The G2A/Gearbox situation
Ok folks, here's where we are. After hearing about the G2A and Gearbox partnership to produce a collectors edition of Bulletstorm: Full Clip, I made the decision to stop covering Gearbox games. The reason was fairly simple. G2A is a company that profits directly from stolen goods. G2As existence as an easy place to sell keys acquired en-masse through credit card fraud, thanks to their lax checks and lack of corporate responsibility, has done damage to indie developers, publishers and retailers who are often hit with large numbers of credit card chargebacks. G2A actively profits from these sales in many ways, which include the practice of selling a form of insurance against stolen goods listed on their own website, an insurance that happens to be incredibly difficult to unsubscribe from due to underhanded tactics from the company. These issues and far more besides are detailed in the list of links at the bottom of this statement.
This practice has gone on for a number of years and only gotten worse as a result of G2As rise in popularity. Companies such as Tinybuild have publicly stated that they have lost large sums of money this way. A lesser known incident with Unknown Worlds and Natural Selection 2 almost bankrupted the company. Small start-up digital retailers such as Indiegamestand had to shut down under the burden of credit card chargebacks. It is a serious issue, not one I take lightly and I felt that it was important to draw a line and take a stand on this issue, sending a message to publishers and developers that working with G2A is a mistake.
The morning after I posted this on social media I was contacted by Gearbox who asked me to be provide proof of what I was saying regarding G2A. They were concerned since they had received significant blowback on social media and wanted to know if I could back up my claims. I've been collating statements, videos and articles on G2As various bad practices for years now so this was not difficult. I provided them with a wide variety of sources detailing their various shady activities. For your convenience I have posted a list of some of those sources below, so that you can read them for yourself and use them in future discussions regarding this platform. G2A profits from the ignorance of gamers to their practices. The best way to hold them to account and ensure they either change their ways or disappear is to ensure that people know exactly how they operate. Some of that ignorance evidently extended to Gearbox, who were not aware of several of these practices. After I sent them an email with a list of evidence along with statements I'd been gathering from developers and retailers, they asked for a conference call.
During this call I walked them through the evidence and explained some of the more complex concepts. I felt it necessary to ensure that I was not simply one person holding a grudge or worst case, actively trying to sabotage a company for malicious reasons, which is why I provided such a wide variety of sources. Gearbox did not have to just take my word for it, they had a mountain of independent sources verifying everything I was saying. Once they understood the various complexities of the issue, Gearbox proposed a solution. That solution? Well you can find it in their statement which they gave to the press today and I've pasted unedited below.
"Gearbox Publishing heard loud and clear the concerns voiced by John “TotalBiscuit” Bain. Gearbox was then provided with a lot of documentation on the subject, after which John was gracious enough to spend time across the last two days with our head of publishing Steve Gibson to put together a proposal and a deadline for G2A to act upon.
· Before Bulletstorm Steam launch, G2A makes a public commitment to this: Within 30 days, G2A Shield (aka, customer fraud protection) is made free instead of a separate paid subscription service within terms offered by other major marketplaces. All customers who spend money deserve fraud protection from a storefront. To that end, all existing G2A Shield customers are notified by April 14th that fraud protection services are now free and they will no longer be charged for this.
· Before Bulletstorm Steam launch, G2A makes a public commitment to this: Within 90 days, G2A will open up a web service or API to certified developers and publishers to search for and flag for immediate removal, keys that are fraudulent. This access will be free of charge and will not require payment by the content holders.
· Before Bulletstorm Steam launch, G2A makes a public commitment to this: Within 60 days implement throttling for non-certified developers and publishers at the title, userid, and account payable levels for a fraud flagging process. This is to protect content providers from having large quantities of stolen goods flipped on G2A before they can be flagged.
· Before Bulletstorm Steam launch, G2A makes a public commitment to this: Within 30 days, G2A restructures its payment system so that customers who wish to buy and sell legitimate keys are given a clear, simple fee-structure that is easy to understand and contains no hidden or obfuscated charges. Join the ranks of other major marketplaces.
