Activation code fraud: a crisis of trust in the gaming industry

“If you work harder, 1,000 euros a month is absolutely fine.”

As a game editor, reporter, footman, juggernaut, running errands… Sometimes it is necessary to break through the boundaries of social fear and deal with unfamiliar developers. I used to hold a small notebook tremblingly, looking for Eastern European buddies on TGS to talk about the mountains (mainly he kan), or to write a long essay in poor Chinese English, and send foreigners that kind of basic things. Email back.

In most cases, the attitude of the other person is still very friendly and will answer questions more enthusiastically. But it does not rule out some very destructive responses – are they liars? Want an activation code for a free prostitution game, right? Can you prove your identity?

Well, the words must be quite euphemistic, but the meaning is probably that.

I understand their cautious attitude. After understanding the situation with curiosity, I also consulted some game practitioners, and found that pretending to be media and anchors “fraud codes” is particularly common in recent years.

How common is it? There is no way to give you a global and accurate data like the analysis agency, but there are many side cases that can be corroborated.

For example, Emily Morganti, who is responsible for handling public relations issues for “Silver Lotus Park”, believes that distinguishing whether someone is a scam has become one of the routine tasks, just like cleaning up the “weeds” in the garden. Once a game was launched only 8 days ago, she received 34 scam emails.

Gwenna·l Arbona, the author of “Helium Rain”, also said that he has already met “hundreds and thousands” of scammers. Perhaps you can also flip through Google’s entry about “Steam Key Scammer” (Steam Key Scammer). There are about ten pages with very relevant content.

Domestic practitioners gave me similar feedback. Almost all of them have come into contact with or heard about scam codes. For example, an employee of a well-known publisher mentioned: “In reality, many emails we receive are obviously sent by mechanical groups. …Especially overseas, we receive similar emails every day.”

And I have to say that some deceptions are indeed more cunning.

How to cheat

The so-called scam code should have the closest relationship with Steam. One is because any developer using this platform can create an unlimited number of 15-digit activation codes and distribute them to anyone. The second is that there is a huge and complete third-party resale platform around the Steam activation code. There are certain domestic treasures everywhere, and G2A is one of the more notorious overseas, which will be explained in more detail later.

In contrast, fraud and reselling console game activation codes are much less common. I personally think that Steam’s policy is relatively loose, acquiescing vendor distribution, and the host platform will be much stricter. For example, if it involves the activation code of the Switch game, each region is not the same. Although the platform will assign some codes to the developer by default, the application may have to pay and there is a cost.

The author of “NeonXSZ” realized the problem of fraudulent codes five years ago. Take this game as an example. Before the game was released, he kept receiving letters from “big anchors” and “media websites”. When the game was officially available for purchase, the number of emails tripled.

Frankly speaking, “NeonXSZ” is definitely not a popular work. There are only 82 reviews on Steam so far, which makes it difficult to attract so many members of the public.


One of the most stupid scams, you can refer to this email:

“Hello, my name is Alex, a Russian anchor. I am very interested in “NeonXSZ” and want to record a video review or something, can you send me a few Steam activation codes (more than 3)? Thank you . This is my channel:”

At first glance, Eligorko is indeed a Russian anchor with more than 700,000 subscribers, but the author of “NeonXSZ” was careful and found that the email was not correct. He later received six more messages with the same content, but changed the addresses of several YouTube channels. In fact, it can be vaguely seen that the scammers have pulled a game release table, and then cast the net.

The prerequisite for this is usually that there is a set of programs that automatically send spam messages, only a few keywords in the form need to be changed, and it is mainly for small and medium developers who don’t have so many resources for publicity.

For example, the producer of “Tibetan Dream” gave me the answer: “If it feels more true, we will give the code. For us, if it is possible to help us propagate, we must still be willing.”

Regarding impersonation as a host, the marketing manager of Zoink Games believes that the most difficult thing to tell is that scammers actually open video channels. They will decorate the homepage and release some game-related videos. For some independent developers, even if the anchor does not have many fans and the video playback volume is not high, they are happy to share the activation code with people who are willing to seriously evaluate their games. Caused to be taken advantage of.

