Let’s Talk About: TotalBiscuit Going To War With G2A And Why It’s Not Enough

I remember when I first heard about the website G2A; in an Arcade Block one month, I’d received a gift card for a whole $2! Seeing as there is little to nothing that one can do with $2, I didn’t consider this much of an incentive. Eventually, some months later, I took a look at the site, and wasn’t particularly impressed. Rather than a steam-like gaming market place it was an ebay-like site of resellers hocking game keys, not a bad idea in it’s own right, but the question remained, how can I be sure that these game keys are legitimate? As far as I could tell at the time, I no way of knowing if I were receiving a fake or claimed key until attempting to use it, and by then it was too late. At the time I didn’t even think to ask where these people got their keys from. Looking around the site there seemed to be no recourse for receiving a refund for a fraudulent product, unless you paid extra for a the G2A Shield “buyers insurance” with each key you purchased.

WHAT!?

The fact that I’m putting any money down at all should guarantee the authenticity of the product that I’m purchasing through G2A’s system, the fact that this is an optional extra, thoroughly concerned me. It was as though they knew there was a problem on their own systems, but rather than dealing with it, they were charging people to get a refund. At the time I simply left it at that. I wasn’t going to use the system, and I figured other people would be smart enough not to do so either.

Imagine my surprise when it became the fastest growing games market on the web, though I noticed they don’t include Steam in that graph.

The Declaration of War

Fast forward to the past couple of days. John “TotalBiscuit” Bain puts out a succinct and direct statement to G2A and GearBox via his Twitter account.

These tweet’s are by no means an over reaction. Nor are they what some might characterise as a power play. G2A’s practices are not without their casualties, with a number of independent developers and start up groups, nearly succumbing to the bad practices and fraudulent transactions made through G2A. As TotalBiscuit points out:

Companies such as Tinybuild have publicly stated that they have lost large sums of money this way. A lesser known incident with Unknown Worlds and Natural Selection 2 almost bankrupted the company. Small start-up digital retailers such as Indiegamestand had to shut down under the burden of credit card chargebacks. It is a serious issue, not one I take lightly and I felt that it was important to draw a line and take a stand on this issue, sending a message to publishers and developers that working with G2A is a mistake.

GearBox then approached TotalBiscuit and asked if he had any evidence for these claims, to which he presented GearBox with a number of sources, and evidence he had collated. GearBox then approached TotalBiscuit to further discuss the claims and evidence that he made against G2A. The following are statements made by the two indie developers mentioned above.

Tinybuild CEO, Alex Nichiporchik said in a statement to PCGamer, that they had lost over $450,00 worth of game keys due tosales through G2A, without recieving compensation. To which G2A blamed TinyBuild’s distributors, and would only cooperate in an investigation, if TinyBuild partnered with them. Essentially, extorting TinyBuild for the crimes committed against them on G2A’s site.

“In short, G2A claims that our distribution partners are scamming us and simply selling keys on G2A. They won’t help us unless we are willing to work with them. We are not going to get compensated, and they expect us to undercut our own retail partners (and Steam!) to compete with the unauthorized resellers… we are in a situation where giveaways no longer work, and consumers gravitate towards cheaper marketplaces like G2A without understanding how it may damage us as a game developer/publisher.”

Unknown Worlds posted a statement on their website explaining why they had to deactivate over 1300 illegitimate keys, purchased through external sites and activated on Steam. Not only did the games get stolen, but Unknown Worlds then had to pay a huge fee for the chargeback.

Recently we asked Valve to deactivate 1,341 Steam keys that were purchased through our website… We deactivated these keys because they keys were purchased with credit cards where the card-holder initiated a “charge-back.” A charge-back is a consumer protection mechanism offered by payment companies such as Visa, allowing a card-holder to dispute a charge on their credit card statement. This means we never received payment for the game. In fact, we were charged a fee by the card issuer for the charge-back. For these 1,341 keys, these fees totalled around $30,000.

So how does this work?

