Unknown Worlds Entertainment reported that they requested that Valve deactivate 1,341 Steam keys for their FPS/RTS hybrid Natural Selection 2. Anyone who had purchased one of these keys will now have their “Play” option replaced with “Buy Again,” and will obviously be unable to continue playing until they buy a legitimate key. This is all because these keys were acquired illegally and sold through shady third party websites, as Unknown Worlds explains:
“We deactivated these keys because they keys were purchased with credit cards where the card-holder initiated a “charge-back.” A charge-back is a consumer protection mechanism offered by payment companies such as Visa, allowing a card-holder to dispute a charge on their credit card statement. This means we never received payment for the game. In fact, we were charged a fee by the card issuer for the charge-back. For these 1,341 keys, these fees totaled around $30,000.”
It seems that these keys were purchased through Natural Selection 2’s official website, possibly with stolen credit cards, and then distributed among key resellers that specialize in selling game keys acquired through dubious means at deep discounts. Unknown Worlds then went on to stress that the only official sites to buy Natural Selection 2 from are Steam and their own website, and that any other site selling keys likely acquired them illegally. Because of the charge-back fees Unknown Worlds now owes ~$22 per key, in other words the $30,000 mentioned earlier for all 1,341 stolen keys. When you consider that Natural Selection 2 is a $25 game, their actual losses per key are more like $45.
Well this is just terrible all around. Anyone who actually bought one of these stolen keys is now out however much they paid with no game, while a small indie developer now has to pay thirty grand in fees they likely can’t really afford. A company of Unknown World’s size can’t afford that sort of hit, especially when they are regularly updating a fairly active multiplayer game. Charge-backs also look really bad on financial records because it makes Unknown Worlds look like a fraudulent company, which can potentially make banks more reluctant to deal with them in the future
It is time to stress a digital distribution rule: Don’t buy from key resellers! These sites often acquire their keys through shady practices, such as buying cheaper copies from eastern Europe to sell to westerners or even using stolen credit cards or abusing the charge-back system. Even some “legitimate” key resellers could end up acquiring hot keys accidentally, and the customer won’t know this until their key is suddenly invalid or they find themselves banned. Only buy from established services like Steam, GOG, Amazon, Humble Indie Bundle, Desura, GamersGate, and Origin. You should always be wary of a website selling games for much cheaper than retail, especially newer games. You won’t be seeing the latest full-priced game selling for 50% off or less, especially on some random third-party website, right around release date unless something seriously shady is going on.