A Tangled Mess — Videogames, Grey Market and G2A in India

If you’ve lived in India and are into videogames, you probably have been privy to piracy in all its glory. Perhaps due to the fact that pirated games are sold at a fraction of a cost, when compared to their original counterparts. If its not pirated games, you might have encountered a modified console that allows you to play games from all regions and sometimes even pirated games along with them. And if you’ve not partaken in such acts then you surely must have heard about them from a friend.

This recently has slowed down as regional pricing has been introduced in different markets, making the game prices commensurate with the market they inhabit. Though in some instances games have become more expensive or have reached parity with their international counterpart. Games for the most part are easier to procure at a lesser cost now a days.

What is a ‘grey market’ in gaming terms?

But everyone is a sucker for a ‘good deal’ — that’s where the ‘grey market’ steps in, which a polygon article describes as “an eBay for videogames. Where the merchandise up for sale is not being sold by these companies. Sites like G2A and Kinguin merely facilitate the transaction by moving money back and forth and offering up technical support where they are able.”

These ‘grey markets’ while not piracy per se but have enabled instances of transactions where a game is purchased through means like credit card frauds, hence making their manner of operation questionable to say the least. In an effort to appear less shady, big players in the ‘grey market’ have started ‘initiatives’ in a cash grab situation where they’re selling something that the platform should inherently provide considering it’s a market place.

G2A Shield for example claims to make “all your transactions go as planned” and help people “receive their products always on time”. Vague terms like “go as planned” possibly refer to when videogame developers  want to curb use of stolen keys and these storefronts act as conduits for that as credit card fraud start getting detected over the course of time. Another such instance is noted in Kinguin’s buyer protect which claims, “It’s a line in the sand. As our faithful customer we will defend your purchase against fakes, cheats, and trolls.” All the while shooting themselves in the foot and exemplifying the security risks a person takes while transacting on their platforms.

Let’s look at some voices in and around the ‘grey market’, to get a greater sense of what the market entails in the Indian context and then conclude with the curious entry of G2A into India and how it has been and is operating here.

 

pdf-screen
G2A pays no GST.

 

The Stakeholders

Madhan used to run steamz.co which was a platform that allowed people to purchase cd-keys at a smaller price tag than on steam and other platforms. He told me that he has been in the business for about 10 years. He used to procure retail cd-keys which were region free at that time and costed a lot less compared to current day prices. But, due to regional pricing most games became region locked and as such he made the switch towards selling in-game items for games like PUBG that he claims to have “procured through the developers at a bulk rate”, in a legitimate manner.

Further, he has moved on from the market largely and now pivoted to the physical sphere, selling gaming chairs. Which he feels will bring him similar profits that are “steady and almost same as game selling”. When asked what he would be doing five years down the line, he told me, “Something related to gaming, always”. When asked to comment on the entry of G2A in India he stated “Good, cheaper games for gamers. Better than piracy. But they should be very strict on verifying sellers. They had a very bad way before, like anyone can sell…that leads to stolen game keys, carded keys and everything. So I guess it’s changing now.”

Arvind Raja Yadav, an Indie game developer and founder of Pyrodactyl, told me “In a vacuum, I don’t have a problem with people reselling keys. However, sites like G2A often cause other smaller stores to go nearly bankrupt”, he further added that people who have bought these stolen keys often “decide to contact the developer with a decidedly impolite email” as the end users thinks that the game developer is at fault, though G2A and kinguin allow this to happen.

Goi Garg owner of savekeys.net told me, “at that time there was no company from India which was selling digital key, except G2A”. When asked who he considered his competition, he said confidently, “My competition is with G2A all others are a far behind”.

he states that he makes a total of thirty to forty thousand rupees per month, and turns over a net profit of twenty to thirty  thousand rupees from all his ventures. He then explains, “G2A isn’t paying GST and they’re taking 40% fees from Indian customers, like if you buy Rs. 100 game from G2A you have to pay Rs. 140”, he then provides a pdf of a bill as a supporting evidence, which doesn’t provide any tax break up for services rendered.