Essentially, people are able to get hold of stolen credit card information, and use those cards to make thousands of fraudulent purchases direct from a developer, a distributor or from a legitimate market place such as Steam. These keys are then sold on G2A who don’t check to varify if the key has been reported stolen. Once the stolen credit card info has been discovered, it’s likely already too late as the game keys have already been distributed to the purchaser and possibly already sold on via these greymarket sites. The developer will often times have the ability to deactivate certain keys, but this damages their reputation and hurts the consumer who unwittingly purchased a stolen product.

And it’s not like G2A are unaware of this. If anything they are actively facilitating the fraudulent activity and sales of stolen digital goods, in order to profit from these sales. For each sale G2A takes around a 30% cut of the listed price. The G2A Shield buyers protection they offer, is a further attempt to capitalise on the fear of purchasing a stolen game and that game becoming inactive, rather than weeding out the bad actors on their site, adding another couple of bucks on top of the 30%. In fact, when people have brought up these issues, they have fallen on deaf ears, and the users voicing the complain finding their accounts banned.

Furthermore, on the occasions that G2A do discover and shut down illegal accounts (or accounts of consumers with legitimate complaints), their terms of service state that any money in an account’s online wallet, when they are banned, will be claimed by G2A.

So in short G2A have created an unchecked marketplace where they profit greatly from fraudsters flipping multiple stolen games, they sell you “protection” because “you wouldn’t want to be scammed would ya?” </Mafia Accent>, and if a particularly egregious fraudster is discovered, they shut down the account, and keep the money made from the illegal sale of stolen video games. Furthermore, they then try to strong arm developers into partnering with them, for “protection” from this kind of theft.

They have no reason to clean up their site, or pursue legal action against the fraudsters, because it suits their bottom line to let it happen, and only ban a certain number of token accounts, once their wallets are full enough.

An Ultimatum

In the meeting with GearBox, TotalBiscuit went through all the evidence, all the data, and has managed to convince GearBox that G2A are complicit in these shady dealings which are negatively affecting the gaming industry in a big way. Together they came to an agreement, and GearBox made the following statement:

Gearbox Publishing heard loud and clear the concerns voiced by John “TotalBiscuit” Bain. Gearbox was then provided with a lot of documentation on the subject, after which John was gracious enough to spend time across the last two days with our head of publishing Steve Gibson to put together a proposal and a deadline for G2A to act upon.

· Before Bulletstorm Steam launch, G2A makes a public commitment to this: Within 30 days, G2A Shield (aka, customer fraud protection) is made free instead of a separate paid subscription service within terms offered by other major marketplaces. All customers who spend money deserve fraud protection from a storefront. To that end, all existing G2A Shield customers are notified by April 14th that fraud protection services are now free and they will no longer be charged for this.

· Before Bulletstorm Steam launch, G2A makes a public commitment to this: Within 90 days, G2A will open up a web service or API to certified developers and publishers to search for and flag for immediate removal, keys that are fraudulent. This access will be free of charge and will not require payment by the content holders.

· Before Bulletstorm Steam launch, G2A makes a public commitment to this: Within 60 days implement throttling for non-certified developers and publishers at the title, userid, and account payable levels for a fraud flagging process. This is to protect content providers from having large quantities of stolen goods flipped on G2A before they can be flagged.

· Before Bulletstorm Steam launch, G2A makes a public commitment to this: Within 30 days, G2A restructures its payment system so that customers who wish to buy and sell legitimate keys are given a clear, simple fee-structure that is easy to understand and contains no hidden or obfuscated charges. Join the ranks of other major marketplaces.

Gearbox Publishing won’t support a marketplace that is unwilling to make these commitments and execute on them.

