As an indie developer with four games on Steam, we receive some wacky emails. First, there's the initial deluge of dodgy requests for Steam keys with a new release. This is followed by even more requests from the "Every Man And His Dog Bundle" or the "You've Never Heard Of Us Bundle". Finally, you get the "boost" emails, where in exchange for — you guessed it — Steam keys, a bunch of bots will "play" your game for card drops. Here's what one of those emails looks like.
Before we continue, you might be wondering why someone would offer a card-boosting service to indies. Sure, developers get a trickle of income from card sales on the Community Market, but that trickle is, well, a trickle. We're talking a coffee every month or two.
I'll let "Sergey", who contacted us regarding this unique business opportunity, explain the benefits:
This purchase will increase the popularity of your games since a lot of emoticons, backgrounds and badges will appear in day to day conversations and steam profiles. My clients will be able to sell cards on the Steam trading platform and you will also receive some revenue from the steam market as a developer.
Ah, it's for the community gains! Which, if everything goes well, will translate into actual sales.
What pittance does Sergey require to make our card boosting dreams come true?
I'd recommend starting with 30 000 - 50 000 keys and more if you'd like the results.
That's a lot of keys. For that many, you'd hope to see results. And, if our intrepid entrepreneur and his army of card-mining robots doesn't sell you, Sergey's willing to part with real dollars to secure the deal:
Besides, you get immediate money from us for your keys right now as a proof of partnership. I mostly pay 400-600 dollars at first and we can increase this amount when our partnership will become solid.
OK, we've talked about the upsides of the arrangement. What are the cons?
The "service" will use a fraction of the keys to give your game a boost: The rest will be sold off via grey market sites. This is why Sergey's happy to part with ~$500, because he'll make it back easily.
Valve isn't stupid: Over the years, Valve has developed some very sophisticated ways of detecting dodgy behaviour from both developers and customers on Steam. One look at your game's activity on the Community Market and you might find yourself kicked off of the largest online storefront for PC games.
Destroy your reputation: I don't think I need to explain how a developer engaging such a service would be perceived by players and the media. Maybe you get away with it, but all it takes is for one person to notice the massive uptick in players, all with strange names and playing behaviours and the jig is up.
Even from a pragmatic perspective, card boosting is a terrible, terrible deal.
Please let me know if you are interested.
Sorry, Sergey, I'm going to have to go with "no".