Steam Roller: Adventures had and lessons learned on Valve's gaming platform
Steam Trading Cards, Part 2

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

More on the logic, technique and fun behind Valve's digital card-game-within-a-platform

As we said before, we take Summer and the Steam Summer Sale as inspirations to discuss Steam Trading Cards. We covered their basics in Part 1 of this article, which you can read by clicking here. Once you’ve done that, we invite you to shuffle over here and discover more about Steam cards.

Thoughts and Considerations

The actual trading cards for the Steam Summer Sale 2016, dubbed the Steam Summer Picnic Sale (SOURCE: Valve Corporation)
The actual trading cards for the Steam Summer Sale 2016, dubbed the Steam Summer Picnic Sale. (SOURCE: Valve Corporation.)

Now that we’ve covered the how-to, let’s break down the why. Why collect Steam trading cards? What are the caveats of this pastime? What does Valve gain from it? And what’s in it for the game developers themselves? I don’t really have concrete answers since I currently don’t work for Valve or any videogame company, but I have sound theories.

In Valve’s case, I believe it’s all about building both a community and an economy. They’ve done it before, after all, in Team Fortress 2. That free-to-play multiplayer shoot-em-up rewards gamers with free random drops of Mann Co. Supply Crates that may contain anything from better weaponry to nifty skins to personalize your soldiers. You need a key to open each, however, and to get key you need to either trade other items for them or buy them in the Community Market. With. Real. Cash. Bear in mind, relatively few of the items inside those crates enhance the gameplay or serve a non-aesthetic purpose. Still, these goodies can be sold in the Market, and the rarer the better. Plus, many of them were created by other TF2 players, with whom Valve shares the profits of each sale.

Trading cards can be seen as a platform extension of that TF2 concept, or a version of in-app purchase model prevalent in mobile games. Cards can be bought or sold in the Steam Market, as we mentioned before. When you sell any item in the Market—trading card, emoticon, background—Valve keeps a minimum 12 percent of the final purchase price and as much as 66 percent on items sold below ten cents. And as any market, scarcity plus demand determines value. In theory it’s possible for the company to make more money selling a foil of an indie game than selling the game itself, as a great Games Radar article once revealed using They Bleed Pixels as an example.

I’d like to believe Valve is giving indie developers a cut of their cards sales, but what the devs definitely get from the trading game is free publicity and even better sales. The rising popularity of game bundle sites is proof of this. People visit sites like Humble Bundle, Indie Gala, Bundle Stars and many others all year round to get cheap deals on everything from indie games to AAA titles. Collectors have been known to binge-purchase games on these sites, not to play them but to get card sets for cheap. As a developer, you might shun at people buying your labor of love and not playing it, but at least you’d be getting paid. We must always look at the silver lining, after all.

Gamer Theory

A Showcase of rare badges in a Steam Profile page, all crafted with Steam trading cards (SOURCE: Valve Corporation)
A Showcase of rare badges in a Steam Profile page, all crafted with Steam trading cards. (SOURCE: Valve Corporation.)

As for gamers themselves, what sense can Steam trading cards and badges make? Especially knowing that game is both rigged against them and designed to go on forever? Think about it: you only get about half the cards per set plus the occasional booster. So unless you’re willing to put up plenty of real money to buy cards—a commodity which, I’ll remind you, physically doesn’t exist—there is little hope you will ever craft every badge in your game collection. Even if your income allows this (hey there, Richie Rich!), games both old and new add Steam cards periodically. You will, in all likelihood, never catch ’em all, and that is the whole point.

So what could gamers possibly get from Steam cards? Well, what do they get from playing videogames? Or any other hobby? Whatever meaning or satisfaction you get from these endeavors or any other is personal, Only you can convince yourself whether what’s worth investing their time and money in.

Personally, my investment has been minimal, so I feel comfortable collecting and crafting. I buy bundles to try out games and I get the cards for free. I trade them with acquaintances or using some learned techniques (see Tips and Tricks below). I sell unwanted backgrounds and emoticons, then use the profit to get the cards or boosters I need. And, as a Steam friend once taught me, zooming in on any trading card in your Badges section reveals beautiful game artwork which can double as a desktop background if you download it using a web browser. Also, when crafting a badge, occasionally I’ll get a discount coupon for a game I actually want.

Your experience may vary. If you don’t give a damn about badges, discounts or your Steam Level, Steam trading cards are definitely not for you. Like achievements, they are completely irrelevant to your enjoyment of games you purchase. And wasting real good money on them has to be high on some terrorist’s list of Things I Hate About Western World Infidels or whatever. But in my case, they way I engage them, Steam card collecting is fun, relaxing and reminds me of the games I love to play. So deal me in!

Steam Trading Cards Tips and Tricks

A look at the Steam Booster Pack Creator window (SOURCE: Valve Corporation)
A look at the Steam Booster Pack Creator window. (SOURCE: Valve Corporation.)

