Friday, April 14, 2017

Thieves Guild

Internet piracy may not exactly be legal,
but it is paradoxically non-profit
In theory Steam keys are a useful way for developers and publishers to promote games.  By sending out these strings of letters and numbers they can offer prominent Youtubers, Twitch streamers and assorted review outlets free copies of a game they're looking to raise awareness for.  Just punch in the code, download the game, and you're good to go.  The thing is there's a dark underbelly to Steam keys when it comes to resale.

"What's the big deal?" you might be wondering.  People sell used games all the time through E-bay or upscale pawnshops (usually referred to as "Gamestop").  True, but I'd argue that the majority of the games you see for sale at those stores were trade-ins or simply the result of people getting rid of stuff they're never going to play again.  Steam codes being sold on websites such as G2A though are more often than not an online fence for scammers and thieves.

Steam trading cards?  CS:GO cosmetics?
DoTA hats?
It's all bitcoins to me...
In case you don't know how this grey market works, let me give you a pair of typical scenarios.  Developers, particularly from smaller studios, will sometimes receive E-mails from high-traffic video game websites (such as Giant Bomb) claiming they want to hold some kind of event based around a game made by said developer.  "Please send us promo codes."  Of course, it turns out that the message is a complete fake and just an attempt to swindle a few downloadable copies of the game for resale on G2A.  Because these stolen keys go for cheap, they get remedied before the developer even figures out what really happened.  It's not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but the second example is far more egregious.

Online credit card theft is a serious problem, but the thing is once the thieves get the info they need they have to find a way to turn it into a quick profit (before the owner figures out what's up).  One way to go about it is to hit up an online retailer and purchase digital copies of video games in the form of download keys.  Then quickly put them up on G2A for cheap.  By the time the credit card owner blocks the charges the thieves have already laundered their ill-gotten gains...hang on though, it gets worse.

Whenever a credit card is frozen, or has its charges blocked, the retail outlet in which it was used has to pay a fine.  This has led some developers such as the makers of Factorio (who allow customers to purchase digital copies of their game directly from them) to come out and publically ask people to pirate their game rather than purchase it with stolen credit card information.  Their reasoning being at least piracy doesn't cost them anything directly out-of-pocket.  Now, I'm sure there's a minority of gamers who end up with duplicate copies of a game for legitimate reasons.  Here's the thing, you should give those extra codes away to your friends not try to sell them for a quick buck (actually less after G2A takes their cut).  Shady websites like this should not be allowed to thrive because none of that money ever finds its way to the people who actually deserve it.  At least with used game sales the developer got their money from the initial purchase, but here it's all hot goods and greedy parasites.    

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