"Grey Market" Windows Licenses


Retired Moderator
Should you buy a Windows license from 'grey market' sellers?
Sellers can/will use a variety of marketplaces - so the following would apply for any forum that is not an authorized distributor or reseller*.
*Including, but not limited to: eBay, Amazon, G2A, Kinguin, even Craigslist or similar on occassion.

All too often, we see threads on this site asking whether sellers utilizing third party "marketplace" sites are ‘legit’, or whether they should buy from sellers on these sites. I’m aiming to provide a “quick link” with this thread.

**The is focused on Windows licenses specifically. Game codes can also be obtained from sellers on these sites, and there are addition factors at play (different developers take different action, for example)**

Whether you’ve already purchased your components, or you’re at the planning stage: You must make a decision regarding your Operating System.

All too common, we see users who’ve spent:
• $100-$330+ on their CPU
• $100-$800+ on a GPU
• $XXX for a Motherboard, RAM, Cooler, Case, PSU etc
who then baulk at the thought of $80-$100 for your Operating System.

PCPartPicker part list / Price breakdown by merchant

Operating System: Microsoft Windows 10 Home OEM 64-bit ($84.89 @ OutletPC)
Total: $84.89
Prices include shipping, taxes, and discounts when available
Generated by PCPartPicker 2016-11-15 14:29 EST-0500

$80-100 seems excessive to some people, so they look for alternatives – usually finding their way to the ‘grey market’.

First of all, what is the ‘grey market’?
A grey market is the trade of a commodity through distribution channels that are legal but unintended by the original manufacturer. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grey_market

Pricing generally falls between 20-40% of the equivalent product from an Authorized Distributor.
Looks pretty appealing, right?

Naturally, people are skeptical – and a lot of people find their way over to this forum for discussion.
See: http://www.tomshardware.com/forum/all.html?refine=kinguin

How do the ‘sellers’ obtain these license keys in the first place?
There are quite a few different methods. Some examples:
• Purchased from another market, who’s retail price is lower (historically purchasing in China, selling in the US was profitable. For the most part now, all foreign markets = conversion to USD)
• Reselling volume licenses, which are not for individual resale
• Fraudulently obtaining Education* keys at a discount, for resale
• Legitimate purchases, made with stolen credit cards

Tracing one ‘game key’ sold on the grey market:

What is the risk to the buyer?
• License keys sold via these channels carry the potential to be blacklisted at any time (you may never ‘activate’, you may be active for a week/month/year or indefinitely – it’s a complete crapshoot). The risk varies depending on how the specific key was obtained in the first place – something you have no way to determine.

So, should you purchase a key from sellers utilizing third party marketplaces?
I can’t tell you what to do – and if you elect to purchase from any of these sites, proceed with caution. My recommendation? Don’t do it.
• If you’re lucky, a license from any of these sites will activate when entered – and will remain activated.

• You may activate, and run without issues for months – to be blacklisted at a later date. Requiring a further code (rinse & repeat via the grey market, or buy from an authorized distributor*). Most people would opt for the ‘security’ of an authorized code if burned once.

• Worst case, it will fail to activate immediately – and you have to purchase another code (rinse & repeat via the grey market, or buy from an authorized distributor*). Most people would opt for the ‘security’ of an authorized code if burned once.

So, you buy a grey market key, let’s call it $30 for arguments sake.
You then have to buy a legitimate key… let’s call it $90.

So – in your attempt(s) to score a ‘cheap’ copy of Windows, you end up spending an additional 30% (or more) vs buying a legitimate copy outright.

Whether you elect for digital receipt of a key from an authorized distributor, or you purchase from a grey market seller – always ensure to only download your copy of Windows from Microsoft directly:

PLACEHOLDER "Benefits to an activated Windows license" - as per superninja12's request.

So, at this point you likely realize you should obtain a legit license, to successfully activate permanently. But you may be asking yourself "why?" There are many reasons.

1. If you're just running "not activated" you'll be limited
• No "personalization" changes (backgrounds, color themes etc)
• Watermark on desktop
• Potentially delayed security patches

2. I'm not going to get into the how or why, but some users also pirate an OS. In those cases:
• Security updates are non-existent*
• Watermarks
• Automatic shutdowns (on older OSs) as specific intervals.

*Interestingly, while MS did release security patches for OS's no longer supported during the recent WannaCry issue..... the vulnerability hit certain areas of the world hard (named Russia and China) - areas where pirated/bootleg operating systems are prevalent.

Now, for some users there are alternative options available to a ‘standard’ copy from authorized distributors:

1. If you have an existing setup you'll no longer be using - there is now a potential option to transfer this to your new setup.

Ensure you're on Windows 10 build 1607 or greater, fully activated & signed in/linked to your MS account. https://support.microsoft.com/en-ca/help/20530/windows-10-reactivating-after-hardware-change

This option, to the best of my knowledge is still in it's infancy. A new build may not activate if determined to be a new 'device' (which MS don't define), but it's certainly worth trying before anything else.

2. Educational discounts. Microsoft offer discounts on hardware & software to students: https://www.microsoftstore.com/store/msca/en_CA/edu

3. You can run Windows 'unactivated' until you are able to afford a legit copy.
As mentioned under "benefits", you will have some limitations as far as Personalization options, will see a Watermark and may see slight delays in security patches.... but it will work as a stop-gap until you can purchase a legit license.

4. There are free Operating Systems; Linux distros (Ubuntu & Mint as some of the most popular options). Not as ‘easy’ for long-term Windows users, nor as useful for gaming purposes, but they are free.

1. [strike]Added placeholder for "activated benefits"[/strike] Added some benefits/info. Update probably required.
2. Distinguished between "sellers" on marketplace sites, and the marketplace(s) themselves.
I'm not saying we'll take this further, that'll be a fair old discussion I imagine, but i think that separating the channel (kinguin/G2A) from the sellers more strongly and clearly will be necessary, analogous to ebay and sellers, or craigslist and sellers, it's not 'really' kinguins/G2A's fault, it's their sellers that are abusing their platform.

I'd not seen one for months and then 2-3 in the last few days.

I think the idea of the sticky, so that we can just point and say 'make up your own minds' is better than having to bodge the same answers together. It'll also let us get the wording and the messaging precisely right so that no one can take offence, as I assume that this was a part of the original direction, piracy is illegal and hence we can come down hard, this is 'just' buying something, proving that the one you get will be illegal is difficult and could be libel or slander?


Retired Moderator
Fair comment 13thmonkey - when I drafted this it was limited access so some things were simply placeholders, the distinction between seller & marketplace is a good call.

No idea whether we want to use this, or some variation etc as a sticky - it was something I found myself doing months ago and just thought best to share (following the thread earlier).