I have unwittingly bought a second hand game on e-bay that uses a Steam account for activation. I am currently in dispute with the seller as he sold something which I feel is unusable. He has listed a site where he says I can buy a steam code, however, I think, judging by the cost, that this is for the whole package and I wouldn't need the physical disc so this still would mean I have shelled out money for something I didn't need. Could someone confirm this?

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    So, if I'm understanding this correctly, you bought the game disk, but weren't provided with a Steam activation code for it?
    – GnomeSlice
    Feb 23, 2014 at 21:40
  • I don't think that's what he was asking; he was asking if the price asked was for a physical copy of the game. Seems more opinion based than anything else.
    – Frank
    Feb 23, 2014 at 22:01
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    You never said whether the auction mentioned anything about the requirement for a Steam code. If he did, then did he also mention that you would be responsible for buying the code? Feb 24, 2014 at 0:56

3 Answers 3


Under most consumer protection law codes around the world, there is the concept of "Fitness for a purpose". You would have bought the game disk expecting it to be fit for the purpose of being installed and run on your machine. If the game requires a Steam code for it to be run successfully, then it should have been supplied.

Since the Steam code was not supplied, the item you purchased is not fit for its expected purpose.

Since it is the Steam code that allows you to install (and download) a working copy of the game, this transaction could be considered fraudulent - obtaining financial advantage by deception - as the media you purchased does not include the license to use it, and indeed the seller could legally make and sell as many copies a he wanted (for the cost of the media plus postage) without violating copyright, as long as it was made clear that the transaction is for the media and does not include the license to use the software on it. Not mentioning this latter fact makes this transaction fraudulent.

  • You purchased a game, expecting to be able to play it. You got, for all intents an purposes, an expensive coaster. This would strike me as VERY similar to this poor teenager who bought "An XBox One": metro.co.uk/2013/12/09/… - complain to eBay and demand a refund for a fraudulent item.
    – WernerCD
    Feb 24, 2014 at 15:24
  • "indeed the seller could legally make and sell as many copies a he wanted" - IANAL but I believe in most interpretations of copyrights in various countries you are not generally entitled to make copies. There are exceptions such as fair use (in say US) or explicit (outside) which do allow to make copies under certain circumstances (say a personal backup copy) but you need to check the law/license. I remember a case when site selling "backup copies" of CDs was sued (it was in pre-DRM time so you can deduce who were intended client). It doesn't change you main point of course. Feb 24, 2014 at 23:45
  • AFAIK, you can make multiple copies of a software installation disk if the software itself is protected by something like an activation key - the media copies are just a means of distribution or backup, while the key is the saleable product. Selling duplicate/forged keys is a different matter...
    – Monty Wild
    Feb 25, 2014 at 0:03
  • It might be true in your jurisdiction but it is not universally true. In fact I would be surprised - protection of code largely depends on interpretation that copying program to memory breaks copyright unless you have a license to copy it so if copying is legal there is nothing preventing running (that's why you buy a book but license a program) - in US it was established in Apple v. Franklin but at least some EU countries have similar interpretation. Under Berne convention copying is prohibited with exception ("fair use"). Interpretation in your country might be of course different. Feb 25, 2014 at 22:22
  • Maciej, You are right, typically disassembly/reverse engineering/bypassing DRM is illegal, however with DRM protected software, installations are often controlled and counted by the licensor's servers, and in such situations (such as this), the media is simply an alternative means of distribution, and without (illegal) measures being taken, it is not possible to install and run the software without a key. In such situations, the media and/or installation package is typically freely distributable, as it costs the licensor nothing and may increase sales of keys.
    – Monty Wild
    Feb 25, 2014 at 23:04

A Steam code is all you need to activate, download and play a game on Steam (with some titles requiring activation with 3rd party such as Uplay for Ubisoft's games, but activation details for those are provided by Steam after you enter the code for Steam).

A physical disc is only required if you don't want to download the game or want to keep a physical copy of your game.

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    And usually retail Steam games on disks require an update, or even a full redownload, anyways.
    – Keavon
    Feb 24, 2014 at 3:50

A steam code is a legal copy of the game, you don't need the physical disk. Also a boxed game with a used key (registered to an account) is pretty much useless, unless you just want it to sit on your shelf.

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    It does allow you to download it from the disk however. If you have a terrible connection, that can be nice.
    – Rob Rose
    Feb 24, 2014 at 0:39
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    IANAL but legally speaking, in the US there is a difference between a boxed copy (which you own a copy of) vs. a Steam-code (which you own a license for). Though as far as I understand it, this has never been contested in court so it's a legal gray-area. Feb 24, 2014 at 0:50

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