Key scamming and grey market key reselling is big business now. Capital B Big Business really. Just look at TinyBuild. This post isn’t about charge backs, or how any one company lost big money. Or how some asshole makes a few easy bucks. There’s lots of articles about those. This is about the little people swimming in the pool, the Indie Developers looking to get their game into Journalist, Streamers, and YouTubers hands (The Content Creators) who themselves want to grow their channels, get subscribers and play games. Unfortunately key scamming is like someone peed in the pool and now it’s just kind of gross for the rest of us trying to swim.
Indie Developers, especially people working solo, are their own marketing. And the rule of marking yourself and your game is pretty straight forward. If you want someone to review / stream / make a let’s play, then you have to give them a copy of the game. Most of the time you’re sending emails out with keys to your game and you ask very nicely for the recipient to take a look. You also hope that the recipient is honest enough to not turn around and sell that key.
Eventually something new shows up in your inbox. A person wants a key so they can play you game, generate views, and maybe even a sale. This, dear reader, is the Indie Dev’s holy grail. Free publicity.
Except most of the time it’s a dirty lie.
If the Indie Dev has done their homework, they know *about* key scamming. But if you’re not on Steam yet, you haven’t experienced the full brunt of it. It washes over your inbox. It had all kinds of Content Creators: websites, YouTubes, reviewers, group giveaways. It includes such delightfully obvious steaming turds such as this:
So what can an Indie Dev do? Here are Gord’s Commandments:
Thou shall give only one key away at a time
If someone emails you asking for more than one key, delete it. Now if you have a multiplayer game or something that needs multiple copies to function (Multiplayer Sci-Fi Bridge Simulator?) then adjust accordingly. A content creator doesn’t need multiple. They need exactly one. Anyone asking for a few is going to resell them.
Thou shall never participate in someone else’s giveaway
If someone emails you asking for lots of keys, or even a few, with the intention of running a giveaway, delete it. Those keys won’t get you sales. They won’t even get you views. They will probably be resold.
Thou shall always double check the sender’s email
Every email needs to be double checked. Even if they ask for one key, and give you a link to their site / stream / channel it’s up to you to verify it. Go to their website and check their contact info. Go to their YouTube and get their email address. If the email address don’t match, delete the email. firstname.lastname@example.org is not the same as Jane@meandyouplaygames.com.
Thou shall check out the channel
It’s pretty easy to make a fake channel. Look at the channel. I prefer to check out their videos rather than subscribers. I’ll give a key to a small channel that shows enthusiasm and wants to grown. Do they have recent uploads? Do they have a fair number of games covered? Does their interests coincide with your game? If they have subscribers but little to no uploads, don’t give them a key.
Thou shall tweet when in doubt
If the email looks legit, but you can’t verify the email or the channel looks fishy, see if you can contact them on social media.
Thou shall let it go
If the email looks legit, but you can’t verify the email and you can’t contact them through alternative means, you should just delete it. It’s ok. Let it go.
These rules aren’t perfect, but they get the job done.
Now, Content Creators, this is for you. You want views & subscribers. You want Indie Devs to give you free games. Indie Devs want to give you those free games but because of key scammers we want you to
PUT YOUR DAMN EMAIL ADDRESS ON YOUR WEBSITE / TWITTER / FACEBOOK / CHANNEL.