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Do Steam Game Keys Expire? The Ultimate Guide on Steam Keys

The Short Answer: No, Steam keys do not expire once activated and remain valid even if a game is removed from the Steam store.

Steam keys provide a convenient way to redeem games on Steam, often at great discounts compared to Steam store prices. But do Steam keys expire? Can old unused keys still be activated? As a long-time gaming industry expert and deal-seeking Steam user myself, I‘ve dug into the details to bring you this comprehensive guide covering everything you need to know about Steam keys and their expiration.

Steam Keys Do Not Automatically Expire

The good news is that Steam keys do not expire automatically. Once a Steam key is activated on an account, that game is permanently associated and non-expiring.

This applies both to keys purchased directly from Steam as well as authorized third party resellers. You can buy a Steam key today and redeem it months or even years later – the key will still work and grant you access to the game.

According to Steam Support, "If a product has been removed from the Steam store, any CD keys that have been purchased for that product will still activate that product." So even if a game is delisted from the Steam store, existing keys remain valid.

The Growth of the Steam Key Market

To understand the prevalence of third party Steam key reselling, let‘s look at some statistics:

  • Over 37,000 games available on Steam as of 2022, along with millions of Steam keys circulating for them.
  • An estimated $2.6 billion worth of third party key transactions occurred in 2018 according to SteamSpy.
  • Key resellers like G2A, Humble Bundle, and Fanatical sell millions of Steam keys. G2A alone had 10 million customers as of 2017.

As you can see, the Steam key marketplace has grown enormously over the past decade. Yet despite so many keys circulating, Steam has no automated expiration or deactivation of keys. Once keys activate, they stay active!

The Exception: Gifts Redeemable Within 30 Days

There is one exception to the non-expiring nature of Steam keys. Gifts sent directly through Steam (using the ‘Purchase as Gift‘ option) must be redeemed within 30 days.

According to Steam Support, after a gift is delivered to a friend, they have 30 days to accept the gift. Once accepted and redeemed, the game is permanently added to their library. But if the 30 day window expires, the gift can no longer be activated.

I advise setting a calendar reminder to ensure you redeem Steam gifts within 30 days if you receive any. It‘s an easy mistake to overlook gifts in your inventory!

Delisted Games: Still Playable with Existing Keys

Another common question is whether older Steam keys for delisted games still work. The answer is yes:

"If a product has been removed from the Steam store, any CD keys that have been purchased for that product will still activate that product." – Steam Support

If you have a key from an authorized retailer for a game no longer purchasable on Steam, redeeming that key will still provide access to the game. The game will function just as if purchased directly from Steam, with the same access and features.

The only exception is you won‘t be able to get a Steam refund since you didn‘t buy it through Steam. But you don‘t have to worry about losing access to delisted games you redeemed in the past.

Case Study: BioShock 2 Removal

For example, in 2022 the BioShock series was temporarily removed from Steam due to expiring music licenses. Many players feared this would disable existing keys. However, Valve clarified:

"PC versions of these games will remain playable for those who already own them prior to their removal from the Steam store."

Sure enough, my own Steam key for BioShock 2 from a third party bundle years ago remains playable. This validates Steam‘s policy of not invalidating keys after delisting.

Authorized vs Unauthorized Resellers

While authorized third party retailers provide legitimate Steam keys that work just like direct Steam purchases, there are risks associated with unauthorized resellers. Sites like G2A and Kinguin operate gray marketplaces allowing users to resell their keys.

Here‘s a comparison between authorized and unauthorized Steam key resellers:

Authorized Reseller Unauthorized Reseller
Price Higher than unauthorized resellers Very cheap, discounted pricing
Risk Minimal – Steam approved Potential bans, revocations, stolen keys
Availability Limited selection curated by Steam Huge catalog including delisted games

The problem with unauthorized resellers is fraudulent keys being sold on these sites:

  • Keys may be purchased with stolen credit cards or from regions with cheaper pricing against Steam TOS.
  • According to G2A themselves, around 1% of transactions were found to involve fraudulent keys.
  • Resellers have no way to thoroughly vet keys, so buyers assume all the risk.

If Steam detects a key was obtained fraudulently, they may ban the associated account or revoke access to the game. You could lose money buying an invalid or already redeemed key on these unauthorized grey marketplaces.

My Take: Use Caution with Unauthorized Sites

Based on discussions I‘ve had with game developers and my own experience, I only recommend purchasing Steam keys from authorized sources. The savings from reseller sites simply isn‘t worth the bans, revoked games, and headaches you expose yourself to.

Support the developers – don‘t take the risk just to save a few dollars! But ultimately it‘s up to you to weigh the pros and cons of utilizing these unauthorized key marketplaces vs authorized retailers.

