“Steam Trading Cards are virtual cards earned by playing games on Steam.” This is Steam’s official definition for their just out-of-beta Steam Trading Cards. When I read this for the first time, I dismissed it off as a gimmick who I’d do best justice by simply ignoring in plain sight. After all, they’re just virtual cards, they looked dumb and trading them for real money was utterly stupid. I dismissed the whole idea entirely. I’m generally the type of person who’ll never go for such ‘shams’. Yes, a sham. That’s always my first impression on such schemes.
I was wrong.
A few purchases on the Steam Summer Sale coupled with a few hours of gaming, I notice these ‘New Items’ embracing my Steam inventory. And with that, I also notice the Badges section, which I completely overlooked (more on that later). Almost all of these new items were these so called ‘Trading Cards.’
And wait for it….
Some fiddling around the interface, and I could actually sell these cards, which I received for free, for real money (i.e. Steam credit #samething). Since then, I’ve been hooked, and I’ve managed to have a decent sum credited to my Steam Wallet, which also funded my purchase of The Walking Dead.
This trade is a community dependent model, and it has come to my attention that a massive chunk of Steam users have no idea whatsoever about what Steam Trading Cards are all about. And for that ‘massive chunk’, I decided to make a Starter Guide, for which I also dupe two of our contributors to join me. So if Steam Trading Cards go right over your head like they did over mine, you’re at the right place.
I’ll go with Steam’s official definition for Trading Cards as the most simple and straight forward explanation; “Steam Trading Cards are virtual cards earned by playing games on Steam.” Not all games support Trading Cards, but most of them do, and more are being added quickly (here’s the full list). Every title has a set of cards unique to it, varying from five to fifteen. Cards drop while you’re playing the game, randomly. And each game will only drop half of its total cards. So for a game with ten cards, you can earn five while playing the game.
Once all the cards for a title have been dropped, you’re eligible for a booster pack containing three additional cards. The occurrence of this is also random. More on this later
Now, you can either collect all the cards of a title to complete your set, which will make you a Badge. Badges give you XP, an emoticon and a profile background, and in rare cases, a discount to any game on Steam Store. XP points in Steam do increase the rate at which cards are dropped, so there is some benefit to Badges.
We’re not here for laurels on our Steam profile though. We’re here for the money. And while Badges might do you some good, I personally don’t focus on them, yet. Crafting badges consumes all the cards in that set. And Badges are not worth anything. So that means you’re sacrificing the income you can generate by simply selling those cards, without crafting a Badge.
Every card you receive while playing/purchasing is tradable for a monetary amount. To see what cards you own, click on the ‘Inventory’ button which is visible from the top-left menu with your account name.
Steam has released a FAQ about Trading Cards, you can check it out, it’s decent. But for the purposes of this article we’re assuming you haven’t bothered with that.
Making money from cards is simple. Get cards and sell them on the market. Never use them to craft anything.
Clicking on the ‘Badges’ section will take you to your Badges summary. You’ll see all the supporting games you own, their remaining card drops and the total cards the specific title has.
Once you’ve earned all your regular drops, you’re eligible for the Booster Pack. The Booster pack contains three random cards. These cards can be any high/low value cards, and in rare cases, they can be a ‘foil’ card. Aesthetically, foil cards just have a grey border, but they’re worth ten times as much a regular cards. Digital trading, I tell you!
Selling the cards in your inventory is simple. On the ‘Inventory’ page, select the item and click on the ‘Sell’ button on the right hand side. You then get a graph of that card’s price plotted against time. It is always best to sell at the latest price going for that card. I’ve tried selling for higher, but it seldom works. If a card is going for $0.18, keep your selling price to $0.18. It works, and its enough. Being even a cent greedy might result in your card not selling at all. Like your parents always said ‘greed is bad’, Steam re-iterates what your parents say (irony?)
The value of cards depends on the status (rather, stature) of the game that dropped it. Say if the card is a Portal 2 card, a game which has featured in many Steam discounts and is owned by many users. (thus the game is common), the supply is high and the demand low. Such cards are priced low. Generally, low is something between $0.08 – $ 0.15.
For a game like Company of Heroes 2, a recent game, which has never been discounted and users have to pay a full price to own it, the dropped cards will carry high value. These cards generally start at $0.60 and can go for as high as $0.85.
You can also buy cheap cards and sell them for a markup. More on that, as I head over to our contributor Rishi Alwani, a trade maestro himself. He has a thing or two to say about trading cards. Over to you, Rishi:
Work backwards: when selling cards, always fill in the amount the buyer pays first. Reason being, when you correlate that with the market price, it gives you a good idea on how much you stand to make. This is better than simply quoting your price because as it stands, the Steam Trading Card market is a buyer’s market simply because supply outweighs demand. This tactic of working backwards works well if you are looking to sell off cards quickly.
