Digital rights, ownership and refunds are hardly new topics of discussion, but No Man’s Sky has brought the discussion back to the front pages. While it’s bound to only be a small minority of those that bought the game, people have been successfully getting refunds, despite having sunk many, many hours of play time into virtual universe.
Off the back of these refunds, you have to ask yourself when is it right and fair to ask for your money back? It’s clear that there are a lot of people who bought No Man’s Sky and were dissatisfied with their purchase for one reason or another, but after you’ve played the game for 50 hours, surely it’s then taking things too far to get a refund?
The real problem is that there’s no universal system for us, as consumers, to get refunds on digital purchases. After years and years of dragging their feet, there are now refund policies in place for a number of the biggest digital markets. Apple, Google and Steam all introduced ways to request refunds last year, with varying limitations on what and why you can ask to refund and their own windows of opportunity to do so.
Steam’s is pleasingly lenient, with no questions asked if you’ve played less than 2 hours and it’s within 14 days of purchase, but some are taking it far beyond this, submitting requests for refunds after playing for much, much longer and citing technical problems that don’t seem to have affected them.
Sony’s policy is less lenient, and they’ve been criticised in the past for their handling of such requests. No Man’s Sky seems to be an exception, and there are numerous reports of people phoning up or using their customer support text chat and getting refunds, often stated as a one time gesture of good will.
By EU law, you have a 14 day cooling off period for online, phone and mail order purchases for any reason, but there’s no such provision for face to face purchases, which are always at the store’s discretion. The UK’s Consumer Rights Act 2015 takes this a step further to 30 days if goods are not of satisfactory quality, aren’t fit for purpose or don’t match the description. These rules are all well and good and easy to understand if you order a nice new shirt over the internet from Top Shop, but there are exceptions to the rule. CDs, DVDs and games aren’t covered as soon as you break the cellophane seal, and for digital products, the second you click to download is the moment that you waive your right to cancel.
Of course, if the download doesn’t work, if the game simply crashes, if the audio files are corrupted, you can go back to the seller. They can try to fix the issues before you’re allowed to ask for compensation, but these are all focused on ensuring that you get a product and that it works, not that it’s any good.
Take heading to the cinema as an example. If you settled in to watch Batman vs Superman and found that the sound didn’t work or the projector was only showing the film in black and white you’d be frustrated. More importantly, you’d be entitled to a refund. However, if you watched all three hours of the film and decided it hadn’t been for you, would you deserve your money back? I’d argue not, and the same principle applies to No Man’s Sky. Those who have had the game crash repeatedly or suffered from serious frame rate issues on PC do deserve their money back, even as Hello Games push out patch after patch. However, if you’ve played a good chunk of the game and found it not to be your cup of tea, then that’s no fault of Hello Games, and you probably shouldn’t be able to get a refund.
One bone of contention is whether or not No Man’s Sky is “as described by the seller”. Does it match up to the grandeur promised during the three years of hype that led to its release earlier this month? Probably not, but that’s not what needs to be called into question. At the point of sale, you’re getting what’s described on the box or in the blurb on the digital store – this is admittedly muddied by the Steam page having old trailers, an old user interface and some features that were cut during development.
On the subject of the missing multiplayer, regardless of what Sean Murray said or alluded to, regardless of what is hidden beneath the sticker on the back of the box, it now says it’s a single player game. Similarly, there’s no promise of a particular amount of game time, no promise of a deep and involving story, no promise of landing on your hundredth planet being an interesting experience.
So, when people are asking for and getting refunds from Steam and PlayStation with dozens of hours of play time, I personally think that’s taking things much too far. Unless you genuinely suffer from chronic game crashes and cripplingly low frame rates, you’re exploiting a system that wasn’t set up with this in mind. I get that you might be disappointed, but that’s not right. Analogies to this particular situation are invariably a little clumsy, but it’s like buying clothes to wear to a party and then returning them the next day because you’ve “changed your mind”.
You do have to wonder if this would even be a problem is digital games had some kind of parallel to being able to trade in your physical game discs, but that’s a discussion for another time.