04
Aug
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If you've purchased an app or game on the Play Store recently and gone to see if you could return it, you may have noticed something a bit odd: you could still do so outside of the alleged 15 minute return window. In fact, that now seems to be the case for many paid apps and games, despite no published changes in the store's refund policies.

To test this seemingly longer window, three members of the AP team all bought apps on the Play Store. All of us had the same experience while monitoring the availability of the "refund" button. Instead of disappearing after 15 minutes, as it has since December 2010 when Google dropped the refund window for the then-Android Market from 24 hours down to its current 15 minutes, the refund window stayed open a solid 2 hours. After two hours, it reliably closed.

The evidence

We tested this theory using several purchases of apps and games on the Play Store. I documented one a little more painstakingly for the purpose of this post, so you can see how the system is currently working. At 9:50AM PST on July 31st, 2014, I bought The Game Of Life for $0.50 on the Play Store.

order

16 minutes later, I force closed the Play Store, reopened it, and went to the listing for the game under the "my apps" section of the device store, at which point a refund should no longer have been available.... but it was. I did this again, and again, and again, etc., until nearly two hours had passed. Every time, the refund option still appeared. At 11:48AM, 2 minutes before 2 hours had passed, it was still there.

At 11:51AM, it was gone.

Screenshot_2014-07-31-09-50-28 Screenshot_2014-07-31-10-06-22 Screenshot_2014-07-31-10-22-03

Screenshot_2014-07-31-10-37-38 Screenshot_2014-07-31-10-53-07 Screenshot_2014-07-31-11-08-31

Screenshot_2014-07-31-11-23-25 Screenshot_2014-07-31-11-48-19 Screenshot_2014-07-31-11-51-22

If you head to the Play Store support page for returning paid apps and games, 15 minutes is still shown as the current refund window.

return

This clearly means Google has not instituted the 2-hour refund as policy yet, and it may never - this could just be a silent test to see if increasing the window dramatically ups the number of refunds, which could hurt developers. The current 15-minute window isn't exactly loved by Android users, of course, especially when it comes to expensive, high-end games, which often require more play time to figure out if the title is a worthwhile investment.

We reached out to Google about this, and this is the response that was provided:

[We] only advertise a 15-minute refund window, that is the guaranteed window for a user, but [we] do extend the window in some cases to account for download times.

The problem with this is that we tested the refund window on apps and games of various sizes, including some under 1MB. The result seemed to be the same, even if the app was run shortly after purchasing it - 2 hours before the refund expired. So, either Google is telling the truth and this 2-hour window is simply being overly cautious / bugged-out, or Google just doesn't want to discuss this and would prefer not to publicize the policy.

There are other potential explanations, too, which I'll go into below.

What does it mean?

For now, we're left to speculate. This could simply be a wide-scale test - using all of us as Play Store Policy guinea pigs to see if a 2-hour refund window is something worth doing. The more enticing alternative, of course, is that this is imminent, and Google will be officially changing to a 2-hour refund window for apps and games and simply hasn't gotten around to updating the relevant documentation. Given Google's statement, even with its apparent inaccuracies considered, this seems less likely.

Google's no stranger to off-the-books policies on Play Store refunds, either. We're already well-aware Google has implemented automatic refunds for requests made on the Play Store website outside the 15 minute window that basically seem to be available forever, but that's obviously not very well-exposed to the end user. Nor is it documented - Google has flatly refused to comment on the automated refund issue, probably because the moment it became policy it would be abused on a large scale. This also allows them to stop doing it basically any time they want without a backlash from Play Store users - you can't lose what you never officially had, especially if most people never knew they had it at all.

There is also the possibility that the refund window is in some way dynamic - adjusting based on how many returns you generally initiate, or other factors (such as the alleged download time) specific to your Google account or an app's characteristics. If you return many paid apps and games, for example, Google might drop you back to the 15-minute period, and without buying and returning a lot of games and apps, we can't really know if that's the case.

Regardless, we won't know what's really happening until one of two things happens: Google says something definitive on the subject, or Google switches back to the 15-minute refund window.

If you'd like to test this feature out for us (especially outside the US), we'd welcome additional screenshots with timestamps showing the new 2-hour return window. Just be careful: there's no way of knowing exactly how widespread the new 2-hour window is, so if you end up with an app or game you can't refund, you might be stuck with it (though probably not).

