Should you avoid buying game keys from sketchy resellers?

By Julio Franco · 21 replies
Mar 14, 2016
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  1. When it comes to buying cheap PC games, the merchant is everything. If you want to support developers (and keep your titles), here's where you should shop.

    Video game keys are those magical little codes that unlock purchased titles on clients like Steam, Origin, and Uplay. Until you plug one into a client, you can theoretically do whatever you want with it — give it away to a friend, sell it to a stranger, or even sit on it and forget you even own the game.

    The tradeable nature of game keys makes them easy to distribute, and easy to exploit. We're taking a hard look at all the ways you can buy keys, from the aboveboard to the pretty unethical. Do you have to trade your morals away to get a great deal on a PC game? Nope! Read on to see why.

    The gray market can cost you your games

    Last year, Ubisoft raised eyebrows when it "revoked the game keys of an unknown number of Uplay members," according to Polygon. "Their action effectively removed games from user accounts, blocking them from being launched remotely."

    According to the report, many of the game keys in question had been bought from Kinguin and G2A, two sites that maintain key resale marketplaces. Much like an ebay for game keys, sites like these only host the sales — third-party merchants do the selling, leaving buyers vulnerable in situations like the one described above.

    Ubisoft had determined these keys were bought with stolen credit card numbers, so it revoked the keys. While some games were eventually restored to player accounts, this story (and others like it) shine a light on the shady nature of gray market key sales.

    Developers depend on ethical key sales

    Buying game keys doesn't just hurt players; it can be devastating for independent game developers, who often depend on key sales and giveaways to generate buzz about lesser-known titles. To find out more, we spoke to Justin Sacks, the CEO of, a just-launched daily deal site for Steam keys that works directly with publishers.

    According to Sacks at, the resale market for game keys makes it hard for independent developers to understand their audience, because they don't know who ends up with the game.

    Sacks gave the example of someone who buys a game key for $5, and then re-sells it for $8: "The issue with that is the developer sees a percentage of that sale for $5, and they never see anything after that. And that doesn't sound incredibly terrible, except that it means they also don't know where their user base is coming from, where their fan base is coming from; they don't know how to support those people."

    According to Sacks, independent teams as small as two to 10 people can labor for up to three years on a single game. As such, these teams care very deeply about where and how their games are being sold. "Every single publisher and developer — especially the indies — it matters to them because they have worked so hard, and there are so few people working so hard on this one game," said Sacks.

    There are lots of ways to score cheap games

    Buying keys from a website that has a direct relationship with publishers is well, key, according to Sacks. "When a developer chooses to do that sale with [sites like] Humble Bundle, they do it knowing exactly where all that money goes."

    So how can you tell if a merchant is on the up and up? The simplest solution is buy directly from the clients themselves. But if you're looking for the best deals, then you've got to shop around. Larger sites like Amazon and Green Man Gaming all have regular sales on AAA titles. GOG offers a DRM-free client, if that's your jam. Humble Bundle has grab-bags of indie and offbeat games, with a special pricing model that lets you donate to charity. offers a single low-priced title every 24 hours.

    Readers, do you care where your game keys come from? Is it more important to support developers, or to get the absolute lowest price possible? Can you have it both ways?

    Marcy Bonebright is a features writer at dealnews. Republished with permission.

    Permalink to story.

    JB Hickok likes this.
  2. TomSEA

    TomSEA TechSpot Chancellor Posts: 2,713   +855

    Don't think I'm different than anyone else - I want to spend the least amount of money I have to. I've purchased a couple of keys from G2A and haven't had a problem with them. Until I do, if they're the cheapest, that's the route I'm taking.
    SirChocula likes this.
  3. yukka

    yukka TechSpot Paladin Posts: 861   +67

    I have purchased quite a few keys and xbox gold memberships/credit from

    I have also purchased from Green Man Gaming. I was really put off G2A after that UPlay story and its made me think twice. Often there are "deals" I see where people are suggesting purchasing games logged in to a VPN in Russia or something. I don't want to lose all my games due to saving a tenner but its a bit of a mine field.
  4. Panda218

    Panda218 TS Evangelist Posts: 465   +217

    I used to use, but after my most recent purchase I have stopped using their service. I bought a game and several days later I got a call from my bank stating that they were trying to charge me again for the game. I emailed their support and never heard back so I just said to hell with them.
  5. alabama man

    alabama man TS Maniac Posts: 366   +236

    Just bought division for 30$ and primal for 25€. I support indies and projects I believe in. Also wont support anyone who makes games purely for profit, everyone's gotta eat but when you have no passion (ubisoft, ea, most mobile developers) I couldn't care less for your game or if your going to eat or not. Also if I can't play my game 10 years from now (online drm) I wont pay the same as for games that will work as long as I live.

    But yeah, just bought stardew walley, paint the town red, scrap mechanic and factorio for full price as I want to support the makers of those games.
    Adhmuz likes this.
  6. wiyosaya

    wiyosaya TS Evangelist Posts: 1,918   +750

    So if someone who is not a pirate and as an individual legitimately buys a game key for $XX, then for what ever reason, decides to sell that game key and is able to sell it for a profit, then there is a problem with that?

