Retailer Scam Re-Sells Humble Bundle Games, Reaps Profit Off Charity

by Isaac Federspiel on Mar 28, 2014 at 12:41 PM

Services like Humble Bundle offer a pay-what-you-want service that is beneficial for developers, charities, and consumers. We’ve discovered that the PC games digital distributor 7 Entertainment and other sites are taking advantage of this generosity and obtaining Steam keys from Humble Bundles, or other similar services, and illegally reselling them for profit. We’ve investigated into the situation and reached out to some indie developers who have been affected by this practice.

The games being sold by 7 Entertainment (which owns Fast2Play, Kinguin, G2Play, and other sister sites) have been heavily marked down compared to their regular Steam price. Games like Red Shirt and Thomas was Alone usually sell for $19.99 and $9.99 on Steam, but are being offered on Fast2Play at $1.35 and $3.78, respectively.

Indie developer Ed Key, one of two people who created Proteus, has confirmed Fast2Play is reselling Steam keys from Humble Bundles. His process involved purchasing his game from Fast2Play’s store, and cross-checking his history of issued Steam keys. The copy that he purchased matched one sold through the Humble Indie Bundle 8 batch of games. Key said there is no way to know how they’re obtaining all the copies, but that it is possible Fast2Play is taking advantage of Humble Bundle’s pay-what-you-want approach to selling games by purchasing bundles at the minimum price Steam keys are offered at of $1. Proteus has since been removed from Fast2Play, but it was listed at $4.59 and can still be found on Kinguin, though it’s listed as out of stock. 

Key says 7 Entertainment isn’t the only distributor that indie developers have had problems with, and that he has heard of others having issues with similar sites. 

“This seems to be unrelated to ‘G2A.com’ but I do know some indies who also had problems with their games being sold without their agreement on that site,” Keys says. Games are sold direct from G2A and by users of the site. For example, Thomas was Alone is selling for as low as $0.97 from a member of G2A’s community.

Some developers, like Paul Taylor of Mode 7, have also been successful in getting their games removed from Fast2Play. When he noticed that Fast2Play was reselling Steam keys for Frozen Synapse, he asked if it could show an active distribution agreement with Mode 7, which resulted in Fast2Play removing the game from its store. This hasn’t solved the problem with its sister sites, though, where his game is still being sold for around $6 by users, marked down from $24.99 on Steam.

Taylor then asked if Fast2Play removing Frozen Synapse from its store constituted an admission of illegal actions, to which he has received no reply. Taylor’s legal advisor, Alex Tutty, an associate at Sheridans in the U.K. who specializes in games and technology, told Game Informer in an email that the ability to resell a game, “is dependent on the terms for which any game is made available.”

Humble Bundle’s terms of service explicitly states that products are intended for non-commercial use. 

“In this case the ‘resale’ was prohibited by the terms under which it was purchased,” Tutty says. “What was obtained (‘sold’) in this instance was a non-transferable license to use a game and hence why I have put ‘resale,’ ‘sold,’ and ‘resell’ in quotation marks, as while it is helpful to use these terms, they are not actually correct. Unlike physical goods, digital products can have these restrictions placed on them and while the law is developing in this area, this is where it currently stands in the EU.”

Humble Bundle is aware of the situation and is in contact with some developers who have been affected. As of now, Humble Bundle has declined to comment on the situation. But, it implemented a system last November that allows customers to redeem games on Steam directly from purchased Humble Bundles, and added an option to gift games they already owned. Key says he hopes this has reduced the issue of reselling Steam keys, but is unsure if it has. Some games that have been featured in Humble Bundles since the new system (like Antichamber, Guacamelee: Gold Edition, and The Swapper) are listed on Fast2Play at a discounted price, but it is unclear where the codes originate from.

Other developers are worried the site will mislead fans of their work. Mitu Khandaker-Kokoris, developer of Red Shirt, included her game in a charitable bundle through Groupees about six weeks ago. Khandaker-Kokoris says it appears as if Fast2Play is reselling keys from the bundle she was in, and that she’s worried people aren’t aware their purchase won’t support the developers.

“My main point of concern is really to do with an awareness on the player's part about when their purchase is or is not supporting the developer,” Khandaker-Kokoris says. “In this case, it definitely only serves to profit the reseller website. Obviously this doesn't matter to everyone, though I'd hope in an ideal world it should be a priority to consumers to keep supporting and enabling creators whose work they enjoy.”

Key shares similar sentiments, and even tweeted that he would prefer people pirate his game instead of buying it through Fast2Play. 

“I don't really consider this to be any different from piracy in my mind,” Key says. “The only difference is that they're charging money for something that The Pirate Bay would give out for free. It's the same kind of breach of license conditions with a digital good, and the few pence we'd have got from the initial bundle purchase doesn't really excuse it.”

Piracy is not something Key worries about; he believes that if people wish to support creators then they will. Key is also against penalizing customers who have already purchased Steam keys from sites like Fast2Play through means like revoking their keys.

Taylor thinks these sales are also damaging to the idea of developers offering the sales that Steam is well known for.

“As an indie team, we want to keep doing low-price and pay-what-you want promotions to allow customers to purchase our games legally and cheaply,” Taylor says. “We don't want to be deterred by the idea that anyone can come along and exploit that illegally for their own gain without any recompense for the original developers; this doesn't seem fair, it's demonstrably illegal, and it's also against the spirit in which such promotions are intended. Finally, this kind of behavior is also predicated on the idea that nobody will challenge it: We don't think that's acceptable either.”

Along with Proteus, every game initially sold through the Humble Indie Bundle 8 can be found on Fast2Play or its sister sites. This list includes: Hotline Miami, Little Inferno, Capsized, Dear Esther, Awesomenauts, and Thomas was Alone. The site is also selling entire bundles as a set, like the Humble Indie Bundle 2, which includes Braid, Cortex Command, Machinarium, Osmos, and Revenge of the Titans. Users who purchased the Humble Indie Bundle 2 received Steam and Desura activation keys that downloaded every game from the same code. The Humble THQ PC bundle and others are being sold through the Swedish sister site of Fast2Play for 20 euros, but are not available on the North American one.

Awesomenauts, The Binding of Isaac, and other games are also being sold as a Steam Gift. Valve states in its support section for Steam Gifts that “attempting to sell a gift subscription is a violation of the Steam Subscriber Agreement and may result in your account being permanently disabled.”

Fast2Play has a message on the product page for Steam gifts warning customers that the store isn’t responsible if consumers are banned for purchasing a Steam Gift, and that they do it at their own risk. Fast2Play additionally sells triple-A games at discounted prices. 

We’ve reached out to 7 Entertainment, but have not received an official comment from them.

Update: 7 Entertainment has responded to our request for inquiry. You can read our follow-up story here.