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Friday, February 22, 2008

Valve Says "No Refund" To Broken Software

So my attempt to download The Club from Steam has ended in miserable failure and to Steam support's suggestion that it is all Sega's fault, I just responded that I wanted a refund.

I get a one line response:

As with most software products, we will not offer refunds for purchases made online as outlined in the software license - please review Section 4 of the Steam Subscriber Agreement for more information.

Sure, I can see if I was bitching about framerates or complaining that the graphics suck or something ... I can kinda see their point. If I had played the game for a few hours and didn't like it ... I can see their point. They were selling a game, not a demo, and there's a certain amount of buyer responsibility there.

But Valve didn't sell me a game. They sold me an error box. I've never so much as seen a splash screen from this software. They have no clue how to fix it and Sega's support site is likewise blank. I spent $50 for an error box and for Steam to chew up some more of my hard drive.

What's more to the point is .... Valve should know all of this. For the love of all things, this is what Steam does. It gives Valve a gateway into the games I've purchased with them. They control whether I can play it or not. They log how much I play them. There is no technical reason they can't use this software to look at my account, realize I've never been able to keep the game running for more than a couple seconds, and remove my access from it.

But they won't - and here's why and why you should never buy anything from Steam. Steam is not designed to protect the consumer. It has one purpose in life and that is to protect Valve. Valve's response to you ... even if Steam throws a wrench, breaks down and keeps you from playing the games you have paid for ... will be sod off.

If I had bought the stupid game at Best Buy and ran into the same problem (which I bet I wouldn't - I'm willing to bet this is still a Steam problem) I'd be able to return it for store credit. I could get some candy or something instead of a bag of screw you which Valve is offering.

Now, Valve is perfectly capable of giving refunds and I've pointed that out to them. If they don't grant that by the end of today, I'll just call my credit card company and deny the charge this weekend.

I still get my $50. Steam will get removed from my hard drive and I'll likely never, ever buy another Valve product for any platform ever again. I don't care if Portal 2 or Half-Life 3 is the greatest game ever made, Valve's customer support is borderline criminal.

And I'll likely add a "Don't Buy From Valve (Or Steam)" block on the blog.

To clarify: Under Steam's Subscriber Agreement you are obligated to pay for the software before you actually receive it.

However, Valve is not contractually obligated to actually deliver that software to you. They could download a completely non-functional block of code to Steam's secret vault. It could be a text file encrypted to say "Ha Ha". You still have to pay and Valve does not (and apparently will not) refund your money. It is quite honestly the least consumer friendly piece of technology written in the modern age.

Use it at your own risk.

Updates: As soon as they referred me to their refund policy, I became persona non gratis to Valve. They continued to ignore the ticket even when I asked for it to be escalated, and even when I informed them I would take it up with my credit card and the BBB.

Both of which I've now done.

To date I have no verification that Valve ever delivered the software for which I paid.


sterno said...

Valve's policy is an iron clad guarantee of disgruntled users. Offering no means for a refund doesn't mean people won't get refunds. It just means they'll go through their credit card companies, contest it, and generally have a big hassle.

In the long run it means less people willing to buy stuff through Steam and frankly after all the trouble you've had, I'm probably not going to go that route again. I love the idea of being able to buy a game on-line right when I want it and just have it show up on my drive in a few hours. But if in the process I make it difficult to have any rights as a consumer, it's not really worth it.

Josh said...

Even though I think it is a) a little extreme and b) probably futile ... two things in actions I don't particularly like to move forward with ... I'm probably going to file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau.

The more I think about it, the more it seems Steam is a violation of consumer trust. At the very least, Valve should offer me some method to inspect the "product" I have purchased. They don't. They essentially strip the consumer of any ability to verify that the transaction has taken place in good faith.

In lieu of that, it seems like the must offer a recourse when all the evidence I have is that I was delivered something less than I have purchased. And they don't.

Such a contract does not seem like it should be enforceable to me.

And you're right - regardless the end result is that Valve is removing confidence from purchases. I wouldn't repeat an offline experience as I've had with Valve in the last couple of days, so I have no intention of repeating an online one.

peterb said...

I don't know what to say but "Yeah, this is in fact why PC gaming is dying." The only people left who still buy PC games, apparently, are those of us who are retarded.

The sad part is that as bad as Steam is, it's even worse if you buy physical media: most PC games I've bought in the past few years have tried to install malware on my machine in the name of copy protection.

So basically, anyone making PC games doesn't really want to sell them, I guess.

sterno said...

Honestly the main reason I still play PC games is because the games I like tend to be better on PC's. I'm a big fan of FPS and RTS games and while FPS games have improved on consoles I still find the controls rather lacking.

Having said that, I buy a lot less PC games than I used to. Long ago I'd buy at least one new game a month. Now, I buy maybe a few a year.

The other issue I see with console games is that the on-line communities for the PS3 and the 360 are completely separate. There are friends of mine that I've played PC games with that I met on-line. If they get a 360 and I have a PS3 we cannot play together even if we have the same game.

My sense though is that the issues that exist with console gaming are improving while the issues with PC gaming are getting worse or no better.

Honestly the only thing I can see saving PC gaming is Apple. Apple has a very consistent platform, so it would resolve a lot of the headaches with driver conflicts, etc that tend to sabotage PC gaming. If Apple put some effort into this, they could take over this market. I've got a MacPro and that thing is a monster gaming computer, I just hate having to dual boot it all the time :)

Weefz said...

That's appalling. I knew Steam was buggy and unstable - I had no idea Valve's policy was so draconian.

I was going to ask if you have any legal protection with regards to non-delivery/faulty goods - I'm sure that behaviour would be illegal if it happened within the UK. I take it that's the role of the Better Business Bureau?

Josh said...

Basically. The two routes I've taken, asking the cc company to deny the charge and informing the BBB of the situation, are pretty much the course. For $50 you aren't going to exactly see a courtroom here.

Sears has already agreed to temporarily refund the money.

It looks like the problem might be with additional distributables the game requires. Either Steam or Bizarre's installation is faulty (or both). However, on the Bizarre Creation's page for the problem it notes:

"Please note: Attempting these fixes is at your own risk. Neither Bizarre Creations or Sega accept any responsibility for damages or data loss resulting from attempting these fixes. Make sure you know what you're doing before following these instructions!"

So if you buy PC software it comes with no guarantee of actually working. And depending on who you buy it from - they might not bother refund your money (or help you much out with the problem).

And if you try to fix it yourself - you are liable for your own risk.

Comparatively, if I had rented this off GameFly for the 360, it would have been returned long ago for another game, or if I had a receipt I could certainly trade it in for another game at nearly any other game in the store.