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Steamworks Documentation
Steam Keys

Overview

Steam keys are meant to be a convenient tool for game developers to sell their game on other stores and at retail. Steam keys are free and can be activated by customers on Steam to grant a license to a product.

Valve provides the same free bandwidth and services to customers activating a Steam key that it provides to customers buying a license on Steam. We ask you to treat Steam customers no worse than customers buying Steam keys outside of Steam. While there is no fee to generate keys on Steam, we ask that partners use the service judiciously.

For more information on how keys work for customers, visit the customer facing support site here.

Types of Keys

Keys can be associated with the following package types:
  • Standard
    This is the most common type of key on Steam, which is usually tied to a store or Steam Key package. These keys are appropriate for retail boxes or sales on other sites. These keys will unlock the product once it has been released and marked as playable on Steam.
  • Release Override
    These keys are used to grant access to a product prior to its release on Steam. Release Override keys are intended for small beta tests and press/influencer access. We will look at each request on a case by basis, and in general less than 1000 keys work well for this purpose. It is never OK to sell release-override beta keys.
  • Dev Comp
    These keys are intended for developer use only. They are used to automatically provide developers with access to the product. You should not need more than a handful of Dev Comp keys.
    NOTE: Dev Comp keys should never be distributed to customers.

Steam Key Rules and Guidelines

  • You should use keys to sell your game on other stores in a similar way to how you sell your game on Steam. It is important that you don't give Steam customers a worse deal.

  • It's OK to run a discount on different stores at different times as long as you plan to give a comparable offer to Steam customers within a reasonable amount of time.

  • Occasionally it may make sense to offer your game in a bundle or subscription, timed at the right point in a game's life cycle. Keep in mind that the perceived price in the bundle/subscription should be a price you are willing to run the game at a standalone price or discount on Steam. For example, 10 games in a bundle that costs $5 USD may have a perceived price of $.50 per game. Similarly, 10 games for $10 through a subscription this month may have a perceived price of $1 each.

  • Steam keys shouldn't be given away for free if you aren't also offering the same deal (i.e., give the game away for free) to Steam customers. If you want to run a giveaway on Steam, please reach out to us at Steampublish@valvesoftware.com

  • Steam keys shouldn't be sold in bulk. For example, you should not sell your game on sites that offer customers the option to purchase large numbers of copies of your game for a lower price. You should also not include your game in bundles on sites that allow customers to purchase multiple copies of the bundle for a lower price.

  • We reserve the right to deny requests for keys or revoke key requesting privileges for partners that are abusing them or disadvantaging Steam customers.

  • If we detect that you have requested an extreme number of keys and you aren't offering Steam customers a good value, we may deny your request.

  • We reserve the right to remove key requesting privileges from any partner whose sole business is selling Steam keys and not providing value or a fair deal to Steam customers.

    Keys cannot be generated for the following:
    • "Free" products
      If you want to give away keys for a free package or something that will never go on sale (event giveaways, special promotions, etc), please contact Valve.
    • Steam Bundles
      Steam keys cannot be generated for Steam bundles. You will need to generate keys for the individual apps in the bundle.

Using Keys

Requesting Keys

Keys are obtained by requesting them in the Steamworks portal. To request keys, click the "Request Steam Product Keys" button on your application's landing page in Steamworks. If you don't see that button, your account doesn’t have “Generate Steam Keys” permission.
NOTE: Requests for large amounts of keys will be manually reviewed by Valve before processing.

Retrieving Keys

Once processed, keys can be retrieved by clicking "Request Steam Product Keys" on your application's landing page in Steamworks. Keys are available for download as a zip file which contains a plain text file. Keys are only available for download by the user that requested them.

Tagging Keys

It’s very important to tag your keys correctly so that you can keep track of them in the future. For example, if you are requesting a batch of keys to be sold at retail in France, you can choose the France tag. It’s a valuable accountability measure for you to keep track of your product’s sales on other storefronts. Untagged key requests may be denied.

Querying Keys

If you need to look up a product key, you may do so from the Query Steam Key page.

Note that only accounts which have "Request product Keys" permission may query a key. And you may only look up a product key from a batch of keys that you requested, or if it contains appIDs that you have product Key permissions on. If you attempt to look up a product key that you don't have permissions on, or if the product key is invalid, you'll just get back that the key is invalid.

