I recently purchased retail boxed versions of

  • Dead Island (which is awesome)
  • Warhammer 40k: Space Marine (not so much)

I finished both games and I was thinking of reselling them or giving them to a friend to play. However, these are both Steam activated games that had a required Steam registration code I had to enter -- and validate on Steam -- as part of the installation.

If I give these games to a friend or resell them, will they even work? Is the registration code single use and tied to a single person / computer / Steam account?

  • 3
    I hope game companies will consider these situations.
    – setzamora
    Commented Sep 17, 2011 at 6:45
  • 7
    @joset game companies don't want you reselling games in the first palce, so why would they make it easier for you to do so?
    – Wipqozn
    Commented Sep 17, 2011 at 10:31
  • Indeed, I always wondered how GameStop etc were legally allowed to buy your games back and resell them, given that they all come with a dire copyright warning about reselling and/or lending without permission. (But maybe they just do have permission from every single software house out there, I guess...)
    – calum_b
    Commented Sep 17, 2011 at 10:53
  • 4
    @scottishwildcat - in US law it's a well protected right: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First-sale_doctrine
    – Flexo
    Commented Sep 17, 2011 at 22:29
  • 1
    @Joset I think the game companies have considered these situations... and made a business decision...
    – Kip
    Commented Sep 20, 2011 at 20:08

5 Answers 5


As the other answers have stated, once the game is registered with an account, it's tied to it and that's that.

However, another option you have that I've read about is to create a new email address and steam account for every game you get and register that game with that address. When you are ready to get rid of it, you can sell the steam and email account.

All in all, not very convenient, but it works.

  • 29
    not permitted per the terms of Steam service: You may not sell or charge others for the right to use your Account, or otherwise transfer your Account.
    – badp
    Commented Sep 17, 2011 at 7:44
  • 7
    @badp May not be permitted, but it happens regardless.
    – user821
    Commented Sep 17, 2011 at 19:21
  • 3
    @Thomas Just don't complain when you get busted. You won't get a refund...
    – badp
    Commented Sep 17, 2011 at 19:24
  • 4
    @badp - may not be permitted by TOS, but seems to be legally protected in the US and there's even relevant caselaw which seems to trump EULAs en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First-sale_doctrine
    – Flexo
    Commented Sep 17, 2011 at 22:31
  • 5
    @awoodland all I know is that Steam doesn't want you to do that and that you want to check with a good lawyer first to see how your local laws apply to you and your contracts with Steam
    – badp
    Commented Sep 17, 2011 at 23:34

Once you add the key, the game gets permanently tied to your Steam account, and cannot be removed. You can't give it away or sell it (or rather, you can give away or sell the box and everything that came with it, but the recipient won't be able to play the game without obtaining an unused key).

  • 11
    You can't even resell the boxed copy? That's messed up - why can the video-game industry get away with this crap when no other industry can? Could you imagine if movies had DRM so they couldn't be rented, or if books (or movies!) had DRM so they couldn't be checked out from a library? People would have a shitfest. Yet new boxed PC games can't be rented, borrowed, or even sold. Commented Sep 17, 2011 at 4:24
  • 2
    You can resell the boxed copy. The manufacturer won't help the recipient activate the game, but the recipient then does have legal ownership of it. Commented Sep 17, 2011 at 5:21
  • 12
    @david so you have legal ownership of.. a completely unplayable game. That's.. useful? Commented Sep 17, 2011 at 6:19
  • 2
    @Gregor Petrin - Philosophically, I would say absolutely. In the light of the (inane) DMCA? Maybe.
    – Fake Name
    Commented Sep 17, 2011 at 7:43
  • 3
    @Gregor: I don't think anyone knows. There is case law that points both ways. (For one of the strongest 'yes' arguments, see Chamberlain v. Skylink: "Consumers who purchase a product containing a copy of embedded software have the inherent legal right to use that copy of the software. What the law authorizes, [the manufacturer] cannot revoke. ") Commented Sep 17, 2011 at 9:03

No, these games will not be able to be used by another person. Because the games required a Steam registration code and use Steam for their DRM, they are now associated to your Steam account.

In this Support article, they state:


A CD Key may only be registered to one Steam account. CD Keys are associated with your Steam Account, not your computer.


A (boxed) copy of a game and a Steam account are two different things; one is a physical object, the other a contract between you and Valve. While this isn't and shouldn't be constructed as a proper legal advice, the following facts generally held true:

  • You can sell or gift the goods (the copy of the game) to someone else. By doing so, they become the lawful owner of the goods, while you stop being one. Consequently, they gain all the associated usage rights of the goods (including the right to use it and the right to resell it), while you lose those same rights.
  • You can't force Valve to transfer the contract between you and them. You can cancel the contract, as can they, for any reason at all and at any time, but they can't be forced to enter into contract concerning the same goods with someone else.
  • In most jurisdiction around the world, having the right to use some goods includes the right to analyse, disassemble, manipulate and re-arrange parts of it. In case of software some of those rights are often restricted to the cases where such manipulation is needed to fix bugs or ensue the software is usable in the first place, and for intercompability reasons (analysing and decoding the protocols used, for example). One such case is when you need to "unlock" or "jailbreak" software to be able to use it or the device powered by it after it was re-sold to you.

The consequence of it is that generally, you have the right to re-sell games with Steamworks, and the buyer has the right to break the DRM if that's needed to use the game, but he won't have the right to use any of the Steam-provided services like automatic patches, achievements, IM, in-game browser, or (often) multiplayer capabilities.

  • interesting point of you, but do you know of any public cases where breaking DRM was considered legal? I'd suspect it's more likely that the buyer of the used game merely has the right to demand their money back from the former owner for selling something that doesn't provide its claimed property (=being a playable game). At least in Germany, Steam's no-software-resale policy has been legally accepted while someone reselling used goods always has to explicitly deny warranty demands before selling the box, and even then the product must work in the intended way... but, yeah, IANAL
    – Zommuter
    Commented Sep 17, 2011 at 8:48
  • 1
    @Tobias Kienzler: Out of my memory, there's been a decision by the US Copyright Office last year to the effect, binding in the whole US jurisdiction. In Germany (for which I can speak with some knowledge, since my work involves creating copyrighted work, and I have a vested interest in knowing my rights and limits), the "you can crack software you legally own if that's needed to make it work" is the default reading of the law (UhrG § 69 to be precise). Commented Sep 17, 2011 at 9:31
  • Thanks for that link and reference. §69 d and e are quite interesting (for laws, that is...). That interoperability stuff in 69e.1 actually sounds to me (as a layman) like I can write my own program that blocks Steam from starting, and then in order to maintain interoperability to crack Steam games... But 69e.3 is too vague, it'd probably considered "unacceptable" for Valve. But anyway, @Jeff isn't in Germany. Though the jailbreak decision might help him somehow...
    – Zommuter
    Commented Sep 17, 2011 at 9:58

I recently sold Dawn of War that I also activated it with steam. But before I shipped it, I quickly installed it using the CD keys, it still worked fine.

So, I guess it's different for some games, I could have played this game without steam when I bought it, but when I got steam, I tried to activate all of the games I had, just for back-up reasons. If you know what I mean.

But, not most of them. Definitely not with "Steam is required to play"

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