A mainstream shift towards digital distribution and media consumption has been in motion for years now, but the events of 2020 have arguably accelerated the adoption and acceptance of digital purchases. Lockdown measures throughout the year have prevented trips to your local game emporiums, and stress on postal services has meant that, for many players, downloading a game from the eShop has been the most convenient, sure-fire way to enjoy the latest games on launch day. Throw in digital-only releases and some deep discounts during sales and it's no surprise that the only thing many people have inserted in their Switch this year is a beefier micro SD card.
When it comes to returning a digital purchase for a refund, though, you'll find it much tougher than with a physical version — nigh-on impossible with Nintendo, in fact. It's something worth considering as we move into the next generation of consoles and ever-closer to the inevitable digital-only future.
There are many reasons you might want to get your money back for a digital game. You may have purchased the wrong version of a title by mistake; got your Sword and Shield mixed up, for instance, or misheard your pals and bought Jackbox Party Pack 3 when it should have been Jackbox Party Pack 2.
Perhaps a friend or relative gifted you the physical version over the holidays and you'd prefer to keep that.
Maybe the kids went on a wild spending spree before you activated Parental Controls.
One Nintendo Life reader on our forums wanted a refund in order to purchase a physical copy of Witcher 3 after their son bought it on eShop before realising it wouldn't fit on the installed micro SD card.
They're all totally legitimate, understandable reasons for wanting your money back. Maybe you're simply dissatisfied with the game and want to return it, or a physical release was announced after you reluctantly got the digital version, both of which sound entirely reasonable, too. We remember a time when you could return any physical product to a store — opened or otherwise — as long as it was in pristine order. These days stores will only accept goods sealed in their original packaging, and it's become the norm on digital storefronts that 'all sales are final', as is the case on Nintendo eShop.
Nintendo has been dogged in its approach to digital purchases ever since entering the arena with the Wii Shop. Customers on Nintendo's eShop are forced to waive their legal right to a refund in the T&Cs before any digital transaction goes through. The proposition is simple: if you don't accept, no download for you.
In many parts of the world, a 14-day refund period is enshrined in law, and this applies to digital goods like any other. Still, in order to buy digital games, customers are forced to accept the platform holder's terms of sale which habitually involve waiving this right.
For the most part, if you buy a digital game, you're stuck with it.
It's a sticky legal issue, and many other digital storefronts force customers to accept similar terms. Nintendo has been known to give refunds in very specific circumstances (most often in cases where key information wasn't highlighted sufficiently to the player before purchase, or the software is literally unplayable), but they are rare exceptions to standard company policy. For the most part, if you buy a digital game, you're stuck with it.
Until recently, this applied to pre-orders, too. Nintendo used to take payment for unreleased games at the point of pre-order and refused to cancel even if the game was months from release. That got the company into hot water in Europe, and since the beginning of September pre-orders can now be cancelled up until Nintendo takes payment, seven days prior to the software's launch. Still not great, then, but better than before.
The company's support page for refunds in the case of "Wrong Game, Didn't Like Game, Accidental Purchase" states the following:
We are unable to provide refunds or exchanges for mistaken purchases, and/or if you don't like the game.
Also, when you purchase digital content in Nintendo eShop, at the time of your purchase, you consent to Nintendo beginning with the performance of its obligations immediately, before the cancellation period ends, and you acknowledge that you will thereby lose your right to cancel at that point.
It then goes on to advise carefully reading game descriptions, looking at screenshots, visiting Nintendo's website for more information, setting up Parental Controls to prevent accidental purchases, and reading the "many websites" that publish game reviews to help inform your purchasing decisions. All good practices, to be sure, but there's still a chance you'll end up unhappy with your purchase, for whatever reason.
How does Nintendo's refund policy compare with other platform holders?
If Nintendo's policy seems consumer-unfriendly, it's worth taking a look at the competition. Sony's approach to refunding digital purchases depends on the exact product and whether you have begun downloading or streaming it. PlayStation Store's cancellation policy states:
You can cancel a digital content purchase within 14 days from the date of purchase and receive a refund, provided that you have not started downloading or streaming it.
Should you want a refund, you have to contact PlayStation Support, but the option is available which makes Sony's policy superior to Nintendo's.
