G2A: Threat or Menace? – A history of gaming’s sketchiest market

Posted on July 29, 2019

G2A has been making all kinds of waves recently for all the wrong reasons. Independent developers have been coming out and saying that they would rather their games be pirated than purchased on G2A. Whilst this seems ludicrous, G2A has a reputation for being a seedy market. One that not only allows criminal activity but thrives on its grey market status.

What even is G2A?

Established in 2010, G2A (formerly Go2Arena) was marketed to the cash-strapped gamer. It was a retailer whose goal was to acquire the best deals of any digital distribution platform at the time. According to founder Bartosz Skwarczek, it was a lack of publisher interest that saw G2A pivot from a retailer, akin to Steam, to its current business model as a market place. G2A exists in its current form as a platform for key reselling.

Key reselling is pretty much self-explanatory but let’s keep everyone up to speed. Steam uses keys as a secure way to give ownership of a game to someone. Developers may give free keys for promotion, review or as a giveaway. Customers may buy keys as gifts for others or buy them through other retailers such as Humble. These keys, provided they aren’t redeemed, are commodities, and as such can be purchased or sold. G2A is one such place. The eBay-like competitive environment is fertile soil for deep discounts.

So why do people hate G2A? Well, the simple fact is that there are some shady operators.

G2A isn’t some small website with a few people selling some leftover keys, it is full of sellers hawking all kinds of games for cheap. They are not selling games at a loss. Sellers are making money, and usually at some expense to the developer. Consider the difference in pricing in different regions. According to steam.db, Factorio costs AU $42. But what if, say, you bought elsewhere? If you bought at Argentinian pricing, you could snag it for around AU $11. That gives you quite the margin to sell the game for cheap, whilst still turning yourself a profit. It isn’t a victimless crime, though, as this is taking profit away from the developer. But there are many that will sink lower, into truly criminal behaviour.

Turning a blind eye: How G2A enables a thief economy

Let’s say you’ve stolen a credit card and are looking to take out some of that cash. Well first off you can’t just transfer that money to your account. The transaction would be instantly flagged, and now the bank knows exactly who’s responsible. A person savvy with credit card fraud knows to cover their tracks by properly laundering the cash. A simple way is buying stuff with the stolen credentials, and then selling that product for clean money. The fraud will be detected, but by then you’ve already sold on your free goods for 100% profit.

“By all accounts, it seems that G2A is this exact type of dodgy grey market for the digital game distribution industry”

If you’re a credit card fraudster, the only difficulty is finding the right place to sell. The right place needs to be big enough to allow the seller to make their money quickly. But it’s hard to find a popular place that would willingly allow the sale of stolen goods. By all accounts, it seems that G2A is this exact type of dodgy grey market for the digital game distribution industry. Anonymous sources have come forward to back up such claims, people who are able to make a few thousand dollars a month running this kind of fraud-filled racket. And where there is an opportunity, people will continue to run this criminal enterprise.

Why Piracy is better than G2A

Developers in recent days have made pretty bold requests of their consumers. They want you to buy the game, of course. They want you to give money to the developers that have put blood, sweat and tears into their interactive experiences. They want to put food on everyone’s table. But recently some indie devs have been advocating pirating a game illegally, rather than buying keys off G2A. Piracy is a lost sale, and not something to celebrate. However, piracy doesn’t bring with it all the costs that G2A is fine with passing onto developers.

“Piracy doesn’t bring with it all the costs that G2A is fine with passing onto developers.”

When fraud is detected by a bank, the bank goes about finding which transactions are fraudulent and “undoing” them. This is known as a “chargeback” which can be a big drain on resources. Paperwork needs to be filled out and codes need to be invalidated. Worst still, in some cases, chargebacks may incur additional fees and those fees get traced back to the original source: the developer. In total, the defrauded developer has lost sale revenue, wastes time with paperwork and gets hit with fees. More waste can be associated with these practices as well. Customers who have bought off G2A, once their game code has been identified as fraudulent and invalidated, may seek the developer out for assistance with their now broken game. Developers wanting to stop this issue will have to spend time hunting down illegal keys.

It is worth noting that this is not necessarily an issue exclusive to independent games. AAA games certainly may deal with this issue. However, larger companies are better equipped, and as such, the impact is less severe. An indie studio with a dozen or so employees is hardly well-equipped to deal with fraud. Whereas a big company that has an entire section of the workforce running customer service would be.

So, with all these factors considered, it’s easy to see why indie developers have taken to social media to decry the company. It may sound extreme but developers are right when they claim G2A is worse than piracy. Piracy is a lost sale, but sales via G2A have tangible costs to the devs.

Developers are sharing stories and doing what they can to get any sales stricken from G2A’s storefront. No More Robots developer Mike Rose is one such notable decrier of G2A and has started a campaign against the company. The petition asks that G2A remove all independent titles from their marketplace. This, after all, shouldn’t negatively affect the company. Only 8% of all sales on G2A are indie titles, according to G2A. However, it’s fair to say that those informed of G2A’s past are less than willing to trust them.