Timing: If you’re looking to maximise the amount of money you earn per card, the best way to go about it is either sell off quickly when demand tends to outweigh supply or hold off till there is no one selling what you have that is, after everyone has sold off their inventory. Holding off is a particularly effective strategy when you consider events like Steam Sales that have their own set of cards which are limited in quantity. Even as this is being written, the price on Steam Summer Sale cards is rising slowly but surely. So if you’re the sort who didn’t sell off your cards during the sale, waiting is the best option.
Price Sense-itive: as Sahil said, even a cent more on your pricing and you can lose out on selling. But if you price it within the acceptable range (the median sales price graph is your friend) you stand to make a little more than you would if you decide to price yourself as the lowest available option. Don’t be afraid to relist your items at a later time due to the volume of listings yours might not catch a buyer’s eye so fret not and list away, multiple times if you have to.
Have fun: for the love of GabeN do not farm for cards. While it is a popular way to gain access to entire set, you’ll just end up ruining the economy for everyone else. Sure leaving your game to idle for copious amounts of time is a sure fire way to get a slew of cards it’s not exactly beneficial because it devalues the entire process altogether and keeps pricing lower than it should be. Further more, it just means developers are going to update their games to prevent such activities. So go ahead, have fun and don’t devolve the Steam community into something out of a Chinese World of Warcraft Sweatshop. We’re better than that. Over to you, Sahil.
While Rishi and myself have a similar school of thought when it comes to trading cards and making money, not all find their way around like the two of us. While we try to keep it clean and simple, others, like Chirantan Raut, one of our contributors, has a different school of thought and plays it deep, down and dirty. He justifies below:
You can only sell in the community market if you’ve bought from the Steam Store or the Community Market within the last 30 days and have enabled Steam Guard on your account since at least 15 days. If you can’t sell directly, you could always ask a friend (who is eligible) to do it for you. However, Steam credit does not transfer between accounts, so your friend will have to gift you games bought from your Card Profit.
Going all out
Steam adds Trading Cards to Games from time to time and the Official Trading Cards Group announces these. To get the maximum profit from selling your cards, it is a good idea to ‘farm’ the cards by just idling the game. You can start the game, alt-tab out and do something else while the cards drop. You don’t even need to play it. If your system’s powerful enough, you can idle multiple games at once. your first two cards from the game should be listed as soon as they drop since that’s when they will be in most demand.
After exhausting the card drops you get for owning the game (Note that this works differently for Free-to-Play Games), You are eligible for a booster pack drop for that game. Boosters are a set of 3 random cards which can only be known after opening the Booster. The only real use of increasing your “Steam Level” by crafting Badges is to increase the percentage chance of getting a booster drop (+10% every 10 levels). Boosters drop every time a badge of the game is crafted. Since most badges are crafted within hours of the game getting them, it’s a good idea to become eligible for boosters as soon as possible. Boosters can be sold for much higher prices than common trading cards. But sometimes prices can tank so low that you make more from opening the booster and selling individual cards.
If you are trying to earn by buying cards for cheap and then selling them for higher prices, you should take note of the 15% cut Valve takes out of every sale. So your markup must net you enough to cover that as well otherwise you are selling at a loss despite selling at a higher price.
Foils are special versions of the regular trading cards that have their own badge. These are very rare and like all rare items, command much higher prices. Sometimes Foils can cost more than the game itself, especially for Indie Games.
While Card Farming is a quick and dirty way to profit from cards, it is not in the spirit of the Trading Cards Concept. Trading Cards are meant to be an additional reward for just playing a game and that is why they are not tied to achievements. The main intention is that you have fun and actually Play the games that you’ve bought.
A tip for budget conscious Badge Collectors: You can buy the entire set for your game if you sell your early card drops immediately, since prices will bottom out as more people get cards. It is a good idea to increase your ‘Steam Level’ with higher level badges for the games with cheap cards as you then increase your chances at a booster drop that you can sell to cover your investment.
Dota 2, TF2 on my mind
Free-to-Play games get card drops only if you buy in-game items. Every $10 invested in the game drops 1 card. So do not hope to farm cards from Free-to-Play Games by idling. Note that Team Fortress 2 does drop cards for people who own the premium version, or those that bought it before it went Free-to-Play.
Another source of income from the community market are the Game specific items from Team Fortress 2 which are dropped for owning certain games. You can get these from the Free-to-Play version by just running the game once.
If you do craft badges, you will get an emoticon and a profile background. These can also be sold, but won’t command prices as high as the cards.
While the Trading Card Scene might be compared to the Stock Market, there is a possibility that it may not be as profitable once the novelty wears off and the number of games with trading cards increases to almost the entire Steam Library. Like they say, “Make Hay while the Sun shines.”
If you have a pointer or two to add, do let us know in the comments section.