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Refunds on Video Games and the No Man’s Sky Debacle

TT_NotTheFandom

Recently, the internet is abuzz with debate over refund policy changes from sellers like Steam in regards to the game No Man’s Sky.  Refunds for games have always been sort of a gray area in the past.  Most of us knew, coming up in the community, that if you bought a game it was pretty much yours unless there was some defect in the media.  Especially when it came to PC games.  You didn’t return a game because you didn’t like it, though in some cases you could get a little cash for it at resale shops and from friends.  Then again, back then games didn’t release with a ton of game-breaking bugs that required several patches just to get them going.  You also didn’t have DRM to worry about that prevents the resale of a lot of games.

That all changed as recently as last year when both major digital game sellers Steam and GoG began offering broader refund options.  Previously, a game had to have some serious issues, and refunds were only granted in extreme circumstances.  So far that I can tell, twice now a game has been made an exception to Steam’s two hour policy, Batman Arkham Knight, and now No Man’s Sky.  Out of the hundreds of games on the marketplace, as best I can tell, these are the only two that have been considered so broken, or so bad, that sellers are offering the customer such a deal.

Some in the community are happy with this, glad that a developer is finally held accountable for how they market a game and what they charge for what many are saying is a broken game missing many of the features originally advertised.  Others were upset at how massive the media hype was, only to find out how disappointing the reality is.  There’s a few who aren’t happy, however, one of them being former Sony employee Shahid Ahmad, who called those getting a refund after 50 hours of play thieves.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>If you’re getting a refund after playing a game for 50 hours you’re a thief.</p>&mdash; Shahid Kamal Ahmad (@shahidkamal) <a href=”https://twitter.com/shahidkamal/status/769882257964294144″>August 28, 2016</a></blockquote>
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Honestly, 50 hours seems like a lot of play time to then get a refund, but not if you consider this player most likely got more than two hours in before they realized the game wasn’t what they expected, and may have played it further knowing they were stuck with it.  Once it was announced they could get a refund, they jumped at the chance.  Some people have also pointed out that with the size and scope of the game, it could have taken that long for a player to realize that the game wasn’t going to live up to expectations.

Other developers have made comparisons to art, and stating developers deserve to be paid for their work.  First, yes games are art.  Second, yes artists should be paid when people collect their art.  The problem here is there’s one more caveat that isn’t being talked about.  Games are also a product that has to be experienced after they are purchased.  Imagine if you were told you were going to get a beautiful painting of a Greek Goddess, complete in classical style, exquisite frame, hand-painted in traditional oils.  You like the sound of that and you like the small samples of the artist’s work, so you buy it.  Then when the painting is delivered you find that it’s actually a puzzle depicting a Greek Goddess, glued to cardboard and in a metal poster frame.  Then imagine you justifiably ask for a refund, and the artist calls you a thief for demanding your money back for his ‘art’ that is not representative of what was promised.

That’s what it boils down to for a lot of gamers on this.  There are the bugs, many of which still haven’t been fixed, but more importantly are what are being seen as broken promises based on media and marketing hype leading up to the release.  Cymen90 broke a lot of it down on reddit with links to interviews and articles from the developers about what we could expect.  It’s probably one of the reasons other developers don’t talk about features for games until they are confirmed as part of the final release.  When you are creating a product, even as art, that people really only experience after they pay for it, you need to deliver what you advertise.  No one wants to see a great action trailer for a huge blockbuster movie, only to show up at the theater to get a mashup of Spongebob and Teletubbies.

What’s the final word from this guy?  Well, if you like the game awesome, you keep on playing what you enjoy.  Has this refund debacle started a precedent?  Yes, and I think it’s a good thing.  For so long, we’ve had developers, AAA and indie, banking on the fact that they can put out a product that doesn’t meet consumer expectations and once they have your money there’s little recourse for the purchaser.  Sure, you can avoid buying their next game, but how many times do we see a developer continue to cheat the gaming community time after time?

People have short memories, new gamers coming into the scene don’t always know a developer’s history, and let’s face it, our gaming media has been doing a terrible job informing us about the market.  Hell, even after Tim Schafer made off with millions, breaking promises and essentially scamming gamers, people still gave him another 3.8 million for Psychonauts 2.  This sends a clear message to developers that they need to start releasing quality product, not rush to market and promise fixes and updates down the road.  They cannot promise features and cut them out unexpectedly, or not put them in at all.  No more counting on our addiction to games to slip one by us.  You can return just about anything else that doesn’t live up to expectations.  There’s no reason video games can’t be part of that model as well.

Games to Get Excited About: No Man’s Sky

Games to Get Excited About: No Man’s Sky

 

Guest Post By: Michael Wells

 

Happy April and welcome to this month’s edition of Games to Get Excited About! This month we’re taking a look at No Man’s Sky.

