Ubisoft going after gray market with ‘silent key activation’

Developer and publisher Ubisoft is going after gray market resellers via a new method called “silent key activation.” This technology removes the need for game keys, making it impossible for people to resell them.

Ubisoft has partnered with Genba Digital to implement this new method of selling games via third-party stores like Fanatical and Games Republic. Instead of giving out keys, silent key activation automatically activates a game on a buyer’s Uplay or Steam 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 Digital CEO said to GamesIndustry. “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.”

Traditionally, third-party retailers acquire a list of keys from publisher like Ubisoft. They then provide these keys to any buyers who purchase games from them. Resellers take advantage of this, buying keys in bulk during sales, or worse, with stolen credit cards, that they then resell these for a profit. While seemingly innocent enough, publishers look down on gray market reselling as it affects their profits.

Ubisoft going after gray market resellers isn’t a new thing. Back in 2015, the company removed access to Far Cry 4 from players suspected of having obtained the game via the gray market. While it reversed the decision—Ubisoft ended up just disabling any unused keys traced to resellers—it does show the steps the company will take to combat the gray market.

Removing keys from the process of buying games gives Ubisoft and other companies more control over how games are sold as well as how much money can be made off them.

“It’s a bit like trying to change the rules—you need everyone to move at the same speed, or move together,” CEO Matt Murphy states. “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.”

Murphy states that he expects most big publishers to use silent key activation or similar methods by the end of the year. In the meantime, Genba Digital is in talks with 10 retailers to implement their system.