Back in my day, we couldn’t have returned Batman: Arkham Knight, even if we wanted to.
The Batman: Arkham Knight debacle has been an interesting side-effect of Steam’s new return policy. I have not played Batman: Arkham Knight on PC, but those who have complain of numerous bugs and crippling performance even on the best of hardware.
When I was a intrepid youngster buying big box games, the transaction was quite simple. Many crappy games were purchased, and not one refund was given. The thought never even entered my mind, since Wal-Mart prominently displayed “no returns on opened software”. If the seal was broken, you were stuck with it, bad or good.
This phenomenon had an interesting effect on my shopping habits. For one, I had to do a lot more research before I bought anything – which included reading reviews and quizzing down my friends. If a game did happen to be good, I would often enthusiastically offer up my opinion to any gamer who would hear it. Word of mouth was king, trumping even the most respected of magazine critics.
Enter Steam, which changed things whether we liked it or not. All of a sudden, buying games was less of a monetary investment, and much more simple. If you happened to be a game developer, Steam made it much more simple to market your game as well.
A result of all this ease was a glut of sub-par games, which has been likened to the glut of games that appeared on the Atari 2600 before the famous video game crash in the 80s. That particular crash didn’t really happen on the PC side of the coin, but it is still a fine example of what happens when consumer confidence is very low.
Valve is NOT stupid. They understand this, and that have made a move to try and rectify the future problem before it becomes just that. Enter Steam’s return system. For the first time since the dawn of PC gaming, gamers could return defective products. Steam users have 14 days to return a game they purchased for a full refund. The kicker is, Valve keeps their cut of the sale, and the developer loses theirs.
Back to Batman: Arkham Knight. Steam was issuing so many refunds on the game, WB and Rocksteady were losing a hefty amount of money to Valve. As a result, they pulled Batman: Arkham Knight from Steam (as well as other services, such as Amazon). This move has undoubtedly been good for the consumer (right now), and it is viewed as a victory for gamers everywhere who demand finished products. That’s good, right?
In this one, isolated case – yes. WB has to answer for what was undoubtedly a sub-par product.
However, the success of this policy is dependent on Steam having the clout to keep publishers releasing on their service. If the PC platform becomes too much of a hassle or a drain on the publishers, they’re more likely to just yank the plug rather than instituting better product management. Obviously Gaben and crew believe that they can keep things rolling – I doubt that this was an off-the-cuff decision. They’re the ones who have the numbers, after all.
The future is unclear. PC Gamers have long not been afforded the liberty to actually return products. We need to use this new found power responsibly, and not punish those who don’t deserve it. With great power comes great responsibility, and Batman knows that all too well.
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