Gearbox Publishing won’t support a marketplace that is unwilling to make these commitments and execute on them."
These are conditions which Gearbox has imposed upon G2A which they must act upon within the announced timeframe or their partnership will be cancelled. The contract that was signed with the company gives Gearbox the right to back out from the deal. I consulted with Gearbox on these conditions to come up with some changes which would address many of the concerns that people rightfully have with G2As business practices. If these changes are made it would vastly reduce G2As ability to profit from fraudulent keys, give developers more ways to intercept these keys before they are sold and tear down some of their exploitative practices towards their customers.
Now perhaps you're thinking that I am naive and how could I possibly believe that G2A will follow up on these demands? The answer is simple.
I fully expect them not to.
I would in fact be extremely surprised if they complied with these demands. There is a small contingent of people who believe that G2A are actually trying to become legitimate and that we should give them the opportunity to do so. I have no faith that they will, but why not give them that chance?
If they comply, G2A will have demonstrated that they are acting in good faith and truly want to clean up their act. This will result in a reduction of damage done to independent developers, publishers and retailers as well as the exploitation of their customer base through programs like G2AShield. This is a win.
If they do not comply, G2A will have demonstrated that they have no intention of acting in good faith and their token efforts to appear legitimate are the smokescreen I believe them to be. This will send a message loud and clear to publishers, developers and customers alike, do not do business with this company, they are not legitimate. Gearbox will cancel their partnership with G2A which would send a message to other publishers that this is not a company you want to work with and it would also remove the need for a coverage boycott of Gearbox titles. This is also a win.
Either way, it's a win. G2A either cleans up its act or loses its first AAA publishing partnership in a very public fashion, fully revealing that they have no desire at all to change their ways.
Make no mistake about it. I truly believe that G2A has been creating an effective protection racket. By increasing its marketshare off the back of ill-gotten profits spent on high-dollar sponsorships of streamers, youtubers and esports team and tournaments, they have put themselves into a position where they can try to strongarm publishers and developers into working with them with the promise to "prevent" this costly fraud if they do so. We've already seen this happen with the G2A Pay system offered as a "solution" to the problem that G2A helped to create. A problem they have profited from and a solution they also profit from. It is important that a loud and clear message is sent to developers and publishers. Do not give in to these tactics. By giving G2A legitimacy by associating your brand with theirs you are giving them power to further exploit and damage the industry.
I am satisfied with the outcome, however I expect Gearbox to keep their word. If these conditions are not met, Gearbox must cease to do business with G2A and ensure that everyone knows it. At this point I don't think it is excusable to be ignorant of G2As practices. This is only the latest in a long line of scandals for the company and if developers and publishers continue to make deals with the devil rather than resist their advances, they can expect similar backlash from consumers.
I really did not expect anything to come of this beyond merely taking a personal stand on the subject and then moving on. I am under no illusions, I am very aware that I am just one fish in a very large ocean. However it turned into an opportunity to try and make the industry just a little bit better and isn't that my job? If I can make a positive difference in the industry, that in turn makes things better for consumers and that is my #1 priority always. I'm not a fan of apathy or the people who preach it. I'm not a fan of being told that I can't change anything and I don't like it when that philosophy of doing nothing is spread to others. You all have power to effect change, especially in large groups and even if that weren't true it's still not a reason not to avoid taking a stand from time to time on issues you think are important. A silent majority isn't truly a majority at all, for what is a majority without the ability to use that majority to effect positive change? If you stay silent, you give others the power to represent you and you might not like the way they choose to do it.
Thanks for reading. Please find below the links promised. There are plenty more articles and videos on this subject so if you find a good one that I haven't list tackling an issue I may not know about, feel free to send it to me. I'd like to get back to work now. This behind the scenes stuff isn't my style and I'd rather be making things to inform you lot and put the light on games worth looking at. I'd rather this consultation role not become a trend, but when presented with an opportunity to make a difference, it's irresponsible not to take it.