No more refunds after 100 hours: Steam closes Early Access playtime loophole


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Early Access” was once a novel, quirky thing, giving a select set of Steam PC games a way to involve enthusiastic fans in pre-alpha-level play-testing and feedback. Now loads of games launch in various forms of Early Access, in a wide variety of readiness. It’s been a boon for games like Baldur’s Gate 3, which came a long way across years of Early Access.

Early Access, and the “Advanced Access” provided for complete games by major publishers for “Deluxe Editions” and the like, has also been a boon to freeloaders. Craven types could play a game for hours and hours, then demand a refund within the standard two hours of play, 14 days after the purchase window of the game’s “official” release. Steam-maker Valve has noticed and, as of Tuesday night, updated its refund policy.

“Playtime acquired during the Advanced Access period will now count towards the Steam refund period,” reads the update. In other words: Playtime is playtime now, so if you’ve played more than two hours of a game in any state, you don’t get a refund. That closes at least one way that people could, with time-crunched effort, play and enjoy games for free in either Early or Advanced access.

Not that it’s a complete win for either developers or cautious buyers. Steam refunds are a tricky matter for developers, especially those smaller in size. The two-hour playtime window can give people a decent idea of how a game runs, what it’s like, and whether it’s clicking with a certain player. But some games enter Early Access in very rough shape or have features that later get dropped. Some games pack their most appealing elements into the early game. And some indie games are intended to provide an experience that’s much closer to two hours than 40 or 80, still giving players a faceless way to grab back some cash.

Steam’s approach to refunds remains an imperfect science, full of quirky stories and examples of why it exists. But it has moved toward a more unified and at least understandable policy now.

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