    It sure sounds like this article is suggesting that it is.

    I get the part about developers and compensation, but if the key was legally bought, then legally sold are they then saying that the person who legally bought it and then legally sold it should owe them more money?

    I bought a new, unopened boxed game once, never played it, then sold it - still unopened. At the time I sold it, it had become somewhat of a collector's item, so I was able to get more for it than I paid for it. This happens in collector's markets with all sorts of things, comic books - to name another area. It is not illegal, and if it is not illegal, I don't think that developers should have an issue with this.
    cliffordcooley likes this.
  7. JB Hickok

    JB Hickok Banned Posts: 29

    From the chart, it looks like the best place to buy is G2A, since it's the fastest growing and therefore the most used. I suppose if I were looking for a game key, that would be the place to go.


    I just went to that site you mentioned in the post, the one that was at the top of the chart, it looks really good, thanks for the tip off. I never would have known it even existed without this article.
    Thanks again.
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2016
  8. Adhmuz

    Adhmuz TechSpot Paladin Posts: 1,828   +633

    This would be scalping, much like sporting events, something I find disgusting. The issue with a digital market place is it's not based on a set number of tickets/copies so in theory they could sell millions of copies where as the developer charging full price will end up getting a fraction of the sales.

    This is where the whole digital era we're in kinda falls into a gray zone of legality, you never actually own the games your buying, playing and potentially reselling, just paying for the rights to access the intellectual property, and because there is no physical material involved it makes thing's tremendously complicated.

    And this last part falls in to physical collectibles, it was an unopened boxed item, it was something physical, tangible, something you can own, material wise, much like a record, you own the vinyl it's printed on but not the music. If that record/video game happens to be more valuable then when you bought it that's fine, because chances are the developer has stop producing the game in question so your not able to cut into their revenue stream from said title. Or to use the record example again, it's no longer being stamped.

    So needless to say, we as consumers get ****ed, while the developer wants to make all the money they possibly can while not having middle men organizations reselling at a lower price, in this case G2A.
  9. hahahanoobs

    hahahanoobs TS Evangelist Posts: 2,040   +678

    Sacks gave the example of someone who buys a game key for $5, and then re-sells it for $8: "The issue with that is the developer sees a percentage of that sale for $5, and they never see anything after that. And that doesn't sound incredibly terrible, except that it means they also don't know where their user base is coming from, where their fan base is coming from; they don't know how to support those people."

    I - don't - give - a - fffff!
  10. JB Hickok

    JB Hickok Banned Posts: 29

    G2A is great because the developers make the original sale to the reseller and its an extra line of distribution for the games.
    Plus consumers can get a more competitive rate because of increased competition. Its how free enterprise should be.
    When Ticketmaster buys a ticket at a lower price and marks it up is that scalping? They are doing the same thing.
  11. howzz1854

    howzz1854 TS Evangelist Posts: 611   +94

    I don't buy the whole developer don't see the percentage of resale key thing. just the same as, GM wouldn't see a percentage of the car that's resold, nor would the original dealer see a percentage of resale of a car. I buy games at the cheapest market place that I can find, which typically turn out to be G2A. if they really want to see a percentage, they should compete on the price. out of the 30 or so games I already bought off the market place, only one has given me problem and was taken off my Origin game list after I long finished it. was I mad? sure. but that's 3.3% of the chance out of a total of 30 titles. not to mention I tend not to replay any games.

    I will continue to support the game industry by buying my games from the cheapest market place. at the end of the day, I just want to play games on my hardware, beat it, and move on, and not to worry about the danger of pirated software.
  12. Experimentongod

    Experimentongod TS Maniac Posts: 267   +110

    The vast majority of "grey market" keys are 100% legal, therefore I don't see any problem in buying from them. Big companies like Ubisoft/EA/etc. don't have money issues...

    Anyway, I buy from official distributors 99% of the time (Nuuvem, GMG, Amazon, Bundlestars, Humble Store, Steam, etc.) but I have bought 4-5 games from G2A and without any problems (always AAA's that take too much time to lower their price). As I said, most of the time they're just reselling official keys anyway.

    Bottom line: I think that as long as you don't "abuse" grey market sellers you'll be fine. I'm now seeing 60€ games with 30-40€ Season Passes, these guys wants us to pay 100€ for ONE game. That's just unethical man!
    SirChocula likes this.
  13. JB Hickok

    JB Hickok Banned Posts: 29

    I agree a game is worth in the neighborhood of 15-20 dollars and not any more than that, I wait till they are selling at or below that point to buy.
    cliffordcooley likes this.
  14. cartera

    cartera TS Evangelist Posts: 365   +113

    I've used G2A occasionally and never had a problem. I see it as more competition which in my mind only works in our favour. Providing keys are not fake or stolen I don't see the 'grey area' and see a perfectly legitimate marketplace.
  15. Fobus

    Fobus TS Enthusiast Posts: 66   +47

    I don't buy from resellers, not worth the peace of mind I get from the Steam and the like. Steam sales are good enough, and as it is, 2/3 of games in my steam library are yet to be played.