Banning Keys

If you need to ban product keys, that can be done from the Ban Steam Keys page.

Similar to querying a key, you may only ban a product key that you have the rights to. In the second step of the process, you can pick whether you wish to ban all keys in the batch, or just keys that have not yet been redeemed. Please be very careful when banning product keys, as you could be removing access from legitimate customers.

You may ban keys to revoke access from legitimate users (for example, the end of a beta) or to revoke keys that have been stolen or purchased fraudulently. Once a key has been banned, it cannot be unbanned.

Additional Guidelines

  • Request keys in small batches.
    Think carefully about how many keys you need. You may want to work with a smaller amount of keys and request more if necessary. Only provide as many keys to third party distributors as they will reasonably need. If you or any of your distributors make a mistake or something happens with those keys, you'll be in better shape if you don't have to worry about a large number of stolen keys. In general, you should treat keys like cash.

  • Be cautious with your Steam keys.
    We've heard many reports of fraudsters impersonating journalists or storefronts to acquire keys, and then reselling those keys for profit.

  • Pre-Purchases.
    We generally discourage developers from running pre-purchase offers on Steam. If you offer your product for pre-purchase outside of Steam, and that pre-purchase grants the user a Steam product key, those keys should unlock your product at the same time it is made available for purchase via Steam.

  • Beta Testing
    Keys are a great way to let players into your game early for testing or closed alpha/beta access. If you plan to run a larger beta that requires more than a few thousand release override keys, please reach out to Steam directly.

  • Bundles off Steam.
    You are free to use keys to distribute your product via bundle offers off Steam. We've learned from developers that pay-what-you-want bundles are a great revenue opportunity when your product is very far along its life cycle.

    As with any system that distributes your product keys, there is a non-trivial risk that bundle purchasers will actively resell keys to your product and undercut your full-price sales. Participating in a bundle is equivalent to running it at a very deep discount, and can damage the effectiveness of future promotions. Consult our Discounts & Promotions Best Practices documentation for more information.

  • Crowdfunding.
    Keys can be used to fulfill crowdfunding rewards and grant backers access to your product. Providing backers with beta testing keys prior to release is also OK, but only backers should receive those keys --they shouldn’t be sold outside of the crowdfunding campaign unless your beta is also available for sale via Steam.

    Steam keys can only be promoted as a reward for products that have already confirmed Steam distribution -- it’s not OK to use the Valve or Steam logos to market a product that is not currently under Steam Distribution Agreement. For ongoing crowdfunding that does not have a set end date, it is only OK to sell Steam keys if the product is also available for purchase via Steam at no higher than it is offered via your crowdfunding campaign. If you are selling Steam keys for a beta or early access version of your product, you must follow the early access requirements listed below.

  • Keys and Early Access Titles.
    If you are requesting Steam keys to distribute or sell your Early Access title outside of Steam, you will need to include the materials specified in the Steam Early Access Branding Requirements.

    Please note that Steam keys cannot be sold on other sites unless the product is also available for purchase on Steam at no higher a price than is offered on any other service or website.
NOTE: Valve reserves the right to reject key requests.

FAQ

  • Q:How can I use keys to test my product?

    A: Please see Testing Your Application for more about testing with product keys.

  • Q: How many keys can I request?

    A: You can request as many keys as you need, but your request will be reviewed on a case by case basis by Valve staff to make sure Steam customers are being treated fairly and keys are not being abused.

  • Q: Why was my key request deniedt?

    A: Your request may have been denied due to the amount of keys requested. If we detect that you have requested an extreme number of keys and you aren't offering Steam customers a good value, we may deny your request.

    It may also have been denied because the request was for a package that contains a release state override. Release override keys make the content immediately playable upon activation. Unless a request for testing/promo/press override keys is a small batch and properly tagged for use, it may be denied. If the key request is intended for commercial purposes, be sure to use a package that does not override the release state of your app.

  • Q: Do I need keys for distributing a Steam version of my game at retail?

    A: Whether you build a gold master or not, you will still need to deliver Product Keys for any physical or digital retailer.

    Many retailers will want a self installing app package. Use SteamPipe to create a retail install package based on the depots and install script you already created for Steam. You can customize the installer with your own graphics and sounds appropriate to your brand.

    If you can't or don't want to deliver the install package, you can simply deliver a Steam activation code (a.k.a. Steam key) with instructions for redeeming the code on Steam.