Total Biscuit has since put out a statement talking about what went on in that conversation, and the sort of agreements he made with GearBox and the future of their professional interaction with G2A, stating that GearBox also have a responsibility to keep their end of the bargain. The statement reads:

These are conditions which Gearbox has imposed upon G2A which they must act upon within the announced timeframe or their partnership will be cancelled. The contract that was signed with the company gives Gearbox the right to back out from the deal. I consulted with Gearbox on these conditions to come up with some changes which would address many of the concerns that people rightfully have with G2As business practices. If these changes are made it would vastly reduce G2As ability to profit from fraudulent keys, give developers more ways to intercept these keys before they are sold and tear down some of their exploitative practices towards their customers.

If they comply, G2A will have demonstrated that they are acting in good faith and truly want to clean up their act. This will result in a reduction of damage done to independent developers, publishers and retailers as well as the exploitation of their customer base through programs like G2AShield. This is a win.

If they do not comply, G2A will have demonstrated that they have no intention of acting in good faith and their token efforts to appear legitimate are the smokescreen I believe them to be. This will send a message loud and clear to publishers, developers and customers alike, do not do business with this company, they are not legitimate. Gearbox will cancel their partnership with G2A which would send a message to other publishers that this is not a company you want to work with and it would also remove the need for a coverage boycott of Gearbox titles. This is also a win.

I am satisfied with the outcome, however I expect Gearbox to keep their word. If these conditions are not met, Gearbox must cease to do business with G2A and ensure that everyone knows it. At this point I don’t think it is excusable to be ignorant of G2As practices.

This is not good enough!

I applaud TotalBiscuit for making this stand against a cancer that is sitting unopposed in the games industry, and while I agree with his position, I don’t think this is going far enough. Sure, talking to GearBox and geting them to see the light is one thing, and this could very well be the tipping point where other developers avoid working with G2A. This is a good thing, as TotalBiscuit says “A win”. However, boycotting GearBox is a little too targeted, a tactical strike to be sure, but there are other developers that need to be held to task, or in some cases, helped out of their current situation with G2A.

You can’t bring your sword to bear against GearBox and let Hi-Rez Studios, War Gaming and GameForge off the hook, for example. While I have not gone through all of the Co-Optional podcasts with a fine-tooth comb to find out what TB has most recently said about all of G2A’s partnered studios and their games, and I make the concession that it is possible that he has mentioned them in this context, it seems somewhat hypocritical to me that he holds GearBox to task, while he covers and supports Dropzone by GameForge, in the Co-Optional Podcast on March 7th, despite them also being partnered with G2A.

This needs an explanation. TotalBiscuit needs to be clear about is plans and his intentions.

If you are going to take a stand, you need to take that stand across the board, not just one particular developer. If anything TB has made himself a target to people who are far less charitable than myself, to make articles and videos attempting to discredit him for this. That is not my intention with this article. My intention is to make TB aware, should he ever read this, that he has to do better and think through his next steps carefully. He can’t boycott one studio while promote or covering another who have committed the same slight, and if G2A do refuse this demands, TB needs to expand that boycott to all who support G2A.

That said, I also want to say that one person taking a stand can’t be the entire battle. It’s just the beginning. This may force G2A to change their policies, but it requires the consumers, the people who use G2A to stand up against this corruption too. If G2A do change their policies in accordance, you must be the police force that makes sure they don’t slip back to their old ways, or find new ways to allow this kind of corruption, you must be ever vigilant, because this has been demonstrated to be damaging to the industry we love. Saving a couple of bucks is nothing compared to losing out on new and fascinating independent games.

If however G2A do not change their policies, and I want to give them the benefit of the doubt, but if they don’t then you must be willing to stand up for the industry you love.

Triple A has become the home of the tried and true method, but indie developers are where innovation blooms. We won’t get new and interesting games if we allow the independent development industry to falter and fail, due to piracy, theft, fraud and corruption. We can’t think only of personal instant gratification at the cost of the future of the gaming industry.

Peace and High Scores

  • Kyle Yager

    Good lord. I seriously wonder why we have laws for corporations when companies seem to be able to ignore them until enough people pitch a fit about it. I wouldn’t be partnering with a company that knowingly sold fraudulent keys for my games, I’d set to burning them to the ground and salting the ashes.