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Steamworks Documentation
Steam Keys

Overview

For any of your products on Steam, you can generate keys to enable customers to redeem your product on Steam. Keys can be generated for any packages on Steam, including base products, DLC or free Demos.

There is no fee to generate keys on Steam, but we ask that partners use the service judiciously. In general, if you give keys away in bulk, expect that somebody else than you will make money from your product.

For more information on how keys work for customers, visit the customer facing support site here.
NOTE: Steam Keys are intended to help partners run their other physical and digital businesses by matching offers that exist on Steam. It's important that Steam customers are treated fairly and that offers using keys are materially consistent with offers on Steam. It is not okay to sell keys for products that aren't also available for sale on Steam at the same time. Make sure Steam customers are getting a fair offer relative to any other stores where you distribute Steam keys, especially at launch.

Types of Keys

Keys can be associated with the following package types:
  • Standard
    This is the most common type of key on Steam, and are usually tied to a store or CD 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.
  • Dev Comp
    These are used to automatically provide developers with access to the product.
    NOTE: Dev Comp keys should never be distributed to customers.
  • Release Override
    These are used to grant access to a product prior to its release on Steam, and are appropriate for beta testing a product or providing pre-release access. If you request large batches of keys from a release override package, they will likely be denied.

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
    If you need to create keys for a bundle, you will need to make a separate package with the same contents. Please contact Valve for assistance with this.

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 CD Keys” permission.
NOTE: Requests for large amounts of keys will need to 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 in CSV format. 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. Only 200 keys per file are allowed to be banned at a time. 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.

Rules & Guidelines

  • Request keys in small batches.
    Think carefully about how many keys you need. If a retailer is asking for 250,000 keys and you've only ever sold 20,000 units, you may want to work with a lower amount of keys and request more if necessary. If you make a mistake or something happens with those keys, you'll be in better shape if you don't have to worry about hundreds of thousands or millions of lost or stolen keys. In general, you should treat keys like cash.

  • Steam keys can be generated for free, but that doesn't mean they don't have value. We've heard many reports lately of fraudsters impersonating journalists or storefronts to acquire keys, and then reselling those keys for profit.

    Carefully vet any store or journalist before providing them with free copies of your product. Check with other developers, or spend some time searching the web before handing out keys. In the event that you do provide keys to a third party that has misrepresented themselves, we tend not to ban or revoke those keys if they've been activated. In most cases, revoking the keys would punish a customer who bought the game, rather than the reseller who acquired it dishonestly.

  • Other Retail Stores.
    You are welcome to generate keys for resale with other retailers, including your own website. However, your product must also be available for sale on Steam. If you are hoping to receive exposure to Steam customers, the price on Steam will have to match prices elsewhere.

  • 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 be unlock your product at the same time it is made available for purchase via Steam.

  • Betas/Testing
    Keys are a great way to let players into your game early for testing or closed alpha/beta access. You can generate Release Override keys that will allow players access before your game is officially released. Note that you cannot sell access to your game before it's available for sale on Steam, so these keys must be given away for free.

  • 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.

  • Giveaways and selling keys in bulk
    Steam keys are designed to help our partners run their businesses on other retail and digital stores, where the partner is compensated for every unit sold. Keys are not intended to be sold in bulk or given away for free, except for testing. If you want to give your game away for free, we think that’s great, but it should also be free on Steam. If you want to sell copies of your game for pennies or less, Steam probably isn’t the right store for your game, and Steam keys aren’t an appropriate way to distribute your game in that manner.
    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 order as many Keys as you need, and there is no cost to order or use the keys. Be cautious in ordering more keys than you need, because having thousands of product keys floating around is a liability.

    • 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. CD key) with instructions for redeeming the code on Steam.
      For detailed documentation on building and customizing your gold master, please see Customizing a Gold Master

    • Q: Why was my key request denied?

      A: This is likely because the request was for a package that contains a release state override for the included appIDs, which would 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.