People Are Claiming To Be Popular YouTubers To Get Free Games

People Are Claiming To Be Popular YouTubers To Get Free Games

When Wastelands Interactive head Leszek Lisowski found a Steam key he thought he’d given to a successful YouTuber on a resale site, he knew something was wrong.

Lisowski, whose company recently brought Worlds of Magic to Steam Early Access, wrote on Gamasutra about being ripped off by people claiming to be popular YouTubers. Under normal circumstances, game creators are happy to hand out codes to press and YouTubers. Their game gets publicity, the critics gets something to critique — everybody wins. In theory.

The tactic Lisowski described is apparently not uncommon. He explained that over the course of Worlds of Magic‘s release week he received requests from tens of people claiming to be at least marginally successful YouTubers, and he thought nothing of it. However, he then found a listing of the game (with an undercut price, no less) on, a popular resale site. Curious about the price discrepancy, he bought a key himself and discovered it was one he’d sent out to an alleged YouTuber.

Why hadn’t he noticed people were tricking him, especially when he thought he’d been relatively careful? The short version is, he got bait-and-switched:

“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.”

A slight change, in other words. If a game creator is frantically skimming emails because, say, they’re busy dealing with all the other rigors of a stressful game launch week, it’s super easy to miss.

Lisowski began requiring confirmations from alleged YouTubers — proof that they were who they claimed to be. Of 20 additional requests, only two were actually able to verify that they weren’t conniving villains trying to tie the system to a set of train tracks. Two.

“So, as it turned out,” Lisowski wrote, “roughly 70% of the keys we had given out were taken under false pretenses, or to use a more direct term, stolen. It left us asking ourselves: Were we really so blind and naive?”

That really worried Lisowski, so he decided to test just how far the “I’m a YouTuber” claim could carry him with other developers. The results of his experiment — wherein he took an email a rip-off artist sent him and modified it slightly — were not encouraging.

“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).”

“Allow me to underline this: I spent 3 hours sending out emails to almost 50 developers simply asking them for a Steam key, claiming that I was a youtuber with 50k subscribers. In return, I received Steam keys worth over 400 USD. This means I could have theoretically made close to 150 bucks an hour.”

And that was with a super slipshod attempt and only one request per developer.

Lisowski went on to share even more unsettling stats. For instance, many of these fakers request multiple keys and then do so again under different aliases. “In the end,” he wrote,” they may sell 10 or 20 copies of a game at half price.” That adds up, and it makes diehard fans upset.

Now, if it isn’t already obvious, YOU SHOULD NOT TRY THIS. IT IS A BAD THING DONE BY BAD PEOPLE. It does, however, highlight how easy it is to claim to be somebody in the modern age, both in the sense of stealing an identity and saying you’re a Somebody simply by throwing around words like YouTuber, press, or reviewer. In all cases, greater scrutiny is necessary.

In the end, Lisowski returned the Steam keys he got during his experiment and advised game creators to use YouTube’s built-in messaging system instead of only relying on email. However, that doesn’t mean the giant sticky fingered beast is slain. “So far, I’ve been contacted with few of the developers [I ran the experiment on],” he wrote. “It seems they felt that keys were often taken under false pretenses.”

The moral of the story? Game creators need to be more careful when they send out copies of their games. A lot of people in this world would very much like to have free games for various reasons, and some of them are absolutely willing to lie and deceive — emailing with shifty eyes and forked tongues — in order to pull off their little heists. This hurts game creators and ultimately, when it all comes back around, game fans. It sucks. Stay vigilant, folks.

And everyone, if you think something is fishy, don’t hesitate to get in touch with the creators of your favourite games. Many of them would appreciate the help, I’m sure.


    • I think I have maybe 2 followers for my 4 videos…we’re internet celebrities me and you

      • I’ve written hundreds of things for websites like Kotaku. I mean nobody ever asked me to and they’re all in the comment section…

    • One of my StarCraft 2 videos got 2.5K views! Gimme Legacy of the Void when it comes out please.

  • Heh, I have a single video with 150k views. I got two followers as a result. Gimme all the keys!

    • Most of them were gmail accounts and had a single letter or number difference between the email name and the youtube channel name.
      The channel will check out. The email just looks like it’s associated with the channel.

      • Well, that’s what I get for not reading the article. Thanks for the explanation, I’ll read it later.

        • He didn’t properly read the email address, you didn’t properly read the article. We all make mistakes 🙂

  • Also, why not give a chance to those small Youtube channels that actually put out good content? Everyone starts out small, it would be cool if companies try and find potential talented Youtubers that will discuss their games in length and let the people see how their games are fun.

    • It sounds like the game developers do want to give the small YouTube channel owners a chance: the problem is with people impersonating those channel owners.

    • A lot of the time they do. I have a tiny Youtube channel, 45 subs, and everyone I reach out to for keys tends to respond positively. That being said, we typically reach out for smaller games and aren’t happy with the final result, but we still get the keys and are transparent with the developer.

      I think it’s the big dogs that don’t give keys to small channels

  • Well, that wasn’t so hard, reading the whole article didn’t even take 5 minutes.

    Anyway, I think moving forward, what Lisowski did was what should be done by game developers, especially by those really small game makers. By using Youtube’s own messaging system, they’ll be able to verify directly that an account is theirs, and it removes the extra step in part of the developer to verify if someone is who they claim to be. There shouldn’t be any burden on the game developer’s part as they are the ones being asked for keys.

    I think it’s sad that people try to get keys just to sell them to other people who think they are somehow supporting the game developers by buying a key, the fact that the price discrepancy alone is pretty big should have been a red flag and made the buyers think where do these keys come from. Unless of course they don’t care where it comes from as long as they get a game for cheap.

    It’s interesting to learn though that Youtubers actively seek out game developers for keys, I thought that unless you’re big you go buy the game yourself.

  • Tens of people over the course of one week! How will game creators cope with such an onslaught? And how will companies make money when potentially tens of people acquire a copy without paying?

    • I’m sure, in context, tens of people is a lot. Say you normally get 4-5 requests for a review code. Now, you’re suddenly getting tens of people. Only 10 people is a 100% increase.

    • If I was a game developer and I got one of these I’d now tell the scammer I sent the code directly to their You Tube account as a private message.

  • Do they have some automated response to steam key requests? maybe they get too many so just give keys out hoping it will help advertise the game, unfortunately its just people probably putting them up for sale rather than actually doing even a single peer review 🙁

  • If only small Content creators had a chance at this stuff I mean i only have 400 subs and 10k views but It would help both the Game dev and the Youtuber if they could help promote it.

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