Editorial: Steamy Trading

Will the trading cards never cease??
Cards have been available to collect since May 15th.

A week ago today, Steam trading cards were officially released after a very short beta of a month and a half. Starting with only six participating titles, forty-three currently have cards associated with them. So, what are these cards for and why would anyone want to collect them? First we need to rewind a little and look at what else this update has bought us.

Each Steam user now has a brand new profile that will show off what games the user has been playing, any badges they may own and any group they belong to, as well as a few other minor bits of information to anyone who cares to look.Something new here though, is the level of the user. Yes, people can earn experience to level up their Steam profile. How does one earn experience points? Remember all those badges that steam gave to people that participated in summer and winter sales? No? That is okay, because even a new user can earn a badge by participating in the community. Each badge a player owns is worth a number of experience points, and every hundred points grants a level.

So, maybe people wish they had participated in steam event more often to earn those badges. Well, do not worry as more badges have been made available to the community. This is where the trading cards come in, as when someone manages to gather a full set of cards they can use them to craft a badge for the game. Here is the catch though; each user is only given a limited number of card drops per game (usually half the total number available) and could potentially collect multiple of the same card.

I always end up with three of the same.
Don’t Starve has five cards to collect, but only three drop for each person.

The handy new badges section of the updated profiles show each user which games they own cards for and whether they are entitled to any more card drops. A nice feature is that any games in a users collection that could drop cards will show up here, even if a user has not yet obtained any cards in the relevant set. Clicking on a card set will also display all the cards that are missing and if anyone on the users friends list owns one of them. For people who lack friends, there is always the Steam Trading Cards Group where people will trade community items for cards. A bit more expensive, there is also the Steam market place where one can purchase missing cards for real currency.

For the shy people who lack friends and money, there are booster packs that are handed out randomly as the community craft badges. These contain extra drops for specific games the user owns as long as they have already collected all the drops available and the chance of getting one raise with each ten levels the user obtains. Booster packs are like gold dust and can be sold on the market, though as more cards are collected and badges are crafted, so too will the number of booster packs handed out increase.

Kneel before Gabe.
Never doubt Gabe’s ability to convince you to hand him cash.

There are a couple of other items that can be given to a user whenever a badge is crafted. Games have special emoticons for use while chatting on Steam and backgrounds to personalise a profile further. Vouchers can also drop that entitle the bearer to discounts off games on the Steam service. Of course, all of these items can be traded or sold on the Steam market place.

So, what do Valve have to gain from this other than getting players to hit games in their collection to obtain new badges? Well, each item sold on the market earns Valve 5% of the sale price and 10% goes to the games creator (an incentive for developers to include cards in their games). When a game with cards is goes on sale, it may be the deciding factor that drives a purchase. Now imagine what will happen during the Steam summer sale. A week of deals, many of which will have cards. Hundreds of cards flooding the marketplace, lowering prices and bringing many new people looking to complete their sets. Only time will tell if this is a major win for Valve, but judging by the number of new items available on the market there are no shortages of people looking to complete their collections. Did I mention that cards can come in foil versions as well?

Do you own games with trading cards? What is your Steam level? Would you buy a cheap game if it had cards available? Let me know in the comments!


  1. I still do not understand the card system, but I seldom buy games on Steam anymore, so I do not much care.

    I imagine this will be useful if you’re the kind of person who is constantly buying stuff on Steam, or looking for deals so that one has more excuses to buy stuff on Steam, but I’ve learned my lesson. I have around a hundred Steam games, and I play precisely four of them.

  2. I also do not fully understand the system yet. Help me out here, Imitanis. When you buy a game (that has cards), you automatically get, for example, three cards of the entire set of five. Then if you want more, you have to trade them with other members. Once you make the entire set for that game, you can craft a badge? Is that right so far?

    I do not play Steam games either but since I have come as far reading this editorial, I’d like to finish the job by understanding it all. Thanks, Imitanis.

  3. I crafted my first badge today, so let me lay the whole system out for you:

    Buying a game entitles you to earn some cards for that game. This amount is roughly half the number cards available. Merely loading up the game on Steam is enough for cards to begin dropping, though it can take an hour before you see one. It is possible to get multiples of the same card (all three of my Don’t Starve cards were the same).

    Once all you cards have dropped, the rest must be traded for or bought, unless you are lucky enough to get a booster pack. These packs are given to random people as the community craft more badges.

    When a set is collected, you can craft a level one badge. Further sets of the same cards increase the level of the badge. Badges give XP which raises your Steam level. The higher your level, the greater your chance of getting a booster pack is.

  4. OK. I think I understand it all now. Thanks. So when you crafted your badge, one or more totally random higher-level people probably just got a message saying they have received a booster pack? Sounds fun. Does Steam sell cards directly or is it just people selling their own cards? There is a whole new avenue for money right there.

  5. People sell the cards, though 10% of the price goes to the developer and 5% goes to Valve. I doubt it’s 1:1 for badges/boosters as the boosters seem quite rare.

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