Earlier this week Steam unveiled their Holiday Sale – which puts almost every game in their catalog on sale. On top of that, it marked the launch of the Epic Holiday Giveaway – a contest that involves getting daily achievements in order to win prizes and games. Each time you get one of the daily achievements you either win a game, a coupon for a specific future purchase, or a piece of coal. Get enough coal and you can craft it into a different random prize, keep the coal and you can use it as a entry into the Epic Giveaway at the end – which can get you EVERY game on Steam.
With such a big prize being offered, and so many games being given out for free, it was only a matter of time until people started exploiting the contest. To get everyone started, Valve gives every user who enters two prizes right away – basically freebie prizes just for using Steam during the sale. To be able to enter you need to have a game tied to your account, which seems like a simple enough way to discourage cheaters. Who would go to the trouble of making a new account and spending money on a cheap game just to gamble on a prize, which could end up being a 10% off coupon for some obscure game no one wants. And who would do that hundreds of times? The cheapest game on Steam is over 50 cents, and the chances of winning a game are not too high, so you will quickly realize you are wasting a lot of money.
Well unfortunately when you add in the Humble Indie Bundle – everyone’s favorite pay-what-you-want site – everything changes. For just 1 penny you can nab yourself a Steam redeemable key, and make your account valid for entry in the Epic Giveaway and the freebie prizes. That means you can create 100 accounts for just $1 – and while its a significant time investment, you are guaranteed to get a return on your investment.
Exploiting Humble Indie Bundle 4 for this purpose caused the average price to drop over 25 cents since the Steam Holiday Sale began, which is quite a feat seeing as the bundle has moved over 350,000 units. In fact, its become so rampant that the Humble Bundle team has changed the rules. To receive a Steam key for your games you now have to pay at least $1 – which is 100x higher than the old minimum. This should be instrumental in curbing piracy and exploitation, and is something that should have been enforced since the very first bundle.
Unfortunately it does not end here. Since Humble Bundle’s success we have seen many copycat bundles arising. The new target for exploiters is the IndieGala bundle, which currently sits at 39,428 purchases. For just a penny you can nab the IndiaGala games, and unlike the Humble Bundle, you get a separate Steam key for each game. That means that for just a penny exploiters can qualify five duplicate Steam accounts.
Now of course Valve has the requisite rules hidden away in the fine print that state you are disqualified from the Epic Giveaway if you are found to be entering multiple times or automating the process. However users are more concerned about exploiters drying up the prize pool. Each time you earn a daily achievement you get a chance to win the three prizes mentioned before – a game, a coupon, or some coal. Its incredibly likely that the publishers have decided ahead of time how many copies they would give away in this contest. So when you have thousands of fake Steam accounts receiving prizes its possible that in a few days all that will be left for legitimate users are coupons or coal – which will make a very un-merry holiday season for many.
There are other measures in place to prevent exploitation. For instance, in order to trade your account needs to be open for 90 days. However exploiters who scammed the Summer Sale Treasure Hunt now have accounts that are old enough, and its unclear if trading coal is under the same 90 day restriction.