One man’s quest to get a $60 game for free

Or, why Steam Trading Cards are awesome

As most of you probably know, Steam launched its Trading Card program earlier in July. With it, gamers can play participating games to get virtual trading cards specific to that game. The cards can then be traded with other users or sold on the Steam community market.

A sampling of some of the participating games

So, what is the point of all this? Players are supposed to gather up whatever number of cards in a game (usually 7 or 8, but they can vary wildly) and combine them to make a badge, which gives you Steam profile XP. If a player wants silly rewards like profile backgrounds and emoticons to use in Steam chat, not to mention five extra friend slots per level (which is….weird), that’s all well and good.

I’ll admit I bought into this pretty hard at first. I was level 23 or 24 by the time the trading cards even officially launched. Every time I gained a level, I sold the rewards. I was out leveling everyone on my friends list easily, since I happened to have the majority of trading card games at that point. Once the summer sale rolled around though, I started to realize there was pretty much no point in what I was doing. Now virtually everyone was catching up to me level wise, so my drive to keep leveling with the cards was quickly waning. So many games were showing up with trading cards, it seemed completely fruitless to keep chasing those levels. What good did they do? You get a dumb background for your profile and an emoticon? Woo.

There are currently 167 games with trading cards. A far cry from the 10 or so it launched with.

So I stopped trying to level and focused on selling the cards on the community market. Steam became the game I was playing. I became a filthy idler. I have a 1 month old kid at home right now, so my time to actually play anything is severely cut down right now anyways. Hell, even as I write this, I have a game booted up in the background. My game time consisted of loading up a game, going to watch the baby, and coming back a couple hours later to sell whatever popped up. I decided to see if I could get some free games. And I did. Easily. I managed to sell enough cards to buy $12 worth of games in just a few days. Which, during a Steam sale, is quite a bit. I picked up Fallout: New Vegas ($2.50), 4 copies of McPixel ($4 total), and Risen 2 ($5). To me, it's pretty amazing I was able to do this. I felt like I was cheating the system by getting these games with absolutely no investment (well, other than all the games I had already bought to be able to do this, I suppose).

After that little bit of success, I decided to see just how far I could push it. I bought a few more games I had my eye on, and then I focused on getting as many cards as possible, to see if I could save up enough money to buy a full $60 game. Keep in mind, if you want to sell trading cards like this, they sell anywhere from $.10 to $1.00. Sometimes more or less, but that’s generally the range. Usually on the low side of that, more often than not. As a general rule, the more cards a game has, the less each card will be worth. So if a game has, say, 15 cards (I’m looking at you, Brutal Legend), the cards are going to sell for less than dirt. There are other factors too. If it’s a game not many other people have, the median price for cards will generally be a bit higher than a typical game. Then there are the Foil cards as well. I honestly can’t believe people buy these, but I’m not going to complain. These cards are essentially no different from a normal card, except they are much rarer and sell for quite a bit more. In the month or so I've been doing this, I have only seen 4 foil cards drop. The prices on these have varied a lot. I sold one for about $1.50, but the highest one was about $4.00. These have absolutely no special benefit, other than bragging rights. But then again, I guess that could be said about any trading card game with foils.

I have 58 trading card enabled games out of the 167 currently available. Each game has, on average, about 7 cards. That means I potentially have about 406 cards that I can sell. If each card sold for just 50 cents, I would have a profit of $203. Granted, most cards will sell lower than that. I would say there is potential to make at least $100 though, easily. After figuring this out, my goal of getting a free full-price game started to look much more obtainable.

While I haven’t reached my goal yet, I think it will happen soon. I’m currently about $15 shy of $60. With a bit of patience, I will be there soon enough. There are some other things I could probably do to facilitate this goal, but I don’t want to go in too deep. I could theoretically go onto the market with my current wallet balance, buy up any cards listed for cheap, and sell them for a bit more. I could trade with my friends for cards that are worth more than what I currently have. But I’m not going to do any of that. I’m sure there are people out there going to these lengths, but that’s too much work for me. I’m perfectly content just idling and selling. It’s free money, after all. I don’t want to get too greedy.

25 Comments
25 Comments
Posted by TheManWithNoPlan

I'm on the same quest as well. It'll take a while, but I plan on going through my almost 200 game library for all the Steam cards I can get. So far I've gotten about 4 dollars off the Steam sale cards and a couple of games. Just like you I'm not going to try and game the system by buying cards for cheap and reselling them, I'll just slowly accumulate cards and sell them here and there. I'll eventually get a game for Free.