 

g2a-bit-bay
G2A Founder,CEO and BitBay,CEO sharing stages and giving talks about cryptocurrency.

 

What is G2A India?

G2A launched in India in a partnership with Luit technology, which help set up G2A India under the company Trinity digital distribution pvt ltd. All these companies lead to the following people. Rohit Dahda who was the head of G2A India — who has moved on now, seemingly due to unknown reasons,

At first, I approached Piyush and Reetesh as they were still active in the field and still with the company. They weren’t able to explain much and said they weren’t authorised to speak on behalf of the company, despite Reetesh being Company PR. Reetesh then asked me to give him some sample questions when I had asked for an on the record interview with anyone in the company. Perhaps a decision taken based on my previous article on the ‘grey market’ which wasn’t too accommodating of G2A and the likes.

But who really knows, G2A’s brazen attitude towards any external factors like media, regular people on reddit or game developers is well documented. This fact is reiterated when the international team rather than appointing a regional spokesperson, just went ahead and answered the sample questions that I had put forward in the form of a questionnaire . One response was a spiel about G2A pay — which

All of which seemed odd back in May when I had begun the probe, because they were selling on popular e-retail platforms like amazon.in and had partnered with flipkart and snapdeal at certain points. All three having their own proprietary payment gateways, none of which were mentioned in response to the questions about payment platforms or expansion in India. Though now it seems that they have stopped selling on these sites, perhaps making for a cut and run tactic or possibly a strategic pivot — first attract people from popular sites like Amazon and flipkart and then redirect them towards G2A.com all of which is speculative on my part. But at least one thing was certain that they were formally making a push for their payment gateway G2A Pay as they had started to attend expos like the ‘India Ecommerce Expo’ promoting a product that enables payments through diverse currencies like bitcoins.

It should be noted that their operation on Amazon was operational till June 25 at least as the last review establishes. An amazon review on the same page points out an issue with G2A as thus, “The product is not from Microsoft as mentioned in the site, this is a third party, so the code didn’t work. I’ve been waiting for the seller to resolve the issue but no proper response. Please do not purchase from this seller.” This received no response from G2A. Another similar response is found on flipkart, as follows “I have received a used code of Minecraft windows 10. Also I bought Stalker too and the voucher I received was blank. No reply from G2A India still.”

Further, there are these smaller sites that are exploiting the market while it lasts, some we have stated above like savekeys.in which now has products on Amazon.in and Flipkart — which have evidently allowed unvetted accounts to sell digital codes of video games, which their international counterparts don’t allow. Going as far as to provide them with an amazon prime listings, even though Amazon reviews of this site are not that flattering similar to the case of G2A. Another such curious storefront is called  , which besides selling on flipkart and Amazon, traces  back to one of the key people of G2A India— Piyush Kankane, who had stated in passing that the site would be shutting down soon, this was back in May, yet the site is still operational on flipkartmost recently celebrating a independence day sale around 15 August, some of their listings mimic that of G2A and at times even sell the under the G2A banner on flipkart. It is also to be noted that there are two Luit’s, one is owned by Rohit Dhada and the other by Piyush Kankane. All of which make you question even the basics such as — how the subsidiaries and organisations related to G2A function in India.

 

rohit-dahda
Rohit Dahda: the man, the myth, the CEO extraordinaire.

 

Who is Rohit Dahda?

While reporting on G2A, it is noted Rohit Dahda was also the Indian head of BitBay a polish bitcoin exchange web platform, that was about to launch its operations in India which didn’t go beyond a demo site and some interviews. Both the companies are based out of Poland and the global heads of both the companies are aligned as G2A uses BitBay’s services internationally to enable people to pay using bitcoin on G2A and further they share stage on cryptocurrency related boards. So, from that perspective Dahda’s appointment as head of both the companies India makes some sense.

Further, Dahda’s name would come up during the research and investigation phase but – vanished when anyone approached him for an interview. This was revealed when I talked to a reporter Sidhartha Shukla who had “interviewed” him for money control. Sidhartha revealed that he had to interview him through a questionnaire similar to my case with G2A. Dahda now runs a company called ‘RD services’ which seems like a consultancy firm, but it is uncertain as the man is hard to get a hold of.

