Under Australian consumer law, you are entitled to a full refund if the product:
a) doesn't meet described specifications.
b) is broken.
Valve's response to the lawsuit is that a digital download game product cannot arrive broken, because you can simply verify cache/redownload, and that its specifications are clear and understandable enough that isn't a reason why it should be forced to hire a dedicated Refunds Officer (also required under consumer law).
Now, I would agree with Valve that their case stands in the vast majority of cases. However, Early Access games are an interesting thing to consider here.
They are specified to be in development, and that bugs are expected. However, an important point is that it is also specified that purchasing the Early Access version of a game entitles you to access to the full release of that game, once it is actually released.
But what if the game is never actually released as a full version? What if, as has happened, game developers take a lot of money and simply leave the game in endless development?
I would argue that in that case, Valve should be forced under Australian consumer law to give refunds on the basis that the product meets specifications, or be required to specify in a prominent and understandable manner (a caveat for specifications that does apply under Australian law, but not for American law) that Valve cannot guarantee that the game will ever actually reach a full release build.
Of course, it might then be possible for developers to simply release an alpha masquerading as a full release to prevent action demanded of Valve. This circumvention issue could be dealt with in a number of ways.
And this isn't even the most interesting question. What's even more interesting, in my opinion, is whether there should be a stipulated limit to how long a game remains in development. That is, suppose Rust remains in Early Access for the next 3 years. Should customers who purchased Early Access for that game, after a certain period of time, say 3/4 years, become eligible to get a refund if they want?
Of course, there's a problem with refunds for Early Access as the system currently runs. At the moment, it works like a banking intermediary between investors (us) and developers to provide them funds to continue development. So, that naturally means that the money we're spending on Early Access is actually being spent to pay development costs. If then, refunds actually became a thing, who would pay? The money has already been spent, so would the developer have to conjure more money, or would Valve have to fork out?
That's primarily a problem with refunds for games still in development, and people who want to bug out of the Early Access program for that game. It's probably more likely that we'd see Valve adopt a refund process for games which never get that full release as part of specifications, or we'll see them place in a we-don't-guarantee-anything clause into their specifications just to avoid having to work out where the refund money would come from for games like that.
Then, if they were forced to offer refunds for dud Early Access games, Valve might take a more active approach to actually working with developers to make sure games come out of Early Access in a state where they are at least playable, and could be called at worst an extremely buggy full release (kind of like BF4 launch state), so that they could avoid incurring refund costs.
Interestingly, after BF4 was launched (extremely broken), there was actually a lawsuit filed against EA for similar reasons; a game at launch that didn't meet product specifications (i.e. existing in a playable state, which ought to be an implied product specification, much like you'd expect a kettle to turn on). I don't know the outcome of that, but I'd be interested if anyone did.
Anyway, this is all just my musing on the situation of refunds and Early Access, and how they connect.
I don't believe Early Access is killing the industry, I think it's helping. More funds, more developers, more consumer choice in which games actually get developed. Risk is diversified across the entire customer base, instead of with just one funding development company, which means more games being developed that consumers actually want to see.
The thing that is killing the industry is patch downloads on PC, at least. The capacity to release countless patches after release has actually made company's lazy when releasing games. It makes them more willing to release buggy games, with the thought pattern: "We'll patch it later down the track..."
This is very bad. One possible solution would be to see digital download platforms like Steam, Origin and Uplay adopt patches-cost models like consoles, to create incentives for developers to have fewer patches. Of course, this might mean that they just group many smaller patches into one bigger patch, and we end up spending longer in between patches with broken-at-release games. Or, with enough consumer backlash, it might mean that we will see more games released in complete states, in order to reduce the need to patch later.
Just my thoughts.
Back in the early 80's, publishers were releasing broken games and unfinished games in much the same way that early access games are being released now. This did not have good results for the gaming industry: Link
This "crash" ultimately did not spell the end of the gaming industry (obviously). Nintendo, with their Famicom and "seal of quality" helped to bring about a standard for quality that in large part was the industry standard up until recently (Link). This seal was designed to function as an express warranty that the game being purchased would function as an ordinary video game should (i.e.- not break). I imagine a similar scenario will arise in the next few years, with some company introducing a "bold new policy" of quality control. Publishers and designers will once again realize that free beta testing is not worth the cost of bad PR and a soiled reputation.
[Edited by Latiosmaster47, 10/7/2014 9:50:15 AM]
I made a thread here in August about Valve and the ACCC.
That article said it was going to court October 7th, too. The only update I've seen since is that Valve called for mediation before the ACCC court challenge got underway. The case should have started yesterday barring any extensions. Heard anything further?
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