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No Man’s Sky is a game you may have been hearing about for a while. The game is the brainchild of Sean Murray, formerly of the Burnout series, and was unveiled by developer Hello Games and publisher Sony back at E3 2014. The game generated a lot of buzz for its popping visual style and promise of seamless gameplay. A particular standout for me was the part near the end of the trailer where the player hops in their spaceship on the surface of one world, then flies into space and down towards the surface of a neighboring planet with nary a loading screen in sight. With a heavy emphasis on freedom and exploration the game made a positive first impression for many gamers. That early reveal was a tantalizing glimpse of the project’s potential, but it left a lot of questions in its wake.

 

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No Man’s Sky promises a LOT of space

How Does It Work?

One of the first things that was revealed about No Man’s Sky is it’s scale. The game promises 18 Quintillion unique planets to explore. Obviously it would be impossible for any designer to come up with that much content so instead the game universe is proceduraly generated from seed code that mixes and matches from potential combinations of traits for planets including the atmosphere, biome, geography, and presence of intelligent life. The game renders that in real time as the player explores, and discards it when the player is not present. What makes this interesting is that any player who goes to the same spot will see the same things but the game doesn’t need to use the processing power to depict more than a infinitesimal fraction of its vast universe.

What Do You Do?

Hello Games has talked a lot about the scale of the game and the math that makes it possible. It’s obvious that they are proud of the work they’ve done, and rightly so. But the promise of an infinite universe only gets you so far if that universe isn’t full of interesting things to do. Details on the actual gameplay have been scarce until recently. So what can you do in a playground of this frankly unimaginable size?

The primary motivation of the game is exploration itself. Every planet you discover, every alien creature, and every landmark will be tagged as your discovery. A lot of the initial draw for the game will simply be seeing what is waiting over the next hill, on the next moon, past the next star… The eventual goal will be to make your way to the center of the Universe. As you progress further towards the center the game will become more challenging. Planets will become more dangerous, not only will they have stronger and more aggressive creatures, but they will also have extreme temperatures, toxic atmospheres, and other hazards. In order to survive you will need to upgrade your spacesuit and weapon to overcome the challenges. More dangerous planets will yield more valuable resources which you can use to craft more powerful upgrades. Crafting will utilize the game’s periodic table as you synthesize compounds from the raw elements you obtain from mining, scavenging ruins, and salvaging enemy robots and ships.

Your ship can be upgraded as well, to improve your speed, weapons and defenses, and even your FTL drive so that you can jump further and speed your progress towards your goal. Space provides its own challenges in the form of factions that can ally with or attack you based on your behavior. If you act like a pirate, don’t be surprised when the local faction drops a hunter killer fleet into your system to deal with you. But if you move to a sector controlled by that faction’s rivals they may reward you for attacking their enemies and give you preferential prices on trades. You can even take part in large scale space battles between factions that happen based on ongoing changes in the persistent universe.

A Shared But Lonely Universe

No Man’s Sky is an online game and the marks you make on it with your discoveries and interactions with factions will leave a permanent mark on the universe of the game. With that said, Hello Games has crafted what promises to be a strangely solitary experience. With the magnitude of the game’s universe it will be a very rare occurrence for players to run into other players. The game doesn’t provide any way to track other players or party with them. It doesn’t even incorporate any way to talk to each other. In some ways this design ethos reminds me of Journey. It will be interesting to see whether people coordinate outside the game to meet up within it. Will we see a galactic mapping project, or a safe planet become a de facto meetup spot? Will we see players build a structure around potential PvP? This is one part of the game which will probably surprise even the developers once it is released.

no man's sky

So Why Get Excited?

No Man’s Sky is promising to bring an unprecedented amount of scale to a genre of game that has always benefited from having wider horizons. The ultimate question of whether the game is mechanically satisfying and rewarding to play won’t be answerable until the game is in our hands but the game has a staggering amount of potential. To get an idea of why I’m excited look at the picture above this paragraph. In the foreground there is a stone tablet that will help you decipher an alien language so you can better communicate with that faction. In the background is a small outpost of some kind. Maybe it’s a trading post, or maybe it’s home to some unfriendly natives. In the sky is a moon or sister planet that you can fly to with no loading or instancing of any kind. No Man’s Sky offers the final realization in some ways of that old game developer’s promise: If you can see it, you can get to it.

That level of seamless exploration is something that I have been waiting for since I started gaming. With high expectations there is always the potential for disappointment, but at this point I can’t help but be optimistic. Wherever the game ends up taking me, it is a journey I’m looking forward to taking.

No Man’s Sky releases for PC and the PlayStation 4 on June 21, 2016. The game will have a physical and digital release and there are two collector’s editions including a PC only edition that comes with a model space ship in case the digital ship isn’t enough for you.