Edited by MattyFTM

See, I'm on a one man quest to get the foil Secret of the Magic Crystals badge for free. This whole card thing is dumb, so I have to be that guy who takes it to the dumbest possible extreme, by working his way up to a foil badge for some dumb horse game. I don't care about any other badges, I just want the ones for this dumb horse game. I already have the level 5 standard badge, now I just need the foil badge. Except that's easier said than done because the foil cards generally go for £2-6. I currently have ~£6 saved up in my Steam wallet from card sales, and that is making this entire thing seem even dumber. That's money I could spend on real games. But instead I'm going to spend it, and much more, on cards because it'll be dumb and funny.

Moderator
Posted by Dietomaha

@mattyftm said:

See, I'm on a one man quest to get the foil Secret of the Magic Crystals badge for free. This whole card thing is dumb, so I have to be that guy who takes it to the dumbest possible extreme, by working his way up to a foil badge for some dumb horse game. I don't care about any other badges, I just want the ones for this dumb horse game. I already have the level 5 standard badge, now I just need the foil badge. Except that's easier said than done because the foil cards generally go for £2-6. I currently have ~£6 saved up in my Steam wallet from card sales, and that is making this entire thing seem even dumber. That's money I could spend on real games. But instead I'm going to spend it, and much more, on cards because it'll be dumb and funny.

That's exactly what I used to do at first. All my trading card profit went right back into the market to level myself up. Then I realized how pointless that was. All I was doing was trying to out level my friends. No good came of that. I had to cut myself off from buying more cards and just start saving.

Edited by Dagbiker

The way trading cards work the prices can only go down, because steam is creating more then it is taking off the market, same with backgrounds, and emotes.

(unless someone hordes a certain card, and plays de beers with them)

Edited by LordAndrew

You're all crazy. Thank you.

Posted by tonyp2121

In my opinion the amount of man hours you would have to use in order to get to the point of getting a $60 game for free is so large it defeats the purpose of the whole thing.

Posted by Dietomaha

In my opinion the amount of man hours you would have to use in order to get to the point of getting a $60 game for free is so large it defeats the purpose of the whole thing.

Yes, you have to spend soooo much time doing absolutely nothing other than changing games every couple hours :P

It's barely any work at all for free money. Granted it's a trickle, but what do you expect? You're essentially getting paid to play games if you do it right.

Posted by BeachThunder

@dagbiker said:

The way trading cards work the prices can only go down

This is not correct. A lot of games have increased in value since the sale ended.

Posted by tonyp2121

@tonyp2121 said:

In my opinion the amount of man hours you would have to use in order to get to the point of getting a $60 game for free is so large it defeats the purpose of the whole thing.

Yes, you have to spend soooo much time doing absolutely nothing other than changing games every couple hours :P

It's barely any work at all for free money. Granted it's a trickle, but what do you expect? You're essentially getting paid to play games if you do it right.

Its still just wasting your time, I'd rather just straight out buy a $60 game rather than wait weeks and weeks for the slow trickle of steam cards to finally amount to $60. Its just not worth my time, if you want to thats fine I just don't see any logical reason to do it besides the satisfaction of all that effort for one lone free game.

Posted by Fearbeard

I got up to about $20, bug used most of that on a game alteady. Love free money

Edited by Grillbar

well i was going to sell at least some of the cards i had and in the beta i was lucky to sell 3 cards for about €1 each after that every card sold would normally only net me about €0,10 each so its no longer a viable option for me since i dont care that much for such a small profit, might as well keep em and maybe trade them for something else. i might sell foils
but atleast ive made about €3,4

Edited by Dagbiker

@dagbiker said:

The way trading cards work the prices can only go down

This is not correct. A lot of games have increased in value since the sale ended.

yes, the games have increased in value, but if you get at least 3 out of 6 cards just for playing a game, you are going to have so many cards on the market just by the end of the month.

Posted by ThunderSlash

I have sold enough items for Valve to request me my Social Security Number for tax purposes. I'm not sure if I want to go through with that.

Posted by BeachThunder

I have sold enough items for Valve to request me my Social Security Number for tax purposes. I'm not sure if I want to go through with that.

Yep, I got that notification too...I think that's a sign that I should stop...

Edited by Brackynews

But then again, I guess that could be said about any trading card game with foils.

Not goddamn really, because actual foil or hologram cards look special. Steam says "oh it's not blue it's grey." Hey video games, how do metallic effects work best on a computer screen? Animation? Ya don't say? :P'''

@dagbiker: You seem to be forgetting that there is indeed a supply sink which can drive prices up. As in crafting multiple levels of badges. You're right about emotes and art, because those are not "consumed", but cards are. Let's do some ArbitraryMath for simplicity, without getting into bits of entropy. ;)

  • 100 owners of a game
  • 6 cards to collect (600 total)
  • 3 cards dropped (300 total)

Right away we see it is impossible for all owners of a game to have a Level 1 badge. At most it is 50. If 51 owners buy into wanting a badge, that creates a supply shortage. Now let's look at why those are imperfect figures, and the number is much smaller.

