Steam’s popularity hasn’t cooled off or lost momentum in recent years. Although the user-base grows at a seemingly exponential rate, there’s plenty of criticism aimed at the online Steam Store and its infrastructure. One feature that enjoys quite a bit of attention is Steam’s trading card mechanic. The feature has split the large community right down the middle, with many praising the trading cards with serious acclaim and just as many on the other side deriding it with eyebrow-raising adjectives. There also happens to be a third party in the mix, sharing a comfortable Venn-diagrammatic space between both sides; these are the card farmers and they take their trade seriously. Why so serious(-ly)? Simply put: money.
Given that Steam’s trading cards don’t really sell for hundreds of dollars per card, the real cash comes from dealing in bulk. But obviously, one can only deal so many cards before they’re back to dealing the same old cards over and over again. The solution, as some sketchy individuals have discovered, is to control the source itself.
Steam trading card bots
By creating a low-effort game (Or as Doug Lombardi of Valve Games renown so eloquently puts it, “game-shaped objects”) that still packs the same amount of trading cards, then passing free keys to swarms of bots with cracked Steam accounts, the card farmers gain a flood of new cards. That’s because the bots don’t need to actually play the game, they just idle in it until cards are unlocked. The “developer” then swoops in and collects the cards, passing them to another group of bots in the Steam Community Market. These cards rarely sold for more than single-digit cents, but the money is made in the sheer volume of sales.
Steam Store Confidence System
This method of using bots to fish out trading cards was seriously screwing with Steam’s curating algorithm. Real games and pitiful excuses for games were showcased, side-by-side, all over the front page of the Steam store. The “game-like objects” were trumped up by the artificial traffic generated by the bots and launched to the front page. This Steam crack immediately set off red flags all over Valve Games’ Steam HQ, which resulted in changes to the way trading cards work.
Trading cards will now only drop once Steam’s new Confidence system clears the game. The Confidence system, according to Valve Games, relies on several parameters to judge how legitimate they are. Valves Games isn’t stopping there; they’re also implementing a system of human review for certain elements.
Valve Games’ Director of Marketing, Doug Lombardi said, “While our changes did impact the economics of trading card farming for new products coming to Steam, there are still a lot of games and game-shaped objects using Steam keys as a way to manipulate Steam systems. As a result, we’re trying to look more closely at extreme examples of products on Steam that don’t seem to be providing actual value as playable games-for instance, when a game has sold 100 units, has mostly negative reviews, but requests 500,000 Steam keys. We’re not interested in supporting trading card farming or bot networks at the expense of being able to provide value and service for players.”
A lot of people also worry about the effect this new move might have on the many bundle sites or third-party markets that developers sell on besides Steam.
Lombardi explains that there’s nothing to worry about in that regard, “It’s completely OK for partners to sell their games on other sites via Steam keys, and run discounts or bundles on other stores, and we’ll continue granting free keys to help partners do those things. But it’s not OK to negatively impact our customers by manipulating our Steam store and features.”
Do you think these changes will actually rein in the card farmers? Or will the delay on card drops be a game-breaker?
If nothing else, seeing more quality content instead of trash on the Steam Store is always a definite win. Let us know what your thoughts are!