TinyBuild Gain Nothing from $450K of Games Sold on G2A
We gamers like to shop around, there's no denying that. I'm as much of a culprit as anybody when it comes to that, looking for the lowest prices. Of course, it's hard to see as a consumer that there's a loser in the chain somewhere. Surely, you'd think, the developer or publisher of the game will get some money from the sale. It's not always as simple as it seems. Shops like Green Man Gaming, GamersGate, GamesRocket, they're all legitimate key resellers who've bought the keys from the developers.
In comes TinyBuild, the developers of No Time To Explain and publishers of games like Lovely Planet, Divide By Sheep and Punch Club. The problem for tinyBuild is that they've lost out on close to half a million dollars due to one key reseller, an illegitimate reseller, called G2A.
Who are G2A?
Think of G2A as the Ebay of digital games. We've all had spare keys due to the mass number of bundles around. I once had a spreadsheet (I actually made an excel sheet) with over three-hundred games on it. This is where G2A comes in. Instead of giving away these keys, why not sell them? First, you get rid of the unwanted or un-needed keys and second, you can potentially make a huge profit. This is where the issue comes in, as people have undoubtedly realized this can be done and as such, happily obtained a large number of keys through underhanded means.
Buying the keys on a bundle isn't exactly underhanded, we know that much. The issue comes when it's related to real crimes, something that G2A and its rival, Kinguin, have been linked with in the past. The companies themselves commit no crimes, it comes when games have been bought with stolen credit or debit cards.
tinyBuild's Alex Nichiporchik himself describes it himself in an email:
The basic idea is a novel one - with the abundance of game keys spread through bundles, odds are you'd want to sell off keys for games you don't really want, and make a few bucks when doing so.
So it's pretty simple for sellers:
- Get a game key from a bundle
- Sell it on G2A
- Make a couple of dollars
Meanwhile the consumers get a really good price on games.
The problem is that this business model is fundamentally flawed and facilitates a black market economy. I've spoken to a merchant on G2A about how he's making $3-4k a month, and he outlined the core business model:
- Get ahold of a database of stolen credit cards on the darkweb
- Go to a bundle/3rd party key reseller and buy a ton of game keys
- Put them up onto G2A and sell them at half the retail price
What proves that the accusation isn't completely unfounded is that In 2015 Ubisoft revoked a number of keys that were bought from G2A and Kinguin after being sourced to illegal transactions made using stolen card details. People who bought these keys from the sites and had their games revoked had their copies returned to them, though it brought to light the inherent problem with this sort of sites.
The Financial Impact
Edit: I'm placing below a further quote from Alex to rectify some confusion on the source of these keys
I've been dismissing the issue for a long time. Sure, a few game keys leak here and there - nothing major. For a few months we supported our own little store on tinyBuild.com - just so we can give some discounts to our fans, and do creative giveaways that'd include scavenging for codes.
The shop collapsed when we started to get hit by chargebacks. I'd start seeing thousands of transactions, and our payment provider would shut us down within days. Moments later you'd see G2A being populated by cheap keys of games we had just sold on our shop.
$450,000 is no small amount and this is just the simple damage Alex reported from three games. In emails to and from G2A, who were attempting to get tinyBuild to work directly with them, Alex found out that just over 26,000 keys from three games had been sold on the site. The sales on G2A amounted to a little under $200,000 with no compensation to tinyBuild. The retail pricing of those games is equal to the $450,000.
A table that Alex posted, which I will copy below, shows the figures and the response from G2A when he questioned the source of the keys and of the possibility of compensation:
|G2A Pricing||Retail Pricing|
|total EUR||171,460.64||total EUR||391,479.42|
|total USD||$197,179.74||total USD||$450,201.33|
With this information in hand, my obvious question was where did the keys come from, and can we get compensation for that?
Here's the reply I got.
"So the issue you have pointed to is related to keys you have already sold. They are your partners that have sold the keys on G2A, which they purchased directly from you. If anything this should give you an idea on the reach that G2A has, instead of your partners selling here you could do that directly.
I can tell you that no compensation will be given. If you suspect that these codes where all chargebacks aka fraud/stolen credit card purchases I would be happy to look into that however I will say this requires tinyBuild to want to work with G2A. Both in that you need to revoke the keys you will be claiming as stolen from the players who now own them and supply myself with the codes you suspect being a part of this. We will check to see if that is the case but I doubt that codes with such large numbers would be that way.
Honestly I think you will be surprised in that it is not fraud, but your resale partners doing what they do best, selling keys. They just happen to be selling them on G2A. It is also worth pointing out that we do not take a share of these prices, our part comes from the kickback our payment providers."
The result is that G2A are attempting to get tinyBuild to work with them by claiming that authorized resellers are outright scamming them, but also stating that no help will be given until tinyBuild acquiesce to giving G2A a list of codes that TinyBuild suspect were fraudulently obtained, but also leaving the whole thing in G2A's hands.
The result is that tinyBuild can't find out where these unauthorized keys were sourced from. They won't get any money from over 26,000 copies of their games sold. There's also no way to deactivate the keys that G2A have sold and still have for sale as that would require the specific key. The alternative is to block complete batches of the games which would result in significant collateral damage to legitimate customers.
Make of this as you will, but I've got no problem in giving my opinion. If a deal seems too good to be true, it usually is. You may be getting your copy cheap, but who suffered for you to get that? Stolen cards. Chargebacks on legitimate sites. Somebody, somewhere, has lost out.
Unfortunately, a DDOS attack occured against tinyBuild within an hour of them posting this news on their blog. Fortunately, a number of sites are happy to supply you with the news. I've reached out to G2A for a comment and will update if one is received.