  • It's possible for 1 owner to receive 3 of the same card. There is no promise of even distribution of drops, forcing rare cards to be higher in value.
  • It's possible for a drop to be a foil card instead, which has a separate badge. This influences the normal card supply in a zero-sum manner.
  • Many people want higher levels of badges. They are consuming 12, 18, 24, or 30 cards to get up to Level 5.

The potential supply is actually managed through booster packs, not the ownership drops. Every time a badge is crafted, it's possible for someone (not everyone) to receive a booster pack. There's a fairly small number of booster packs staying on the market compared to the card quantities, clearly.

Thus 6 cards are deleted from the system, and the potential to receive 3 more is given to an unknown number of people. There's no clear indication of how many this is, or what our base chances are (only our bonus modifier) to receive a booster. This information will probably always be secret and arbitrary because it lets Valve shape the market how they want demand to evolve for individual games.

For all we know, the chances could be different for different levels of badges. O_o Let's pretend it's 5% of 100 owners receiving a booster when a L1 badge is crafted. So 6 cards are removed, 3x5=15 cards are added to the system. This pushes prices down until one person accumulates enough to feel they might as well craft a L2 badge, which could then mean 4% of 100 owners.... and so on. Logically, enough cards could exist for all 100 owners to have a L1, and just a fraction having an L5. A game being sold will always be adding to its supply, but Valve gets to control how quickly the market goes up or down.

And at every step of the process, the publisher gets a 10% cut of the price of anything on the market, and Valve gets 5%. These fuckers know how to print money. Who in the world would've said a year ago, that the one feature Steam was missing was trading cards? Dastardly.

Posted by Dietomaha

It comes to the same end: Bragging rights. People want a foil badge just to say they have it. Same with actual foil cards.

And actually, the foil badges do have different graphics and descriptions than the normal badges. So there is some incentive there.

Posted by WickedFather

I'm drunk at the moment, so please be kind. Is this actually something that's even worse than achievements? Are you caring about something that's just mental? I'll catch up with you darlings in about 10 hours.

peas and gloves,

D.

Edited by madman356647

I cheated and sold an unusual TF2 hat. Free saints row 4 here I come!

Edited by EvilNiGHTS

@beachthunder said:

@dagbiker said:

The way trading cards work the prices can only go down

This is not correct. A lot of games have increased in value since the sale ended.

There are a couple of other factors, but generally you can expect value to go down.

The Summer Getaway cards made for an interesting experiment. During the first day, cards were selling for over £1, but as the sale went on and people realised they weren't so rare after all, value dropped to about £0.10 per card. But as the sale ended and the cards stopped materialising, people desperate to complete the badge started buying them in droves which briefly brought the value per card back to £0.20, only for it to drop back down again after everyone who cared about the badge had completed them.

Interestingly enough, despite being the most common tradeable items, outside of DOTA and TF2 items they're still the most expensive thing on the marketplace. Emoticons and backgrounds hit the bottom much faster, and they're less common. Madness.

Although I wouldn't pay money for an emoticon. Hell, I almost felt bad when people bought mine.

Edited by Dietomaha

I'm drunk at the moment, so please be kind. Is this actually something that's even worse than achievements? Are you caring about something that's just mental? I'll catch up with you darlings in about 10 hours.

peas and gloves,

D.

As far as I know, you can't pull a profit from achievements. I'd say being able to profit from this alone lends far more credence to it than anything else. People downplay it because you can't make very much money at it, but it's still money. And like the topic of this blog says, I've already made (almost) $60 from it. Since I posted this, I'm up to $51 (from $45).

Posted by darkvare

i sold my cards and bought darksiders since it was only dollars

Edited by Brackynews

@dietomaha said:

And actually, the foil badges do have different graphics and descriptions than the normal badges. So there is some incentive there.

Oh, the badges, but not the cards. Well simply having 2 game badges instead of 1 is enough incentive for many.

Posted by Sanity

I dont know... i might be in the minority but i kinda like the trading cards, i know there sorta dumb, but the collector in me wants them and i like the stupid badges. Im not going to go crazy buying them all the time, and im sure as hell not buying foils but for 60 cents i'll finish a badge off if im close for the hell of it. What can i say, im a sucker for these kinds of things.

Edited by Dagbiker

I just wish if they made trading cards, they would have gone all out and made a full mtg type of game.

Posted by Dietomaha

Yeah, there needs to be some point to this if they want to keep trading cards going. It's working fine now because they're still new and people are under its spell, but once that wears off and realize it's only silly cosmetic stuff, I dunno how long it'll keep going. Making a game out of it would give a massive incentive to a lot of people after the charm of leveling wears off.