Firewatch artist shares dev perspective on people gaming Steam refunds

"I am sad when people think this game is not worth the money we asked for (which we thought was a fair ask)," wrote artist Jane Ng on the Firewatch Steam forum. "It makes me feel like I failed them."
"If you do refund, I am not upset. It's on me to learn not to care too much. All I ask is that maybe sometime in the future, when the game goes on mega dirt cheap sale, you could gift the experience to someone else you think will enjoy it like you did."

- Video game artist Jane Ng responds to someone publicly mulling over whether or not to get a refund for a game she worked on that they played and enjoyed.

Last Friday Campo Santo artist Jane Ng responded to someone publicly mulling over whether or not to get a refund for Firewatch after playing and enjoying the game. Her response seems earnest, heartfelt, and worth reading for fellow game makers who struggle with the financial realities of indie development in the modern game market.

"The 11 of us all took a lot of risk to make this, and sacrificed financially to give Firewatch a chance. We all could have had much better paying jobs elsewhere, but we all thought this game idea had potential to be something special," writes Ng, who acknowledges that she doesn't begrudge anyone asking for a refund. "I am sad when people think this game is not worth the money we asked for (which we thought was a fair ask). It makes me feel like I failed them. It is ok if people don't like the game, but it affects me personally a lot, when people feel like it was not -worth- the time they engaged with it."

In this public post Ng simultaneously speaks to both the financial and philosophical concerns many contemporary indie developers deal with, especially now that open-world/open-ended game design is en vogue.

The fact that Steam now has a clear process for users to request refunds complicates the issue, as it's feasible for someone to buy a game and complete it in 2 hours (within Valve's stated 2 hours played/14 days owned window of refund eligibility) then request a full refund. This is exactly what the poster Ng is responding to was publicly mulling over, even though they claimed to enjoy Firewatch and like its creators.

"I enjoyed this game [...] But it was 2-3 hours. I feel like there could of been more, and im thinking about refunding," wrote the original poster. "I want to support the developers, but there was so much more i could of got with my $18. Should i refund, or hold on to it?"

In the wake of Ng's response (and an ensuing commotion in the press) the writer has edited that post to note that they've decided not to ask for a refund for the game.

However, the imbroglio does echo some of the concerns indie devs shared with Gamasutra last summer about how people can use Steam refunds to game the system and effectively play (some) games for free. 

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