    If you are serious about supporting game devs, buying secondhand and from gray markets is at odds with that goal.

    I see some people here are justifying used games. If you think you have to right to sell your games, when you loose right to complain about monetization in game and excessive DLCs. Because that's that it takes for developers to earn money when piracy and used games sales are rampant.
    Here, TotalBiscuit put that issue to rest really well:
  16. JB Hickok

    JB Hickok Banned Posts: 29

    I don't think watching a video of a guy giving an opinion is a valid argument. Besides a lot of people avoid YouTube deliberately.
  17. Fobus

    Fobus TS Enthusiast Posts: 66   +47

    Sorry dude, but you have comprehension problems, if you think my argument was "because this dude on youtube said so".
    1. I gave 2 arguments even before reffering to TotalBiscuit
    2. I gave link to his video, because I agree with him, and he makes a much more eloquent and thoughtful analysis than I cared to type in the comment.

    Sheesh, you people really discourage commenting in the first place...
  18. toxicfiend

    toxicfiend TS Enthusiast Posts: 41   +11

    I have been using for about 6 months and no probs for me while I got fallout4 through steam I got the season pass off of them for $35 and b4 that I got forza6 for $45 and for me in Australia that is great.
  19. Crabcancer

    Crabcancer TS Rookie

    Hmm, my question is this. Yes, we know G2A and Kinguin resells keys. Occasionally, the keys are purchased using a stolen credit card then are made void. But for the rest of keys that are working and functional, I am very curious to know this answer.

    How do the seller get the key that cheap and then sell it? They would have to buy it from somewhere right and unless I am severely mistaken, the company that produces the keys are the one selling it as the first point. So, ergo by that logic, why cannot they sell the key at the same price then we do not have to use re-sellers and all this drama is avoided.

    For example, CS GO is being sold for for AUD$19.95 on steam but G2A sells it for AUD$9.87. A saving of $10.07! The reseller would have to have purchase it somewhere cheaper somehow first as I am sure the reseller wants to make a profit too. So why cannot Steam/Valve offer it at G2A prices. If it's slightly more, I would seriously consider but not at half the price.
  20. wiyosaya

    wiyosaya TS Evangelist Posts: 1,918   +750

    I think we are in a gray area already with this. Personally, I think of scalping as someone who goes out and buys many copies of something to specifically sell at an outrageously higher price - say an integer multiple of the original price. Not the person who, through some combination of circumstances, gets one copy and manages to sell it at a profit - which is what I had in mind when I authored my original post. If my buying a single copy of a game and then I sell it and I happen to make a profit off it and someone calls it scalping, then I think that is way out of line - and is a similar argument to the person who buys a blu-ray, for instance, rips it to their hard disk, never pirates it, and views it in a manner that is consistent with fair use rights, but ripping that blu-ray, is something that is also in a gray area.

    Yes it is already complicated. Because I bought physical media that happens to contain a game on it does not mean that I own that game. Even with physical media, I own, as with a key, a right to play the game - nothing more. That is the way that software licensing has worked for a long, long time, and with many software licenses, selling that right is not illegal as long as the EULA permits it.

    If the EULA for a digital key permits its resale, then the DEV should alter the EULA so that once bought, a key can no longer be sold. Then its against the license and the DEV can sue - in theory - to recover the cost.

    I own a piece of CAD software where the EULA specifically states that I cannot sell my license; such EULAs exist.

    See above.

    This I agree with. Personally, I make efforts not to support a situation like this.

    I don't consider Ticketmaster or other similar services scalping for the simple reason that they are not selling the tickets at an outrageous markup.

    Unfortunately, I think this whole article falls into a gray area. When someone buys a key, are they necessarily going to know where that key came from?

    NYC Camera shops in the US used to sell cameras that were the exact models of cameras sold in the US though they were rebranded for sales outside the US. Those shops imported those cameras because they were cheaper than the equivalent US models. AFAIK, the practice has stopped for some brands like Canon since it gave an unfair advantage to the NYC camera shops over the small local dealer and it happend because Canon drove the change. If game devs want something similar, they will likely have to find a licensing scheme that enforces what they want - but then someone might break it.
  21. JB Hickok

    JB Hickok Banned Posts: 29

    Ticketmaster does reselling through scalper site TicketsNow, which it bought for $265 million in 2008.
    They made over a billion dollars in 2015, that's not outrageous?
    I doubt anyone here made a billion selling their old game codes last year.

    You are assuming too much. Not everyone sells codes for more than they paid some people just want to recoup a portion of their loss on a code they won't use. Some are bought in bundles, some are duplicates, some are from sales events.
    Last edited: Mar 15, 2016
  22. Emexrulsier

    Emexrulsier TS Evangelist Posts: 574   +71

    I once had my elder scrolls online account disabled because they said it was a fraudulent key. I contacted (they sold it), they were very surprised as they said they buy direct from Zenimax. Anyways I got my full money back so wasn't fussed and still continue to use On a side note, I sent an email about the cdkey at about midnight ... byt 12:30 the money was back in my paypal account, and I had had several email replies from cdkeys around that late hour. Now thats customer service!

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