Every day, game publishers announce partnerships nobody pays attention to. But people paid attention when Gearbox Software announced it would distribute the collector's edition of Bulletstorm: Full Clip through G2A, the controversial key reseller often accused of ignoring fraud. Amid widespread criticism, popular YouTube creator John "TotalBiscuit" Bain announced he would no longer cover Gearbox releases. This appears to have given Gearbox pause, as the studio's revealed the partnership will be cancelled unless G2A commits to certain changes.
"Gearbox Publishing heard loud and clear the concerns voiced by John 'TotalBiscuit' Bain," said a Gearbox spokesperson.
Gearbox and Bain reportedly got together and came up with a series of changes for G2A to implement. According to Gearbox, if the company doesn't make a public commitment to these modifications the publishing agreement between them is over.
Here are the demands, as passed onto me by Gearbox:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Those would all good, substantive changes to the way G2A does business.
"Gearbox Publishing won't support a marketplace that is unwilling to make these commitments and execute on them," said the company.
Bulletstorm: Full Clip is set to launch on Steam tomorrow, so the deadline isn't far off. G2A has not responded to my request for comment, so it's unclear whether they plan to comply or not.
Just before I joined Waypoint, I published a series of stories at Kotaku taking a closer look at G2A, and digging into the accusations that have dogged the company for years. Developers have long alleged G2A makes it incredibly easy for fraudsters to use stolen credit cards to sell keys on their marketplace. I even spoke with one scammer who explained how he pulled it off:
Reis doesn't make money off a chargeback. He makes money by selling the Steam keys. The chargebacks aren't triggered immediately, so he's getting the keys before the payment processor has time to investigate (or be alerted to) stolen credit cards. Chargebacks can occur days, weeks, or months later, which means Reis has plenty of time to sell the Steam key sent to his email address.
"This is easy and very basic," he said. "In minutes you can hide your tracks. [...] You do not need a gun to steal, just your fingers and patience."
This is what complicates the situation for companies like MangaGamer; if the Steam key has been sold on G2A or another marketplace, it may be in the hands of a person who thinks they've legitimately paid for a key. There's no way for that person to know the key they bought is tainted, and it's often too late for MangaGamer to try to deactivate the key.
It's noteworthy Gearbox is giving G2A a public ultimatum, and if the company ends up making meaningful reforms, the entire gaming community will benefit from it. But G2A's problems have been well documented for years now, and the smallest attempt at researching G2A would have raised red flags that might have given Gearbox some pause. It's on them for getting themselves into this mess in the first place, which means any praise for Gearbox should come with an equally suspicious eyebrow raise. Hopefully, though, something good comes of all this.