From another perspective, the tricks of scammers posing as media are not much different. When the author of “Jack B. Nimble” launched the game on Steam, he received a letter from the editorial team claiming to be the Russian website KG-Portal and asked for a review. As a result, when I checked on someone else’s website, I found out that all the official contact information in the profile did not match the email address.

However, it is sometimes not safe to tell the truth from the website. The steam power community once exposed a leather website called GameClo, and their Twitter account showed a trace of ominous signs.

GameClo Mystery General’s Chinese Introduction

Follow the link and take a look, you will find that the whole article is a “review” of the Chinese machine.

Reviews from GameClo

This kind of website usually has two purposes, either to attract traffic by piling up keywords, and then to make money with advertising. Or it is to cheat code from game developers who do not understand Chinese in the name of “Chinese game website”.

GameClo is obviously the latter. When they cheated, they advertised themselves as “one of the representatives of China’s online resources”, and “the Chinese people are particularly grateful for our feedback”, and their tone is extremely arrogant. A little inspection can reveal that the website address is from Jacksonville, Florida, an office building located on an empty highway.

This office building is publicly leased, and it is impossible to locate a liar

The owner of GameClo probably scammed from 2016 to 2018, and then the domain name of the website was transferred to the pheasant betting company, and has not done anything good.

Here I have to clarify the practices of formal media and institutions. We, including us, are generally more restrained when applying for activation codes from developers. If the purpose is only to produce an evaluation, then usually they will not ask for multiple activation codes. Of course, some developers and publishers sometimes provide 5-6 activation codes at a time. In this case, we will transfer them to players through topics and sweepstakes.

The salary paid to the editor for the content produced by the media, the author’s contribution fee, and the associated brand and advertising value are probably much higher than the price of a few activation codes.

Fancy cheating

The straightforward imitation of anchors and game media now seems to be quite naive. The identity of a liar can sometimes be varied and more complicated, and even comes with a touching background story.

Verdin is a person with multiple identities. In the past, he used the names of “BattlefieldAxe”, “Airo95”, “RaphaAaron” and “James Rodriguez” to portray himself as a team member of EA, Square Enix, Bethesda or PlayStation UK.

Verdin disguised as a PlayStation UK developer

The key is that this set is still believed to be that small and medium-sized developers saw that a major manufacturer came to them, and gave the activation code with both hands without doing too much verification. It is said that Verdin also got 50 test codes for the “Friday the 13th” and “Battlefield” series of games. It seems that big factories sometimes get caught.

Because there were so many deceivers, real employees of several game companies later caught him. Becky Taylor, who used to be at Riot and 505 Games, was abused and blacked out for identifying Verdin. There are also Cat Karskens from Square Enix Europe, and Mike Futter from Bithell Games. They all posted on Twitter that Verdin is 100% a liar.

In some of the cases I have collected, some scammers claimed to work in Japanese game stores, while others said that they were unemployed and could not afford games and were almost begging.

Emily Morganti once encountered a liar with a particularly fancy package.

A person named Dmitry Tseptsov said that he opened a coffee shop in Ukraine. The store often held quizzes about video games and would give out activation codes as prizes to customers. But the cafe has only been open for three weeks, and a lot of money has been invested in the pre-renovation. I hope to get a few codes from the developers for free, and I will give them more publicity.

To deceive Dmitry Tseptsov, he can say that he has done enough work

In order to prove his innocence, he made fake drink cups and overalls, attached photos of the beauty shop assistants, and returned pictures on Twitter, saying that the game activation code was printed as a card, and his attitude was extremely sincere.

However, someone still found a loophole-why is the card is all in English, and it is said to open a shop in Ukraine? Then people realized that the location of the store was not right, how to locate a wasteland in Ukraine? The truth is that all of Tseptsov’s materials have plagiarized the design of the “Boroda Drink” cafe, and the “real shop” has nothing to do with him. It has been in business for a long time.

Why cheated

You may be surprised if it’s just a cheat code to play the game, as for? The energy invested is also a lot.

