Steam’s popularity hasn’t cooled off or lost momentum in the recent years and although the user-base grows at a seemingly exponential rate, there’s plenty of criticism that is aimed at the online store and its infrastructure. One specific feature that enjoys quite a bit of attention is Steam’s trading card mechanic. The feature has somewhat split the rather 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 adjectives that would encourage the levering of many an eyebrow. There also happens to be a third party in the mix, who shares a comfortable little Venn-diagrammatic space with the two sides; these folks are the card farmers and they take their trade rather seriously. And seriously they take it, why? Simply put: money.
Given that steam’s trading cards don’t really sell for hundreds of dollars per card, the cash comes from dealing in bulk. But obviously, one can only deal so many cards before they’re back to dealing the old ones. The solution, as some dodgy individuals have discovered, is to control the source itself. By creating a game (Or as Doug Lombardi of Valve renown so eloquently puts it, “game-shaped objects”) that gets little effort put in to it but still packs the same amount of trading cards and then floods out an explicit amount of free keys for said game, which are subsequently assigned to bots with fake steam accounts who then “play” the game and idle until they collect all available cards. That’s when the “developer” swoops in and collects all the cards from their posse of bots and hands them off to another bot, who sells them on the Community Market for little to nothing. Those few cents add up quickly at the volume of cards that are being moved, though. All this effort eventually ends in that proverbial “profit” after the elusive “???” (Which, funnily enough, at the beginning of all this, had left Valve with quite a lot of “???” and nowhere to quite place it).
An unforeseen side effect to this method of using bots to fish out the trading cards was that it was starting to seriously mess with Steams curative algorithm. Games and pitiful excuses of games were being broadcast over the front page of the store, simply because of the sheer boat-loads traffic that it had attained from the bots – Busted. This immediately sent up red flags all over Valves Steam HQ, which has resulted in a few changes to the way trading cards now work.
Trading cards will now only drop once Steams new Confidence system clears the game for the go-ahead to begin dropping cards, which will then allow cards to drop for that particular game. The Confidence system, according to Valve, relies on several different parameters that are judged based on how bot-like they appear. Valve isn’t stopping there either; they’re also placing in a system where a human will be the judge of certain elements. To quote Valve’s director of marketing, Doug Lombardi, “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 aside from Steam. Lombardi goes on to further explain 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 store and features.”
Are you looking forward to the changes put forth? Or will the delay on card drops be a game-breaker? I’d assume that we can all agree that seeing more quality content instead of trash on our storefronts would be a definite win. Let us know what your thoughts are! (Or just bottle them up and save them for later; at the rate we’re going at, wisdom might be a post-apocalyptic rarity.)