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, the new release by Ivy Games is priced at $12.44. The indie game is only a few weeks old and can currently only be purchased through the Humble Bundle Store or Steam. Or rather, these are the official places to buy. The game is sold there for $14.99. We got the keys on the secondary market, also known as the “grey market”. So I saved about $3 on my purchase.
It’s not the only title for sale on Kinguin or its rival G2A. You can buy almost any game you want at this and similar marketplaces, often at a deep discount, including triple-A titles. Steam keys, Origin keys, gift keys, and even codes for pre-purchased retail game cards – these storefronts have it all.
So how does this gray market work? What are these secondary markets? Who sells here and who buys here? And where did this code come from?
The secondary game market has recently been in the headlines due to a minor scandal involving Ubisoft game code being purchased by Electronic Arts’ Origin service.
Here’s the story: A few weeks ago, Ubisoft revoked the game keys of an unknown number of Uplay members. Their action effectively removed the games from user accounts and prevented them from being launched remotely.
These games were usually purchased from Kinguin and G2A, two companies that maintain a secondary market for game keys. In a statement to IGN, Ubisoft said the reason for the cancellation was that the keys were purchased with stolen Electronic Arts Origins credit cards before being put up for sale on the secondary market.
The original purchase was illegal and the game codes were invalid. A lengthy forum post at Ubisoft, which opened on January 24th and is now more than 60 pages long, is filled with disgruntled players who thought they were buying clean codes from G2A and Kinguin, but instead lost money in the transaction.
Ubisoft forum members were outraged that the company took away games they knew they had successfully activated through their UPlay accounts. Additionally, they were upset that Ubisoft would withdraw these keys regardless of whether they were originally purchased with stolen credit cards.
In the eyes of these consumers, they were buying games from a store – albeit a “grey market” store – and they had the right to play the games they bought there.
On February 2, Ubisoft tweeted: “After further investigation…we are reinstalling the key for customers who have already successfully activated and started playing the game. All remaining fraudulently obtained and resold keys are disabled.”
In order to fully understand what happened to these Ubisoft game codes, I spent the last few weeks learning more about the two game code resellers involved, namely G2A and Kinguin.
Additionally, we reached out to EA, Ubisoft, and other game publishers and developers to better understand the impact of gray market game trading on their business results.
And finally, with the help of Kinguin, we talked to a game reseller to learn more about their business and where they source their games to sell.
Online, he clings to a handle designed to put some distance between his store and his identity in the real world. We’ll call them “R”. He is actually a young entrepreneur living in Italy. For your key
R told us that he earns between €1,000 and €1,500 or between $1,100 and $1,700 per month from his shop. During the holidays, he says, that can rise to more than $2,200. every month. I asked if this was his regular job, to which he replied, “Something like that.” We can’t be sure that his store on Kinguin is his main source of income.
From a consumer’s point of view, selling games on the gray market makes sense. Sometimes people get games as gifts or as promotional offers, but they don’t want or need them. Promotions such as Steam discounts and modest bundle sales are timely offers and invite speculative purchases, investing as game keys are farmed with the intention of selling them later for a profit.
Both G2A and Kinguin advertise themselves as marketplaces where these types of transactions can take place, and generally both offer a very similar service.
Customers can come and buy digital product codes on their site, similar to eBay for video games. But like eBay, these companies don’t sell the goods that are listed for sale. G2A and Kinguin facilitate transactions by moving money back and forth and providing technical support where possible.
How profitable is the gray market gaming industry? Founder and CEO Victor Wanli said via email that the number of transactions Kinguin does each year is confidential. However, he added that since its inception in 2012, its community has grown to more than 2 million registered users.
Jens Quentin, senior global PR manager at G2A, said his company, which was founded in 2010, served more than 2 million customers in 2014 with more than 5 million transactions.
Although both companies are registered in Hong Kong, their biggest markets are the US and Europe, the two companies said.
For both G2A and Kinguin, the consequences of fraudulent credit card transactions on EA Origin have been severe.
G2A said around 2,000 customers were affected and its customer support team was inundated with requests for help, causing significant delays in resolving issues even for members of its preferred customer program known as G2A Shield.
Kinguin went into much more detail about the impact on their business, announcing on their blog that over 4,600 customer support tickets were received in a short period of time, requiring refunds to customers equivalent to $170,000. While G2A declined to comment on how many of its sellers were affected, Kinguin says only 35 of its 3,400 merchants were affected.
When reached for comment, EA press contacts confirmed that the keys were purchased fraudulently and that they had identified the code in question and alerted Ubisoft. Ubisoft decided to cancel the keys only after the warning. But they went a step further to actually eliminate it
And other new titles in the original market. Ubisoft told Gamespot that they have no information on when the title might return to the original.
Both EA and Ubisoft took advantage of this outright fraud to warn aftermarket customers and tell them that they cannot be held responsible for purchases made outside of their established marketplaces, such as Origin. But Kinguin’s CEO is frustrated by such revelations and points the finger at EA for the problems he and those in his industry are currently facing.
“We find it odd,” Wanley wrote on the Kinguin blog, “that such a large amount [of keys] is involved.
“We at Kinguin do not claim to be more technologically advanced than Ubisoft or Origin, although we do monitor large or unusual purchases [through our marketplace]. We believe the platforms [EA and Ubisoft] need access to e-commerce anti-fraud tools that would raise red flags in such cases.”
G2A advertises in many places where gamers want to discover new games and has a business relationship with famous game streamer PewDiePie. Source: G2A Company Profile.
In the same post, Wanli opposes sellers like Kinguin and G2A, defending their right to trade digital goods on the secondary market.
“The game key market has passed significant milestones since its inception in 2007,” Wanley wrote. “Now there are many large platforms with advanced ethics and business mechanisms. The recognition of these brands and their services among a large audience has increased dramatically – now in the millions.”
Limiting where games are sold and judging consumers based on where they buy them is counterproductive and anti-consumer, says Wanley.
“It’s natural for companies in any economy to try to maintain dominance and achieve monopoly status…Steam wants Steam keys to be sold only through Steam. Blizzard does not allow any sales outside of Battle.net and physical boxes… . The players don’t accept it. And for good reason.”
On Kinguin. When we Skyped with him, R wanted to help him understand his business. In the afternoon we had a long talk about his relationship with Kinguin and gambling in general.
But, we asked, where did his games come from? That’s when he invited his supplier to talk, someone R says he met on Steam and knows the back of his hand online. We’ll call it “D” for short.
“You ask him these questions
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