I have no idea how many games get released each year, but I it’s more every year. Gamers have a good choice of titles, but only some titles are worth the time and money. This is where reviews come in, either in the form of written text in a big magazine, or store page reviews. But there are no truly impartial reviews and a reviewer may like different things in games than we do, right? Different things annoy or give joy to different people so the best idea of what a game is like is to watch someone play it. YouTube has gained a massive popularity among gamers in the recent years, there are tons of content makers spitting out various video material. But from the dawn of game development, the custom is that reviewers don’t buy the games they review. They get it from developers.
If you’ve ever published a game, you most likely also received tons of key requests from YouTubers. This is all fine, if they actually intend making a review. I won’t go into detail whether gameplays/reviews on smaller channels have any impact on sales or even awareness of the game. I’d like to write about how developers give keys away for free and see no profit from it whatsoever.
(I admit I am writing this post to get some steam off, as I’ve just discovered I’ve given out at least 15 keys in the past 3 weeks to scammers).
We all know there are impostors around. Guys that claim to be owners of a big YT channel. In most cases, there’s an obvious mismatch in the e-mail address they write from and the one listed on YT. Smarter crooks use an e-mail address looking very similar to the legit one and if you don’t double check, you’ll miss the difference. But in general, these are easy to catch. We’ve been checking every single request that we receive, thinking we’re safe. But there’s a new scheme that we only caught recently.
Say you’ve got a channel with several videos and a 1.5k subs. Not bad right? Most smaller devs, who badly need promotion, will be happy to give you a key or two. Or even more, “for giveaway”, if you ask nicely. So you e-mail every indie dev you can find and get some keys from them. Then you wait two weeks, change your e-mail, your channel’s name and artwork and repeat. Anyone who doesn’t want to spend too much of their valuable time on checking for scam attempts will give you another set of keys. Rinse and repeat after another two weeks. Heck, make a dozen channels like that and you’re set for good! Especialy that it’s quite easy to sell any amount of keys through sites such as G2A or Kinguin.
So what tipped me off? There was this repeating pattern of someone writing us on our contact e-mail, asking for a couple keys (“for me and my friends who help run the channel”), a fuzzy link (with a random alphanumeric link instead of name) and an encouragement to check the e-mail address with the channel’s about section (which was always matching). If unanswered for a couple days, the person sent exactly the same e-mail again. So having a backlog of around a week, I went through with checking the channels and noticed the same page opening from two “different” e-mails that were sent around a week apart. Then I compared the links with the key giveaway record we’ve got and it turned out that it’s a couple channels writing us over and over again, only from a different e-mails. But channel links matched.
So, name and shame (actually listing these channels’ names is pointless as they change frequently, so just links):
Knowing how this works now, I’ve decided to have some fun – I’ll play ball, but they’ll be getting only keys that I’m sure were already used, as many keys as they want. They can’t check if the key is good or not without actually using it to get the game so they most likely sell it. So either it wastes some of their time, or it teaches a lesson some poor kid who bough the game from an unauthorized reseller. Sorry if you’re that kid.