Steam Trading Cards or: How I learnt to stop caring and love the marketplace

Of all the things in my youth to wrangle money out of me in my youth, it was the concept of trading cards. Whether they came in the form of stickers (thanks Merlin – I still never got Tim Sherwood to complete my Premier League ’94 album), Pogs or perhaps my biggest vice of all at the time, Pokemon, to the point where I even committed minor fraud on my parents’ credit card to get, they all seemed harmless to begin with but ended up being worryingly addictive and would take yours (or my parents) hard earned cash for what amounted to some words and pictures on toughened up paper.

That addiction has never really transferred to computer gaming for me however. Though I like trophies and achievements, I won’t go out of my way for them unless I really like the game or there are rewards for me doing so. So when the Steam Trading Card beta came long last month, I was intrigued, but hesitant – How would a trading card system work in digital format, and how would it try to eat up everyone’s money?

Well, it works a little like this:

  1. As of now, only some games have badges. When you play one of these games for around half an hour, you receive a card. You continue to receive cards until you run out of drops for that game (usually half the amount of cards overall)
  2. You can then trade cards with your friends or buy cards from the marketplace to complete your game set.
  3. When you have the whole set, you can craft a badge, which grants you profile XP, a wallpaper and emoticon from the game and a discount code for a game on Steam.
  4. You can then earn ‘booster packs’ for games where your drops have run out, but these are completely random (I’m yet to receive one), trade, or use the marketplace again to get more cards for the game to increase the level of your badge and get more rewards
Interesting concept, especially the rewards bit, so I thought I’d give it a go. This is where I learnt foible number 1 – in order to get all the badges for all the games you own, you’re inevitably going to have to spend real money. The amount of drops does not reset each level and the drop rate of booster packs is so low that you won’t be able to do it on your own without trading or selling cards from other games you own or going to the marketplace and buying the ones you’re missing.
I went with the sell-to-buy method and ended up with five badges out of it. Now, what are those rewards like? Well, they’re painfully bad if you’re anything like me. The emoticons are all but useless and the wallpapers for your profile are so hit and miss. I’ve found it much easier to go to a site dedicated to the games and download the good ones for myself as I don’t care too much about my Steam profile. Then we gt to the discount codes which are really high for games all the world and their sandwiches already own (Portal 2, Serious Sam etc.) or around 33-50% for games I don’t really care about and would be reduces on a Steam sale anyway.
Now the latter part got me thinking – there is obviously a Steam sale coming up and there are a few games I’d like to get my grubby little mitts on now I have a splendiforous PC and don’t have to try and game on a watermelon. The marketplace is booming with these cards right now, so why not just sell them for money (well, Steam-money) and fund my summer sale spree?
So that’s what I’ve been doing. Rather then getting addicted to collecting, I’m now addicted to selling, but at the same time I’m also getting through my backlog. Games like Really Big Sky (good), They Bleed Pixels (not so good) and others that have been in bundles or heavily discounted that I’ve bought on a whim I’m now playing through for enough time to not only get the maximum amount of drops but also to get an idea of if I like the game. And then once that’s done, it’s SELL SELL SELL time. The prices for the cards are modest (depending on the game, it can vary between 20-60p), and while Steam does get a small cut, so does the game which I think is neat. So between completing my five badges and now, I’ve accrued £5.82. It’s not a lot, but it will help buffer my wallet for when the inevitable occurs.
This could all change, however, when the Trading Card exit beta tomorrow evening. Supply is going to usurp demand and card prices will inevitably go down as more people have access to them and more games are added, but then they may come back up if people decided they really want badges. It’s tough to call. However, if you’re not too fussed about them, I do suggest doing what I’ve done as you may actually get something out of it that isn’t just a few stationary pixels. It could fund you getting a lot of moving ones.
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