Steam's Social Boom Is Not In The Cards

Steam's new trading card system was brought out for the recent sale, and at first I was excited - the ability to display certain cards on one's profile, which I assumed would be associated with feats of gaming prowess, would be pretty cool. Perhaps even give us a reason to care about Steam profiles - or maybe just a way to differentiate ourselves. But after looking into the confusing trading card system, I was left disappointed.

The idea is, after playing games for a while, cards will drop. But only a certain amount - to get the rest of the cards in order to complete a set, you'll have to trade with other players. Completed sets turn into badges, which can be displayed on your profile, and Steam has vaguely mentioned some possible future discounts that may be attached as well. But for the time being, the only addition a badge will make to your profile is "I have spend a lot of time and/or money."

Trading cards were promoted quite heavily in the last sale, but on the Steam trading cards community page, they don't actually tell you how to get them. A look at the FAQ reveals this answer:

That doesn't actually tell you much.

But a little further down...

For free-to-play games, cards are based on how much money you spend. Buying games will also get you cards (at least in the sale). And for normal, participating, paid games, cards drop due to how much time you spend in the game. It's not connected to achievements, or feats of skill, or score, or anything like that, though they say in the future they'd like to include community events.

Fair enough if the achievement system could be manipulated, and therefore wasn't included. But at the moment it feels like we're the ones being manipulated, and I'm not inclined to care about any system that only tracks how much time I'm spending in it. Especially if it only starts tracking from July 2013.

Given the amount of hours we've already put into our favourite games over the last decade, it feels like the new system is ignoring our gaming history. You get a badge for years of service, but seriously - this isn't a fair system until you give me literally everything there is to have in Counter-Strike. I've done my time, and taking hours out of my day to reinstall and play an older game just for my Steam level is just not in the cards.

Valve is searching for ways to make their social functionality count for something - a reason for you to share your experiences on Steam, as opposed to Facebook, Twitter, or Youtube - and it seems odd that this is how they choose to do it. By attaching a broad term like "Steam level" to nothing but time and money spent, they cheapen their brand. They confuse us as to what Steam is about. They might as well call it "Diamond Premium Tier Customer".

The only virtual numbers I care about are my bank account and KDR. But I know there are those out there that see achievements, and levels, and cards, and just can't help themselves. So go on - enlighten us, Kotaku. Do you care about Steam trading cards? And why?


    I don't even look at my profile that often, once or twice a month, so I don't really care about the trading cards. The instant I got one dropped it was straight onto the market with it. Granted most were going for roughly 20c, but a handful of those picked up a couple of cheap games in the sale

    Well I kind of like how I made $14 selling jpgs to rubes, got me gunpoint & ftl for free and was a discount on hunted the demons forge

    Personally I care as much about the trading cards as I do about achievements, that being none what-so-ever.
    Just like achievements, if I get them, wow, cool I guess, but I don't go out of my way to get achievements at all, and I won't be doing anything different to earn these cards.
    This may be partially due to the fact that I never look at my own or friends profiles at all.
    For me, steam is 'load steam, load game, play game, exit steam'

      If you don't care about the cards, just sell em. You'll make a few bucks for doing no work.

        great caesar's ghost you might be onto something

        I've made 39 cents so far selling cards and Dota 2 treasure chests that I have no intention in opening. Could've bought myself Just Cause 1 when it was on sale for 27c the other day but I only sold that stuff after the sale ended.

          Hells bells I made $13.27 during the sales that went into New Vegas incl DLC and some indie game that I should have played but still not installed.

    I'm really disappointed in the Steam cards. I thought it was going to be something like what Kongregate does, where cards you earn can be used in the site's own CCG. If Valve ever did go in that direction, I'd be very poor in both finances and time.

    Another marketing scheme that capitalizes on the human fear of "missing out". It's the way all "useless" collection systems work.

