Ubisoft has teamed up with digital distribution firm Genba Digital to change its method of selling PC games through third-party stores like Fanatical and Games Republic. The new process is called 'silent key activation' and activates games on platforms like Steam and Uplay automatically rather than giving out codes to retailers and customers. From now on, Ubisoft will only sell games through sites that use SKA.
Instead of giving a retailer a massive list of keys that could theoretically be pinched or resold, no keys actually pass hands. Genba, which also won't have direct access to the keys, sets up a keybank that will distribute keys one-by-one, with each of them being recorded before the next one is sent out, and then the game will be activated on the customer's account.
"If someone goes on a website like Fanatical and buys a Ubisoft product, it will take them through the checkout process, then ask you to enter your UPlay account—if you don't have one, it asks you to set one up," Genba CEO Matt Murphy told GamesIndustry.biz (opens in new tab). "The game is then automatically activated in UPlay. Fanatical doesn't get a key, and neither does the player. They just log into UPlay and the game is there, as if they bought it from the UPlay Store."
By removing keys from the equation and giving publishers more control over how their games are distributed, Genba reckons it can kill off the grey market. But it's taken time.
"It's a bit like trying to change the rules—you need everyone to move at the same speed, or move together," Murphy said. "If I could click my fingers and magically get us to a position where this was implemented, then we wouldn't have the issue of the grey market."
Genba is working with ten retailers at the moment, while there are others using their own methods. Murphy believes that all of the big publishers will distribute keys this way within a year, and Genba is already working with another large publisher on another keyless system.