Established digital distributor GreenManGaming sparked a bit of a storm this week following a disagreement with subreddit /GameDeals. The Reddit group, which is focused on digital sales tracking, had banned users from sharing GreenManGaming deals because it alleged that GreenManGaming was using unauthorised CD keys.
The stickler for GreenManGaming is, they make a pretty big deal about being an official partner to plenty of game publishers. Scroll on down to the bottom of the site and you can see the likes of Bethesda, Warner Bros, and Valve listed as official retail partners. This means they claim they get their supply of key codes from official supply chains, namely the publishers, and then sell them on.
Earlier this week, a moderator for the /GameDeals subreddit wrote "It has now come to our attention that GreenManGaming's library of unauthorized game sales has expanded, or this library has just now come to light. You may have noticed recently some 'too good to be true' deals on GreenManGaming.
"We received a few modmails/emails on the subject so we investigated. From what we have been told by the publishers, GreenManGaming is not authorized to sell Activision or Ubisoft titles, as well as CDProjektRED's The Witcher 3."
We know about the last one already, because GMG had a bit of a public falling out with CD Projekt RED, who outright said during The Witcher 3’s launch not to buy from GMG because it didn't know the origin of its keys.
Defending the claims from /GameDeals, GMG said "Let’s be clear here; there is a difference between being an authorised retailer for some titles, and being a retailer selling keys that have been sourced responsibly through authorised third parties with revenue going back to the publisher. If a key unlocks, it is an authentic key. This isn’t a perfect science as human error can affect the supply chain. Where possible, we work directly with publishers and distributors to make sure customers have the very best experience with us."
The first thing that needs to be highlighted is where these keys come from. The reselling of game codes is a notoriously murky market, but ultimately the key codes are generated by the publishers themselves. They then find their way onto the market. They are typically sold in bulk to different stores like Uplay, GOG, Humble and GMG, as well as to different territories. But equally they could be obtained from cheap bundles. Or gifted from cheaper territories. Or ripped out of cheap boxed copies. These are all valid enough ways to obtain a game, and the publisher's ultimately being compensated in the end.
Take Star Wars Battlefront as an example. Here in the UK it costs us £50 to buy it from the Origin Store. It costs $40 on Origin Mexico however, equivalent to just £26, almost half the price. Fair enough, that’s the way things work.
EA’s marketing team however, will probably be tasked with shifting a set amount of keys in each territory. Eventually this could result in them selling cheap stock in bulk to a Mexican store. Then if another store were to be in contact with the recipient, they could buy the keys for a drastically discounted price, and then offer a knock-on cheaper price here in the UK than EA itself is offering on Origin. The keys are still being bought from EA and sold to the customer, but the stores are circumventing territory pricing restrictions to deliver better deals.
Now GMG, up until now, wouldn’t divulge where its keys were coming from. It said it had hundreds of partners and contracts which it cannot divulge for legal reasons. GMG’s argument is that if the game codes work, they are legit and they have come from the publisher, even if in a roundabout way. It’s since changed how it operates and now tells you where the keys have come from and when they will arrive.
This is just a small slice of the so called ‘grey market’, and GreenManGaming is still a trusted source for game keys, for me personally, among an ocean of shadier sellers. I think we’ve all found our way onto dodgy key sites at one time or another, with deals that look too good to be true. Most of the time you get the key and it works, and you don’t even think where it came from.
There’s plenty of reports that stolen credit cards are used to buy legit game codes at full price, before being sold on at a major discount. We saw this earlier this when Ubisoft revoked access to Far Cry 4 for some users who’d redeemed codes obtained via Origin. Ubisoft said they were bought using stolen credit cards, but has since reinstated the game to users’ libraries.
When sites like G2A and Kinguin offer paid buyer protection policies in case the keys they sell don’t work, you can’t help but raise an eyebrow to where they came from. If even they themselves are not 100% sure the codes will work, why would you feel safe buying it?
The CD key grey market is a murky one then, so where do you stand? Are you well within your rights to search out for the cheapest deal available? Or is it wrong to buy game codes from unverified sources?