What Xbox One's self-service refunds mean for consumers

Earlier this week, Xbox One owners participating in the Xbox Preview program were greeted with a rather nice surprise: Microsoft has implemented a beta test for a refund system. Not only is this refund system apparently planned for both Xbox One and Windows 10, but it's also self-service, meaning you don't need to go through customer support to get your money back. This is very exciting news because it's a move that's ultimately great for consumers.

On the surface, this is an excellent move for Xbox One and Windows 10 players because it gives them a way to refund digital purchases they don't consider to be up to snuff. PC players have had similar refund systems in place for a while now, depending on which digital distribution platforms they use. EA's Origin, for instance, has offered refunds since nearly the beginning, which pushed Steam to implement a refund system of its own.

Even if you don't own an Xbox One or purchase games from the Windows 10 store, though, this is still a great development for you. With Microsoft taking the first step toward offering refunds, Sony will be forced to follow suit. Though the PlayStation 4 is undoubtedly winning when it comes to sales, consumers like having the safety net afforded by an actual return policy, and Sony can't ignore something that might draw people to competing platforms.

So, assuming this feature doesn't die in beta and actually makes its way to a full release, Sony will need to implement a refund system of its own. That much is essentially a given at this point, especially when you consider how often Microsoft and Sony borrow ideas from one another (free games with your paid online subscription come to mind).

Whether or not Nintendo will launch a refund system of its own is a little more up in the air, but if Sony joins Microsoft in offering refunds, Nintendo probably will eventually. Even if Nintendo never does, Microsoft's move here could definitely create a ripple effect throughout the games industry.

It's true that there are some parts of Microsoft's refund scheme that aren't ideal. In order to qualify for a refund, you'll need to be within 14 days of purchase and total playtime needs to come in under two hours. This is similar to the way Steam does it, though some players definitely don't like the two hour cap on game time – after all, some RPGs don't really get going until a few hours in.

Still, Microsoft's system seems to improve on Steam's ever so slightly by making the whole thing self-service. With Steam, you need to actually contact customer support and have them approve your refund. It isn't a difficult process by any means, but there are certainly more steps than there needs to be.

Once Microsoft's system rolls out, I wouldn't be surprised to see Steam tweak its own. If Sony enters the fray and tries to one up Microsoft, say perhaps by raising the play time cap to three hours instead of two, we could see all of the other companies adjust to match Sony. Microsoft launching a refund option could kick off a new point of competition between all these digital storefronts, and that's ultimately a great thing for consumers.

If you aren't sold on the idea that Sony, Microsoft, and PC platforms will get locked in a constant competition to make their refund systems the best, this is still a great development for consumers. Having a process for obtaining a refund in place means that developers will have a harder time shipping a broken game and then fixing it through post-launch patches. If you've ever been burned by a game on launch (looking at you, No Man's Sky), then this is an excellent thing indeed.

Make no mistake, Microsoft being the first console maker to offer a self-service refund system is a very big deal. Let's just hope that Sony follows suit and kicks off a new race to the top – one that can only benefit consumers in the end.