Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Refunds could be bad. Really bad...

            Have you refunded your copy of Mass Effect 3 at Amazon? No? Good; don’t do it. Earlier today people found out that they could refund their copy of Mass Effect 3, regardless of the system, if they didn’t have a pleasant time with it. It isn’t new that people could refund games that they weren’t happy with. In fact, it’s been around for quite a while. However, this got me thinking. What if there was a sudden surge of people who wanted refunds for a game at Amazon?

            I think that refunds are a great system for stores. In fact there are times when a product disappointed me so much that I absolutely had to return it. Unfortunately, I can see scenarios where people abuse refunding products for their own personal benefit or gain. In this particular instance if you didn’t like Mass Effect 3 then you can just return it. There’s no real downside – other than the fact that you might only get a partial refund.

            I’m afraid of refunds for games disappearing entirely. If tens or hundreds of thousands of people refund their copy of Mass Effect 3, Amazon just might have to reevaluate how their refunds work. It might cause a series of events where gamers just no longer have the ability to get a refund on absolutely atrocious games. I’m not saying that this could happen, however, the possibility is there.

            Follow through my hypothetical thought process a bit. Say 100 thousand gamers asked for a refund on Mass Effect 3 and they got it. While I don’t know the profit that Amazon earns with each copy sold, for this case let’s not worry about that. Each copy is essentially $60. If 100 thousand copies are refunded then that’s $6 million dollars. That’s a lot of money. Of course, this isn’t profit lost but the number might be in the millions still. If this is the case then Amazon will surely go over how refunding works.

            There is another result that may come about from refunding Mass Effect 3. If the refunding story gets notice then people will abuse the system. Games will be refunded more often because they’re “bad.” Now, there are some terrible games out there, almost downright broken. However, there are good games and I’m afraid people will ask for a refund because they just say it’s “bad.” What happens if this is the case?  Games that are not great or excellent will essentially cease to exist and developers will disappear as well.

            Now, I know that’s quite a claim and allow me to explain myself. This generation saw a lot of game studios shut down. This is the result of low sales, low review scores and low customer reception. Creating games is a very difficult and costs a lot of money. If a studio doesn’t do a good job at making an good game, there is a high possibility that it will close. While there was a large library of bad games to average games last generation, that’s not so much the case with this one. Publishers don’t want to take the risk so we often don’t see bad or average games. Well, at least not as frequent as last generation.

            What does this all mean though? Essentially, the frequency of refunds might indirectly affect developers and publishers. If Amazon gets a certain number refunds of a game then this might signal that the studio that created the game is not doing a good job. Now, I’m fine with this if the game is bad. It becomes a problem though if we start seeing fewer average or good games.  This can come about when such games are refunded under the notion of it being bad. People can lie and say a game is bad when it’s clearly not. This kind of lying and refund abuse can absolutely destroy companies that didn’t deserve it at all.

            There are a lot of assumptions that I made and therefore there’s little ground for what I’m trying to say. Still, the possibility of refunding being misused is there. Now this argument only uses Amazon. I understand that Amazon is only one seller and there’s no way that it could start all of what I described above. However, there is the possibility that it could start a chain of reactions where the gaming industry could be changed altogether because multiple sellers are affected by refunds.

            Mass Effect 3 is the example I used for how refunding games could be bad. I only talked about the bad so let me tell you some good news. Earlier, I mentioned that refunds could affect developers and publishers. Refunds are a form of feedback. If a game is being refunded a lot, distributors can make a call complaining or just not buy more prints of the game. This leads to companies rethinking on what they’re doing right and wrong. Perhaps they can even change for the better. While it’s not an excellent way, it is a way for Amazon, and perhaps other distributors, to communicate the likability of the product.

            Refunds are awesome! I love refunds, though I hardly use it. It’s a great crutch if I’m running low on money or if I’m just flat out not happy. However, I can’t help but feel that there are those that will corrupt something that is meant to satisfy consumers everywhere. Hopefully I’m wrong and this will never come to pass. Until then, gamers should be aware of how refunding can change the face of the industry. 


  1. interesting ideas. i posted this as a comment on VGW but thought it was appropriate counterpoint here:

    This opens a very interesting can of worms. the Doctrine of “try it, keep it” has been in effect so long that this kind of deviation feels heretical. But if we look at it objectively, this may actually be good for games. For far too long entertainment has had a pricing problem: good stuff costs the same as bad stuff, and you can’t know the difference until you’ve broken the seal and voided the warranty by watching/reading/playing it.

    Now, if we as media consumers are allowed to evaluate the product in a similar way to tangible, physical goods, that changes this dynamic. I think the best case scenario is that media will do what other goods have done given the same constraints: tiered their pricing to reflect the quality of the production.

    So maybe in the future a game will have to live up to its $60 price tag, and many publishers will actually deign to make more risky, less-expensive titles. i don’t think the “i didn’t like the way you wrote the ending” argument is a good model for this approach, but i do believe that a reasonable model for judging the market value of a game/movie/etc might be achievable, and would do the audience and the market good in terms of expanding the possibilities on offer.

    p.s. Howdy from a fellow Austinite

    1. hello Austinite! I didn't know anyone from VGW lived here. Small world. Anyway, I do think your way is a much more optimistic way of looking at it. i think while that method is nice, there might be some problems with this since sampling is a bit of a difficult thing to do for games. Do you do any paid video game journalism/critic? If so I would like some advice.

  2. Excellent read, I just passed this onto a colleague who was doing a little research on that. And he actually bought me lunch because I found it for him smile So let me rephrase that.
    ld hardas