Posted by Michael Mitchell @MitchFizzl
Gamer, writer, occasional pedant. Mitch lives up to all these adjectives and more by writing for Now Loading and Blizzard Watch. @Fizzl_CTR.
Michael Mitchell

No Man's Sky has been an interesting case in game development and release. The pre-release hype reached unreal levels and — as many assumed — the actual game could never live up to that hype.

It has many, many players incredibly frustrated with the game that shipped. Some are even asking for the game refunded because they feel they've been lied to. And while this is understandable to a degree, many of those players are receiving refunds after sinking several hours of playtime into No Man's Sky.

An uncommon notice listed on the NMS Steam page
An uncommon notice listed on the NMS Steam page

In fact, there is an entire Reddit thread of players discussing their refunds, as well as a NeoGAF forum post with something similar. And while Steam has specifically added the above notice to No Man's Sky's store page to let players know it is not an exception to the refund policy, several players are claiming they did, in fact, receive a refund after 8, 9, or even 40+ hours of gameplay.

Those players simply should not be getting their purchases refunded.

Are These Players Even Eligible For Refunds?

If you take a look at Steam's support page, you are allowed to refund a game "if the request is made within fourteen days of purchase, and the title has been played for less than two hours." However, there is a separate page specifically dedicated to refunds which adds the addendum that "even if you fall outside of the refund rules we’ve described, you can ask for a refund anyway and we’ll take a look."

The PlayStation Store's refund policy is actually quite a bit more strict:

"You can cancel a digital content purchase within 14 days from the date of transaction, provided that you have not started downloading or streaming it. Digital content that you have started downloading, streaming and in-game consumables that have been delivered, are not eligible for a refund unless the content is faulty. You can cancel your purchase of a season pass within 14 days from the date of transaction, provided that you have not started downloading or streaming any digital content (e.g. game add-ons) included in the season pass.[...]We will process your refund request as quickly as possible, but it could take up to 72 hours for us to verify your claim. If you have started downloading the game to your console, your request will be declined and we will notify you of this."

So, by the refund policies on both Steam and the PlayStation store, the only way players with more than 2 hours of playtime should be getting refunds is if they're playing on PC and Steam support considers it some sort of special case.

And yet, PC and console No Man's Sky players alike are asking for — and receiving — refunds for the game, even with upwards of 50 hours played. One former Sony employee put it rather succinctly on Twitter:

Why Should Game Refunds Be Different Than Other Entertainment?

Let me ask you this, when's the last time you saw a movie you had high hopes for — cough Suicide Squad cough — only to wind up disappointed? When you left the theater, did you ask for a refund? Heck, would you expect a refund? I hope not; you still saw the entire two hour movie and experienced what it was, for better or worse.

Okay, so how about something else? Let's say you buy a DVD, open it, watch it, and then ask for a refund. Maybe you don't even watch it, but you still open it. Most places won't let you return any product if it's already been opened.

(I'm aware there are exceptions, but in general, full refunds don't happen unless you return the product the way you got it.)

In the above cases, nothing is stopping buyers from researching before buying a product. Read movie reviews, check feedback on Amazon, or just plain wait until word-of-mouth gives you a general impression. It's the risk consumers take when purchasing products.

Sometimes you get far more than your money's worth, sometimes you don't. With that latter, though, you can learn from the experience — why should games be a special case?

'No Man's Sky' Is an Especially Tricky Case, but Still Not an Exception

Image via Reddit
Image via Reddit

One of the counterarguments for the above point about other forms of entertainment is that games are sort of their own category. Movies are, on average, about 2 hours. Technology and consumer products have a pretty specific function — they either do it or they don't.

Games, meanwhile, can range from beautiful, enthralling 4-hour experiences to near-infinite sandbox experiences that somehow still fail to hold gamers' attentions.

A game like No Man's Sky has been very susceptible to the "love it or hate it" schools of response. Yes, it may not live up to expectation, but that hasn't stopped people from becoming absolutely hooked on the experience.

One commenter argued that No Man's Sky should allow 50-hour refunds because players weren't finding bugs until the late-game experience. While this is certainly one of the stronger arguments behind refunding purchases, it doesn't change the fact that these players still sunk 50 hours into the game.

And considering the game — albeit a version without the massive day-1 patch — was notoriously beaten in "only" 30 hours, 50 hours is more than enough time to technically beat the game.

Yes, in theory, it would be nice to say, "You're allowed a refund if you've only played through X% of the required hours," but this would be almost impossible to actually measure. Plus it would encourage at least some players to play games with speed in mind rather than experience.

And going back to the movies example above, even if you decide halfway through a movie that you want to walk out, you are still walking out without a refund. If you buy something that works perfectly fine and open it, you're stuck with that product, like it or not.

Having a blanket refund rule for all games is the best way to ensure the No Man's Sky debacle doesn't happen in the future. But that rule must be adhered to.

Allowing Players to Refund Does Not Fix the Root of the Problem

It's pretty universally accepted that No Man's Sky is a victim of its own advertising.

Sean Murray and Hello Games are a very small studio — with only somewhere around 15 people — and Murray very likely got excited about his plans and couldn't help but share them.

It's a dangerous thing to do and something a bigger PR team probably could have controlled more, but it's also a very human thing to do. The developers were excited about the game, it was hard to contain that excitement. Frankly, you don't want developers that aren't excited about their game.

But here's the thing: Humanism aside, hype works as a marketing tool. It's happened before No Man's Sky and it will happen again — especially if we let it.

Offering refunds because hype got the best of people is offering a "fix" that's too little, too late, and doesn't actually fix anything. It means the hype already did what it was supposed to, which only encourages companies to do it in the future, and it means gamers are going to develop a false sense of entitlement, which only encourages them to push the boundaries of refunds even further.

To be clear, this is not an issue that is 100% any party's fault:

  • Gamers should be wary of hype and more aware of what they're purchasing before doing so
  • Companies like Steam and Sony should also be adamant when it comes to their refund policies

If refunds are not allowed outside of official policy, gamers will be more careful before purchasing. If gamers are more careful with purchasing, developers will (hopefully) take a different approach to promotion than purely relying on hype or features that aren't completely set in stone yet.

It's certainly a difficult situation and one that seems to be especially on the rise in the gaming community, but it's one that's not going to change if we keep the same approach we've had thus far.

What sort of refund policy do you think should be allowed on games?