Why Xbox Live's new digital refunds are a (really) big deal

My Xbox One S, like the big ol' console before it doesn't have password protection for purchases (although that is an option). You see, it sits in my office, where I spend most of my day, and it's never usually left unsupervised when in use.

My two-year-old loves the Xbox. He also loves FIFA. So on the rare occasion, I was out of the house, and he was playing, daddy got an email from Microsoft thanking him for spending £49.99 on FIFA 17, a game for which there's a physical copy sat inches away from the console.

That's a lot of money, and I naturally wanted to get a refund, which was a pretty horrible process. So imagine my delight to hear Microsoft is introducing self-service digital refunds. A week too late to help me out in this situation, but be sure, this is a huge development for the better.

Getting a 'one-off' refund

To cut a long story short, I did get a refund from Microsoft for the game. I was also told it was a one-time only thing and that I needed to be more careful in future. That's my decision to make, but the reasons for wanting a refund aren't necessarily linked to an accidental purchase. If a game is broken or just pure, hot garbage, should you be left high and dry having paid for a product you're not satisfied with?

If you buy physical copies you have a little more flexibility. If you can't return it, you can sell it on or trade it in and at least get something back. Digital goods don't offer the same freedom, and in part is why I still prefer to buy physical games over digital ones.

It wasn't impossible to get a refund from Microsoft, but it certainly wasn't an enjoyable experience.

How I got a refund the old way

Having first called the only customer service number I could find for UK Microsoft Store, I was informed I needed to speak to someone else, waited on hold for 10 minutes while I was transferred and then the line cut out altogether.

The next step was a live chat on the web, and while it was very helpful and the Xbox team member I dealt with was very understanding, it took some time. Having given all my details, the game I didn't want, what happened and why I wanted a refund, I got my money back. I was also told that it wasn't something that normally happens and I wouldn't be getting one again.

That's not down to the customer service representative, of course. They were just parroting Microsoft's conditions, which were pretty rough, frankly. Keyword: were.

Rejoice in the refund revolution

The choice to not have a password protecting my Xbox purchases is mine to make, and it's because of convenience. But the news Microsoft is revolutionizing its policies on its digital game sales is honestly some of the best console news of 2017.

Everyone is focused on the new hotness of Project Scorpio, but any new hardware is only as good as the experience behind it. As someone who owns and actively uses all the latest consoles, Xbox Live is already a much more enjoyable experience than what Sony and Nintendo have to offer, this only extends the lead.

This is Sony's policy on refunding digital purchases:

You can cancel a digital content purchase within 14 days from the date of transaction, provided that you have not started downloading or streaming it.Digital content that you have started downloading, streaming and in-game consumables that have been delivered, are not eligible for a refund unless the content is faulty.

So even this wouldn't have helped me since the download had begun.

Xbox is more than just the console or the first-party games; it's about the whole experience.

Microsoft's new policy is very similar to Steam's, which allows you to take a self-service refund as long as you have only experienced up to 2 hours of the game's content. Like Steam, however, there are mechanisms to prevent abuse, so don't expect it to be a premium demo service buffet.

Decisions such as allowing refunds may seem small in the grand scheme of things, but it's another piece in the jigsaw. Another step towards the ultimate package. Xbox is more than just the console or the first-party games; it's about the whole experience. The last couple of years Microsoft has been putting serious work into the Xbox platform and making it the best for its gamers. Now that we can get our money back if we need to, it's even better again. Additionally, it heaps on the pressure towards Sony and Nintendo to follow suit, and make digital purchasing rights as robust as physical ones.

Finally, this dad can feel comfortable letting his son enjoy the Xbox without being terrified of having an empty wallet at the end of it.

Richard Devine
Managing Editor - Tech, Reviews

Richard Devine is a Managing Editor at Windows Central with over a decade of experience. A former Project Manager and long-term tech addict, he joined Mobile Nations in 2011 and has been found on Android Central and iMore as well as Windows Central. Currently, you'll find him steering the site's coverage of all manner of PC hardware and reviews. Find him on Mastodon at mstdn.social/@richdevine