Ubisoft is doubling down on efforts to prevent grey market PC code sales with a new process called silent key activation.
Rather than give a stack of keys to an online retailer, instead the new silent key activation (SKA) system - which has been developed in partnership with UK tech firm Genba Digital - acts as an intermediary between the publisher and the retailer. The latter will ask the player for their UPlay account details, and then when they next log into UPlay, the game will be there, without either the player nor the retailer ever physically seeing, or activating, a code.
By eradicating the exchange of physical codes, Genba believes this will stop stolen or misappropriated codes from appearing in the "grey market".
"That gives the publishers control of how their products are distributed, rather than the old fashioned way: throwing a big Excel spreadsheet of keycodes to e-tailers and asking them to declare their sales," CEO Matt Murphy told GamesIndustry.biz (via Ubi-Source).
"If someone goes on a website like Fanatical and buys a Ubisoft product, it will take them through the checkout process, then ask you to enter your UPlay account - if you don't have one, it asks you to set one up. The game is then automatically activated in UPlay. Fanatical doesn't get a key, and neither does the player. They just log into UPlay and the game is there, as if they bought it from the UPlay Store.
"It's preventing keys being bandied around the market, so they can't be resold. I suppose you could sell your account, but they'd pick up on that and that's a very messy way of reselling games."
Consequently, having "very much driven" the development of the system, Ubisoft will now no longer sell PC games through a digital marketplace that doesn't use SKA, and Murphy believes the system is as safe as buying a game directly through UPlay or Steam itself.
"It's as secure as buying a game on Steam and playing it on Steam," he said. "You'll be able to buy it on Fanatical and play it on Steam or whatever the platform is."