Steam Trading Cards 101

Steam Trading Cards 101
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If you’ve been involved in the Steam Summer Sale at all, you’ve no doubt seen a number of items popping into you inventory. These are part of the new Steam Trading Card system, and it’s a feature that is here to stay. So, by now you’ve got a few cards, so what do you do with them? Well consider this your Guide to both Earning and Using these cards.

How To Get Them:

The easiest way to get cards is to simply play a game which is participating. There’s a butt-load of games that do have cards associated with them, but you’ll be able to see which games that you own have cards by heading to your Badges Page (Your Name>Badges).

Each game has a certain number of card drops associated with it. As you play, after a seemingly random amount of time (I figure it’s about every 30 minutes), you’ll see a card pop into your inventory. These are randomly selected from all available cards for the game, so there’s not only the potential to get repeats, its more than likely you’ll get some. 

An Example of A Few In Progress Badges

An Example of A Few In Progress Badges

This however, is not a bad thing. Most games have between 3 and 5 Card Drops, while there are 7 to 8 cards in a Badge Set (more on those later). Doubles, thus give you something to trade. 

Cards have also been added to the Steam Marketplace, so if you really feel the need to complete a badge, you can also spend money from your Steam Wallet.

Now You Got Them:

So, what do you do with the cards you now have filling up your inventory? The primary thing you’ll be doing with these cards is making badges. Each game has a badge associated with it, and each badge has 5 levels; make a badge again to advance the badge’s level. Each time you construct a badge, you’ll recieve Steam Experience Points, A BAckground for your profile (themed to the game you just made the badge in) and an emoticon form that game. For Example, I constructed the first badge, and then second, for Bastion: the City Crest and the Alloy Crest. From this, I got the experience, a Distillery and “Cold War Kid” Background for my Profile, and two Squirt Emoticons. Kinda fun.

I Like Bastion... A LOT.

I Like Bastion. (If you want to trade Bastion Cards with Me…let me know…)

You can, if you’d rather profit from this endevour, sell your cards to other enterprising collectors on the Steam Market place as well.

And…that’s it. You collect; You trade; You level up (or sell, ‘cuse you know: Capitalism!).

But is this a good thing for Steam?

The Darker Side of Trading Cards

First and foremost, it should be stated that there is a major flaw to this plan: While the game has to be open to earn you cards, it doesn’t actually need to be being played. Yes, that’s right, you can just start a game and leave it while you go watch TV/ Play Another Game/ Read a Book/ Read your Children a Book/ or Learn a productive hobby.  Come back after a bit and you’ve got yourself a handful of items sitting in your inventory. 

While there’s nothing wrong with this, it is certainly going against the spirit of the system, and that’s kind of sad to see…or do yourself (Nope, I totally didn’t do this…). 

The Market for Cards is Open

The Market for Cards is Open

The other question we need to ask is, does Steam really need this? Is anyone actually going to be swayed into buying a game ONLY because it has trading cards associated with it? It was a nice surprise to go back to a few older games, get a blast of nostalgia and some digital trading cards, but I can’t ever imagine buying a game that I hated the idea of, but that I wanted trading cards from.

Now, it’s not as if these cards aren’t actually working towards something: The Game Developer for participating games receives 10% of any sale of one of their cards, and Valve gets 5% of any card transaction, with the rest going to the seller. Cards will offer another revenue stream, albeit small to game makers, and may end up being a major boon to Indie companies (while the big timers won’t likely notice the drops in the bucket)

I can’t help but  feel that the Steam Trading Cards are actually making Steam feel a little bit gimmicky right now; it isn’t about the games, its about the digital loot you get from them. Steam already has a rabid fan base because it offers spectacular sales and the best digital distribution (as they should), and as well thought out as the Steam Trading Cards are, they seem unnecessary. This gimmick, while mostly harmless, feels unnecessary and quite frankly makes me raise my eyebrows to Steam’s direction: Granted, not enough to cause me any lack of sleep, but still, enough for an eyebrow raise. I imagine Steam Trading Cards are with us to stay, but I wouldn’t be sad if we saw them go. 


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Editor-in-Chief of With a soft spot for epics, sagas and tales of all types, Jacob approaches games as ways to tell stories. He's particularly interested in indie games because of the freedom they have to tell different stories, often in more interesting and innovative ways than Triple A titles.