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In 2023, the gaming industry is worth around $372 billion. By 2027, the number of users is expected to exceed 3 billion. The vast popularity and profitability of video games, unfortunately, attract many scammers, fraudsters, and bad actors looking to make easy money.
In recent years, Steam – the video game digital distribution service and marketplace from legendary video game company Valve – has been targeted by many of these malicious individuals and fraudulent enterprises. In particular, fraudsters have been buying and illegally reselling Steam keys (unique codes that enable you to download and play a game on Steam), which is damaging both brands and consumers.
So, what can business executives, digital content owners, and legal professionals do to combat these Steam key scammers? In this blog, we’ll be discussing a number of topics, including:
A Steam key is a unique code that enables anyone who has it to download and play a game from the game-distributing platform Steam. A Steam key scam is all about stolen Steam keys and the unauthorized reselling of these keys. Scammers will acquire the code for a Steam key through whatever means they can and then they will attempt to resell the key to unsuspecting victims.
Steam key scammers will also sell fake or fraudulent steam keys on a variety of marketplaces, hoping to mislead and steal from unsuspecting gamers. Unfortunately, many scammers have become incredibly adept at producing these fake steam keys and masking them in a veneer of faux-authenticity. With more and more games being purchased through digital marketplaces, bad actors have endless opportunities to sell these fake Steam keys and profit off the increasing hunger for digital games.
Steam key scams will often be conducted on third-party sites that will pretend to have the rights to sell or resell the keys. Most buyers will not realize that they are purchasing from an unauthorized seller and will be attracted by the lower prices.
A Steam key is proof that one has the right to download software – it is not a software license. When scammers sell keys without authorization they are selling the right to download software. If you have not given them permission to sell the right to download the game then they will be violating Steam’s piracy policy. However, controversially, in most cases, this is not illegal.
It is against Steam’s rules to sell a Steam account or any Steam game keys. This stance against reselling is standard practice for most digital distribution platforms. It is there to protect Steam and its users as well as game developers and publishers. However, in copyright law, the issue is not so straightforward, and reselling digital software, like video games, has long been a controversial topic.
In Germany, their Federal Supreme Court found that the act of reselling video game activation keys can be considered illegal. They have laws in place to support game developers and publishers and prevent resellers from undercutting legitimate businesses. On the other hand, a court in France ruled that Steam users have the right to resell their games – stating that the copyright doctrine of exhaustion does not apply to downloaded video games. This approach, which is yet to be adopted in the US, is indicative of the difficulty of reconciling pre-digital copyright laws with the ever-evolving digital world of video games.
Recently, Valve updated their Steam key rules to include more specificity about when and where you can, or cannot use Steam Keys. There’s a new baseline of 5,000 standard Steam key games per game.
This means that “Games and applications launching on Steam may receive up to 5,000 Default Release Steam Keys to support retail activities and distribution on other stores.” These are keys that have been authorized by Steam for legal reselling by the legitimate owners of these keys. After the 5,000 default keys, all Steam key requests will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis to ensure that the use of the keys is legitimate and not exploitative of gamers or gaming companies.
The update also included wording to deter the unauthorized and illegal selling of Steam keys, “If you request an extreme number of keys and you are not offering Steam customers a comparable deal, or if your sole business is selling Steam Keys and not offering value to Steam customers, your request may be denied and you may lose the privilege to request keys.” Ultimately, these policies are in place to protect consumers and businesses from unauthorized key resellers and steam key scammers.
Steam has a number of internal processes for reporting scammers and unauthorized Steam Key resellers.
One of the easiest ways to report unauthorized Steam key resellers is to locate the Steam ID of the individual or business and email the Steam Support Team. In the email, you can also include a screenshot image of the offending incident. This will be important evidence that will help Steam or the original video game developer/publisher enforce against the unauthorized resellers.
Within the Steam platform itself there is a step-by-step system for reporting accounts that you believe may be involved in scamming users through unauthorized reselling:
Steam themselves suggest that, if possible, this method of reporting is more efficient than sending an email containing your report. However, if the reselling is conducted by a company or individual without an identifiable Steam ID, then an email including a screenshot of the reselling incident and an account of the transaction may be the best method of reporting.
Red Points’ Digital Rights Management (DRM) Software is here to help video game developers and publishers protect themselves from unauthorized Steam key resellers.
The process involves 3 simple and effective steps:
Our automated bot-powered search will scan marketplaces and social media platforms 24/7 to detect infringing Steam key resellers. Machine learning ensures that each search is more refined and efficient than the one before.
Evidence is key if you want to enforce against scammers. Our solution will help you get real evidence by running anonymous test purchases, verifying how many resellings are occurring, and shortlisting high-risk incidents.
Our DRM software allows you to immediately take down any offending and unauthorized Steam key resellers. Once automatic enforcement is triggered you will have access to easy-to-use dashboards with insightful metrics that will let you see the impact of your protection efforts.
Ultimately, this system will help you detect the unauthorized distribution of any of your intellectual property or the access keys to said intellectual property. Once detected, we kick quickly into action to make sure that you can stop scammers from violating your rights.
Unauthorized Steam key resellers will continue to plague the industry unless they are actively reported, pursued, and punished. If they are allowed to continue to operate, gamers, game companies, and publishers will all suffer. In particular, this kind of piracy will impact your brand’s reputation and eat away at your profits.
Thankfully, the solution is simple. Red Points’ Digital Rights Management Software will efficiently detect and remove illegitimate Steam keys that are being resold online. Our automated system triggers the takedown process instantly and can be tailored to your brand’s business needs. This will all help to ensure that you can cost-effectively shut down unauthorized Steam key resellers and give your brand the best chance of success.