Valve doesn’t want you to buy PC games outside of Steam. A post on the Steam developer forums states that the company won’t be automatically allowing Steam key requests from developers who sell games on the store.
“If we are denying keys for normal size batches it’s likely because your Steam sales don’t reflect a need for as many keys as you’re distributing, and you’re probably asking for more keys because you’re offering cheaper options off Steam and yet we are bearing the costs. So at some point we start deciding that the value you’re bringing to Steam isn’t worth the cost to us,” reads a post from Valve employee Sean Jenkin.
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“For example, say you’ve sold a few thousand copies on Steam but have requested / activated 500K keys, then we are going to take a deeper look at your games, your sales, your costs, etc.,” Jenkin’s post continues.
Prior to this, game developers with access to Steamworks - Steam’s developer API, can generate keys for their games at will. These are usually given to the press for review or for marketing purposes. At times, they’re also given to bundle sites or third-party sellers. Valve takes offence to this because it makes no money from these sales.
Granted such steps help weed out fake actors in the system - asset flippers, shovelware makers, and all sorts of riffraff Steam is regularly associated with but it doesn’t bode well for Steam’s burgeoning user base.
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What does this mean for consumers? Well, expect fewer bundles and cheaper games from third-party sites. Along with Valve clamping down on gifting games via Steam, this could be seen as another attempt at turning on the screws and creating a monopoly of sorts. We won’t be surprised if the next step is to prevent publishers from selling games that use Steam on disc altogether or sell them via their own digital store.
Update, August 18, 2017 :
Valve has clarified its stance on the subject in a response to Gamasutra (via Reddit):
"Steam keys have always been available for free to our partners to help them sell PC games at physical retail and on other digital stores. In return, we've asked that partners offer Steam customers a fair deal, similar to what they're offering on other stores. None of that is changing.
But over the last few years, new features and additions to Steam have changed the way Steam keys were being used, for instance as a means for game-shaped objects to monetize on Steam through methods other than actually selling fun games to customers. Most notably, this meant farming Steam Trading Cards. We shared a lot of info about that issue, and our response to it, here.
While our changes did impact the economics of trading card farming for new products coming to Steam, there are still a lot of games and game-shaped objects using Steam keys as a way to manipulate Steam systems. As a result, we're trying to look more closely at extreme examples of products on Steam that don't seem to be providing actual value as playable games-for instance, when a game has sold 100 units, has mostly negative reviews, but requests 500,000 Steam keys. We're not interested in supporting trading card farming or bot networks at the expense of being able to provide value and service for players.
It's completely OK for partners to sell their games on other sites via Steam keys, and run discounts or bundles on other stores, and we'll continue granting free keys to help partners do those things. But it's not OK to negatively impact our customers by manipulating our store and features."