Tobold's Blog
Friday, October 31, 2014
Steam key resellers

If somebody offers you a designer watch or handbag for a very low price, sold out of the boot of his car, you would be suspicious. Either the item is fake, or it is stolen. So obviously I was wondering the same when I bought the Civilization 5 complete edition from a Steam key reseller for 15 Euro, instead of paying Steam 40 Euro for the same item. There are fake and stolen keys around.

While I don't know a way to actually buy a Steam key I could mail to somebody else directly from Steam (is that possible?), I have in the past received Steam keys that were quite definitely legit. For example if you fund a game on Kickstarter and the funded game ends up on Steam, you might get one or several Steam keys as backer rewards. If you buy a game in physical form, a box with a DVD in it, there might be a Steam key in there as well. So it is very possible for somebody to end up with a "spare" Steam key which is neither fake nor stolen.

So unlike that designer handbag or watch this isn't necessarily a black market. But I can't shake the feeling that at the very least it is a grey one. The key I bought "works", as in it allowed me to install and play Civilization 5 on my computer. But I am not 100% sure if somewhere in the process something legally dodgy was going on, and the cheap price is somehow the result of a copyright violation or something similar. You getting a Steam key legitimately and you being allowed to resell that Steam key are two very different things.

A bit of research on the internet finds opinions divided: Some people don't buy anything directly from Steam any more, and only buy resold keys. Others report on the possibility that Steam could either remove a game you bought via key from your library, or even ban your whole account. So right now I'm not sure if getting that game for less than half price was actually a good deal.

As I understand it there are a couple of ways that key resellers get hold of keys.
The main one is the international grey market, they bulk buy retail copies in territories where due to exchange rates/local market conditions prices are low, and then sell them internationally. Most steam keys are global so they work for all buyers, although they can be region locked. There are dodgy looking ways of fooling Steam into unlocking a region locked key, but I wouldn't personally recommend them.
They can also buy games cheap in Steam sales using the ‘buy as a gift’ option at checkout, and then gift them to a buyer later on.
A game in Russia costs 50% less than a game in europe, same for other eastern european countries. Due to various reasons (taxes/historical game pricing). Buying a game there and reselling it in europe for a lower price than european sales is not illegal.

A long time ago I did buy a game that was acquired through cc fraud (that site has long gone under), and said game was removed from my steam library, combined with a steam ban. Upon explanation where I had gotten the key and how, my account was unbanned (the whole process took less than 24hours)

Humble Bundle gives you Steam keys, but that is the only non-Steam site I use to get games.

Part is the fraud aspect and the potential risk of losing an account with close to 100 games on it, along with a very large social network and history aspect.

The other part is I like the server Valve provides. I don't use or support Origin or any other Steam-clones, and buying directly from Steam is my wallet-vote.
There are many completely legitimate key resellers such as Amazon, Greenmamgaming, Gamersgate, Humble Bundle etc who sell Steam keys with full permission from Steam and from the game devs. They usually charge normal retail prices but they may have a sale or a discount so they can be cheaper than buying direct from Steam. You can feel very happy and quite secure buying from these retailers even if you get a bargain price.

Then there are grey market resellers who unofficially resell keys at heavy discounts. I am not sure if there is actual theft involved but I believe a lot of these keys come from markets where the retail price is lower (Eastern Europe) or that some of the keys are "web cafe keys" etc. Sometimes these keys are scraped off of retail disk copies of the game. In addition these grey markets have sometimes harvested keys from bundles and then resold them at higher prices. These resellers do not have permission to resell these keys and you are probably breaking the terms of service if you use them. Buyer beware.
At what point did we start buying dozens of games you won't even play for 90% off retail?

It's like Steam turned all the gamers into those bargain shoppers who buy used games in the bargain bin at used bookstores.

Seriously, if want to stop seeing crap games then people need to start doing a better job of voting with your wallet.

Nils said it best in the last post: "I bought [BE] for full price just to encourage the creation of similar games in the future."
Just be careful and know the risks. As another commenter said, his account was banned and the game was removed, and though it worked out for him, there are numerous reports of players losing accounts worth hundreds of dollars or more and not having them restored. Steam allows third-parties to sell these games as "authorized resellers;" however, does very little to make clear who exactly is authorized. It takes digging but most of the cheaper sites are not on that list. GMG, Get Games, and some others are.

I've used these sites off and on for a two years, weighing the risks. I was concerned about losing my account (worth a couple thousand dollars) so did some digging. There are very few reports of players having action taken against them recently, leading me to believe that it's not too likely to happen. What's interesting, though, is that these resellers have absolutely *proliferated* in those last two years. They are much more in the public consciousness. I would expect that Valve will address it sooner rather than later, so I've decided not to use them for a while.

Also, just so folks are clear: from what I've read, even though many keys aren't region *locked* they are still region *coded*. Meaning that a quick sweep of your game list will reveal if you've purchased from a non-authorized seller. Customer lives in Texas but has games from Russia and Ukraine? Boom, removed for breaking the EULA.
Anyone know about I bought two keys from them recently and they worked fine.....but the prices were significantly lower than anywhere else. I has been eyeballing Might & Magic X and Divinity: Original Sin but was tired of waiting for them to go on official Steam sale (btw Divinity: Original Sin is an amazing game).

This reminds me of the practice not too long ago (could still be a thing for all I know) of finding ridiculously cheap disc copies of PC games on Ebay that all clearly came from Russia and abroad.
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