Every once in a while, the video game industry provides an opportunity for a damn good hustle. A chance to make some cash through legitimate, albeit unintended, means. Moose runs in World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor, the party hat barons of RuneScape who trade colourful cosmetics for Scrooge McDuck levels of in-game gold, and now international Modern Warfare 2 Burger King skin sellers. For a few around the world, Activision Blizzard’s latest marketing promotion has cracked open an opportunity to make actual real-world cash, with a select through walking away with staggering profits.
But first, a recap for those uninformed. With Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2’s launch, the marketing team behind the game had a great idea. Nothing quite goes together like an evening of grinding out a new video game and fast food, so why not bring those worlds together and offer players a free in-game skin and XP boost to help them on their way?
Food and drink are a tried-and-true vehicle for video game promotions. You’ve likely seen COD XP boosts on the side of energy drink cans, or other high-sugar gamer supplements. Burger King’s latest run is the latest in a long-standing tradition. But there is a gap in the campaign. Both the USA and UK have been left out of this global promotion, both countries jam-packed with hungry COD players. Hungry for both cosmetics and a cheeky experience bump. And burgers, too, probably. For those marooned away from the rest of the world, a grey market of code resellers is their only recourse.
“I’ve gone [to Burger King] three times for codes” says Gabriel over Twitter DMs. A native of France, he’s one of the many out there who have taken to social media to promote their side hustle of selling codes to a desperate British and American MW2 player base. “I did stop for two days, but I’m headed back today for the last time.” With only three trips to his local Burger King, he has made upwards of $200, which he’s giddy to inform me will be going towards a new PC for Warzone 2.
Why would you buy this skin from a reseller? Well, it’s simple really. Since you can’t get it here in the UK, the closest place that sells it is France. On the cheap, it costs £68 for a flight to Paris, while a trip down the Euro Tunnel can be even pricier. This doesn’t include actually getting to the airport or tunnel, nor does it factor in the cost of the meal itself. These prices pale in comparison to those faced by those in the USA too, who’ll have to fly a greater distance. For those isolated, buying a code online makes the most sense if you’re dying to get it, despite what initials seems to be a ludicrous price for a bloody cosmetic.
In the world of Burger Town skin resellers, Gabriel is of middling size. Advertising the codes he has available online, he – like many others – purchases meals in bulk, harvesting the codes before distributing them to interested parties online. However, due to what he perceives as a shrinking market, he has made his last haul and is making out with a healthy chunk of extra cash. Gabriel offers his codes for around $20 a pop, which is a lot for a cosmetic and XP boost (even with the meal), but nonetheless has managed to sell off almost every code he’s put out there.
As we’ve reported in games like Lost Ark, grey or even black markets around video games often see this tumbling race to the bottom when it comes to prices. As was coverd last week, early entrepreneurs on eBay were listing — and successfully selling — Burger Town codes for upwards of $60. In the last few days, we’ve seen the prices plummet to $20 or lower as hordes of people attempt to get in on the action. With a meal costing roughly the equivalent of five or six bucks, even with this drop-off sellers are still making serious returns.
But Gabriel, with $200 in his pocket and a smile on his face, does not represent the lofty peak of frankly respectable gains that some Burger town skin hustlers have been able to achieve. Enter Jay, an auto-technician from New Zealand. After one of his US friends recommended selling the codes following their own trade, he began grabbing and selling codes in bulk. The result? Around 225 codes sold in total, bringing in a rough sum of around $4,250. “I have a close family member who works at BK, but they’re not supplying me so I’ve been paying for individual meals. In bulk but heaps of meals”
On his first trip, Jay started small and bought around five meals worth, pocketing the codes and giving the food to his co-workers. Since then, he claims to have been able to buy the codes directly for the cost of the full meal, saving him from having to carry dozens of meals at a time Death Stranding-style, shrinking the workload of the employees, and stopping a bunch of food waste from being created.
While Gabriel experienced a drop-off in interest, Jay has seen only an increase in eager buyers since launch, as more American and British players have learnt of the Burger Town skin’s existence. For him, the problem isn’t demand, it is time.
“Surprisingly, it has picked up heaps since launch, but I don’t have the time to offload like 70 more codes individually till the weekend so I’m selling the rest in bulk for what I paid for,” he says. “I think I’ll sell 50 in bulk then keep the rest for friends and family.” As a bulk seller, Jay will likely be feeding codes into a currently expanding Burger Town market, the codes being bought with the intention of reselling at a profit, or perhaps even for giveaways which have started popping up online.
So where will Jay spend all this money? In a wholesome turn of events, it appears he and his significant other are expecting a baby next January. This money he has made off the Burger Town skin market will be going towards a safety net in case of financial troubles in the new year, although he did admit to spending around 5% of the total earnings on his fiancé – which I think we can all agree is totally fair and what any bloke would hope they’d do in the same situation.
But there is an elephant in the room. Putting aside his own legitimate success off the back of the Burger Town skins, does Jay think this event is a good event? If it has resulted in a grey market of resellers, was it though- out well?
“[There are] too many different promotions per region which in my opinion is stupid,” Jay concludes in our chat. “Because then you’ll have people exploiting it like I have — making a lot of money.” He went on to point to a 2015 Carls Jr. promotion for Black Ops 3 for an exclusive calling card and camo for Ruin, a Specialist in the game as a previously well-executed promotion of similar style.
However it is worth noting that Carls Jr. isn’t the sort of brand that’s available everywhere, especially not in the UK. The promotion also had a sweepstakes included, which means even if you got a code, you may not get the prize you were looking for. A guaranteed reward as is available this time around is certainly better, and while the chance at super rare prizes like copies of the game or tours of the development studio are lush, it would likely lead to the same problem as right now, except with a chance of redeeming your gray market code for a duff in-game reward.
Ultimately, in the wider scheme of things the main problem with the Burger Town MW2 skin promotion that has allowed for this market to pop up is a peculiar mix of literal real-world region locking, with an absence of region locking when it comes to the codes themselves. Whether the deal didn’t come to the UK and US due to money, or time (these sorts of deals do take months of planning y’know), or whether it was intentional to drive up demand remains uncertain
For now people like Jay and Gabriel, those who have seen an opportunity to start up a respectable hustle and earn some extra cash for expensive hardware upgrades or to support their family, seem like they’re here to stay. With the official Burger King UK Twitter account confirming the news that there is no planned Burger Town promotion for our sad little island while the land of freedom and unfathomable and unethical levels of military spending also sits in the same ironically burger-less boat.