Do Retailers And Manufacturers Need To Adjust Their Return Policy For Games?

The other day I was thinking about a couple of recent games where people had commented that they had wished they had not purchased the game due to a much shorter than expected runtime and other issues with the game. I grew up in the era where purchasing prerecorded media of any type often had the caveat emptor approach, let the buyer beware. In that if you were not happy with the way a film was cropped for home-video release, had issues with pictures sound quality, didn’t like the game, were frustrated by the bugs, or any other issue, you were pretty much out of luck. The policy was pretty firm that once the box was opened, the item could not be returned and could only be exchanged for a similar title should a defect be discovered.

As the years went on, the age of the Internet gave consumers more options in that they could wait for update patches, voice their concerns directly to the manufacturers via their websites, could write fan reviews and articles to make others aware of these issues, and above all, could research the products before they purchase them. Combine that with the opportunity for resell through companies like eBay and Craigslist you will see that consumers have a new level of protection that was not available to them in the past.

However, what is one to do when they shell out $59.99 for title and find that for whatever reason be it quality, short gameplay, features, bugs, or whatnot that the game is highly unsatisfactory and in some cases unplayable? We all heard about the issues EA had with SIm City and Battlefield 4 where consumers were basically left to wait for updates to be done so that they could play what they pay their hard earned money for.

I understand the retailer side that they can’t have people opening games, going on a gaming marathon, and then returning them a couple days later to get their money back citing dissatisfaction with the final product. However I can also see the consumers standpoint of not really having much in the way of protection should a title failed to deliver on promises that were made prerelease, Aliens: Colonial Marines, for example.

Amazon generally has some consumer protections in place that allow certain games to be returned as I remember having no issues returning a copy of Republic Commando that was having severe issues that hampered gameplay and was told that I could have a credit or refund and did not have to take another of the same game.

You would not find this level of service at many major retailers and to be fair, most retailers do clearly list their criteria for returning media items in their stores.

My solution to the problem would be to offer a 72 hour window for consumers who pre-purchase the game or pick it up on the day of launch. This would allow consumers to have more confidence to pre-order the game months ahead of release, before any reviews start popping up online. While but many people say they don’t pay attention to reviewers, it is a known fact that review scores do help determine the buying patterns of many consumers as if a game has negative reviews and bad press, it does tend to make the less hard-core fans stay away from a given title.

So here’s how this program would work. I’m a consumer who decides I would like to pre-order game that I know very little about, but she was Star Wars Battlefront as an example. I know the basics of the game but have not really seen any gameplay, have not read any interviews, nor have I seen any reviews or hands-on reports from the game. I know I’m a Star Wars fan so it’s definitely something I will want to play but I have to admit I’m concerned about some of the rough launches EA has had in the past.

I can take a wait-and-see approach, or under the current system, I have to order the game, and then decide to keep my pre-order or cancel it prior to launch.

Now with the case of Battlefront, I’m going to get to see it and play it at Star Wars Celebration in a couple of weeks, so therefore I will have a much better idea about the game and what it will offer. Consumers often do not get the chance to see and play these things in advance as many of us in the media do and when they’re being asked to invest in a product by a doing a pre-order that requires a deposit, they are showing faith that their investment will be worth.

Many retailers allow you to pre-order product with little to no money down, but as I said you have to cancel prior to release which gives fans only some prerelease information in which to make the final decision as once it ships it is theirs.

My solution would be to allow anybody who pre-purchases an item or perhaps they want purchasers as well, a window of no more than 72 hours in which they could return the game for either a refund or credit to another product. Retailers would be able to set restrictions such as only allowing so many returns within a year, and companies could have the option to say that returns can only be credited for future titles from the company but at least this would give consumers a new level of protection and confidence when approver title, and I believe would also benefit developers and retailers has this would encourage more people to pre-order or purchase at launch titles rather than waiting to see what the reviews for title are.

This is not a revolutionary idea is when I worked with Sierra years ago as I was starting out the site, they had a blanket return policy for any other titles. If you did not like the game you could return and for a refund or credit toward another game, all these needed to send the game and your receipt to the company with a brief note explaining what you did not like about the game. This policy worked well and believe it or not I did not see the abuse that much at all during my time with the company. There is a happy medium that can be obtained between consumers, retailers, and developers, they just simply need to find a common ground and move forward. Developers will have to admit when games launch in an unplayable or buggy state that consumers deserve more than a week for the patch approach. Retailers need to understand that for some people the outlay for a game required a bit of savings and budgeting and that maybe the only title they can get for several weeks. As such, they deserve a stable and playable game in my opinion as well as some level of consumer satisfaction.

And finally, consumers need to do their due diligence and except that if the manufacturer has produced a stable game and you’re unhappy with content, then in the future you may want to do your due diligence and weight until more information is available on a game and at the same time remember that you do have rights but also need to temper your expectations for the final product.

Regardless of what happens in the future, I think system generally works well with a few exceptions, but more work can be done that would benefit all sides as we are all one community that is interdependent upon one another.