In order to find out what the scammers are thinking, Vladimir Slav, the author of “Sky Merchant”, replied to about 20 scam emails. In his message, he said: I will not comment on your behavior, just curious about how much the scam code can benefit. .

Let me start with the conclusion-most scammers have no moral burden. They think that developers can generate activation codes “for free” and treat this behavior as entertainment. And if enough time is invested, the scam can indeed become a full-time job.

One of them replied: “This is a hobby for me. I like collecting games. We have no money. My friend suggested that.”

Another email directly mentioned the issue of revenue:

“The purpose of entertainment and making money is 50-50. The fraudulent code can really bring me a lot of money. This is not my main source of income, because I have a YouTube channel that publishes videos and dubbing content, and I also have a Steam appreciative. Home team. This is just a way for me to raise money for serious projects. I also have some original content being planned on Twitch. In short: I also want to get out as soon as possible and shift my energy to serious projects before the end of the year. “

“I know a person who immigrated with money from a scam code. He is doing well now because this is his main source of income. If you send spam to a large number of people from 3 to 5 sources, you can get a lot of money. Activation code. From my own experience, 400 to 600 euros is an average monthly income. If you work harder, 1,000 euros a month is absolutely no problem.”

Although there are various reasons, the defrauded activation code must “sell the stolen goods”, and it is usually inseparable from the G2A platform. The price of games on this platform is generally lower than the original price on Steam or even discounted. Some of the sources are generated by the developers for promotion. Some are from charity packages such as Humble Bundle, and some are more gray. “Black codes” derived from fraudulent codes and fraudulent use of credit cards.

Cheap games on G2A

The fundamental reason is that G2A’s review of the identity of the seller and the source of the goods is insufficient or inadequate. Although they have been improving their services in recent years and imposing fines and bans on irregular businesses, scammers can start all over again by changing their accounts.

Perhaps some people will focus on the “free” issue: Anyway, there is no money to generate the activation code, where is the developer’s loss?

In fact, this is a relatively one-sided idea, and the most direct impact is “consumers buy low, not high.”

Imagine that if there is a cheap black code to buy on G2A, the player will definitely not start the game on Steam at the original price without knowing it.

Although the number of fraudulent codes for a single game is only a small part, once the same product with extremely low prices appears on the resale platform, the brand impression and sales rhythm will be greatly affected.

For example, if you have seen the 90% OFF “October Traveler” black code at 40.2 yuan in G2A, you will definitely have a “preset discount” for this game. Even if the official activities are reduced to 201 yuan by 50% OFF, players will think that it is not worth it now.

This is why many developers must strictly control the frequency of discounts and the extent of price reductions, until the end of the life cycle will squeeze out the residual value of the content in the form of “charity packs” or actively put into G2A.

Pawel Miechowski of 11 bit studio believes that a small discount should be offered at the initial release stage of the game, and then larger promotional activities should be gradually promoted.

Mike Roes of No More Robots also pointed out that giving a 40% discount to the game three months after its release is a bad idea, and it will devalue the game in the long run: “I think implementing large discounts too quickly will kill a game… …We usually offer a 10% discount for the first launch, and a 20% discount for the first big sale.”

Valve business Tom Giardino summarized this: “In any case, when formulating pricing and discount strategies, we must take into account the long-term impression of customers and products.”

One of the scammers’ reply to Vladimir Slav happened to be the point:

“Publishers and developers with self-esteem do not want to cooperate with G2A, but legal activation codes cannot compete with black codes, because scammers can sell games at infinitely low prices and make money. These resale platforms must be open and honest to combat counterfeiting Activation code dealer.”

TinyBuild once claimed that G2A had caused it to suffer five times the loss of genuine sales; major broadcasters, leading companies and Gearbox all refused to cooperate with them due to word-of-mouth considerations; the most interesting is the founder of the publisher No More Robots, who said ” I would rather players go for pirated copies than they would buy codes from G2A.”