I promised to share my knowledge and strategies for Steam Trading Cards, so here goes. For all of you who read this far, here is your prize! (Except you. Yeah, you! I saw you skip ahead, but I won’t hold it against you. Enjoy!)

  • As a rule of thumb, you should focus more on trading your duplicate cards for other people’s “dupes”. Remember, nearly everyone wants to go for the full set.
  • Get authenticated! Steam has introduced security measures to protect users from illegal trades. There is a trade holdout period that can vary on whether or not the other party is in your Friends list. To skip this holdout, both traders must confirm the transaction.  You can do this with the Mobile Authentication method on the Steam Mobile app, available for iOS or Android.
  • Scrolling down on the page of a particular card set inside Badges reveals which of your friends have any card you need. It also shows you Steam Community Market links for you to buy them. More importantly, there are links to each game’s Trading Forum. There you can find posts of other users looking to trade or post your own.
  • Steam groups are a great place to start your trading history and add players to your Friends list for easy trading. The official Steam Card Trading Group is a great place to start. Just be polite and whatever you do, avoid SPAMMING!
  • If your main goal is to level up rather than obtain specific badges, focus on cheaper-valued card sets. Likewise, foils are usually better sold or traded than crafted. All badges are worth 100 XP no matter their game, card type or market value.
  • The best sets to complete are the ones with a total of five or six cards, since they can be completed with the help of one Booster Pack and smart duplicate trading. You might get lucky and receive the exact cards you needed by unpacking the Booster Pack (it’s random, but it has happened to me).
  • When posting trade offers on Forums or group chat windows, stick to the accepted format : “[H] (cards you own), [W] (cards you want)”. You may also give other details, like “1:1 trade”, which refers to trading one card for another of the same set, or “mob auth” to request only traders with Steam Mobile Authentication available.
  • When possible, hold out on crafting your badges until Summer or Winter. As said in the introduction, Steam Summer and Holiday Sales are the best times to craft since they introduce limited time cards for crafting seasonal badges. At any other time of year, the third free item you get from crafting would be a discount coupon. During those Sales, however, you get a card for crafting the badge corresponding to the special sale event. Steam also offers daily Sale-related Steam trading cards for free by performing a specific action, such as browsing your Discovery Queue. You can craft as many regular Sale badges as the Sale period allows you, so it’s a great way to increase your Steam Level. (UPDATE, June 25, 2019: This year’s Steam Grand Prix is the first Summer/Winter Sale that does not incorporate Steam Trading Cards in any way since their introduction. Let’s hope it’s the last!)
  • One of the best free tools to optimize your trading time is SteamTrade Matcher. This service reads your card inventory, detects your duplicates and pairs you up with other users in need of your cards with dupes of the ones you need for your sets.
  • If trading with real, stubborn humans is stressing you out, find bots! Enterprising Steam users have created trading card bots designed to let you swap cards you have for ones you need based on their Community Market value. Most of them skip that and only allow 1:1 same-set trades. A quick Google search will help you find some good ones. For my money, the most well-balanced trading experience is the CardTrades Trading Card Exchange Bot system.
  • Always keep an eye out for free Steam game keys! Sites like Indie Gala often post key giveaways for free games that’ll nab you more trading cards. The Indie Kings Bundle Tracker is a great place to find current available bundles and free games. If you feel lucky, SteamGifts is also a great site to win free games or even donate any you may spare.
  • Some users create “mirror” Steam account, buy cheap duplicate indie game bundles and use the second account to “farm” Steam trading cards. I don’t condone it. Still, might be worth a try if you don’t mind multiple accounts or buying games twice.
  • Don’t have time to play your games to get your card drops? Run them minimized and with the sound muted while you work. Unlike Steam Achievements, the card drop system only cares if you run the game executable, not if you play. A program called Idle Master takes advantage of this. It farms your remaining card drops by simulating the game is running without installing or launching it. A warning: I cannot confirm if it’s safe for your system or that it doesn’t violate Steam’s Terms, so USE AT YOUR OWN RISK!
  • If all this sounds like too much work for a hobby, just sell your cards and boosters in the Market for profit. Be aware that Steam requires you fill out a tax form if you post more than 200 items for sale in a year.
  • Above all, make reasonable offers. Overvaluing your items does nobody any good.

The Steam Summer Picnic Sale runs from now until July 4th, 2016. For more on Steam Trading Cards, click here to read Part 1 of this article. Follow Steam Roller on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


  1. Ale says:

    Hi. I would like to know the name of the game that is on the picture you’re showing some Steam badges. I liked the white punch / fist / thumb, whatever you wanna call it. Please tell me so I can search for it.



    • Emilio Gómez says:

      Hey, Ale. I misplaced your contact info by accident while updating the site recently. Hopefully you will return to this article and look for the answer.

      The game with the Level 1 badge that’s a white fist bump or punch is called Stay Dead Evolution. Here’s the link to its Steam page (although I’m positive I got it as part o some bundle):

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.