David Ruddock
David's phone is whatever is currently sitting on his desk. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • BoFiS

    Would be nice if they made it 2 hours, as it was even nicer when it was originally 24 hours!

  • burntcookie90

    Better option: dev configurable, 15 minute minimum.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      With a countdown on the Play Store page to avoid any confusion.

      • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

        A countdown really should be a thing. I honestly have no idea why it isn't.

      • https://google.com/+LateefAlabiOki Lateef Alabi-Oki

        Aren't countdowns anxiety inducing? I don't like putting them in my UIs.

        • burntcookie90

          You're not staring it down, hopefully you're testing the app, it'll just let you know when you page back to the play store.

          • Deborah Christopher

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            ❤❤❤ ❤�❤❤ ❤❤❤ ❤❤�❤ ❤❤❤

        • Matthew Fry

          It might cause people to refund impulsively but then they'd have as long as they want to decide to repurchase it.

      • Michael Suriel

        With a notification reminder telling you that you have 10 minutes or so left until your refund window closes.

    • Sergiu Dogaru

      Not that it's a bad idea, but everyone in the reviews will ask for the max allowed time.

      • burntcookie90

        I think it would be ok, at least if the maximum is logical (ie. 2 hours). If the dev logically sets the return window, a large number of users won't get angry and complain about it.

      • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

        That's why a) the Play Store would tell you, somewhere next to the logo version and other metadata and b) the countdown on the Refund button would let you know after you've bought.

    • Mike

      I would rather see it depending on the size of the app including any extra downloads required. When you can't even download an app before the refund is up, there is a problem. I don't think this would be doable but the point is that the 15 minimum is ridiculously short and just doesn't work.

      A game that requires 1 to 2 GB of downloads to play even over WiFi can take up to a half an hour to download. Plus you need to play it to determine if you actually want to keep the app.

      In my opinion the 2 hours seems like a nice sweet spot, obviously the longer I have the better but I could at least live with that.

    • blindexecutioner

      Then companies like EA would always keep it at 15 knowing the 1GB of data will take that long to download at least.

      • burntcookie90

        They would get reamed for doing that, it wouldn't be a good move for them at all.

      • Mayoo

        Then 15min per 250MB of game.

        • My1

          and what about the people who dont have so good internet? i once had a connection (Jul 2012-Nov 2013) that had a downspeed of approx 300MB per HOUR...

        • http://dennisbareis.com/ Dennis Bareis

          Surely Google is not that stupid that they don't know when you have successfully downloaded the app?

      • KojiroAK

        If they use the Google Play Server for additional downloads (as in not throught the app itself, but through Play Store) the countdown starts after the additional downloads finished.

    • vgergo

      Devs can refund anytime, and most of them do if you send them your order number and some explanation. I have refunded every user who asked, no questions asked. Sometimes I even offer it, because it wouldn't feel right to take the money of someone who is not satisfied with what he/she got.

      Still I think it would actually improve sales if the refund window would be longer, because people would feel free to experiment.

      Is there a refund option for iap?

      • burntcookie90

        I know devs can refund at any time, but it's not as easy for the user as hitting the refund button, especially with bigger companies (ie. EA).

        • vgergo

          I agree, and seeing a longer window (count down or no count down) would help. What's important is what the user thinks, whether he will be able to return the product or not. Some of my customers actually thought they would have to re-buy the app when they uninstall it.

          It would be very important that Google did this in a more transparent, visible way, and educate their users. All this gray splish-splash isn't helping customer confidence.

      • Robb Nunya

        That makes you "Not a dick." Thanks for playing reasonably!

  • DonEmu

    Yh well, 15mins is really very little time to download, launch and use an app long enough to know if it's something you want to keep on your phone.

    2hrs though random seems much better.

    • http://turbofool.com Jarrett Lennon Kaufman

      Exactly. 15 minutes is not enough time to evaluate most apps, especially games that then spend 30 minutes downloading extra assets. A large number of types of apps that are in a common category require real thought and effort to evaluate. For instance, if I wanted to try out a new podcasting app, I'd need to download it, add some of my favorite podcasts, DOWNLOAD episodes of the podcasts, experiment with how it organizes them, how they're browsed, how things like auto-delete work, controls, etc. 15 minutes won't cut it.