      The worst thing is that I absolutely agree... but I absolutely must complete the sets anyway. lol :(

        haha yeah. just because we understand why it is stupid, doesnt mean that we wont do it anyway.

    the card system is growing on me. I completed both the Kerbal space program deck and the summer sale deck without paying a cent; i traded the cards with my ring of friends. Its working quite well.

    And the discounts for the games is currently on; i have 50% of Serious Sam Double D as a result of completing the Kerbal Space deck. Its a shit deal, for a shit game, but its free, so im not complaining!

    Also, i got a smiley for it

    I don't normally care so much about achievements and the like unless I incidentally end up close enough to one to make that extra effort (or they encourage you to do silly stuff you wouldn't otherwise - like trying to be 'most awesome' in Brutal Legend by jumping the car over a mammoth :p)

    That said I kinda like the trading cards in that they aren't just the little card snapshots - if you click the cards you get a nice full size piece of artwork which can be things like postcards from an in-game location, or concept-art-style landscapes - I think of it like the games where you unlock dev galleries and bonuses, only this gives you more incentive to get friends playing some of your games they might not have otherwise. Of course there isn't much point collecting more than one of each set, and the foil versions annoy me because it means you end up with a rare drop which won't fit into a non-foil set of the same cards!

      "There isn't much point collecting more than one of each set"

      You can complete the same set 3 times, each time getting emotes, wallpapers vouchers, ect.

        That is a good point, though I don't know anyone who uses them for anything more than trade.

      Actually, I did spend quite a bit of time admiring the TF2 and Skyrim card images. Some of the cards have obviously had a fair bit of work put into them or made use of really nice concept art that I haven't seen yet.

      Of course, for all of those, you still seem to get a few Triple Town style icon pictures lifted straight from the game. (Which, y'know, there's not exactly a lot you can DO with Triple Town, so I don't really blame them, but they're a good example of what 'disappointing' looks like in a card.)

      Check out the Brutal Legend cards in the store, and you see on the sale page that the cards actually include lore descriptions. I couldn't see those anywhere on the cards in my badge-progress, which seems like a missed oportunity. Not sure if the lorestuff turns up in the inventory. And not all games do it, either.

    From my perspective, they've been an interesting way of combating the whole "i have so many games on my steam that I've never played" problem a lot of players have. I've installed many games purely to get the cards and ended up playing them as opposed to never touching them, so I think they're a good thing in that respect. Its also a good way of steam letting more people get involved with the marketplace. Not good as a money making scheme, though.

    Yeah I can totally understand Junglist's point. The hundreds of hours I've sunk into HL and Mass Effect and Bioshock. I'm NOT about to replay those games just for cards. I've done my time.

    When I replay those games it will be for love, and love alone.

      just so you know, you dont need to 'replay' the games, you can just load it up and idle on the menu/pause screen for a couple hours, alt+tab and you'll get them

      If you want to 'game' the system, you can just leave the game or even launcher open, and it'll tick over the time required to get the cards dropped. I had like... fifteen of those open when I left town for PAX.

    Cards and badges aside, they've also added the ability for achievements to be displayed as part of your profile.
    I added the 'most rare achievements' bar to my profile, now my shame that I have actually finished Secret of the Magic Crystals will live on more prominently.

      Indeed. It seems like some of the hyper-rare achievements aren't because they were hard, but because they were in a game no-one but me ever played.


        Faerie Solitaire is actually pretty good!

          Actually yeah, the game mechanics make for a really fresh and interesting variety on solitaire. The storyline reads like something written by a weepy, angsty, 'sensitive' teenager, but I enjoyed the cards.

    I have many, many cards. I also have many, many games, and I installed most of them that had cards, just so I could fire them all up at once to get the cards to drop while I was sleeping or at work. I'm like... level 36 or something. And never have

    Downside: my friends can now check my profile and see that I have probably spent as much time in Magical Diary as I did on Bioshock. NOT a true reflection of game quality at all.

