Making Games at the End of the World

The Bus Station

At three ‘o clock in the morning, the St. Louis Gateway Transportation Center is a hostile environment, but it isn’t the passengers at fault. This is a bus station, after all. Some of the people there are sprawled out across a few seats. Others are a day or two behind on a much-needed shower. But there is nothing glamorous about bus travel, especially trips stretching across multiple days and several layovers. Anyone forced to put up with those circumstances deserves a certain level of leeway.

The St. Louis Gateway Transportation Center is oppressive because it is a strange little building nestled away behind the home of the St. Louis Blues. Most directions to the SLGTC force drivers to arrive at the wrong part of the facility. The heat (more on the heat in a moment) is turned on. Everyone is sweating, even people who just arrived. And there are no water fountains.

A television above the waiting area blares an infomercial for a product called Astaxanthin. Astaxanthin is a chemical compound found (in extremely tiny amounts) in salmon and greater, but not terribly meaningful amounts, in krill and shrimp, giving the flesh of these sea creatures a pink-ish hue. It is also produced synthetically and injected into fish-based pet food, to give the cheaper meal a more healthy color. It is not approved for human consumption, but it can legally be fed to other salmon (which is messed up) to improve the pink tint of the inner meat.

The infomercial playing in the waiting room of the St. Louis Gateway Transportation Center claims that Astaxanthin will reverse aging. It will remove and prevent wrinkles. It will restore eye function. All for the perfectly reasonable price of sixty dollars a bottle .

At three thirty, the infomercial mercifully ends, only to be replaced with (presumably) the late-night edition of the local news. I hear the stories you expect from the local news in 2017. A suspect has died in an officer-involved shooting during a drug bust. Hundreds of headstones in a Jewish cemetery were defaced. Donald Trump tweeted again. The high temperature today, on February 22, will be in the mid 70s in St. Louis.

I wonder what the hell I’m doing in this bus stop, waiting to go to a conference about making video games.

The bus outside honks twice and I line up inside the stuffy terminal to board. The first thing I hear when I’m inside is a passenger telling someone he just met how he lost his finger on the job and was then fired for it.

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An Open Letter to Steam Key E-mail Scammers

Dear [misspelled game site] at gmail dot com, 2gaui.ff at hotmail dot com, and especially you, Danny from GameReviewBomb:

Listen, I know it’s hard out there. We all have work to do. We all have to hustle. The world is cold and indifferent to our suffering, so sometimes we have to get creative to survive. For you, that means impersonating twitch streamers to get Steam keys from independent video game developers, then turning around and selling those keys on G2A. Do I approve? No, of course not. It’s fraud, and a kind of low-grade, unambitious fraud that most fraudsters would be ashamed to try. But you’re here. You’re doing it. You’re trying your scam me and countless other developers.

Quite frankly, you’re embarrassing yourself. Not just because of what you’re doing, but because of how bad you are at doing it. I don’t know why you’re so terrible at this. Maybe you’re new at scamming people, and this is your first rodeo. Or maybe you’re an old hand, and you are discouraged because five years ago you were pretending to be a Nigerian prince. Now you’re pretending to be a guy who yells at Minecraft.

I can’t let you continue. I feel bad for you, which is all kinds of messed up because you’re the ones trying to cheat me. So I’m going to lay this out: if you have to keep up this awful work, you need to do better. You need to make me angry with you, not pity you.

First off, a little praise. Psychologists say that critique is better received when it is preceded by a compliment. Who are we to argue? I’m a game developer and you’re the internet equivalent of a grifter who is trying to hustle a pool hall on your first ever game of billiards. We should listen to the experts.

So I’ll begin by telling you one thing you’re doing right: you are pretending to be foreign journalists and streamers rather than folks from US/Canada/UK. This is an effective strategy for many reasons. First, your mastery of English isn’t doing you any favors and this gives you a reasonable explanation. You probably aren’t from the US/Canada/UK, though you’re not necessarily from the country you’re claiming as home (more on that later) so you roll with it. It’s also harder for us developers to verify whether you’re for real or not. You send out e-mails right as a developer releases a new game, and we’re simultaneously receiving legitimate requests for keys. It’s way easier for me to evaluate if an English speaking reviewer is legit because I can read their website. I can see if they usually cover games like my own. I can easily find their contact info and note that they use their own domain and not a random gmail address that ends in a string of numbers. Making me navigate a website in German is annoying. So bravo, that’s a good first step. But you can’t stop there.