Microsoft has a similar refund request procedure in place, although the company also states that "all sales of Digital Game Products are considered final". Microsoft's website includes a 'Statement of Values', too. Here are some excepts:
At Microsoft, we understand that sometimes purchases of Digital Game Products don’t go as planned. Should that ever happen, you can be reassured that you’ll be treated fairly, that we’ll listen to your concerns, and if needed, we’ll help you request a refund.
We provide Digital Game Product refunds as part of a consistent and reliable buying experience. Most people pursuing a refund just want to solve a problem, but sometimes the system is abused. If it appears refunds are being abused, we reserve the right to stop offering them except where legally required.
All sales of Digital Game Products are considered final, but we understand there may be extenuating circumstances. When you request a refund for these products, and depending on the purchase or content type in determining refund eligibility, we consider a variety of factors like time since date of purchase, time since release, and use of the product.
It certainly sounds friendlier, and although there's plenty of leeway and right of refusal there, it would seem that Xbox gamers shouldn't have problems with any reasonable refund request.
Elsewhere, Steam users on PC have a much easier time getting refunds these days. From the Steam Store:
You can request a refund for nearly any purchase on Steam—for any reason. Maybe your PC doesn't meet the hardware requirements; maybe you bought a game by mistake; maybe you played the title for an hour and just didn't like it.
It doesn't matter. Valve will, upon request [...], issue a refund for any reason, if the request is made within the required return period, and, in the case of games, if the title has been played for less than two hours. There are more details below, but even if you fall outside of the refund rules we’ve described, you can ask for a refund anyway and we’ll take a look.
The above applies within 14 days of purchase, and returns on the Epic Game Store operate in a similar manner. The system isn't flawless but, on the whole, Valve's current refund policy has been well-received in the five-or-so years since it came into effect.
Without ploughing through the support pages of every major digital storefront, you get the idea. Essentially, Nintendo is the most draconian of the major platform holders when it comes to implementing an 'all sales are final' policy.
What about buggy or 'broken' Switch games?
From the player's point of view, there's evidently much room for improvement when it comes to consumer rights and flexibility in the area of digital goods, whether you're buying from Nintendo or any other company. But what's reasonable?
In the case of unplayed digital items, we wonder if Nintendo should instigate a similar policy to Sony. Downloads begin automatically after your eShop purchase, but Nintendo has the data that says if you've opened the software or not, so if it was bought in error and never played, there's no reason why you shouldn't be entitled to a refund.
The habit of developers launching bug-filled products and patching them over time makes customer satisfaction an ever changing metric
The habit of developers launching bug-filled products and patching them over time makes customer satisfaction an ever changing metric. A Nintendo Life reader contacted us recently citing Tower of Time, Pillars of Eternity and the more recent Othercide as games that failed to meet expectations. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night launched in a sorry state on Switch compared to other platforms, although it has slowly been improving. If someone bought the Switch version and instantly regretted not getting the PS4 version instead, the option to return it would be most welcome, no?
This is a bit of a minefield due to different perceptions of what's acceptable when it comes to buggy or glitchy gameplay. For one player, any random hard crash to the system menu could be cause for a full refund, while another might not care or encounter any issues at all. Somebody may be super sensitive to frame rate stutters and brand anything that drops into the 20fps range 'unplayable', while others can tolerate slideshow performance.
Every individual will have their own ideas as to what constitutes 'broken'; to an extent, it's understandable that companies put blanket policies in place. Still, why have the console manufacturers taken a stance at the opposite end of the scale to Valve and Epic?
Should you be able to return digital Switch games, for whatever reason?
There's an argument that smaller indie developers of games only a handful of hours long could particularly suffer were Nintendo to instigate a similar under-two-hours-played returns policy to Steam or the Epic Store. Presumably, that's the kind of refund 'abuse' Microsoft is referring to, and the console companies have an arguably greater interest in guarding against this than Valve and the comparative Wild West of its Steam Store.
Still, it's hard to argue that Nintendo's current stance is consumer-friendly, even if it's never been easier to get informed about games that interest you (via reviews or downloadable demos) before putting your money down.
Should Nintendo have a different policy when it comes to digital product refunds? Should you be able to return a digital Switch game for any reason at all? Have you had any issues getting a refund in the past? Let us know in the polls below, and leave a comment to share your thoughts.