I also physically looked up the addresses of the companies in his name, most of which seemed like shell companies which were being operated from Luit’s office in ‘DLF Jasola Tower A’, which I physically verified. Though I was stopped short of taking a picture of the list of companies at the lobby, because of “security reasons” by the guard. Further I decided to visit the address of Trinity in Delhi’s Shakarpur, which lead me to a residential address. But it ended up being a dead end.

After all this only more questions are raised about the companies than we began with. For  starters — What exactly is G2A India? Why are they setting up here? What happened to BitBay India especially considering the recent ban on bitcoin and alt coins in India? And possibly the most intriguing bit, who exactly is Rohit Dahda and how has he ended up as the Indian head of these organisations and left them in such short span of time?

 

Hey! If you have something interesting for me or something interesting to say hit me up on twitter (@Crit93)

Emergence of the online ‘grey market’ around video games in India

If you play games regularly or are vaguely aware of their existence, surely you can see that gaming is big business and is consumed world over by billions of people. Until the past couple of years retail was probably a big deal for those who consume games in India. Although in the recent past, the gaming market has evolved past it and started its trek towards the online world. Platforms like Steam have been gaining popularity overtime and along with that games are becoming considerably cheaper with the advent of smaller and independent studios starting to get into the mix.

Subsequently games are becoming more convenient to purchase in the digital sphere. Aforementioned platform steam isn’t the only one to offer games at a cheap price. There are a plethora of sites now part of this market. For instance, Humble Bundle, which started out as site that would club together some games titles and sell them as a bundle at dirt cheap prices. Further it would let you chose where your money would go, you could either give it all to charity or all of it to the game developers or to humble bundle. Since its start, the site has diversified with a storefront of its own and multiple other services. Then there are sites like GOG, largely dedicated to old games, but also acts like a general storefront for new games as well. These sites that I mentioned are only some of the many platforms out there in the international waters.

While in India, retail had a stronghold on most big budget games. Perhaps because of poor quality internet in India. For example some people were unable to download about 30 GB on an average big budget game due to a limited internet plan with fair use policy. Or perhaps it was due to the fact that the speeds just aren’t there, considering the national average speed is 2-3 mbps. This is why some people prefer to buy consoles like Xbox One or PS4, but with ever growing need for patches that fix the game on day one becoming a standard practice, it’s uncertain how much the retail market makes sense in India. Especially on the PC where publishers are cutting so many corners that they just ship out games with a key and a steam installer on the disc and then make people download the whole game from scratch as in the case of MGS:V. Eventually consumers in India would rather prefer to save some money and invest the time in downloading, I would guess, but this is a subjective matter and will vary from person to person.

That being said let’s look at how the division of the retail market for games works. The biggest retail players likely are Amazon.in, Flipkart and Snapdeal. The smaller players would constitute sites like Nextworld, Game4u and Gametheshop. Most of the retailers mentioned above haven’t migrated into the digital sphere, except for sites like Gametheshop and Game4u, which had a short stint in this market but since have stopped their operation in digital sphere.

Now before we jump into the next part I think we should first learn about what the term ‘grey market’ here entails internationally, then work our way towards India. The ‘grey market’ as we will refer to it, entails in it the sale and purchase of games that are sometimes procured through illegal means but not always. Sometimes people use the natural setup of recent free to play or free to pay games like Dota 2 or CS:GO respectively for trading on Steam. Games like these give players in-game items that can be sold on the Steam market and Steam market only. But, some enterprising individuals who want to turn these items of value into real world currency enter into the shady areas of the trade subculture. In this trade subculture, they try to get other people to give them real world money in exchange for a high value in game item. The exchange of money takes place through sites like paypal.

