When the sci-fi colony sim RimWorld debuted on Steam Early Access last week, developer Tynan Sylvester asked—gently—that anyone looking to buy it do so directly from the Ludeon Studios website. “This way, we get significantly more of the money, since Steam isn’t taking their cut,” he wrote. “You can still immediately grab your Steam key and put the game on your Steam account.”
Sadly, that offer was quickly taken off the table. Anyone who purchased the game prior to July 17 is still eligible for a Steam key, but all future sales through the Ludeon site will be for the DRM-free version of the game only.
“We’ve been getting hammered by fraudsters who are obviously more experienced at this than I. Shutting it down for now is the only way to avoid thousands of dollars in chargeback fees and lost sales. It’s time to take a breather, because I can’t fight this ‘live',” Sylvester wrote in a message he posted yesterday. “All the stolen keys are being cancelled, and should be deactivated before they can be sold (or soon after, depending on how fast Valve does it). The funds they were stolen with are being returned to their rightful owners.”
Sylvester didn't explain exactly how the fraudsters were hanging a job on him, but somewhat ironically, he had warned against buying a Steam key from third-party resellers in the initial Early Access launch announcement. The great likelihood is that the scam he described is exactly what he's now faced with.
“Hackers steal thousands of credit cards, use them to buy copies of the game from our website, redeem the Steam keys, and then sell these keys at half price. The credit card holder eventually notices the fraudulent purchase and gets it reversed. The end result is that the scammers keep the sale money, and we lose a sale, and we lose the chargeback fees incurred by payment providers (which can be $15 per copy!)," he wrote. "It can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. So buying these keys is much worse than piracy, because it takes money directly from us, and gives money to thieves.”
He said at the time that the studio would take steps to fight scammers and disable stolen keys when they came to light, but clearly the problem was far more pervasive than expected. Yet as grossly unfair as the system is to small studios like Ludeon, scams like this aren't likely to go away anytime soon: G2A, one of the best-known key resellers in the business (and which was recently embroiled in a similar dust-up with publisher tinyBuild) is offering RimWorld keys for $22, compared to the regular Steam price of $30. As long as resellers can undercut the legitimate market, making them go away is going to be a steep uphill battle.