    I was explaining the system to a very cynical friend, showing him how the Steam level goes up when you get enough cards, and having a higher Steam level gives you a greater percentage chance at booster packs, to get more cards, to increase your steam level to... get more cards.
    He was not impressed. ...But I have shinies in my profile, which no-one ever sees. And a giant shitload of emoticons I never use. :)

    (Edit: Seriously. My profile background is from Hotline Miami and features that chick with the horse-head mask, poised to swing a bloodied baseball bat. Visual poetry. I just go to look at it myself sometimes.)

    Last edited 25/07/13 2:20 pm

      I thought the higher level only gives you more friend slots...

        Every ten levels gets you an increased percentage chance for booster packs. 10, 20, 30 etc. To a maximum of 100% boost, I think. It's on the FAQ.

          you also get another showcase added to your profile

    I love the card system, made over $50 selling cards to idiots willing to pay for them, meant I didn't spend a cent of my own money during the summer sale :)

    Oh man I hate this junk. Now we're going to get a whole lot more people 'friending' each other just to trade. It's so insincere. I once had a guy friend me and start asking about a rare hat I've got. I had no idea about it and when I investigated I discovered the ridiculous hat economy. I came back and said "Y'know what? I'll take cash" and he disappeared immediately and forever.

    Remember when trading cards meant going to the playground or school and bartering a trade with your friends. There was no market and no way to know the real worth of your transactions. Everything happened in your own little vacuum where every card was worth exactly what you wanted it to be.

    These are as important to me as Steam Achievements.
    ie, in the range of not much at all to zero

    1. Start game.
    2. Minimize game.
    3. Do other stuff.
    4. Check back later, you have cards.
    5. Sell cards.
    6. Profit!

      Yeah. This article prompted me to do exactly that, in a different account to the one I'm currently working in! A few dollars for a few hours of background processing? I can handle that.

    I'm pretty much with Erebus, if this is how they want to present achievements, fair enough, if it's a way to try and use addictive behaviour to get people to spend money on in-game purchases I think that's a bit ordinary. Valve have developed quite possibly the best public perception of a games company ever and they put that at risk if they start using cheap tactics to get people to spend money. Great article by Junglist, alot better than some other recent ones on Kotaku with grammar errors in the titles or old Reddit reposts...

    As I posted on one of the other articles, I think the aim is to get more users invested in the community market. Since no one gets a full set of cards as regular drops, you need to trade with friends or buy and sell on the market.

    When you sell a card on the market, an extra 5% is added as a commission to Valve, and 10% as a commission to the developer associated with the card (with each commission being at least 1c). The 10 sale cards were the most heavily traded cards, with around US$890,000 in sales, giving Valve around $44,500 in commissions.

    If they get the non TF2/DOTA2 user base comfortable with the market, and get developers comfortable about the commissions, then perhaps more things will be marketable in future. Used games, perhaps?

    Valve needs to improve the browsing performance inside the steam client if any of this stuff is going to take off...
    Buying on the market place is a nightmare due to how long it takes to refresh a page... "you can't buy that item, someone else has already purchased it"... cool, then why is it still visible?
    Same goes for the cards, and profiles. None of those social pages are intuitive or easy to use.
    I tried to look up what game a friend bought during the sale... took forever.

    As for obtaining the cards.... extra rewards for in game purchases... sure why not. It's not going to make me spend money but for those who do, good for them.
    Otherwise, all you have to do is open a game, leave it open for an hour or two and you get your maximum possible cards for that game... The rest you have to trade for. So really they could have just given everyone an arbitrary number of cards for every game they own and be done with it...

    Except once you get your initial 3 or 4 cards you can't get them again. So you don't want to trade something you can't get again.... thus you have nothing to trade.

    The economy doesn't rely on people trading, it relies on some people not caring about the cards and putting them up for sale, for the other people who do care... seems weird for "trading cards".

    Last edited 25/07/13 4:48 pm

    I've been selling card duplicates I have on the marketplace and buying cards to complete sets.
    Maintaining a $0 spend on everything.

    I hit lvl 21 the other day, pretty happy so far (just wish I managed to get lvl 5 summer sale badge :()

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