First of all, if you’re reading this and have never bought a Valve game on PC before, make sure you never ever buy a used Valve or Steam-activated game. Fail to heed that advice at your own loss.
My personal experience happened just a few days ago. I purchase a lot of stuff on Amazon, and I had developed an interest in playing the Half-Life games, especially since I’ve never played anything from the Half-Life series, and I love FPS games with story. So, I searched for some Half-Life stuff and came across Half-Life 2: GOTY Edition for about $8, along with the Episode 1 & 2 pack for another $14. The Episode pack was new. The HL2 GOTY game was used yet sold by a merchant whose goods were handled and shipped by Amazon (lending me the Prime shipping benefits – without additional tax).
I ordered the games on Friday, received them early Monday (before 10am), installed all included software on the five disks in the HL2 package and hit a roadblock at the Steam activation. Duplicate Key. Some researching landed me with two apparent possibilities: either Steam support would release the key after I provide proof of ownership, or I’m screwed. Well, when I say screwed, I at least expected Steam’s Customer Support to confirm that for me. I submit a Support Ticket before noon on Monday and wait the rest of the day with no response. That’s no surprise, really. After all, a lot of Support departments often take up to 24 hours to respond. Well. Around 2pm on Tuesday (a little over the 24 hour window I decided I would limit my wait to), I’ve still heard nothing from Steam and decide it’s not worth my while to hold on to the games any longer. I submit a return request with Amazon. I never update my Support ticket with Steam to let them know, and for a reason.
That reason was to see if I’d ever get a response – and what the response would be. Well, it’s after 6pm on Wednesday and I’ve gotten no response from Steam, nor am I expecting one at this point. Various statements in forums across the net lead me to believe this is a common experience when dealing with their Customer Support, but I think it’s ludicrous, especially for an organization that surely handles the kind of money and services the kind of customer base that they do. On top of that, a lot of game distributors are partnering with them, and that creates more concern for the used PC game market. I think it’s nuts that a service like Amazon, who directly deals with Steam and sells Steam software codes, will actually sell a used game that cannot be used by the buyer. But I don’t completely blame Amazon. After all, Amazon at least has a responsive Customer Support group, and they process returns and refunds, something that apparently Steam does neither of.
I will speak highly on Steam where it works. After all, I bought a game on special through their service today that I had downloaded and playing within less than an hour, and the game cost me half of what it would cost for a physical disk on Amazon, and that disk would still require activation and use through Steam’s client. In some ways, Steam is great. But, even an unappealing response of we can’t help you regarding the used HL2 game would have been better than ignored.
Just be sure you research every used PC game you buy, especially if purchasing through a service where returns and refunds may not be accepted under any circumstances (eg. eBay). If it’s a Valve or Steam-activated game, it’s useless to anyone besides the original owner.