At the end of last week, Sniper Elite 3 was released, but for a number of people buying on PC the launch was spoilt when the received a warning in Steam saying that their key had been revoked.
Since we first reported on this on Friday night, it has been revealed that it was a single batch comprised of 7050 codes were blocked. The reasoning for this, as we were previously told, was that a PC retail distributor contacted Rebellion to say that their set of codes had been stolen or leaked.
As no money had changed hands at one point during the supply chain, Rebellion acted with Steam’s permission to revoke that set of codes. This affected a number of CD Key sites, such as CDKeys – whom I personally used – and SimplyCDKeys, but Rebellion were keen to stress to us “we’re not accusing any retailers of foul play here – they may well have had good reason to think the keys were genuine.”
If you’ve found your key blocked in such a manner, the best course of action to take is to contact the seller of your key and ask for a refund or replacement, something which most if not all sites have been more than willing to do, sometimes with additional gestures of goodwill.
However, the question remains as to how this happened and of the legitimacy of buying from such CD key sites, where prices are almost unfathomably low. We’re used to retailers having competitive pricing, and Amazon list the boxed PC version of Sniper Elite 3 for £24.94 against Steam’s stricter adherence to the RRP at £39.99. However, in this case, prices had dropped to £15 well before release.
Monday saw Rebellion release a follow up statement, updating their post on the Steam forums:
We now know that a total of 7050 Sniper Elite 3 keys were compromised. It is only these keys that have been revoked.
To clarify, aside from Steam itself, digital keys for Sniper Elite 3 can be bought from the below list of licensed partners. We can confirm that we have not revoked any keys sent to these companies, nor have they reported any problems to us. This is the full list of companies that get their keys direct from us for digital sale – we do not sell to anyone else.
The list that followed went to mention the likes of Amazon, Game, Gamefly and Green Man Gaming. Green Man Gaming also followed up with a statement of their own, saying that they “are an official retailer for Sniper Elite 3 and have a direct contract with Rebellion,” and emphasising that their codes were not affected – though some people had issues with mixing DLC codes with game codes.
The implication from all of this is clear though, that despite Steam not distinguishing between where a third party key came from, digital keys ought to have been intended for digital distribution and that retail keys should be sold in a box, though Rebellion wrote on Steam that they “are happy for you to purchase the game anywhere you see fit and support price competition in the PC market.”
When asked for comment, CDKeys.com simply stated that they were still investigating the cause. However, CJS-CDKeys tracked the issue on their own blog, stating that their own keys were not being blocked in the process, but had an interesting explanation about how the CD key market works:
The truth is, CD Key shops do NOT tend to buy in digital form. They buy physical boxed copies and convert them into digital keys.
The supply chain for physical boxed copies goes something like this: Rebellion -> Publisher -> 100+ Distributors (in various countries) -> Retailers (Amazon, GAME, CJS CD Keys, EBGames, etc).
While the likes of Amazon ship out the boxed version of the game, CD Key stores open the boxes and sell them digitally. That is the sole difference. The growth in the market over the last years has enabled CD Key sellers go a step further, and have the official distributors scan the codes on behalf of the CD Key shops, saving on unnecessary shipping. The distributors can be anywhere in the world, since keys can be delivered within seconds.
With the largely open borders of the internet and various free trade agreements that extend across and beyond Europe, Steam doesn’t distinguish too greatly between where games are purchased. So, again without an explicit explanation, the implication is that CD key sites purchase boxed copies – or possibly just the codes from boxed copies – from a country where wholesale prices are lower than in Western Europe, to accomodate varying economies and smaller markets with a lower point of entry, and then use this to undercut the local market.
However, this is not what triggered the revocation of those 7050 keys, as this was a case where something broke down somewhere within a circuitous supply chain. While there’s possibly a question on the moralities of this market as a whole, this appears to be an isolated incident. CD key sites are here to stay then, so it would appear that the only lasting damage done is to the reputations of the companies involved.