Steam Roller: Adventures had and lessons learned on Valve's gaming platform
Steam Trading Cards, Part 1

Steam Trading Cards: What the Deal Is, Part 1 of 2

How simply being a member of Valve's platform is a game in and of itself

Summer is here (for those in the Northern hemisphere, at least). For many PC gamers this means one thing: the first of the two big Steam Sales of the year! Nearly every single item in the Steam catalog will be available at great discounts. That’s two weeks of the best equinox-inspired deals. On the other hand, Steam members will get to enjoy the platform itself as a global trade outlet. Even a tournament of sorts, played with the help of Steam trading cards. What the heck are those? What are they for? Furthermore, why should you care? I’m here to give some answers, as well as teach you a few personal tricks of the (Steam card) trade.

Wives give sound counsel and mine suggested I split this article in two. I followed her advice and posted both parts simultaneously Nexflix-series style. You may skip to Part 2 by clicking here.

The History of Trading Cards (as Told by Me)

Collectible trading cards throughout history, including the Garbage Pail Kids. (SOURCE: Topps Corporation.)
Collectible trading cards throughout history, including the Garbage Pail Kids. (SOURCE: Topps.)

It began decades ago, before the shift in entertainment brought on by the Internet. Kids would buy bubble gum of questionable quality with collectible cardboard pictures of famous baseball players and their statistics. With the advent of film and television, the industry making them expanded.  Cards covered not only different sports but also westerns, cartoons, popular movies and other pop culture staples. Their popularity exploded with stories of people selling these old cards to collectors for big bucks at auction. Suddenly they, like variant-cover comic books, became an investment!

Afterwards, a perfect storm of nerdy nirvana was born. Somebody figured out you could combine trading cards, playing cards and role-playing games. The Magic: The Gathering phenomenon heralded the arrival of the collectible trading card game. That genre turned a whole generation of kids into Yu-Gi-Oh! wannabees stricken with Pokémon-like “Gotta Catch ‘Em All” OCD. Later, people conveniently started carrying portable digital screens everywhere. That made somebody else realize that you don’t even need to print the damn cards anymore. Thus, digital trading cards became a thing and many forests sighed in relief. Except those under the California drought.

What Are Steam Trading Cards?

The Badges page reflects both your Steam trading card sets and your crafted badges. (SOURCE: Valve Corporation.)
The Badges page reflects both your Steam trading card sets and your crafted badges. (SOURCE: Valve Corporation.)

Which brings us to Steam trading cards. Essentially they’re the digital equivalent of those made popular by Topps, Fleer, Upper Deck and other companies. Only these are centered on videogames. And also non-tangible.

But what is their deal really? With a physically collectible card, at least you have the slim chance of finding somebody with plenty of disposable income willing to pay for your old Mars Attacks! or Garbage Pail Kids packs. And with card games, you can buy a starter set, practice with your friends and aspire to become top wizard of the Android’s Dungeon basement or whatever. Steam cards do neither of these. What is their purpose?

Why, bragging rights, in case you haven’t caught on. Valve Corporation has essentially devised Steam trading cards as a brilliantly sneaky way to enslave that obsessive inner child inside all us gamers.

Steam Card Chronology

The pre-event versions of the Steam Summer Sale 2016 trading cards. (SOURCE: Valve Corporation.)
The pre-event versions of the Steam Summer Sale 2016 trading cards. (SOURCE: Valve Corporation.)

Allow me to backtrack. For years, Valve’s Gabe Newell and his team have experimented with ways to keep Steam relevant. Their goal always has been to turn their user base into more of a community. It first began with prize competitions centered around their big two sales of the year, Summer and Winter/Holiday. These became popular, but rarely extended users’ involvement between sales.

Then in a fit of Boy Scout-inspired genius they introduced Steam’s badge system. It suddenly gave gamers achievements outside of the games themselves. They could obtain them and show them off for simple actions. Like participating in Steam events, correctly configuring their account or just having been a member for years. The coup de grâce was the one-two punch of both Steam trading cards and Steam user levels. Suddenly, you could stack yourself up against other Steam members. Not for your gaming prowess, but by more attainable traits like the number of games own and badges you’ve obtained in your account.

So if you’re a very, very casual or uninformed Steam user wondering what all those little blue-squared pictures popping up inside your inventory were for, now you know. They’re Steam trading cards. They exist to bind you to Steam for life. And if you give them a chance, you might actually enjoy collecting them a lot.

Cards Collecting and Badge Crafting: The Lowdown

A still of the Steam Trading Cards Bagde Crafting animation. (SOURCE: Valve Corporation.)
A still of the Steam Trading Cards Badge Crafting animation. (SOURCE: Valve Corporation.)

There are many sites containing great tutorials and FAQs on this particular of hobbies. The official Steam Community Trading Card is a good start. Here, in my experience, is what collecting Steam trading cards entails:

  1. While you play participating games, they will begin to “drop” themed trading cards inside your Steam Inventory for free. They start appearing after approximately two hours of game time. The number of cards delivered for this “starter set” depends on how many each specific game set contains. The math boils down to 50 percent plus one. That is, for even-number sets you’ll receive exactly half. Meanwhile, a game with odd-numbered sets such as five cards will give you three. You can see your completed badges and badge progress in the Badges option. It’s under the user menu in Steam Desktop mode (a.k.a classic mode or non Big Picture).
  2. After receiving all possible drops from each game in your Steam Library, you become eligible for their booster packs. Unpacking these get you three random cards for your set. The frequency and probability that you receive a booster pack is random. According to the official FAQ, it’s also totally dependent on two things. One is your Steam Level, the other is how many badges are crafted for each game. So the higher your number, the more and more frequently you’ll get boosters.
  3. There are other options for those too impatient to wait for booster packs. They are trading cards, after all, so trade up to complete each set. You can use Steam’s built-in item trading system to swap them with other users. Exchange your duplicate cards for missing ones from the same set. Sacrifice drops from one game and trade them to finish another game set. Also users put up cards on sale at the Steam Community Market. If you’re willing to spend, you may even purchase cards there (more on that in Part 2 of this post).
  4. After completing a set, a blue ‘Ready’ button will show beside each completed set in your Badges page. Click on it to go to the set and select ‘Craft Badge’. After a nifty animation, your profile will receive a new themed badge plus 100 XP points. You will receive three items in your inventory. They include a themed emoticon for chat, as well as a background to personalize your Steam Profile.
  5. Another way to get booster packs is Steam’s Booster Pack Creator, found in the Badges window. You can turn most unwanted items inside your inventory into gems. Collect enough of these and use them in the Booster Pack Creator to craft the booster packs you need.
  6. Steam trading cards come in two flavors, normal and foil. Like their real-life counterparts, foils are more scarce than regular cards. You can craft up to five regular badges per game with normal cards. In contrast, you are only allowed one foil badge per game.

That is pretty much the basics. There is, of course, much more for me to share in Part 2. Won’t you join me? We’ve come this far, haven’t we?

The Steam Summer Picnic Sale runs from now until July 4th, 2016. For more on Steam Trading Cards, click here to read Part 2 of this article.

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