If you saw a website offering heavily discounted activation keys for software, you'd be right to be suspicious. In this day and age it's tricky to tell scams from legit businesses, and many people ask us whether it's safe to buy games from G2A.com. So is G2A safe? Here's what we know. See also: all games reviews

Update 12 July 2016: G2A has just announced that it has added extra steps to prevent fraud. Sellers will now have to verify their social media details and phone numbers, and be limited to 10 transactions before having to provide extra verification. Its aim is to prevent dodgy sellers from scamming buyers with non-working game codes. G2A has been the subject of plenty of controversy - just check out the comments below this article - and seems to be working towards providing a better service for buyers.

How does G2A work?

G2A.com is a website that - like Gumtree or ebay - brings together buyers and sellers of grey-market game keys for PC games and activation codes for PSN and Xbox Live credit, as well as codes for other software.

To be clear, G2A itself does not sell these codes. It is purely a marketplace where people can sell game codes. What you do is buy your key, wait for it to be emailed to you, then head to the relevant platform: Ubisoft Uplay, Steam etc, log in and select the option to activate a game. You paste in your key and then download the game files from the platform's servers: not G2A.

How, then, can the codes be so cheap, you ask. The answer lies in the fact that game prices vary from country to country, according to the average salaries. Sellers purchase activation codes in the cheapest regions with the aim of selling them to buyers in the most expensive. This makes them a profit, while gamers get to make a saving on the usual street price.

Who runs G2A?

G2A.co is the company's corporate site which explains the business model in more detail. It was set up by a group of enthusiastic gamers in Hong Kong with the aim of "providing the best digital game licences and retail service to all our partners and customers". Unlike some companies which hide their contact details, G2A is happy to publish phone numbers and addresses: they have their headquarters in Hong Kong and a support office in Poland.

The game keys are offered by 'marketplace sellers', i.e. third parties who have keys to sell. These could be private individuals who have bought a game, but decided not to activate their key, or businesses who have bought keys in bulk in regions where they're cheaper.

G2A automatically adds 'G2A Shield' to your shopping cart when you being the purchase process. This is essentially insurance against a non-working key. It costs around 70p, so while some may object to paying it on the grounds that all keys should be legitimate, it means you are guaranteed a valid replacement key or a complete refund. That's the theory, anyway. We've heard from plenty of irate buyers who have been refused a refund, despite paying for G2A Shield.

Is G2A safe or a scam?

To test out G2A's service, we looked at various games and prices were all cheaper than when bought on their respective platforms and - in some cases - a lot cheaper.

The price you see is the base price, excluding G2A shield and excluding VAT, so factor this in when comparing prices on Steam, Amazon or any other reseller.

Before buying a game ourselves, we checked out a good selection of gaming forums to see how many people were complaining about G2A. When we did, we found that - overwhelmingly - people who'd actually purchased games said they'd received keys in just a few minutes and that they were genuine and valid.

Others pointed out - quite rightly - that it was the same as buying products on the grey market and that the codes could be revoked by game publishers at some point in the future.

How to buy game codes from G2A

When you click on a game, you'll usually see a price on the right, but check to see if it says "G2A Selected offer". If it does, it's a price from a marketplace seller. You can click on a seller to check their ratings, and how many keys they've sold. It's easy to spot the good fromt he bad this way. If you're buying direct from G2A, you don't need to use G2A shield.

Is G2A safe or a scam?

Make sure you're buying the correct region. Usually there's a GLOBAL option, but if not, make sure the game will work in your region as you can't get a refund if you mistakenly buy a Russian key but live in the UK.

We bought a global Uplay code for Watch Dogs from a marketplace seller: a snip at £3.18 including VAT, G2A Shield and the cheeky PayPal fee. Since we know PayPal doesn't charge a fee to buyers, this is actually another G2A fee for paying via PayPal. But it's a second level of protection as you can complain to PayPal if you don't receive what you paid for.

Is G2A safe or a scam?

The good news is that the process was fast and easy. After paying, we were taken to a confirmation screen with a status indicator showing "processing" and a countdown timer for the average wait time. Within five minutes this had turned from orange to green and a link appeared inviting us to "Get CD KEY".

Is G2A safe or a scam?

We did, and when pasted into the Uplay client the code was validated and we were able to download and play the game.

Is G2A safe or a scam?

We also had a confirmation email from PayPal saying we'd sent a payment to G2A.com.

More often than not things which seem too good to be true usually are, but in this case, you really can score a bargain.

We'd still caution against buying from the grey market - you can read about our experiences of buying phones from China - but if you're happy to take a risk to save money, it can pay off.

G2A - Frequently asked questions

We asked the following questions to try to clarify how G2A works. The answers are from various G2A employees, with some questions being answered by more than one person. We have not edited the answers.

1. Where do the sellers of the game keys get their codes from?

The source of the game keys depends on the seller. Small sellers buy games on promotions, big sellers buy games straight from the distributors.

The major part of sellers on our platform are running their own businesses and obviously, that is their own company ‘trade secret’. G2A is a marketplace and in order to provide best service, we screen all sellers. We also provide reviews of each seller/merchant so that buyers can check the background of the seller before making a final decision.

2. Are the sellers private individuals or businesses?

Everyone can sell on G2A.COM so we have all types of sellers: from private persons, games distributors, game developers and wholesale sellers. There are more than 50,000 sellers on G2A Marketplace.

We're also preparing tailored solutions for game developers and publishers (including Indi developers), to give them a very special spot on G2A. Some of them are already selling on our marketplace and getting great results.

3. How can they sell them so much cheaper than on Steam, Uplay or on Amazon?

If you are buying games on special promotions you can even get 90% discount so you are able to ‘sell the games on’ cheaper. If you are a big seller you are high in the chain of games suppliers and they give you good prices.

G2A.com is a global solution and the global market is much bigger than can be imagined. G2A brings many brilliant opportunities for local sellers and buyers to trade their digital products globally

4. Are the codes from gamers who have played the game and are now selling it on 'second hand' or 'used'?

If we're talking about activation codes for games, you're able to use just once and it'll bind to your account. That means you're not able to sell it anymore.

There is no possibility of trading a game-key that has already been activated. However in the gaming market there is quite a flourishing trade in games in boxes "on second hand". This case does not concern G2A because on our platform you can buy and sell exclusively digital products.

5. Most game codes, such as Steam or Uplay, are bound to an account and cannot be 'de-registered' and then sold on. Is that correct?

There is a way to deactivate the game from Steam, Uplay or Origin account but if you do this, you won't be able to activate the same code again.