That’s only a part of the story though. There are some people that go a step further and set up sites like kinguin and G2A which act like a marketplace, enabling individuals to setup storefronts and sell their products in similar manner to a site like ebay, with sellers having ratings and such. On sites like kinguin and G2A people not only sell in game items but also sell actual games, sometimes at a fraction of the cost compared to legitimate online sites like steam. It’s not always the case that the keys sold are procured from what one would call illegitimate means. To be honest one can’t ascertain the legitimacy of these items, because some of these keys are just retail keys that these people got for cheap from dealers in countries that have a cheaper retail market price. This uncertain nature of these transactions leads us to employ terms like ‘grey market.’

There are people in this trade business that make very good money and have solely switched to this trading/re-selling as their main source of income. But when there is a highly unregulated market as such, there is bound to be fraud not far from it. This polygon article gives us a pretty good idea of how things function in this grey area of games trading online, internationally. The article talks of how people took advantage of platforms like kinguin and G2A to profit in both semi-legitimate and illegitimate manners. The former being the model of selling keys procured from essentially trading as stated above, while the latter being employment of illegitimate means, like credit card fraud, to purchase games from one of the legitimate sites like humblebundle.com during a sale. Further the reselling of said game on the ‘grey market’, and by extension, bringing out the ‘grey’ nature of the market and along with it the question of regulation or lack thereof. The aforementioned article focuses on the broader picture of this grey market, and I’ll try to focus on the Indian trade (grey) market from here on out.

The Indian trade market, much like the international one, is largely unregulated, but major players like kinguin and G2A don’t have much of a foothold in the Indian market. However there are small players trying to make a quick buck while the state of such a market stays untouched or unrecognized by Indian authorities. Most of the Indian traders are aware of platforms like kinguin and G2A, and are sometimes largely dependent on these platforms to provide them with a boost in their income. Some people in India try to focus on the Indian market as they see an opportunity. Let’s consider the poor infrastructure and red tape set up for the digital Indian consumer in India. Multiple debit/credit cards don’t work with major store fronts online due to the 2-3 step native verification systems that banks deploy to maintain security. Some of the banks block international online transactions by default and have an unnavigable customer service. Along with the above, we see a lack of other options like net-banking and the recent crop of wallet services that are present in the Indian sphere. It was only a matter of time before someone capitalized on this fact. That being said let us look at individuals that are functioning in this field, hailing from different parts of India and how they operate.

steamz

First up steamz.co, a site run by someone in their early 20’s who claims to have been running the site for about 6 years. He was selling retail copies internationally as the Indian retail games weren’t region locked back then and keys could be used across borders with ease. He claims to have started out by gifting a copy of a game to his friend, back when he hadn’t started online trading as the game was cheaper in India. The copy of game he gifted to his friend turned out to work. Soon after this, his friend asked him to procure more copies for more of his friends. Then he essentially thought he could make some real money out this stuff and contacted a distributor via skype and essentially started to delve deeper into the business. But since the keys started to get region locked, (In 2014 acc. to him) he switched distributors from Indian to Polish. He makes around (Rs) 20 lakh, (Rs) 10-15 lakh net profit (his claims.), and this is probably his main job, but he claims to help his family with their business when needed. He claims to know 7-10 people who do about the same work he does in India from different cities.

When asked about clampdown on the largely unregulated key market on G2A and Kinguin via publishers like Ubisoft, he explains why it happened and claims both site owners are prior customers of his who got shafted. Further when I asked what he thinks about what the developers think about his business, he says it’s better than piracy and they should stop complaining and focus on making good games.

rshop

Next up is reapershop.com. It’s operated by someone in his early 20’s, he has been at it for approximately 4 years, and he doesn’t really say much about how he got into trading. He initially states that he got into it for “fun” and “nothing specific” but later on in the conversation when asked about whether he has a day job or not, he reveals that he wanted to run his own business and that’s why he started this. He too thinks that his work is helping curb piracy in a manner. He says he knows about 2-3 Indian folks working in the trade business.

