Rebellion has pulled the plug on some Sniper Elite 3 keys purchased through third-party retailers, and the Internet is not amused.
Over the weekend many Sniper Elite 3 players suddenly found that their copy of the game no longer functioned on Steam. The issue affected those who purchased a Steam key through third-party sites such as CDKeys.com.
According to Rebellion in a Steam Community post, an unspecified number of Sniper Elite 3 keys were stolen pre-launch and sold onto third-party vendors, and it is these that have since been revoked.
Rebellion has advised players to seek a refund or alternate key through the vendor from which they purchased their copy of the game, and has also offered its Target Hitler pre-order DLC free to all affected customers.
So far so straight forward, but the PC gaming community has not responded well. Commenters have accused Rebellion of attempting to price fix by cancelling keys sold on at a lower price than Steam or traditional retail.
“To clarify, one of our PC retail distributors informed us that some of their allotted Steam keys were stolen. We believe these keys were then resold to multiple companies, with no payments going to either Valve or the retail distributor,” Rebellion wrote in an update apparently aimed at quelling the rising anger.
“Steam were immediately informed and have now revoked that set of keys. As a developer Rebellion are happy for you to purchase the game anywhere you see fit and support price competition in the PC market – we have in no way targeted any specific vendors (who may have also thought these keys were legitimate), just this one set of keys.”
Many vendors immediately began issuing refunds or replacements with no comment on the issue, but others have spoken out strongly against Rebellion.
Verified information ends, Internet drama begins.
Though unaffected by the key revocation, CJS-CDKeys posted a blog which seems to suggest that the entity responsible for on-selling the affected keys to vendors was exercising a legal right, and that Rebellion is stretching the truth by using the word “stolen”.
“While the term ‘unauthorised reseller’ bounces about the internet, the truth is that there is no such thing. Under the first-sale doctrine, the copyright ownership of a license key ends after the first sale (ie, from publisher to distributor),” the post notes.
“This means that all legal entities (even members of the public) have a legal right to re-sell their license keys as they see fit. The developer has absolutely no legal right to stop keys being re-sold. The only requirement in law for re-selling virtual software / digital goods is that the original copy of the virtual item must be destroyed once copied over to someone. Of course, with Steam’s DRM system, the key can only be used once, so deleting access to the ‘original copy’ is not an issue.”
Meanwhile, on Steam itself, a poster claiming to be CEO of a parent company to two vendors seemed to be making similar allegation, calling Rebellion’s act the “most underhanded tactic” they have ever seen from a publisher.
“This is a free internet where people have the choice to do what they like with something they just purchased. What [Rebellion is] doing here is against the Fair Trade Act 1973 and will be dealt with to the full extent possible in terms of claiming any losses and damages from Rebellion. All of our suppliers are officially licensed distributors yet [Rebellion has] the audacity to claim we are all fraudulent buyers and that everyone can only buy it from Steam for it to be legitimate.
“This is a complete fabrication and has no legal standing whatsoever. Every person or consumer has a right to purchase [Rebellion's] game wherever they see fit if that company is buying [Rebellion's] games legitimately and [Rebellion] cannot punish us or any other seller for selling [Rebellion's] game if this is the case.”
According to comments on Steam, over 50 vendors have been affected by the revocation, including some who carry physical stock now bearing illegitimate keys. These claims have not been verified, however; anybody can say things on the Internet, obviously. We’ll try to get Rebellion’s side of the story.
Update: Green Man Gaming was incorrectly named in this original article. Green Man Gaming is an official retailer for Rebellion, not a third-party reseller.