If you’re going to claim to be an editor at the a prominent Greek website, at least give yourself a proper Greek name. Don’t just mash up a bunch of syllables that sound vaguely Greek. I’m talking specifically about you, Mr. Poskalelalos. There are dozens of websites out there that will generate an actual Greek name for you. If your job of spamming developers with the same e-mail over and over has left you so starved for creativity that you absolutely must make up your own fake name, then please at least Google it before your final decision. If there are literally no results, you probably need to go back to the drawing board.

While we’re on the subject, if you’re going to impersonate someone at a real gaming site, why not actually impersonate a real writer there? You’ve already sold your soul to the devil of the gray market. What’s a little lazy identity theft on top? Of course, make sure that your target’s actual e-mail isn’t somewhere accessible on the website. If the person you’ve chosen to name-jack is the editor-in-chief and his real address is the first thing on the “Contact Us” page, well, I’m gonna be suspicious about the hotmail account he’s suddenly decided to use.

Similarly–and I direct this to you, Danny from GameReviewBomb–please take some care in naming your completely fake website. Don’t throw together a site name that gives away the trick from the very beginning. Dude, I know you’re not with Giantbomb. Hell, I know you’re not even with the bizarre Russian knock-off of Giantbomb, Gamebomb.ru. Somehow you tried to split the difference between the real GB and Vladimir Putin’s shadow GB, and came up with GameReviewBomb: a staggering, weeping hybrid that can only beg for death. Run your idea by a friend. Or maybe don’t make up a completely fake website because literally your first google result is gonna be a developer and Austin Walker just clowning on you.

Incidentally, I don’t understand why Gamebomb.ru exists or if it’s legit, but it is hilarious and they can absolutely have a review copy of Echoes of the Fey if they want one.

Except, of course, we make English-language visual novels, so until we are successful enough to be able to hire someone to localize 120,000+ words into Russian, there’s probably not going to be a ton of interest from a site that is full of Cyrillic characters. That’s another thing you scammers need to pay attention to: what kind of games are you targeting? Who are the people you’re impersonating and is there any chance a developer would believe that person would have interest in their game? When a Turkish-language youtuber who plays nothing but CS:Go is asking for a key for a game that is almost entirely reading English, I’m going to hesitate.

That’s not to say that people who are in non-English speaking countries wouldn’t enjoy our game! Woodsy Studios’ last title had some decent sales in Asia on Steam and I’d be happy for anyone anywhere to play! I’m not going to automatically assume anything based purely on language. But at least find a Turkish youtuber who plays Telltale games or RPGs or something. Make sure I have some reason to believe that you are who you say you are. Or, y’know, stop wasting your time on Visual Novel developers.

While you’re at it, go back and check on the youtuber or twitch streamer you’ve decided to impersonate every so often. Has he stopped releasing videos? Is the last time she streamed back when Destiny came out? Is the top story on the website you “work at” about how the Xbox One will have to always be online? Maybe consider finding a new mark. Granted, abandoned accounts and sites are less likely to ever take issue with your impersonation… But you’re found out immediately.

Similarly, actually maintain the e-mail address that you are fishing with. The only time (that we know of, I suppose) one of you tricked us, it didn’t actually work because the e-mail bounced back. I ended up tweeting the person you were impersonating, finding out he didn’t write the e-mail, and promptly wondering what your endgame was. What did you hope to accomplish by putting in a non-existent e-mail address on our contact form?

Next up, if you’re trying to get me to send keys to you because you (claim to) moderate a Steam Community and want keys to give away, I have a hot tip for you. I feel like this should go without saying, but please don’t also send me a link to your profile on a site where you are clearly selling Steam Keys. I know! I know you are proud of the handful of grifts you’ve pulled. You want to show off how you are a prolific trader of Steam Keys. But when you just said you want five keys to give away to your members, you’re introducing a certain level of doubt that I should trust anything you say.

Finally, stop using the scam form e-mails you downloaded from pastebin. When I get the exact same request, down to the word, in multiple messages, it throws up a red flag. Yes, Brazilian youtuber, I accept your apology for your bad grammar because English is not your first language. But the identical, poorly-parsed apology I received from the Swedish youtuber three hours later rang a little false. At least you, Danny from GameReview Bomb, wrote your own unique pitch. Unfortunately, you send it verbatim to every single developer, typos and all, as evidenced above. As a result, we’re not too “trilled” to send you a key.

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got for you. Except maybe that you should reconsider the whole fraud thing. It’s pretty scummy.

Sincerely,

Malcolm