Because he found the activation code of his game, it was quietly moved to G2A for resale by Erdao dealers. Because it was full of “black codes” obtained from stolen credit cards, he couldn’t get any sales share at all. However, the credit card company followed the vine, but found the game author and pestered them to demand fines.

The author of “Helium Rain” Gwenna·l Arbona also did an experiment, deliberately giving the activation code to the scammer, and then found that his game was immediately available on the resale site Kinguin. I bought it and compared it, and it was indeed the code just given. The evidence is conclusive.

From the receipt, the seller’s account name is Zefir, and there are 850 user reviews. If calculated according to the “number of evaluations: number of purchases” of 1:50, he may have sold more than 40,000 activation codes. If each code counts as $10, that would be more than $400,000 in no-cost income.

Everyone cheated

Just as the author will be questioned by the developer, the consequences of fraudulent codes are not only economic losses, but a crisis of trust covering the entire game industry, which will also be reflected in the players in the end.

An executive of the publishing company Gamera said to me: “I have received emails from some well-known studios before, and I have confirmed whether it is fake for a long time.”

The business of “Shadow Torch City” also mentioned: “When sending emails to overseas friends, I wonder if others will treat me as a liar.”

In order to prevent being deceived, someone compiled a cheat information form

If email scam codes are pure scams, then Steam connoisseurs currently also include a more controversial mechanism.

For those who don’t know it, Steam connoisseurs can be regarded as KOLs on Weibo and Zhihuli, and they can receive activation codes from the developers through the platform system. As feedback, as long as you get the code, morally, you should leave a comment on the Steam page of those games. It was originally a mechanism for discovering excellent small and medium-sized games.

VGtime’s connoisseur page, of course we will not cheat codes

However, many Steam connoisseurs are not very responsible for the processing of activation codes. The evaluations produced can be described inexplicably, either the text is not correct, or the game is indiscriminately negative after a few minutes of playing – this can of course be regarded as a “tradition” .

In theory, the activation code of the connoisseur team cannot be linked to other platforms for resale, but the authorized group members can directly receive the “own library”, so it is difficult to say what transactions are made between the team manager and the group members. , Is this also another form of “cheat code”?

For a certain issuer who did not want to be named, this is a more difficult problem to define:

“Because now many Steam connoisseurs and self-media will come over and ask you for a code, and then write a review, but the quality may not be guaranteed… Some are really watery, or you can’t judge whether his content has any Look. The most funny thing is that we received an email from a Chinese connoisseur for a domestic game, and the whole article was in Chinese and English. When I read it, I found it very strange.

In our previous games, sometimes you can see some bad reviews with codes just after the game is released, and the content of the reviews is also very mysterious, not like the media. Although there is no evidence, I suspect that it was given to some connoisseurs and then sent out casually. “

A typical invalid connoisseur review on Steam

Emily Morganti, who is engaged in public relations, is obviously affected by the crisis of trust. At first, he would distribute game activation codes to websites and freelancers of any size. But now he is suspicious, especially in recent years, there have been more and more cases of scam codes.

The Steam code generation mechanism, including the design of connoisseurs and player communities, is to give small and medium-sized developers more opportunities to promote the game. It also benefits those players who want to play the game early or for free. The original intention is good. The deception code is equivalent to a small number of people invading the public interest for personal gain. If some developers have publicly boycotted the resale platform, they have to buy their activation codes that are significantly lower than the normal price. Maybe Steam will eventually be because of this. Tighten policies.

On the other hand, the appraisal system of connoisseurs is also likely to be affected by fraudulent codes, leading to more and more distortions and spam content, which will also influence players’ judgments on the game.

From the developer’s point of view, not only did they fail to obtain the expected exposure opportunities, they also had to compete with low-priced games on the resale platform; for players, they lost a healthy community that could communicate closely with game makers. In general, we may all pay the price for “deception”.

Reference materials:

Scam Key Requests on Steam: Who Hides Behind Fake Emails

The anatomy of a game-key scam

Inside the incredibly shady world of game key scammers

People Keep Trying To Scam Their Way Into Free Video Games

Author: Box
Source: VGtime


Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *