Stolen credit cards and fraudulent Steam keys cost Natural Selection 2 team big money
Recently, a batch of 1,341 Natural Selection 2 keys were purchased using stolen credit card information. Those keys then circulated through the Internet, to various sites which offer discount pricing on game keys. Can you see where this is going yet? Long story short, Unknown Worlds lost more than $60,000 when all was said and done - approximately $22 per card charge-back fee, and $25 per game sale - and an unfortunate group of players got burned by this gray market.
“The research we have done indicates that there is quite an ecosystem out there for Steam keys being sold and some sort of discount to their usual price,” Hugh Jeremy, PR and outreach coordinator for Unknown Worlds told the Report. “In harmless cases, it appears to be sites conducting arbitrage between the sales price of games and their regular retail price. For example, buy NS2 at 50% off, then sell it at 25% off when the 50% off sale ends.”
A game published in multiple regions also stands a higher chance of being involved in a scam, Jeremy noted. “When publishers have regional pricing, clever people can again conduct arbitrage: buy keys in a cheap region and sell them in another.” Natural Selection 2, it should be noted, is $25 - or the equivalent - in all regions, so it seems highly unlikely this was a factor. In fact, as far as Unknown Worlds can tell, neither of the above causes contributed to the theft of Natural Selection 2 keys.
“People actually stole keys using fraudulent credit cards,” Jeremy said. He told the Report that small developers - like Unknown Worlds - must rely on a card issuer’s fraud protection and, in this particular case, that protection failed. Unknown Worlds can’t do anything to protect users from fraudulent purchases if the purchase has already been made, but they can raise awareness and get the word out to gamers ahead of time.
Curious if a store offering Natural Selection 2 is legitimate? Compare it against the developer’s official list of authorized stores. Unknown Worlds has also been upfront about the issue, announcing it via their blog and warning potential buyers, “If you see Natural Selection 2 available anywhere else — like the many sites out there that sell Steam keys at a discount — then you are not buying it from us and there is no way to know if that key is legitimate.”
And of course, always remember the rule of thumb, “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.”
Jeremy noted that the financial loss was not enough to cause “serious harm” to Unknown Worlds. “The people who are harmed are gamers who have bought keys they thought legitimate: They have to go through the hassle of getting their money back, via charge-back or other mechanism, when all they really wanted to do was shoot some aliens,” he said.
“That would just suck, for lack of a better word.”