      • DonEmu

        Same goes for music apps and social media apps.

        15mins is too short a time to decide whether I prefer Fenix to Talon, or PowerAmp to PlayerPro .etc.

        • My1

          that's why there are trial versions of said apps like poweramps and such...

          • DonEmu

            Sigh... I was just throwing out an example of a scenario. Not all apps like that have trial periods. The twitter apps I mentioned don't have trial periods and have many similarities. There are other instances where you buy something and then shortly after find out it isn't exactly what you are looking for, 15mins is very short.

          • My1

            yeah I know but at least in the music player jungle, many offer trial like poweramp and such. and honestly, each app which costs more than 5$ should have a trial...

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      The time doesn't start until the APK is installed on the device. The download time is referring to apps which have additional, non-Play Store downloaded content as far as I am aware.

  • JT3

    Something definitely needs to be done. If an app isn't working, it sometimes takes more than 15 minutes to troubleshoot it. I run with the ART runtime enabled (yes, I know, redundant), and if there's a problem, it takes a bit of time to figure out whether it's because of ART, or something else (like a poor internet connection). I'm not asking for the original 24 hours, but even an hour would be nice -- two hours, even better.

  • Henrique Persechini

    I imagine this will be useful to throw off money-grabbing games with long tutorials

    • m477

      What if make 2 hours long tutorials?

      • Mayoo

        I will rage-quit long before ending the tutorial

  • LightofHonor

    I found this out for myself last week by accident, but hopefully it continues. I could see it be 2 hours or 30 minutes of play time in the future. Android already counts the seconds...

  • Kashmieer

    I can complete many games on Android in 2hr. 30-15 min. is the best for me. One thing: The timer should start after the download completed.

    • JT3

      If you can complete a game in 2 hours, it shouldn't have been a paid game in the first place, and deserves to be returned.

      • Kashmieer

        Two hours is okay for 1 or 2$ games.

      • cthulberg

        Yeah, well, that's just, like, your opinion, man.

        https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.ustwo.monumentvalley

        • JT3

          True. and as Kashmieer stated, some may feel it's fine for a $1 to $2 game, but I'd like to see that up front. I know that if I paid for a game, and finished it in an hour or two, I'd feel ripped off. Maybe that's a perception thing, because of the low cost of the average app. I know if I only paid $1 for a PC game, it'd be a different story, but then again, I'm used to seeing $60 PC games. I just feel differently about android, since so many good (and long) games can be had for $1 or $2.

          • Android Developer

            what if the game had multiplayer, or if the game is just in its early days, that later will have more levels?

  • KariJRay

    If you return many paid apps and games, for example, Google might drop you back to the 15-minute period, and without buying and returning a lot of games and apps, we can't really know if that's the case. http://num.to/264274489255

  • black

    Does this encourage more purchases or does it negatively affect profit? I'd like to understand the logic behind this change.

    • Android Developer

      depends on users and developers.
      could be either...

  • Simon Belmont

    Weird. I was always under the impression that the 15 minute refund window didn't start until the app had finished downloading and installing.

    It would be completely unfair to only allow a 15 minute refund window if the app takes over that time to even download (large games, slow connection, etc). In fact, I've bought apps, and then canceled the download, because I didn't want to install it at the moment and the refund button was still there even months later (because I hadn't installed and tested it yet).

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      That is the case, but if the game has additional content to download and the dev doesn't use Google's bulk content d/l'er in the Play Store (which many companies like asshole EA often do not), then the timer starts once the initial DL is done.

      This is likely in place to protect users from intentional or unintentional abuse of this loophole, because Google does not actually require bulk content downloads take place on the Play Store AFAIK.

      • Simon Belmont

        Ah, that makes sense. I wondered how they handled that, too, but haven't dealt with that scenario much (most of the games that I've bought that downloaded extra resources used Google's servers).

        That's the worst when it's not on Google's servers, though. Sometimes EA's servers are slammed and it takes a really long time even on a good connection.

  • blindexecutioner

    This is nice for those larger games that seem to have the unfortunate tenancy to force close a lot of the time and not work, especially as people switch to ART.

  • senor_heisenberg

    Awesome. 24 hours was too long, but this is much better than 15 minutes.