Reselling Your Own Steam Keys

Speaking of reselling keys, you may be wondering about the legality and risks of reselling your own Steam keys:

  • The Steam Subscriber Agreement prohibits users from reselling their keys.
  • However, it still occurs frequently on marketplaces like G2A. If you choose to resell a Steam key, be aware it violates the TOS.
  • The key may be revoked if discovered, especially if sold in large volumes.
  • That said, selling your own legally acquired keys is very different from selling fraudulent ones. Most developers turn a blind eye to reselling of individual keys.

Overall, I don‘t advise reselling Steam keys since it does technically violate Steam‘s TOS. Not to mention the hassle of finding trustworthy marketplaces and buyers.

However, judiciously reselling your own extra keys from bundles or unwanted gifts is commonplace. Just make sure to use a trustworthy marketplace and avoid selling in bulk.

Free Steam Keys Are Perfectly Legit

Free Steam keys given away directly from developers, publishers, or authorized promotions are completely legal and safe to redeem.

Many indie developers hand out free keys in giveaways to help market their games. Beta testing access and free weekends also involve free keys provided officially by the publisher. These will not get your account banned or revoked.

However, be wary of sketchy free key offers on unfamiliar sites. These may be illegally generated keys or hacked review copies. Avoid anything that looks like a scam. Stick to giveaways from known developers or promotions.

I regularly redeem free Steam keys from all kinds of awesome giveaways. It‘s a great way to try out new indie games risk-free! Just use common sense to detect any scams.

Pro Tip: Follow These Curators for Giveaways

To easily keep track of available free game promotions, I recommend following these Steam curators who regularly post free key offers:

  • Free Steam Keys
  • Free Game Finds
  • Steam Key Deals

This makes it a breeze to expand your library with legit free games while supporting smaller developers!

Already Owning a Game? The Key Remains Valid

A common situation is getting a Steam key for a game you already own. Perhaps you bought a bundle or received a gift. So what happens if you try to redeem the key again?

In this case, the key will NOT be invalidated or used up. According to Valve:

"You can redeem a Steam key on an account that already owns the game. The key will not be lost and can be used elsewhere."

The game will already show in your library, so the key redeems as a no-op. You can then give or resell the unused key to someone else. Essentially, a key to a game you own already acts like a free extra copy.

I like to save these extra keys to use in giveaways or trades with fellow gaming buddies down the road. It‘s a nice perk of buying bundles if you happen to already own some of the included games!

Example: Redeeming a Duplicate Key

As an example, let‘s say I participated in the 2019 Humble Monthly Bundle which included a key for Dungeons 3. However, I had already bought Dungeons 3 previously on Steam.

When I redeemed the duplicate key from Humble Bundle, Dungeons 3 simply remained in my Steam library as it was before. Afterwards, I was still able to send the unused key to a friend who activated it successfully on his own account.

So Steam basically ignores and preserves duplicate keys rather than invalidating them. Handy when you have keys for games you already own!

Can a Single Steam Key Be Activated Multiple Times?

No. Individual Steam keys can only be redeemed one time and are then permanently linked to that account.

If you try to redeem the same key on multiple accounts, it will fail after the first use. You cannot reuse a key yourself or share it with friends. The exception is if you own the game already, as mentioned above.

Some shady resellers will try to advertise Steam keys as "multi-user redeemable." However, no legitimate Steam keys can be activated more than once per TOS. Any site claiming otherwise is scamming its customers.

Do Steam Wallet Funds Expire?

Steam Wallet funds added through gift cards, prepaid cards, or gift transfers do NOT expire. Valve confirms "Wallet credit does not expire" and can remain in your account as long as you want.

Gift Cards specifically also have no expiration according to Steam. So you don‘t need to worry about losing any unused funds over time. Let it accumulate until you find something to spend it on!

I like to watch for sales on Steam gift cards – you can sometimes get them at 10-15% discounts at retailers like PayPal Digital Gifts. Even sweeter when paired with Steam sales for double savings!

In Summary

Hopefully this guide has instilled confidence and understanding about the validity and expiration of Steam keys. Here are the key takeaways:

  • Legit Steam keys stay valid forever with no expiration after activating.
  • Third party resellers provide legal keys if authorized by Valve. Avoid gray marketplaces.
  • Reselling your own individual keys is common but technically not permitted.
  • Free developer giveaway keys are safe, but avoid sketchy offers.
  • Already owning a game won‘t invalidate its key for use elsewhere.
  • Keys only work once per account, but extra copies aren‘t used up.
  • Wallet funds like gift cards have no expiration.

With this knowledge, you can shop for Steam games smarter and take advantage of legit deals without worrying about key validity. Game on! Let me know if you have any other Steam key questions.