Itch.io tightens regulations to thwart RimWorld scammer
Digital store Itch.io is tightening its policies -- just a touch! -- after some high-profile naughtiness where an unknown scoundrel uploaded and sold RimWorld as their own game. Part of why Itch is so great is that it freely lets all and sundry sign up and add their games, which does also bring the risk of antics like this but the Itch team usually catch them quickly. This blaggard achieved prominence by getting the game picked up by a discount-tracking website, sending trusting bargain-hunters to buy, er, a bootleg copy of someone's Steam RimWorld folder.
Kotaku UK reported this foolishness and received a statement from Itch.io. The store explained:
"A scammer created a handful of accounts on our system and uploaded pirated games to it. Due to the nature of being an 'open marketplace' we don't have a forced review before allowing people to publish. We were made aware of the scammer by the community and through our own internal review, and we removed the content as soon as we discovered it."
This scam got out into the wild before Itch could squash it by listing RimWorld as on sale and triggering internet bargain klaxons. Itch say:
"There are websites that have a bot that constantly scrapes our site, and they noticed these 'sales' the instant they went up and sent out notifications to people who had subscribed. This happened in a matter of minutes. This caused a handful of unsuspecting people to go and purchase these pages after getting an email notification a deal."
Stardew Valley, Dead Cells, Factorio, and Undertale are among other games recently used for this trick. Itch ban scammers for this, obviously, and are reaching out to the tricked people to give them refunds. Thankfully, it doesn't sound like a great many bargain-hunters were fooled by this. However, it will have some minor-ish unpleasant consequences for people legitimately selling games on the store.
"This particular scammer is also taking advantage of a 'direct payment' mode that we originally offered that allows a seller to skip itch.io and sell directly into their PayPal account. Although this might be nice for some some sellers, it means they're essentially getting away with the money without allowing us to intervene. We're going to be heavily restricting this feature of the site for the foreseeable future."
It's a tricky situation. Itch is great in part because it doesn't verify accounts, it doesn't make developers put games up for votes on their worthiness, it doesn't charge fees to list games, it doesn't curate or exclude games, and it doesn't have waiting periods. It's there, bish bash bosh, whack your game on it and away you go. It's one of the main reasons Itch has become home to some of the more interesting and unconventional games around.
Sadly, this is exploitable. Itch runs well as long as people don't try to exploit it. As quick as Itch can be to stop ne'er–do–wells, it is a small site with a small staff while the Internet isn't short of people keen to scam a quick buck.
Locking down one type of payment is only a small change but I hope Itch aren't forced to do much more. Change too much and Itch risks losing what makes it so great. I'm sure Itch's leadership aren't ignorant of this, of course.