  • http://robert.aitchison.org raitchison

    I like 2 hours much better. I know the 24 hours limit before was being abused but 15 minutes is rarely enough time to evaluate an app. Luckily many apps have a free version that's ad supported or limited in some way which can be used for evaluation but not all do.

    • Android Developer

      sometimes, even 2 hours for a game is enough to end it all, especially for experienced gamers.

  • https://play.google.com/store/apps/developer?id=iWizard Bikram Agarwal

    "this could just be a silent test to see if increasing the window dramatically ups the number of refunds"

    Oh, it will up the number of refunds. After reading this news, almost everyone will try to test it and buy->refund a lot of apps. :P

    "you can't lose what you never officially had"

    *cough* AppOps *cough*

  • IncCo

    Excellent, 2 hours is even one hour more than is really needed in my experience.

  • Duane Westerhaus

    Cool! Should alleviate some buyer's remorse!

  • Big Tony

    I like this. When I buy an app I almost always never want a refund because I tried the free version and know what I'm buying and am big on supporting devs. What soured me was NBA Jams by EA. Took over an hour to download and it wouldn't even open. It stayed that way for six months. As of today it will only open for a few seconds on my Nexus 7 Flo. Emails go unanswered from them. Now big companies that take your money for a crap app will not be able to screw us over as easy.

  • MrNinjaPanda

    I feel like trial apps are the best. For example Solid Explorer and Floatifications have 14 day trials. After using those apps for two weeks, I was 100% sure whether I wanted to buy the paid version or not. All paid games (especially those that cost ~$5) should have trial versions where you can play one or two levels of the game.

    • primalxconvoy

      Aka, a "demo".

    • namesib

      Yep, I appreciate devs who offer demo versions of their apps.

    • Android Developer

      or make it download the entire game if it's not too much, and then ask for IAP to go to next levels.
      This way, you won't need to go over the same levels again.

  • jens_kristian

    I noticed this back in mid June, and let you guys know on Twitter by the way (wink wink) ;) I could still get a refund after 90 minutes.

  • Rahul Nebhnani

    should be 15 minutes after the app is first opened or two hours in this case

  • http://mekakiwi.blogspot.com.br/ ED-Z が あらわれた!

    Whereas some games are many gigabytes in size (which you must download), this is only fair...

    0.50$?!?! You guys are so cheap... =P

  • http://www.geekchoice.com/ Dagmar Schneitz

    Wait...they still have the Life board game? That game has been around forever.

  • http://dennisbareis.com/ Dennis Bareis

    The Window should start AFTER a successful download, I've heard Google say that it does but I've had my massive 15 minute window close BEFORE successfully downloading the app.

    • Android Developer

      weird. I didn't notice it.
      Then again, I didn't buy a lot of apps (and then try to get a refund) so far to notice

  • Fatal1ty_93_RUS

    I am afraid that such a long time window might only help the piracy and warez

    • EowynCarter

      A few hours ? long ? Sound the right compromise to me.

  • thelionk

    15 minute is passable, if it would be from App started for first time time. And even then, some games download more content on start. That's really where the problem lies.

  • knizmi

    I have a feeling that you can finish some of EA´s games in those two hours. So basically if you ask for a refund after that, you played for free ;-)

  • http://androapps.pl/ razer
  • DJRiful

    The good side, make better quality apps. Or else, refunds.

  • tdurden64111

    Step 1. Download icon pack.
    Step 2. Download all good wallpapers from icon pack.
    Step 3. Refund
    Step 4. ???
    Step 5. Profit.

    • http://dennisbareis.com/ Dennis Bareis

      There will be exceptions, it would be much better if the developer chose the window from none to weeks for complex apps. If the author of an icon pack displayed water marked or low quality versions of all/most of the graphics in the pack then there would never be a need for a refund as you'd already know what you were buying.

  • Alexandre Leites

    Maybe devs can put a metadata saying how much extra contents it's required to download from external servers and play store takes in count the speed you downloaded the original apk to calculate an extra time to refund?

  • Robb Nunya

    15 minutes is more than enough to pirate the APK if someone wants. 15 minutes is NOT enough time to really dig into an app and decide if it's something you want to keep. At least for many apps.

    This is a good thing. Much more reasonable.

  • adam

    I was able to refund a Cyanogenmod theme 40 minutes after purchase. It was a fairly small file.

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