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Want free copies of Steam games? Just say you're a YouTuber

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In the middle of releasing Worlds of Magic on Steam Early Access, fixing bugs and trying to promote the game, Leszek Lisowski of independent studio Wastelands Interactive did what most indie developers do when trying to get some publicity: gave out Steam codes. Lots of Steam codes. Many of those codes, it turns out, went to resellers.

In a blog post at Gamasutra, Lisowski details the problem. They sent codes to everyone who asked, and event sent some people two or three codes. There was no verification that these people worked in the media, nor did they follow up after the codes were sent out.

Lisowski later spied a thread where Steam users were claiming that the game was being sold for $15 on G2A.com. Lisowski investigated.

I went to the store and bought a key using my credit card. Then I discovered that the key was one of those sent out to youtubers. Initially I thought that the guy had taken three keys, kept one for himself and sold two of them (the account on G2A was from Bulgaria), but after I checked it was clear that the guy had received only one key... I took a deep breath and began to thoroughly check all the emails that had been sent to me. Most of them were gmail accounts and had a single letter or number difference between the email name and the youtube channel name. Sometimes it was some popular regional mailing domain (for eastern Europe mostly).

They went back to confirm that other folks claiming to be YouTubers were the real deal. They received five confirmations out of the 23 sent out.

To further prove the point Lisowski created a new gmail account and edited a message one of the fake YouTubers had sent them. They then sent it out to devs on the new releases and coming soon lists on Steam.

"I sent out 46 emails, which took me about two hours in total. In reply, I got 16 keys for 15 games (worth more than $400 USD)," they wrote. That's how easy it is.

In the current environment, where developers and publishers are courting YouTube personalities with enormous reach, folks are understandably reluctant to say no to a possible source of promotion. That's especially true for indies that may not have a dedicated marketing person to check sources, and that fear mixed with a lack of resources is being exploited by people looking for free games to dump on the secondary market.

Lisowski learned the hard way, but they had some words of wisdom going forward. "What's my advice? Use Youtube's built-in message system," they wrote. "It may not be great, but it will do the trick. It's as simple as that."