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Steam Cracks Down on Refunds With New Advanced Access Policy

No more freeloading on pre-release games.

CHIBA, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 15: Steam Deck handheld gaming consoles are displayed at the Tokyo Game Sho...
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Steam just closed a massive loophole that allowed players to refund games even after spending significant amounts of time on them. But in the process, the company also added a new storefront feature that might be confusing to some. If you’re wondering what the new “Advanced Access” label on Steam means, and why it’s being added now, here’s everything you need to know.

PC players may already know Steam’s refund policy, which allows anyone to play a game for up to two hours and still get a full refund if they’re not feeling it. However, that timer only started ticking when a game was released, so any play time spent in Early Access or playing the game early for any other reason, like through pre-order bonuses, wasn’t counted. That means that players could rack up dozens of hours of playtime, then get their full purchase price back as soon as a game launched.

Steam is the most popular PC game storefront, but a loophole allowed players to refund games after playing them.


That’s no longer the case. Valve updated its refund policy this week to begin counting time spent in a game before its release when considering whether a purchase is eligible for a refund. Spend more than two hours in a game’s Early Access period or any other pre-release bonus, and the game can no longer be refunded. The only exception is for beta testing. Anyone who participates in a test that’s not part of Early Access or Advanced Access won’t see the time they spent in it count against them for refunds.

Steam also only allows refunds within 14 days of purchase, and its rules there aren’t changing. However, that countdown only starts when a game is released, so players can still pre-purchase a game months ahead of time and get a refund within 14 days of the game’s release as long as they haven’t crossed the two-hour limit.

What is Steam Advanced Access?

At the same time, Steam is launching the Advanced Access label. As a new post on the Steam support page explains, the Advanced Access tag will appear on any game that offers a window to play before release through deluxe editions or other bonuses. It’s not the same as Early Access, which lets players experience a game as it’s in the process of development — only finished games will be included in Advanced Access.

It doesn’t appear that Steam is pushing developers to adopt Advanced Access. As a new FAQ on the feature notes, “Games by default will not include an Advanced Access pre-purchase option. This will be setup at the discretion of the developer/publisher creating and selling their products.”

Games that spend a long time in Early Access, like Baldur’s Gate 3, will no longer be subject to unfair refunds.

Larian Studios

Steam’s refund policy can be a boon for players, especially in cases when games end up being unplayable or having worse than expected performance on a particular computer. For customers who pre-order a game, it can also be useful to have two hours to play a game in rare cases like The Day Before, where a game is substantially different from what was promised during development.

However, it can be a problem for developers, especially for indie games. Plenty of indie games can be finished — or something close to it — within two hours, which lets unscrupulous players experience a game in full and refund it afterward.

While the new policy doesn’t change that, it’s closing a loophole that could still have been a pain for developers. While most games offering Advanced Access are larger games from major publishers that offer bonuses for pre-orders and deluxe editions, Early Access is common in the indie scene as well. The new policy ensures that developers aren’t unintentionally offering free access to their games and ending up shortchanged after they actually launch.

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