Steam closes the loophole that allowed players to complete a game and get a refund

Sorry gamers! Steam's return policy timeclock starts during Advanced Access now
(Image credit: Momo Tabari / Laptop Mag)

On Tuesday night, Steam quietly updated its return policy so that gamers can no longer exploit a loophole using the Advanced Access feature to play games for free. 

Essentially, players who paid more for Advanced Access could play those games for the entire early access period (typically 2-4 days), then return the game just before the official launch and receive a full refund.

Steam's return policy lets you play 2 hours of a game before you are no longer eligible for a refund. It's not the most generous policy, but for PC games, it does work well. That window gives PC gamers time to determine if the game runs on their PC and gives them time to decide if they want to play it. So it serves as a benchmark and demo in one.

This is what's changed with Steam's return policy and what it means for you.

How it worked

Steam's return policy didn't account for the number of games that provide earlier access to players that pay more. Advanced Access is not to be confused with Steam's Early Access which is a beta-testing period development tool rather than advanced play time before the full release. Advanced Access gives players a 2-4 day period to play the game ahead of the full release.

The problem with Steam's return policy is that the 2-hour refund time clock only kicked in when a game officially launched. So players who paid more for Advanced Access could get full days of game-time before they were no longer eligible for a refund, as long as those days of gameplay happened before the official launch date.

Judging by the Steam Community subreddit page detailing the update, many gamers weren't aware of the exploit until the Starfield launch on September 6, 2023. Due to many performance issues, it became well-known that Steam would honor refunds during the access period.

Since the exploit became well-known, it's no surprise Steam has changed the policy. More and more games offer Advanced Access, so the policy change is no surprise.

What this means for you

How to redeem Steam keys

(Image credit: Getty Images / Victor Prilepa)

Steam's Advanced Access rules now clarify that titles under that program are subject to the standard return policy. Valve stated,  "Today we have updated a portion of our Refund Policy regarding pre-purchased titles. This change covers titles that are in pre-purchase and offer "Advanced Access". Playtime acquired during the Advanced Access period will now count towards the Steam refund period. You can find out more information regarding Steam Refunds here."

So players who pay for Advanced Access to a game will no longer have the opportunity to play for several days and still get a full refund. You'll be limited to only 2-hours of Advanced Access or standard access game time before you no longer qualify. 

This means gamers can no longer exploit Advanced Access for free games or delayed refunds. Outside of that specific case, this should have no impact on the lives of Steam users. This helps level the playing field between players who pay for Advanced Access and those who refuse to pay for early access to the game.

The concept of Advanced Access and other early access periods remains somewhat controversial.

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Madeline Ricchiuto
Staff Writer

A former lab gremlin for Tom's Guide, Laptop Mag, Tom's Hardware, and Tech Radar; Madeline has escaped the labs to join Laptop Mag as a Staff Writer. With over a decade of experience writing about tech and gaming, she may actually know a thing or two. Sometimes. When she isn't writing about the latest laptops and AI software, Madeline likes to throw herself into the ocean as a PADI scuba diving instructor and underwater photography enthusiast.