In a response sent out to all media this morning, the key reselling website G2A has added its two cents to the debacle surrounding Gearbox and Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition, alleging that Gearbox publicly issued a list of demands about the secondary marketplace as a knee-jerk response to public criticism.
In the media blast, the site argued that Gearbox "unfortunately decided to publicly publish a letter" of ultimatums following "a few negative reactions from some YouTubers, and in particular from John 'TotalBiscuit' Bain" without consulting them first. "This is an excellent example that rash actions, without full knowledge of the facts, can be harmful to both the developer and the marketplace," they added.
The statement goes on to say that while G2A believes its critics are doing so from a position of good faith, it feels that it has already met the terms and conditions demanded by TotalBiscuit and Gearbox. "The best proof of this are the four ultimatums formulated in part by John Bain, which, it turns out that were completely unnecessary as all of the issues raised have long been a part of the G2A.COM marketplace," G2A wrote.
"Most of the allegations levied against us are based on both a lack of knowledge, and a lack of desire to learn the other side of the story. The best example of this is quoting false and defamatory statements while ignoring the facts."
But while G2A argued that "all of the issues raised have long been a part" of the site, the statement also set out a series of points in which it refused to concede to developers, or anyone else:
- G2A's fraud protection service will not be free: Part of Gearbox's demands was that G2A Shield, a subscription or per-purchase deal that offers buyers access to 24/7 support, be made free to all users. G2A argued that "G2A Shield is very well-priced given the benefits it offers", but the main difference between buyers with G2A Shield and those without are instant access to live chat with G2A's customer support team. Without that, buyers are required to write a message to an arbitration-like service within G2A. A support ticket is raised, and customer staff then investigate the issue which G2A's statement says is "typically" resolved "in a matter of hours".
The sales pitch is that every buyer on G2A is protected, but buying G2A Shield is for a matter of "immense convenience and comfort", as well as other ancillary offers.
- G2A won't give developers more access to their database without signing an agreement: One of the longest standing complaints against G2A is that it acts as a brokerage of sorts for stolen game keys, and that those keys are often sold at a profit to legitimate parties while developers and publishers are forced to deal with the financial consequences of being hit by credit card chargebacks.
G2A's statement didn't touch on this element of the fraud, but they argued that despite TotalBiscuit and Gearbox's claims, they "currently [cooperate] with all interested developers to ensure only legally acquired keys are sold - without any contracts and, more importantly, without any fees". The trick is that developers have to is "provide evidence that the keys that they want to block have been illegally acquired (this evidence can be, for example, a report from a financial institution)".
Developers that want to independently verify things against G2A's database will have to sign an agreement with G2A directly. The statement doesn't outline what obligations developers are required to meet, and the official landing page doesn't outline and terms and conditions bar some of the benefits (like a 10.8% commission, product positioning, and other basics).
As far as G2A sees it, the latest round of criticism against it is a war on consumers. "The problem is that some developers do not want to accept that people resell their games. The developers would like to control the market and all the sales channels within it, imposing higher prices and prohibiting the resale of unused games," the marketplace argues.
And that's a sticking point that seems unlikely to be resolved, or at least one that will allow G2A to continue operating. Governments around the world have defended consumers' rights to resell games before, despite attempts from publishers and platform holders to lock the practice down.
The problem is that leaves the door wide open for fraudulent trading as well. G2A complained that it is being pitched as an "intermediary in selling illegally acquired keys", but the reality is that developers and publishers, particularly smaller ones like tinyBuild, can still take a financial hit no matter how fast G2A acts.
One of the largest differences in today's world of gaming is the way digital marketplaces have flourished and made the market more accessible for developers and gamers over the last ten years. But it's also opened up a whole lot of grey areas, opportunities that third-party vendors have used to flourish. Some of those opportunities, however, can come at the developers' expense.
Unknown Worlds Entertainment, the creators of Natural Selection 2, outlined on their blog an example of how this happens. "Recently we asked Valve to deactivate 1,341 Steam keys that were purchased through our website," they wrote, noting the keys were "purchased with credit cards where the card-holder initiated a 'chargeback'".
Chargebacks are a mechanism designed to allow people to stop fraudulent transactions on their credit cards, in case they get lost or stolen. The owner of the credit card has the charge rescinded, at no cost to them. The merchant who was party to the transaction, however, receives a fee from the bank who issued the credit card.
In the case of Natural Selection 2, that fee was around $US30,000. But while the developer not only a) gets no profit and b) takes a hit by paying back the fee to the card issuer, that doesn't stop the game key from being fenced on secondary marketplaces.
Developers can flag the issue with those marketplaces, but they incur a financial penalty for doing so. And as Ubisoft discovered when they tried to crack down on key resellers, they will also cop a massive backlash from customers who believed they were buying a legitimate product (albeit cheaper). It's less complicated to let the matter slide, but that also lends rise to scammers who can often sell the keys sent to their email much faster than the time it takes for a chargeback investigation to complete.
MangaGamer, a localiser of adult visual novels, wanted to reward customers who'd bought games through their website with free Steam keys. Two years into the promotion, a hacker allegedly used stolen credit cards to fraudulently buy hundreds of games. The scam cost MangaGamer tens of thousands of dollars. Why'd the hacker do it? To sell keys on the controversial marketplace G2A.