It all started on Christmas morning when I opened a shiny new $50 PlayStation gift card. I own a PS5 with a digital disc drive so I don't often purchase digital games for the system, but I had this gift card now and Sony had a great sale going for the holidays. I had a few games on my wishlist and took a gamble on one that was on sale for $40 that day — normally, a $70 game.
Problem is, I was already on the fence about the game and an hour of playtime proved to me that buying it was a mistake. Per Sony's digital return policy, it was too bad so sad for me. I basically just flushed $40 down the toilet because Sony doesn't accept digital returns for anything that you've simply downloaded, much less played.
That's right, you don't even have to play the game to be disqualified for a refund. All you have to do is hit the download button after purchasing and that sale is final.
Considering that Quest 2 games and anything on the Steam marketplace can be returned so long as you haven't played more than 2 hours of the game, it's amazing to me that a company like Sony offers such a user-hostile digital marketplace. To be fair to Sony, Nintendo's digital return policy is just as bad.
Microsoft sits somewhere in between these four other platforms, allowing some refunds on Xbox games mostly so long as you're requesting a refund within 14 days of purchase. Microsoft isn't as lax as Meta or Valve — it doesn't technically allow refunds if you've played a game but will make exceptions based on stated criteria — but its main problem is with preorders.
My colleague at Windows Central, Zachary Boddy, preordered a game near the end of 2021 and decided to try to refund the preorder before the game came out. Turns out, Microsoft didn't offer refunds if they weren't requested within 14 days of purchase. That's a little silly given that many games can be preordered within months of release.
From what I can tell, it looks like they've at least made it a little better by offering refunds within 10 days of a game's release, according to the Microsoft refund policy. Problem is, if I had preordered this game at GameStop or Best Buy, I would not only get my full money back for a preorder cancellation, but I'd also be able to return the game within 30 days so long as I didn't open it.
But what if I did open it, you ask? Most stores won't take a return if the item was open, so it's not all that different from Sony or Nintendo's strict digital return policies, right?
Yes, but that's only half correct. Unlike a digital game — which is entirely useless once it's placed in your digital "library" — a physical game can be sold on a third-party marketplace or traded in like a mobile phone to a store.
That's why it's vitally important that companies like Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo work on making their digital return policies better. We, thankfully, still have the option of buying a PlayStation, Xbox, or Switch with a physical disc or game card slot on it but there will be a time in the near future — as is the case with a Steam Deck or an Oculus Quest 2 — where digital-only is the only option.
Maybe this is just Sony's way of pushing most of us into a PlayStation Plus subscription so we don't actually own anything. Based on the price, it's probably more worthwhile to buy a PlayStation Plus subscription than a bunch of games each year but it also means you'll have to wait for Sony to add them to the service.
And that's why Meta and Valve are the models for digital storefronts that these companies need to follow. Until they adapt to this reality, I won't be buying another digital game from any of them and, quite frankly, I don't think you should either.
Digital games are a bummer because you don't actually own anything. Why bother purchasing them individually when you can just pay for an annual service that gives you a bunch of them at once? PS Plus is definitely the better alternative.
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