So I recently dug up a couple games: "Fable: The Lost Chapters" and "Spore". I noticed they had product keys. I'm not sure if the keys had been used, but I tried registering them on Steam. For some reason, they didn't work.

Does anyone know any possible reasons Steam keys might not work? And if they are unusable, should I manually download them via the disks?

I do not know if I am suppose to include dashes or spaces, but they keys are in the following format:

  • 2
    made a small edit to make this more directed at all steam keys, rather then your particular case. If you feel we have not answered for your games, let us know, but this would be a good question in regards to all instances of cd keys not working, too.
    – user106385
    Oct 28, 2015 at 3:11

4 Answers 4


There are a couple of reasons a CD key would not work with Steam. I have a good idea why your specific keys are not working, which I have detailed, down the bottom.

Unsupported Keys: Not all CD keys are intended for use with Steam. There is a pretty good list provided here, which also includes a rough format guide, to identify if a particular key follow the format expected from Steam. This appears to be the main issue you are having, given that neither of the two games are listed as supported.

Dodgy Keys: There have been cases where "dodgy keys" have been included with games. The reason or fault behind each case is irrelevant, but ultimately, it sometimes happens. If the game is still brand new, it would be a good idea to return the game. Contacting Steam, directly, may be the only other was to resolve this particular case.

Outdated Keys: This one appears to be of debate. In theory, all reports suggest that an official Steam key should not expire. I can tell you, however, that not all keys come from Steam. It is entirely possible that a key may simply "expire", at which point, a system like Steam will often reject them.

Used Keys: Use keys are a bigger issue then it implies. Brad Metclaf reports experience with users having simply "brute forced" a key, where a random generator allows users to simply 'keep trying' until their phoney key works. If your unlucky to then recieve this key in a box, it will come up as having previously been used. The older the game, the more plausible, and there have even been cases where companies have mistakingly issued duplicate keys. Your best point of call with cases like this is the company you purchased the game from, or Steam. If the game has been played, before, it is entirely possible that the key has simply been activated already. For this reason, buying key-dependent games second hand is usually discouraged.

Entering the Wrong Key: Always a possibility, so it is important to ensure you are entering the key correctly. You can always try including the spaces and dashes, if you feel this is the only potential differance between what your typing and what is written, but this should not make a differance. To quote the Steam product activation interface, Please double check to see if you've miss-typed your key. I, L and 1 can look alike, as can V and Y, and 0 and O

Hand-Written Keys: There is further difficulty if the key is hand written. Very unlikely for a legitimate copy, but I have seen it before. If you have a hand written key, it might be worth triple checking those "common appearance" characters. In my experience, I, L and 1 can look alike, as can V and Y, and 0 and O applies tenfold if the CD Key is handwritten. Please note that a hand written key is a lot more feasible for a legitimate copy of a non-Steam game, where the key is not one use only. For any game where the key can only be used once, being hand written should send up some big warnings that something is wrong.

Ultimately, the games you report trying do not appear to offer CD keys that are accepted by Steam. I did a bit of digging, to find out exactly why either game would come with a CD key. Here is what I turned up:

Spore was released with some pretty heavy digital rights management. It appears the initial use of the game was more restrictive, which of course, was not well recieved by the public. It was credited for bad reviews, and a couple of lawsuits were filed as a direct result of the inclusion. IIRC, the key allowed you access to the game when this DRM was in place. Spore was consequently re-released onto Steam without this DRM, which would explain why Steam does not accept the CD key.

Fable: The Lost Chapters appears to have been released with the initial intention of using the Games for Windows LIVE client. As discussed on the Steam forums, you might be able to register the game through Microsoft for download using their client, however there are reports of issues with a CD Key that appears to follow the same pattern as yours. Ultimately, I believe that if you are having troubles here, and wish to pursue it, your best point of call would be to Microsoft.

  • 1
    in terms of "dodgey keys", I can not recall if there has been an instance with actual retail games, or if its always been secondary sellers. Would appreciate if anybody could comment with links to articles concerning such cases
    – user106385
    Oct 28, 2015 at 3:09
  • Disregarding OP's localized issue, this answer seems to answer the actual question. Oct 28, 2015 at 10:04
  • Also, the Windows Live client for PC is functionally dead. You can still install it, but Microsoft treated GFWL like a red headed stepchild, trying to push people to Xbox, to the point that what used to be your Windows Live account has turned into an Xbox Live account. Many more people have had issues with Windows Live. Fable TLC has had an updated edition on Steam, so if you still want to use it, your best bet might be to get that copy.
    – Nzall
    Oct 28, 2015 at 15:14
  • 1
    "trying to not" ​ -> ​ "trying do not" ​ ​ ​ ? ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​
    – user128334
    Oct 28, 2015 at 16:35
  • 1
    Good answer but I think Used Keys could be better explained on a more common scenario with why keys appear used. Key Generators. I had HL, CS, TF, and many other games before the Steam platform was released. When I joined Steam 11 years ago I put these keys in and were told they were used. I found out that key generators existed for all these games and people would simply generate and try them until they worked. Luckily I had proof of purchase to get new keys issued to me from Valve. Key based games still have issues with key gens to this very day. The older the game the more likely the use.
    – Bacon Brad
    Oct 28, 2015 at 18:45

It sounds like you are attempting to use a non-steam key for the game.

Just because a game is available on Steam doesn't mean every key for that game is a Steam key.

If you have the game dvd or can install the game from elsewhere (you can get Fable for instance from Xbox Live) then you'll be able to use the key that you have.

Some non-steam game keys can actually be used to get a Steam version of the game however this is limited to the games found in this list of valid code formats, of which neither Spore nor Fable are a part.


Not sure if that's what you're talking about, but some "product keys" are only used for validating the disk copy of the game you already have, for example. They're not to be confused with a key which you enter in Steam to be able to add the game to your library and directly download it. This is especially true for games so old as Spore and Fable.


Spore can be redeemed through origin. Fable should work through steam.

However if you are unlucky and it was a Games for Windows Live game, that service is dead and you can only play already redeemed games from the service. Sorry.

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