Steam closes an early-access loophole in its refund policy

Almost any time played before a game’s release date now counts towards the two-hour limit.

Sean Buckley/Engadget

Valve has closed a loophole in Steam's refund policy that effectively allowed players to beat a game before its official release date and get their money back. The company has long had a policy in place whereby users could refund a game, no questions asked, as long as they haven’t played for more than two hours within 14 days. Until now, the refund policy was far more lenient for games in early access or advanced access, but Valve has nipped that in the bud.

"When you purchase a title on Steam prior to the release date, the two hour playtime limit for refunds will apply (except for beta testing), but the 14-day period for refunds will not start until the release date," Valve's updated policy reads, as noted by IGN. "For example, if you purchase a game that is in Early Access or Advanced Access, any playtime will count against the two-hour refund limit. If you pre-purchase a title which is not playable prior to the release date, you can request a refund at any time prior to release of that title, and the standard 14-day/two-hour refund period will apply starting on the game’s release date."

Early access enables players to try an incomplete version of a game. It’s helpful for developers as they can take feedback from players and use that to improve their project before ramping up the marketing campaign ahead of the official release. Supergiant famously used this strategy to tremendous success with Hades (and is perhaps looking to repeat that trick with the sequel). But a game can remain in early access for years. Under the previous policy, players could put many hours into an early access game and still claim a refund on Steam.

As for advanced access, that relates to playing a full version of a game before its proper debut. It's pretty common for publishers to sell a deluxe edition of a game that lets players dive in a few days early. However, Steam made it possible for someone to beat a game in advanced access and get their money back before the standard version was available to everyone.

Now, the two-hour time limit applies to games in early access and advanced access. There's also a new advanced access label to make it clear when a game offers that.

There is one other key issue with the otherwise generous two-hour refund policy that Steam hasn't fully addressed, however. It's not uncommon for players to roll credits on very short games, typically indie titles, and then get their money back. That leaves the game's developer and publisher out of pocket.