Steam Greenlight, quite possibly led to a lot of developers—Triple-A and lone-kid-in-his-bedroom alike—becoming complacent about releasing unfinished, poorly optimised or just plain bad games onto the store: even if it’s shit, the suckers who buy it won’t get their money back (not to mention that this is a blatant violation of the NZ Consumer Guarantees Act, which guarantees you can get a refund if a product doesn’t work as intended, which includes digital goods).
Not anymore. From early June, any purchase on Steam can now be refunded for any reason. As the official announcement says, “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.” Literally any reason will guarantee you a refund, as long as you played less than two hours and request it within two weeks of purchase. While not perfect (the two-hour limit seems a little short to me, plus the time limits still violate consumer law), this is immensely better than what we had before—in fact, refunds are automatic within 48 hours of purchase, and you can get a refund if you bought a game at full price that then goes on sale!
PC gamers finally had a reason to celebrate in 2015. And then, almost as soon as the celebration party was over, Batman: Arkham Knight was released.
It is probably no exaggeration that Arkham Knight is one of the worst PC ports ever released. It runs terribly, with frequent framerate drops, and freezes even on the best hardware available. The highly-touted Nvidia Gameworks enhancements hardly make a lick of difference to the game’s performance even if you turn them off. There is even clear evidence that the PC port suffered from a visual downgrade, with screenshots from the port and the PS4 version showing the game looks better on the bloody console! Most criminally, there is a 30 frames per second lock, changeable only in the game’s installation files. This seems to be tied to some of the game’s physics (a rookie mistake for any PC developer), but even with the cap the game still runs like arse. Also, the game crashes randomly.
So, faced with a game that runs better on a potato, PC gamers asked for their money back. Because now, they know that they can.
The reason PC is popular among hardcore gamers is that they pay a premium for the best hardware and expect games to perform at their best on said hardware. The current-gen consoles are struggling to keep up with even mid-level PCs, essentially guaranteeing that PC versions of most games are the definitive version. That’s the theory anyway; Arkham Knight is actually just the latest in a series of increasingly broken and blatantly unfinished PC ports—most prominent example being Assassin’s Creed: Unity, which ended up being wank on all formats. However, Arkham Knight actually had no issues on consoles; a Triple-A blockbuster like this should not run better on a potato than on a rig worth $5000, which should be the finest gaming experience possible. Developers think they can get away with doing this because they have the ability to patch it up later, while telling the consumer to pre-order to get little extras. The result: less incentive to actually finish the game while still getting our money.
That can fuck right off. Now with Steam refunds, consumers on PC can vote with their wallet and yank their money back from underneath the publisher’s feet. That’s what has happened with Arkham Knight, and Warner Bros have learned that the hard way. As of writing, they’ve yanked it off the Steam store and apologised for the poor state of the port. This is indeed a good move, but they shouldn’t have to do this because the PC port should never have been that bad.
Because of this mess, I actually have increased hope that PC will continue to be the definitive format for gaming, and I look forward to a future where the developers make their ports the best they can be. Just remember to not pre-order.