I don’t download games illegally. Ever.
I have my reasons. For one, smaller or indie developers need all the money they can get, and there’s simply no reason not to pay for (reasonably priced) gems like Braid or World of Goo. I feel less concern for big-name developers like EA or Ubisoft, but there my argument is that I’m contributing to the survival of PC gaming. Said big-name developers have been whining for a while now about piracy making developing for the PC unprofitable. Whether there’s any truth to this statement or not, it’s a fact that many of the games I was looking forward to playing on the PC have suddenly turned “console exclusive”, and the piracy argument often pops up as explanation.
The logical consequence of “I don’t download games illegally” is that “I buy all my games”. And buying stuff costs money, of which I have only limited supplies. So I have this policy of only buying good games. Games that have been getting good reviews overall, or good reviews from trustworthy sources, or games made by developers I know and trust. (Also, games that are not real-time strategy, because I found out that I don’t enjoy those no matter what critics say. Possibly because I’m no good at them.) Even then I almost never buy the games at full retail price as there are many ways to get them cheaper, even if it means waiting a few months for the price to drop or for a deal to come up.
But once in a while there’s this game you want to play even though you know it’s most likely not very good and even though the price just won’t drop. Yet paying 50€ for something that’s not very good is not an option. What do you do then?
It just so happens that someone on IRC mentioned that they had gotten their hands on one of those new ‘guilty pleasure’ games —legally— for about 15€. Naturally, people in the room asked for more info, and what followed was a link to G2Play and an explanation about Steam price tiers and how games get sold for less in other countries. Allegedly, the website manages to sell stuff for cheap because they buy their games in cheap-tier countries. The guy assured us that this was perfectly legal —though this type of import is somewhat of a grayish area— and that the site was otherwise perfectly legit.
Having been bitten in the ass by Steam’s less-than-friendly pricing plans very recently*, I ignored my inner warning bell and decided to give it a try. I purchased one of those Ultimate Pointless Timesink games that aren’t worth the full price but never get marked down. (I’ll let you guess which game it was.) For about a fifth of the retail price I promptly received a keycode which I could directly input into the developer’s download manager. To my surprise and relief, this key actually worked, and it also made it through the insanely convoluted activation procedure(s) without any problems, proving that it is indeed a legitimate key. (The draconian DRM did cause me a bit of trouble, though. This had nothing to do with the keycode in question, but with the DRM software itself. Fuck you, Securom.)
At this point I was wildly enthusiastic about the website, since apparently they did sell legitimate keys which allowed you to procure games through legitimate channels. The keys most likely weren’t stolen or automatically generated since they hadn’t been revoked yet. The only downside was that their catalog was pretty limited, so I looked around and found out that OnlineKeyStore is another one of those sites run by the same people. Second warning bell right there: two websites that do the same thing run by the same people usually point to less trustworthy businesses. But since my first purchase turned out to be legit, I was hopeful that the second one would be too.
This second site happened to have this middling AAA first-person-shooter I’d wanted to play for a while, at a price I found perfectly reasonable. The website told me it was available through “digital download”, which further reassured me. (I’d been avoiding the ones that presented themselves as backup keys, since you’d need the actual disc —or an “illegal” download— to play those.) I completed the payment, promptly got the serial, but no download link or instructions on how to get the download.
I contacted their staff and I got a reply. They gave me two links to warez sites. This, apparently, is their idea of a digital download.
Of course, here’s where it gets harder. Is it legal to download a game from illegal sources when you own a (supposedly) legal serial? And more importantly, am I okay with this? Another solution would be to borrow the retail disc from a friend, make a copy and play the copy with the legit serial. But that would require circumventing copy protection, which is more trouble that it’s worth and technically not very legal either.
I’m okay with getting a game directly from the developer/editor’s download manager (e.g. EA Download Manager, Steam) because your purchase is validated throughout (download authorization > game activation), but having to download warez to use my license with is taking things too far into the gray zone.
Conclusion: If you’ve stumbled upon this post looking for info on G2play or OnlineKeyStore, unsure whether or not you can trust them, this should give you a pretty balanced picture. Their keycodes are most likely real and not stolen, they work, they’re cheap and the support is pretty responsive… BUT. I would refrain from buying anything that is not branded as available through EA Download Manager or Steam, as you’ll most likely be forced to turn to illegal download sites anyway, which is probably what you’ve been trying to avoid all along. Shop from G2play and OnlineKeyStore at your own risk. Personally, I’ve decided I prefer to wait a few extra months to get games from a real store.
*I bought a big Indie Games pack on Steam when it was on sale, expecting to get gift copies for all those games I already owned on Steam so I could send them to friends. Which was a reasonable expectation given the fact that this exactly what they did for Half Life 2 and the Orange Box. Turns out they don’t give you gift copies after all, which means I got a slightly less interesting deal than I thought I’d get. Not to mention the fact that the pack cost 30€, but also 30$ in the US, which makes absolutely no sense.