A Steam Swap Story…


Steam Trading Cards. When Valve introduced them, my first reaction was to cringe. It seemed a crass new direction for the store and the notion of turning game-playing into a wider card grind was one I didn’t want anything to do with. I sold the first cards I got out of curiosity, made 20p, then quickly lost interest. This wasn’t for me.

Until earlier this week, when Teleglitch was reduced to £2.25. I’d had Teleglitch on my wishlist for a while, but I was also trying to save money and couldn’t justify any expense. So, I set myself the challenge of raising the money in a single day, just through Steam Trading Cards.

After all, everyone’s read about the man who swapped his way from a paperclip to a house. This goal didn’t seem anywhere near that grand…

I started with a random assortment of cards. A Pig Cop from Duke Nukem 3D, the Red City from Frozen Synapse and about six other cards I’d picked up through a few weekends of idleness. I didn’t know if any were valuable, but it seemed like a solid starting point. I thought if I just set decent prices then I could raise the money in a few hours.

That’s not how Steam’s Marketplace works however, for two reasons. The first is that, when you sell a card, you see a chart of the recent prices. The second is that, if you buy a card, they are always listed in lowest-to-highest price order.

The result? You have to set the lowest price possible just to get people to see your cards, with most selling for between 3p and 7p. That means I’d have to sell a lot of cards. But, because the drops are both randomised and capped, just playing games to earn more cards wasn’t an option.

It also didn’t help that I was at work and that, because I’m not a games journalist anymore, playing games in the office isn’t generally accepted behaviour.


Luckily, having once been a full-time games journalist, I have a very high Steam profile level – and that meant I’d collected about a dozen random coupons. 20% off Train Simulator DLC, 10% off Shadow Warrior – that sort of thing. You can’t sell coupons unfortunately, but you can trade them for cards. So, I took to Twitter.

Slowly, surely, my quest gained attention. And in the mean time I sold the cards I did have. I managed to raise £1.07, bringing me about halfway there in a few hours.

At this point , my location started causing trouble in that every coupon trade I attempted returned an unknown error. This eventually turned out to be because my phone’s browser hadn’t been Steam Guarded for more than 15 days, meaning I had to wait until the evening to raise the other half on my home PC.

When I got home, I was surprised how keen some people were to offload their cards for my obviously worthless coupons. A few people did offer to just give me cards or coupons, but I decided to play fair and only pursue legitimate trades – though I did take the chance to swap my Train Sim DLC coupons for discounts on more attractive games. Then I cashed those in with an old game journo pal who had a glut of cards. Every card then went to the market place at the lowest possible rate and I quickly spotted the trend that the newer the game was, the higher the prices averaged.

What proved particularly frustrating at one point though was when a friend decided to do some of the legwork for me. He sold all his cards for 35p, then offered to contribute the money to me – which was nice, except you can’t trade money of Steam. All he could do was use the money to buy cards he could trade and which I’d then sell. He couldn’t be bothered and those precious pennies slipped through my fingers. It’s another example of Steam’s (perhaps legitimately) limited capabilities and poor design were actually the major roadblocks for me. A lot of the people I tried to trade with – including established journalists – just couldn’t navigate their way through the slow-to-load labyrinth that is Steam’s interface very easily, if at all.

Some people could though – and it was at this point I got a message from one of them.

Someone always has to spoil my fun. And it’s always Craig.

Rather than accept a premature victory, I declined the gift and pushed ahead. I downloaded the smallest game I had which offered trading cards, Alt-Tabbed out of it and returned to Twitter to negotiate more deals. In the background I earned two more cards; in the foreground I swapped Volgarr and Toki Toki 2 coupons for whatever cards I could get.

I sold everything for 1p less than the price of the most recent sale before, but by 10:00 PM I was still 35p short. I had no cards left to sell and no coupons anyone was willing to trade for. With just two hours left, I resigned myself to defeat.

Until, a few minutes later, I got my final card drop in the game I was farming. And it was a rare foil too; the price averaged around 30p. I flogged it for 29p in minutes and got within spitting distance of my goal. As I got closer to the wire, I hammered my Friends list like an addict, offering all my coupons for any available card.

I drank tequila while I waited for responses, which probably explains why I cheered so loudly when an old friend swapped two Prison Architect cards for my last Shadow Warrior coupon. These bought in just enough to clear the goalpost and because Teleglitch is such a small game I even managed to purchase and download it before midnight too.

As I write this I haven’t really had a chance to play it yet, however. Instead, all I’ve done is boot it up and Alt-Tab out. I’m hoping I can earn some Trading Cards while I wait.

After all, the Guns And Tunes DLC is only 99p.

2 responses to “A Steam Swap Story…”

  1. LOL at ‘Spite Gift’. I nearly did that to you too but I was pretty sure you’d reject it.

    What I really wish Steam would do is team up with Folding@Home or similar and release a client that dropped cards for you for any games you owned. I’d much rather run that in the background than a game I’m not playing but I guess they get nice padded gameplay stats from people idling to get card drops.


  2. To be fair, as someone who’s been farming them, it does allow you (as I suspect is one of the intentions) to play games you’d otherwise never bother with. You could just alt+tab them, but you could also discover a hidden gem you’d otherwise never have touched.


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