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:
- 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.
- 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).
- Scammer sell those keys on various sites -> Profit.
- 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.
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.
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.
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?