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Indie developer stops issuing Steam codes over concerns of gray market fraud

Sales continue on Steam and DRM-free from the developer itself

Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Ludeon Studios has stopped issuing Steam keys for new purchases of their game amid concerns of credit card fraud related to gray market sales. While Rimworld is still for sale, both on Steam and from their own website, the studio says it will not be issuing Steam codes for purchases made through their web store for the foreseeable future.

The science fiction game Rimworld was released on Steam July 15. Ludeon's Tynan Sylvester told Polygon that prior to that date more than 120,000 copies of the game had been sold through its own website. As a benefit to previous customers, Ludeon created a Steam code generator so they could officially add the game to their Steam library at no additional charge.

Sylvester says that the tool allowed new customers who chose to purchase the game from Ludeon's online store to receive both a DRM-free copy of the game and a Steam code for their trouble. But, just hours after the game became available on Steam, Ludeon's store was simultaneously hit by a wave of what Sylvester said were clearly fraudulent transactions.

Rather than wait for that fraud to be reported by credit card holders — and for chargebacks to take money out of his bottom line — Sylvester chose to manually refund transactions he suspected were fraudulent and began the process of revoking related keys on Steam. Now, when sellers attempt to unload those keys on secondary marketplaces buyers will instead be receiving non-working keys.

Polygon has been able to find Rimworld on the secondary market for as little as $15. The game is currently available from the developer for $30 or more, and is still available directly from Steam for $29.99. But, as for giving out Steam codes from their own web store "it’s time to take a breather," Sylvester wrote on Ludeon's blog. "I can’t fight this ‘live’."

Chargebacks commonly occur when purchases are made with stolen credit cards. When the rightful owner of a credit card contacts their payment provider to report a card as stolen, payments can be reversed even after goods have gone out the door. Sylvester credits indie developer Tiny Build, whose recent public feud with online games marketplace G2A brought the risk of chargebacks to his attention. Sylvester says that it has allowed his studio to be proactive, and head this issue off at the pass rather than suffer losses on the back end.

"All the stolen keys are being cancelled," Sylvester wrote, "and should be deactivated before they can be sold (or soon after, depending on how fast Valve does it). The funds they were stolen with are being returned to their rightful owners. If you don’t want to get ripped off by fraudsters, be sure to buy direct from Steam."

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