Game developers, scammers are on the run

Scam

Game developers are often victims to the huge number of scams which are always about getting free keys under the mask of media entity (Let’s players, reviewers, bloggers…). These keys are then sold on various pages like G2A or in my recent case, directly on Reddit.

Example of a normal procedure of a scammer:

  1. Sends and email to the game developer asking for a Steam key, pretending to own a YouTube channel with lots of subscribers. Sometimes that person adds a link to some random Let’s Player channel.
  2. Game Developer may or may not check the link / email of the sender and send that person a key (sometimes even more for a giveaway).
  3. Scammer sell those keys on various sites -> Profit.
  4. Game developer gets scammed.

Real example that happened to me recently:

I’ve got an email from the Let’s Player – TheKamikazeYT in a somewhat badly written english. He was asking for a Steam key to record a video + few more for a giveaway. The whole thing was a bit suspicious so I’ve made a normal validation check.

  • Channel had 68,297 subscribers
  • Email from the sender matched to the email on the channel page
  • Videos had views & comments

At that time that was enough for me to send that person some keys (1 + 2 to be precise).

One week later I’ve got another usual Google Alert report where was the “Courier of the Crypts” phrase used lately. One of the link lead me to the Reddit thread which you can see down below.

RedditThread

Very reasonable, low prices! Don’t be shy. Just ask! bigsmile  (someone wasn’t shy to scam at all!)

Courier of the Crypts was in there and the person was asking 6$ for it. At that moment I went through all the people in my head trying to connect the post with. I checked the name of the person who wrote that Reddit thread and it was no other than TheKamikazeYT (why would you pick a username by the name of the channel?).

I don’t know if I was sad or mad but I’ve made a deeper check before accusing him. His YouTube videos had all 301+ views which means they had to be watched a lot instantly. Most of the videos had around 1-6 comments which is nothing in comparison to 66k+ subscribers. I’ve made another check on his followers and all of them had only TheKamikazeYT videos under their likes. The conclusion is that his followers are all fake.

One of the many subscribers to the TheKamikazeYT channel.

One of the many subscribers to the TheKamikazeYT channel.

It’s time to blame him and spread the word. I’ve made a quick tweet telling others about that and I soon find out there are quite some of them who found their games on that list and more of them who got an email from that person. They were about to send him some keys as well but my warning stopped them and I’m glad. All the keys that I’ve sent to that person were shared on Twitter so he can’t sell any of them now.

I went further and shared that in Indie Game Developers group on Facebook as well. Next day, someone made a Reddit thread in the Kotaku in Action subreddit linking to the Tweet I posted about the scame and the response was amazing. Although the awarenes about that particular YouTuber was spread there are many more that scam developers daily and I’m really sad that we have to check all the emails into details.

RedditThread2

 

Some tips how to protect before scammers:

  • First step is to validate the sender of the email
    • Compare the email with the email written on the YouTube channel
    • If there is no email on the YouTube channel try to validate that person through the Tweet.
    • If there is no option to see if the sender is valid, don’t send the keys.
  • Check the channel
    • Is he doing videos of games similar to yours or is that person only playing Call of Duty?
    • If he YouTuber has high number of followers, check how many views / comments does the videos have.
    • Pick some random followers and check their profile. You can spot real followers by checking their likes – do they watch only a channel of the particular Youtuber?
  • OTHER OPTIONS:
    • Don’t send Steam key but DRM Free copy of a game or a key from some other Storefronts (Itch.io / Humble Store / IndieGameStand) – those don’t sell that good on black markets.
    • Do the picking! Find YouTubers and write them an email. That way you won’t have to mess around with validation checks.

There can be more types of scams, not just by YouTubers but also from bloggers, Steam group curators etc. Do a background check for every person that writes to you. Ask them questions if you have to. Those who really wants to write about your game will do anything it takes to play your game (even without Steam key).

If you find well dressed scammers tell other developers about them so they don’t get used like many others got already. I hope this article will help you in your further fights about scams.

What is your experience with scammers? How do you protect before them?

  • Wow, thanks a lot. I sent him a key some days ago.

    I just linked the key to my account (apparently I could, even though I already own my game :D)

    I looked at some of his videos and it looks legit, which is weird. I guess he owns a real channel but tries to sell some keys on the side…

    Another advice I’ll add to your list is “don’t send more than one key”. Another one might be okay for a giveaway but more than that is just a waste. Except of course if you know the youtuber/twitcher and already spoke to him/her on Skype or something. It always feels nice to help a channel you’re following ;)

    • I’m glad I could help. You’re one of many that were just about to send their keys :)

      Yeah, I won’t be sending extra keys in the future except to trusted sources that I know from before. One can hardly get something back from that.

  • Zanval

    I would be careful of giving away drm free copies before release. Done people will see this versions. Pirates could get a hold of it and you get a lot of mouth-to-mouth rating based on the unfinished version.
    Drm free should be used after release only. This way you can make sure that all testbuilds are auto updated.
    (Technically any pirate can copy it out of steam though.. Maybe just brand it very obviously as a test build)

    • That’s a really good tip. I found my game on Early Access pirate site and there it was, ready to download.
      I asked them to remove the game though but who knows where else can I find my game as well.

      One needs to be cautious.

  • Matic Leva

    This is disgusting and wrong. I’m a youtuber myself with the biggest gaming channel in country and it feels wrong to ask for keys. It probably benefits developer but just asking for a game under a pretense of advertising seems strange to me, because at the end I get a free game. Still I’ve done it a couple of times but nobody responded yet :P

    • Disgusting is the right word indeed. I guess people try to earn money in any way they can and with the gaming industry growing it’s very likely more and more people will try to earn money the wrong way.

      Btw. I didn’t get an email from you ;)