Sorry in advance for a pretty lazy account of an otherwise interesting series of correspondences between Steam, Sega, and I. Crazy busy workweek.
What’s a Torontonian to do in the throes of snow storms? Walk for 10 minutes to the 2 game stores around the corner? Hell no! The tropical screenshots tickled my vacation bone so I purchased Sega‘s Outrun 2006 Coast 2 Coast from Steam for $19.99 US. Oops.
The purchase procedure was as easy as ever, and the game began downloading immediately at full speed (about 600KB/s on my connection). I downloaded the 1.5GB game in less than an hour and eagerly double-clicked the icon. I cranked the quality settings, picked a car, chose a song (Magical Sound Shower, of course) and let ‘er rip.
I got about 3 minutes into my first race (which looked like a PS1 game with antialiasing, by the way) when the video froze and the speakers let out a high-pitched whine. The computer froze real good – no alt-tabbing, no alt-F4ing, no Num Lock LED response, nada.
I suspected the buzzing sound might be indicative that it was finally time to replace my onboard AC97 sound chip with my problematic but beloved Audigy 2 so I opened up my machine, slapped in the card, installed the latest drivers, and was good to go. A few media players and games worked great (and much louder) with the new card so I gave Outrun another attempt. Buzzzz. Reboot.
Frustrated, I checked for help on Steam’s forums which, surprisingly, considering its inconceivably active userbase, served no useful information about my predicament, nor could I find anything useful elsewhere on Steam’s page. (nuff commas, Brian!) The only useful tidbit was a page stating that third-party software issues should be addressed directly to the developer. Steam kindly provided a direct link to Sega Support.
I concisely described my situation to Sega as follows:
I recently purchased Outrun 2006 Coast To Coast for PC from Steam (www.steampowered.com). I try to play the game but after several seconds I hear a high-pitched whine (from the speakers) and my computer crashes and cannot be recovered without rebooting.
I play many games on my PC without trouble. I have a fairly modern and powerful computer in good working order. Can you please assist me in fixing this problem?
A week after contacting Sega I’d received no response. I wrote a quick letter to Steam asking for some kind of intervention, solution, or a refund. 4 days went by and I received no reply from either company, so I emailed Steam once more requesting some human contact. Less than an hour later Steam replied, stating that my credit card would be credited with a refund within the week and that the game had been disabled in my account. Great! Except for the last line in Steam’s email:
Please note in the future that Steam purchases, per the Steam Subscriber Agreement, are not refundable – this refund was issued as a one-time customer service gesture.
This really didn’t sit well with me. Being the self-righteous sort I replied, stating, in part:
I’m disappointed to hear your claim that this is a one-time courtesy. I feel that, as a retailer, Steam is obligated to stand behind the products it sells. I’d have hoped that this would entail requiring a set of standards regarding technical support for third-party publishers like Sega (who still hasn’t replied to my support request) since I’m disappointed that I won’t get to play Outrun. However, since the game did not work for me and there was no one available to offer support, I expect Steam to ensure my satisfaction one way or another.
To which Steam replied shortly thereafter:
That’s really a “Standard Response” issue. Our subscriber agreement specifically notes that there are no refunds through Steam, but in such events as a complete inability to play the game and a response within days of purchase, it is evaluated by a support person such as myself. If a similar problem arises in the future, you may feel comfortable that such a request will certainly be viewed by human eyes and the circumstances evaluated before rendering a judgement on whether we should offer a refund.
The “No refunds” policy is there simply to protect us from abuse by gamers who can finish a game quickly and then attempt to get a refund. It’s a peril of electronic payment and distribution.
Thank you for detailing your concerns.
In the end Steam had provided me a refund, a quick reply to my comment, and even an explanation about why the customer is right even though this ever-waning adage is risky for electronic retailers. Except for the 4 day lapse between my initial support submission and their response I am completely satisfied with the way Steam handled this situation. Except for when I challenged Sierra to make good on a satisfaction-guaranteed promise for King’s Quest 7 this was the only time I’d ever been issued a refund for a piece of software in my 20+ years of computing. Highly impressive.
As for Sega, I doubt I’ll be buying their products again. A full 2 weeks after submitting my support request I received the following automated response: (this is an excerpt)
Thank you for your interest in Sega. In our attempt to assist you as quickly as possible, we have sent this automatic reply to you based on the most common sets of questions we receive from our customers.
If the following text (or links) does not answer your question(s) or address your concern(s), please reply and we will get back to you as soon as possible.
Sega Customer Support
How do I setup my Dreamcast?
How do I clean/care for my Dreamcast (i.e. lens, batteries)?
Please use lens cleaner made for “plastic” lenses, which will generally be fluid based.
Where do I send my Dreamcast for repair?
Where can I find information on older Sega products?
Thanks, Sega. Right on target. I leave you today, fair readers, with my response to Sega. I doubt I’ll hear back.
Thank you for sending me numerous links on how to repair my Dreamcast. Unfortunately, this does not assist me in repairing the PC game for which I contacted your technical support department. I appreciate this 2-week-old response from Sega’s top engineering minds.
I’ve already been issued a refund from Steam, quoting Sega’s absence of responsibility along with my displeasure of your product. Steam was very prompt and empathetic in their response and did not delay in ensuring my satisfaction. Rest assured I will happily continue purchasing products via Steam, but will smartly avoid Sega products to avoid a second demonstration of ineptitude from your super team of rocket scientists.
Thank you for your utterly useless reply to my half-month-old plea for product support. I look forward to your response, random though it will surely be. Perhaps you’ll send me travel brochures to Bermuda or mail me a banana? I can’t wait to find out!