Indie Developers Scammed Out Of Steam Keys by Fake YouTuber Reviewers
During the release week of Worlds of Magic on Steam Early access, Lesek Lisowski took an opportunity to promote him game by responding to several emails asking for free copies of the game to review. He admits that they sent a Steam code to each individual that asked during the release week. Many claimed that they had successful YouTube channels. Lesek mentions that the week was busy, answering nearly a thousand emails to Kickstarter backers and fixing game bugs all while managing requests from interested reviewers as well.
The Worlds of Magic developer discovered that those claiming to be YouTube reviewers were likely scamming him when he first saw a thread on the Steam forums sharing the news that keys were available on G2A.com for $25 below retail. After thoroughly examining all the emails he was sent with requests, he noticed that he received many with similar email addresses and similar requests.
Lesek decided to get confirmation on anyone claiming to have a YouTube account by requesting they make contact directly through YouTube. Only two of the 20 requests he checked were able to confirm their accounts.
He attempted the same idea with other developers releasing games to see how easily he had been fooled. He was not alone. With a quick Gmail account and a slightly modified version of the same emails he received, Lesek was able to get 16 Steam keys for 15 different games in about two hours. The total dollar amount of those games totaled over $400. (Editor's note: please do not try this experiment at home.) If all those games could be resold by undercutting the retail price, it would still be close to $100 an hour or more.
Lesek explained the real problem he saw in the scam wasn't the free games, but the angry customers:
Of course, we have to consider if it's really a loss to give keys to people like that. After all, they wouldn’t buy the game anyway.... In the end, they may sell 10 or 20 copies of your game at half price. Something like that can make your customers very angry and lead to complaints about pricing policy.
Since the problem, he has returned all the keys he was able to get and discussed the issue with those developers. Many felt that their keys were being stolen under false pretense and Lesek's experiment proved it. He says checking to verify YouTube accounts may take a little time up front, but will benefit developers in the long run by creating relationships and making sure the keys are put in the right hands.