Here's how Steam refunds work
A couple years back, Steam began offering refunds on titles purchased from the Steam store, effectively changing how customers buy games on the PC distribution service. These days, it's relatively common knowledge that all games bought on the Steam store are refundable. But there's some limitations regarding how refunds work. For instance, while DLC inside the Steam store is refundable, some in-game purchases aren't. And while hardware can be refunded, there's certain limitations involved.
While Steam's refund service is comprehensive, it's also pretty complicated. So before purchasing a game you think you'll end up refunding, here's what you need to know about the Steam refund system.
How to initiate a refund
Refunding Steam games is relatively simple. Head on over to the Steam Support section and log in if you aren't already. In the opening drop-down menu, click "Purchases," find the game in question that you want to refund, and then go to "I would like a refund." Then hit "I'd like to request a refund."
Afterward, Steam should open a short form detailing more information needed to refund your purchase. Fill out your refund form by choosing a refund method, the reason for the refund, and any additional notes needed to process your request.
From there, Valve will either approve or deny your refund. If approved, refunds can take up to seven days to appear, with longer periods for international refunds. Don't worry if your request is denied, either. Customers can appeal an original denial by sending in an additional refund request. Another Valve employee will look over the refund and make a decision.
Games are refundable based on hours played and days owned
When it comes to refunding games and DLC on Steam, there's two important criteria to keep in mind before sending in a refund request.
Refunds can only be made if the player has less than two hours of in-game time and has only owned the game in question for less than two weeks. For example, players can refund games they've owned for eight days and only played for an hour or titles they bought during a Steam sale and change their mind on a week later. But both ownership length and in-game playtime must meet the rules in order to receive a refund.
So if a Steam user buys a game, plays 25 hours, and then decides to refund their title, their request will most likely be denied. Similarly, Steam players cannot refund a game they've owned for half a year but have only played for 15 minutes. So when in doubt, it's better to play new purchases sooner rather than later to find out if they're actually worth holding onto.
DLC and microtransactions are refundable
Good news for Steam users that love purchasing post-launch content for their games. Steam refunds also cover DLC and microtransactions. Here's how it works.
DLC can be refunded if:
- It's been within 14 days since the DLC was purchased
- The base game has been played for less than two hours since purchase
- DLC has not been modified or consumed
- DLC is not otherwise listed as nonrefundable
Microtransactions can also be refunded, but there's more specific regulations. For one, all Valve titles' microtransactions can be refunded in 48 hours as long as the player hasn't used the items purchased. But other publishers' games vary. Developers and publishers can also enable refunds for items, but microtransactions can also be labeled as nonrefundable.
Generally speaking, games will mention ahead of time if in-game purchases are nonrefundable, so it's best to check on individual games' storefronts within the Steam store before making a purchase you might regret.
But you can only refund purchases bought within the Steam store
Steam refunds are strictly tied to purchases made within Steam's store, and refunds aren't available for any Steam titles that are activated outside Valve's official service. That means Steam games bought via Green Man Gaming or eBay aren't refundable through Valve.
This also includes DLC purchased outside the Steam store. If a game requires the player to purchase DLC or microtransactions outside of Steam, then refunds aren't available through Steam. For instance, anyone who purchases additional content for Mass Effect 2 through EA directly cannot issue a refund through Steam. And microtransactions available through a third-party's store aren't refundable with Steam, either.
And you can refund games to rebuy them at a discount
One of the nice things about Steam refund is that it's relatively flexible when it comes to sales. Steam refunds are setup to honor discounts if the user buys a game right before a Steam sale goes live.
According to Steam Support, all eligible purchases prior to a sale can be refunded so users can repurchase a game at its discounted price. While Steam's regular refund rules apply, and approved refunds "may take up to seven days" before they're processed, customers can refund purchases to save money on discounts, thereby taking away risk around purchasing games before a holiday sale.
Hardware can be refunded
Steam's refund system doesn't just cover games and microtransactions. Any hardware bought through the Steam store can also be refunded, too. But the process is a bit more complicated than refunding a game digitally via the Steam storefront.
Here's how it works. Within 30 days after hardware has been delivered, Steam users can request a refund for their hardware and accessories ordered from Steam. From there, any users requesting a refund must send the hardware back within a 14 day period after making the request.
Because returning hardware is a bit more complicated than digital software, Steam may provide additional instructions to follow in order to successfully obtain a refund. If a refund goes through, Steam will reimburse the least expensive delivery option along with the refund, as long as the refunded product is received within 14 days. For more information, check out Steam's official hardware order terms.
Pre-orders can be refunded, too
Steam refunds aren't just reserved for games that are already out. Titles pre-purchased through the Steam store are also eligible for refunds. Any games paid for before release can be refunded before release at any time, with no 14-day limit from purchase. That means a game pre-ordered two months before release can be refunded five days before the game comes out.
Afterwards, players can also refund games they pre-ordered if need be, but the regular Steam refund rules apply. That means post-release, pre-purchased games can be refunded as long as the player submits their refund within 14 days and does not play any more than two hours in-game. In other words, while pre-release refunds are refundable at any time, games refunded post-launch have the regular refund window.
VAC bans nullify refunds, though
Valve treats refunds as a privilege, not a right. And abusing the Steam refund system can lead to users losing their ability to refund a game. Case in point, players cannot ask for a refund on games with a Valve Anti-Cheat ban.
For those unfamiliar, VAC bans are specialized restrictions that prevent hackers, crackers, and cheaters from playing on servers using VAC software. In short, this means Team Fortress 2 or Counter-Strike: Global Offensive players caught using cheats will be banned from playing on VAC servers, significantly diminishing those games' multiplayer capabilities.
When it comes to Steam refunds, players who have been VAC banned from a game cannot refund their game. So Counter-Strike: Global Offensive players cannot refund Global Offensive if they've been VAC banned. However, VAC bans only affect refunds on individual games. So if that same player purchases The Witcher 3 through the Steam store and needs a refund, they can successfully receive one as long as they follow the rest of the Steam refund rules.
But the refund rules are loose, so ask for a refund anyway
Rules are rules, and more often than not, Valve will implement the rules they've officially laid out if you request a refund. But sometimes complications happen. A game may be accidentally left on for two hours, or an idling computer can cause a player to accidentally have more hours than they really played. Maybe an abysmally low quality game ends up working fine during its first 14 days owned, but on the 15th it breaks down.
That's life, and Valve gets that. So the company encourages consumers to send a refund request through Steam anyway even if they're technically ineligible. All refunds are handled by a Valve employee, so refunds are handled based on individual discretion. And remember, all refunds are made through the distribution service's Steam Support section.
So when in doubt, send a refund request out. It doesn't hurt, right?