Earlier this month, at Game Developers Conference 2017, an employee from the G2A game key marketplace confronted a game developer during a panel, creating a very awkward scene. It was the latest chapter in G2A's effort to clear its name of fraud and money laundering accusations.
The feud begins with G2A and developer and publisher Tiny Build, whose CEO, Alex Nichiporchik, accused G2A of selling $450,000 worth of their games without their knowledge, and that some of the keys were bought with stolen credit cards. G2A's own CEO vehemently denied this last summer, but the allegations seem to have stuck.
Moments before a G2A sales specialist approached a microphone to castigate Nichiporchik and other panelists, Matthew Cook, co-founder of Panopticon Laboratories, whose company provides cybersecurity for the games industry, effectively accused G2A of encouraging criminal activity.
“From our perspective,” Cook said, “all of these [credit card fraud] schemes only have payouts because there’s a market for them.”
It’s a narrative that Mirek, and G2A itself, reject.
“You can easily look at eBay or Amazon or another marketplace,” Mirek told Polygon after the panel. “Fraud is a part of any other marketplace. But we [at G2A] do not contribute to it. In fact, we monitor the marketplace very closely. And you know what, you don’t have to ask my opinion. You can ask the 100 developers that work with us.”
And so we did.
Polygon reached out to a selection of the partners that are listed as having enrolled in G2A Direct, the new program that allows developers and publisher to sell direct to consumers through the G2A marketplace. We wanted to know why they elected to sign on to the program, and what their experience has been like so far.
We’ll get to their answers, but first a bit of background.
One of the outcomes of last summer’s spat between Tiny Build and G2A was the announcement that the game key marketplace would enhance its security measures. It also fast-tracked a process for partnering with developers and publishers called G2A Direct.
That opt-in program is now in full swing. Here’s how it works.
Developers and publishers who elect to enroll in G2A Direct are able to open up their own reseller accounts, and get a number of quality-of-life features like a dedicated account manager for their trouble.
They then receive priority listing on their game’s key sales page.
In the above example, you can see that the developers who made Superhot are selling a Steam key for their own game on G2A for $24.74. That’s a savings of 25 cents off the Steam price.
Of course, a reseller named “mg_entertainment_net” is selling the same Steam key for $8.88, which G2A helpfully lists as the lowest, and therefore “best” price. That seller has thousands of successful transactions, the majority of which have been rated positively by consumers. But we were unable to verify who they are or where their game keys come from. Par for the course when using G2A and other similar services.
In addition to competing with other resellers openly, G2A Direct gives developers the option of charging every reseller a 10 percent “Developer Fee” when their games get sold. Those who do not opt into the G2A Direct program are not able to charge that fee.
Finally, G2A Direct promises access to the “G2A Database to see if a key is currently listed on G2A or has been previously sold on G2A.” It is, in effect, a way for developers to verify the provenance of every one of their game keys that’s gone up for sale by other resellers on G2A. Again, those who do not opt into the program do not have direct access to this database.
Currently there are, as Mirek said, more than 100 developers and publishers who have opted into the G2A Direct program. The majority of them are unlikely to be familiar to you, as they’re mostly smaller organizations. Polygon recognized only a handful and reached out to eight of them. Four of those responded, but only three answered our questions in time to be included in this article.
The survey was simple. We wanted to know why they entered into the G2A Direct program, what the perceived benefits were and how sales were going.
Raghav Mathur, founder of Black Shell Media, says he actually came to the platform because he felt he had no other options.
“The main reason we partnered with G2A was because we tried — unsuccessfully — to get our games unlisted from the platform,” he told Polygon. “Legal measures did not lead to anything since the company is overseas [Editor’s note: G2A is a Hong Kong registered company] and they are such a giant company that I'm sure they would have some loophole that makes it all legal.
“However, by selling on their platform, we are able to reach a new audience (albeit with less profit) and also receive a percentage of the royalties made when someone resells our keys. Yeah, it sucks when someone takes a free key from a bundle/YouTuber blast and tries to sell it, but now at least we get a little share of the money they're making.”
“We treat them as any other online store,” wrote Leszek Lisowski, owner of Wastelands Interactive. “If setting up the account is quite easy, I don’t see a reason why not to put our games in there.” He went on the stress that G2A provides his company an added bit of visibility. Sales are “marginal” compared to Steam.
The team behind indie hit Superhot was a bit more positive on the program, and pointed to goodwill earned by G2A in Superhot Team’s early days.
“We found ourselves in touch with G2A ages ago,” said co-founder Tomasz Kaczmarczyk, “before we actually released Superhot. An early alpha version of the game got us nominated for an award at the Taipei Game Show. We were working on a tight budget and an even tighter timeline, so splurging on a trip to Taiwan was not really an option for us.
“The folks at G2A approached us and offered to take care of showing the game since they were mounting a trip to the show for Polish indie devs anyway. They were helpful, friendly and nothing exploded, so when we got approached again a year later about signing up for G2A Direct, we had no reason not to.”
But do people actually buy from the Superhot team when their codes clearly cost more than other, nearly anonymous resellers on the marketplace?
“They generally don’t,” Kaczmarczyk said. Sales through G2A Direct represent only a “tiny sliver” of his game’s sales.
So far, his team has exactly two favorable reviews from paying G2A customers.
But, he emphasized that G2A Direct is one of many “honest efforts to clean up their act and get onto the industry's good side.”
None of the developers who responded said they had made use of the G2A Database code lookup feature. All three said that was because they didn’t have reason to suspect that large quantities of their games had been obtained fraudulently, so there was no impetus to dig around looking for trouble.
“I don’t have any problem with our games being sold with a lower price,” said Lisowski. “Somebody has bought them somewhere, so we already received our share for that sale.”
In the end, everyone we talked to seemed to agree that secondary marketplaces like G2A are here to stay.
“Resale markets aren't going anywhere for as long as the industry operates on Steam keys,” Kaczmarczyk said. “Legitimate or not, they will remain a fact of life, just as piracy is a fact of life and you generally have little to say about how your game is peddled on torrents. Best timeline, we end up with a few G2A-like businesses which actually clean up their act and play fair with devs and publishers, while maintaining a position in the market strong enough to make new, unregulated marketplaces unlikely to break through.”