G2A’s worst PR enemy is itself

G2A has responded to allegations of fraud in ways that don’t really inspire any confidence. The company seems intent on either denial or dodging responsibility. In terms of the latter, G2A takes a rather pathetic stance of “We didn’t do anything wrong”. Sure this is technically true. G2A doesn’t actively sell stolen keys but they do profit off the business. Whether taking a cut of sales or running ads or whatever, G2A gets traffic. And where there’s internet traffic, there is money.

Intentionally or otherwise, a fraud-filled marketplace is bringing in revenue, so G2A has enough reason to let the train keep rolling. Rather than address the issue, we have seen G2A perform a series of ridiculous PR manoeuvres. Fraud is basically impossible, reads one headline. A higher-up in the company suggests that it would take quite a bit of time to launder money, so it mustn’t be a thing that happens.

Devolver Digital has already pulled out of G2A’s sphere years ago. Very few companies do dare to enter into arrangements with G2A. Even companies that do enter are swarmed with information from gamers and end up reversing their decisions. Such was the case with Gearbox when they partnered with G2A . However after a lot of evidence was sent Gearbox’s way from those who despised G2A’s business practices, Gearbox demanded G2A clean up shop or they’ll pull out. As one may expect G2A claimed that they were very above board and that any claims of wrongdoing were “false and defamatory”, but that didn’t stop Gearbox from breaking the partnership.

We are perfect, and all the developers are being mean: G2A’s latest PR fiction

So with the latest wave of controversy, G2A has been trying to stay on top of things. They’ve extended an olive branch seemingly. This came in the form of an article claiming that G2A is investigating the claims. Should the claims be accurate and a developer is made to pay money in chargebacks, G2A will refund the developer ten times over. Charitable, but also pretty hard to believe. Factorio developer, Scott Klonan, has started such a process with G2A. If they were to pay out the developer, it looks like over $60,000 would be changing hands. I doubt the transaction will occur. Early details said talks have been stalled. I can only imagine the astronomically high burden of proof G2A insists on. This will ensure this tenfold refund is a purely hypothetical concoction.

” They’ve claimed their accusers are simply attention seekers. These developers “haven’t tried to solve the problem with G2A”.”

But the G2A allegedly giveth, and G2A surely taketh away. The very same article attempts to construct further narratives. In said article, G2A pulls a classic move for dealing with accusations. They’ve claimed their accusers are simply attention seekers. These developers “haven’t tried to solve the problem with G2A”. Again, developers have tried time and again to resolve issues, but G2A has seemingly not been reachable. Both of these ideas play together. It paints the developers as the true villains, that developers aren’t playing ball with G2A. These issues are the developer’s fault. Once more, G2A has merrily done nothing of even perceived substance.

But strap yourselves in because holy ‘I-can’t-use-expletives’ does it get worse.

Paying for “Unbiased” PR: In which G2A somehow makes everything even worse

G2A has been caught out trying to deceive the public by way of undisclosed sponsored articles. Seems kind of sketchy for the company that insists they operate above board. It was Thomas Faust that cracked the lid on this one, revealing snippets from an email sent to him asking for such content.

In the snippets, the unnamed sender is requesting an article be published. It’s a bit underhanded, considering the subject matter. It’s trying to wash away all concerns. Claims made suggest that the crimes are essentially impossible. Basically, exonerating G2A of all wrongdoing. But here’s where things take a hard turn. The sender has a pre-written article, which is being sponsored. Could be worse…sure. But also, there is to be no reference to the fact that this is sponsored or written by G2A. Would you look at that! Now it’s so much worse, it’s pretty much illegal.

“The idea that any respectable gaming site would debase itself by being complicit is ridiculous. An “unbiased” article on how difficult it is to steal keys, several years after it was discovered how easy it is, is beyond a joke.”

Undisclosed sponsored content is scummy to say the minimum. The act of hiding sponsored content as an opinion piece is not uncommon. To see any website in the public eye, even one as infamous as G2A, pull a move like this is amazing. It’s bloody hilarious how juvenile the attempt is really. The idea that any respectable gaming site would debase itself by being complicit is ridiculous. An “unbiased” article on how difficult it is to steal keys, several years after it was discovered how easy it is, is beyond a joke.

Unsurprisingly no one took the bait. After all it’s better business to continue to pick apart how infected this corpse of a company is. G2A insists they’re looking into the “rogue” employee who did this. Yeah, that’s right. They’re claiming a single individual created a full written article and was prepared to bankroll the 10 media sites that the requests were sent to. If they need any help, I can direct them to the rogue agent. They’re right where the 10x refunds and G2A’s reputation as a good honest company are, in an entirely fictional reality truly divorced from the one we all live in.

Threat AND Menace

The simple fact of the matter is this. G2A is a seedy, disgusting marketplace that shows the worst of what digital distribution has to offer. It enables criminal operation that allow criminals to launder stolen credit card money. It allows unwitting buyers to buy illegal goods, that will be caught out and rendered unusable by their player base. And when all of this is pointed out? G2A throws up their hands and says “It wasn’t me!”. It points at developers, the truest victims of this company, and blames them. They claim to want to work with developers. They want to use this to gain some perceived legitimacy. But understand that with every transaction, criminal or otherwise, they will profit. They will thrive in the toxic environment they have created. We’re just left with cleaning up the mess.