Upon being asked about his income a lot of different answers came forth. First a worst case scenario of (Rs) 15-30k per month which rounds out to be (Rs) 2-4 Lakh per year. Which is a lot lower than the other fellow I talked to claimed. I bought this fact to his attention asking who’s inflating the figure him or the other guy (apparently both knew each other too). After a bit of back and forth, and him jokingly suspecting me to be from Income Tax department, he tells me 4-8 Lakhs to be his combined income from selling to both Indian and international sellers. He tells me that the previous figure was for his dealings in India alone.

I further ask him about the clampdown on the largely unregulated key market on G2A and Kinguin a while back, he states there is a difference between the sellers in that instance and sellers like him. He further explains he buys legit retail keys from distributors (although doesn’t name any which is understandable) and then he states “till now none of my customers have faced any issues with copies (bought from the site) in past 3 years of my site”, but then adding that he also deals with trading steam gifts (essentially steam locked keys) internationally as there is a greater market there for trade and it is easier to make more money there, though he does reiterate that he is mainly focused on the Indian market. Lastly when I asked him about what the developers think about establishments like his, he states that their claims are false, and further adds that most of the regions which sold games for cheap in the retail market are now region locked and they (developers) are talking about losses? It’s not like sellers like him are stealing those games and reselling them. The developers are getting paid and selling copies through them.

Few things worth taking note are both these individuals are still part of the international markets like G2A and kinguin, as that is where most of the money is at the moment but they do manage to make a decent buck from their Indian endeavours. Both these individuals have a presence in social media especially on facebook, both having around 3-5k likes. Both individuals make similar amounts of money as compared to their international counterparts, as indicated in the aforementioned polygon article.

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows in the Indian sphere as well, as we find individuals who got burned during these transactions. An Indian user on reddit tells me how he got ripped off with his endeavours in trade for (Rs) 50k (approx.). He got into the trade sphere via a game called dota2, which was one of the first games to employ micro-transactions in videogames. The game was in beta for about 2 years prior to release, and to gain access to the beta, people were given dota2 invite passes via various means, and this was around the time when trading on steam started out. Dota2 invites where hard to come by initially, hence you found people selling them or trading them for goods and services, and this reddit user was one of them.

As he puts it “I sold one invite for a steam game that I traded for many team fortress keys, the other I kept with me. The invite was global one which was rare and had a high price as it could be activated in china. I traded the invite for huge amount of keys and started sharking new invitees to buy new invites for less and selling for a huge amount. I found a dedicated seller and he became a good friend of mine. I used to give him a dota invite (playable or non-playable in china) and get around 30-40 keys per invite. Soon invites became common and down went the price. I traded out the keys for around 5-6 dragon claw hooks and few Timebreakers (Dota 2 immortal items). After keeping the items for a year and getting fed of trading, I tried cashing the items to real world money and that’s where I made a VERY VERY big mistake. Being new to paypal and other methods of getting money for virtual items. I was added by many scammers but they were easy to tell, then a smart guy with good rep added me and he took all my hooks and breakers with an easy scam (not possible now). That was a sad day and for weeks I could not bring myself to the fact I’ve lost everything I’ve earned in past 2 years. I left trading. Steam didn’t help at all and brushed at it was my fault giving item to somebody. I tried creating multiple tickets (complaints) and still same response (from steam)…that we explicitly warn you before trading items and you confirm that the items you are sending are gift (The scammer made a fake profile of my friend) to the other party.”

The case presented above is quite an old one, as it happened around when steam didn’t internally put up safeguards. As thus it might be a one off case, but it does give us some perspective into the fact that people indulging in the trade business have to be on their toes all the time. Trying to suss out whether the person you’re dealing with online has a malicious intent or not can be a tough task. The chance of fraud is obviously high, for both the people who procure these games and navigate the muddy waters of online game trade, and those who decide to buy from them. Not to say the above mentioned sites have malicious intent or are actively against the law. I can’t be the judge of that. What I can say is that this is very much a ‘grey’ area that requires people with thick skins to navigate on all ends of the spectrum. So, think twice before you buy games from sites online that aren’t exactly running a legitimate business as say a Steam or Humble Bundle does.

Hey! If you have something interesting for me or something interesting to say hit me up on twitter (@Crit93)