About a month or so ago Valve launched a trading card beta for Steam. This allowed users to earn cards by playing games that supported the system. Initially launching with only a handful of games supporting cards, there are now dozens of games getting support with more being added constantly. Trading cards came out of beta last week, and are currently the core of Valve's Summer Sale metagame.
Before I delve deeper into that, let me start by explaining how the system works a little more thoroughly. As I said before, you earn cards by simply playing a game with card support. Once you've collected at least one of every type of unique card tied to the game ( ranging from 5 to 10) you can craft the cards into a badge, which will grant your Steam profile XP, as well as giving you an emoticon and profile wallpaper. It's a nifty little way of adding user interaction with Steam beyond simply just buying and playing games. However, after a certain amount of time you might notice something, you can only earn a certain amount of cards per game, namely, about half the required amount to craft a badge. And this is where our journey begins.
So you start playing Left 4 Dead, which requires 8 unique cards to craft a badge. However you can only earn 4 cards by playing the game. Well, you ask, how do I get the other 4. This is of course assuming, that you got 4 unique cards, and no duplicates, which I might add, is VERY likely. Going off the assumption that all 4 cards were unique, you have two options. The first is seeing which of your friends has the card, and ask them for it, perhaps in a trade for another card. Your second option is, well, to just flat out buy the card.
So you have fairly deep pockets and decide to buy the cards you need rather than go through the hassle of bugging your friends for them. Once you've gotten the cards you craft them into a badge which gives you the emoticon and wallpaper you were after all along. Oh wait, you can just buy those too, in fact, it would be cheaper to do so in most cases.
So begins my problem with Valve's extortion racket here. And yes, that's basically what it is. Valve implemented a system where they reward you for playing games you bought, with cards, which you can, or rather, are encouraged to buy and sell. Every time a card is bought or sold, Valve takes a cut, somewhere around 10%. They've created a system where they make money off of users buying and sell what are essentially, absolutely worthless bits of data that took some intern 5 seconds to draw up. And you know what the best part is?
At least, from their perspective. Easy money for them right? Unfortunately I am not Valve, and I'm not enjoying the tidy profits they are likely raking in from this whole little thing they've got going on here. I am however, someone who enjoys using Steam very much. In fact, I LIKE the idea of trading cards. They're a fun way of interacting with your games and Steam. I used to collect Pokemon cards when I was younger, just as some people like to collect baseball cards, or Magic cards or whatever. However, the moment money is brought into the equation, the entire idea is ruined.
The badges formed from trading cards contribute to your overall Steam "level" much like the amount of trophies contributes to your PSN "level". Ideally, and I know this sounds like an ego-trip, the people with the highest levels are, to put it plainly, bigger gamers. These are the people who put the most time and effort into their gaming, or at least, thats what it should be. Quite the opposite, it's turned into the gamers with the deepest pockets. What's the point of this whole system when someone with too much money can simply buy into the system and max out their rank within minutes?
Only $3.56 for all these!
Indeed, why even bother going to the trouble of collecting cards to craft badges to attain that elusive emoticon when you can simply just buy those too? There simply isn't a reason for any user who doesn't wish to purchase cards to care very much about leveling, ego aside, there isn't even any self satisfaction to it.
This current Steam Summer Sale centers squarely around cards, sure voting on community picks will grant you a card every so often but for every $10 you spend you get a card, doesn't that sound so much easier? Just spend money on games and boom you'll get some cards, which of course, you'll need at least 10 to craft the Summer badge.....
Well, why don't you simply trade then?, you ask. Because who will you trade with? If you earn a card, you can immediately put that card up on the market and make some money, which you could put towards some more games. So why would you trade something that you could just sell and get something out of? That's right, you wouldn't. And therein lies the problem.
Of course, Valve won't fix the problem because doing so would negate their current revenue stream. Fixing the problem would entail eliminating any sort of monetary value tied to the cards and simply have them be tradable cards, the sole purpose of which is to have a fun little metagame on Steam with.
But people spend money on trading cards all the time right? Whether it be Pokemon, or baseball cards or Magic, cards aren't free! Why shouldn't Steam cards be buyable? I don't have a truly good answer to this, other than my belief that injecting money into a system that would serve its purpose better without.
Then again, it's entirely likely that the purpose of Steam Trading Cards is simply money for Valve.
What are your thoughts on this? Have you been participating in any sort of trading card activity on Steam? Should or shouldn't they be purchasable? Am I completely wrong in thinking this way?