Steam Cards and Gamer Vanity

steam cards

One of the most marketable aspects of gamers is that we, as a culture, tend to be vain. Like, seriously vain. It’s one of the reasons the whole ‘fake gamer girl’ thing is such an issue; we’re so vain we don’t want someone claiming to be one of us without the proper credentials. It’s why quantifying our achievements is so important: I have friends who don’t care about the achievements in Steam because there isn’t a point value attached so they’re not “worth as much” as the cheevos on XBox live. It’s why people shell out the big bucks for a useless collectible statue or figurine that comes along with their Super-Sexy-Shiny-Buku-Platinum-Godly edition of that new game.

And it’s why Steam Trading Cards are going to make Valve so much money.

For those who don’t know, Steam Cards are part of the new “Steam Level” system. You play games, you buy games, you get involved in the community, and all of these things help to increase your ‘level’. However, the real way to level up is to collect these cards. You get a handful for playing a particular game; you can usually get half the set just for playing for a couple of hours. Then you need to spend money to get the rest. You can buy the rest of the set off the marketplace, or if you’re collecting cards for a free to play game like TF2, you can spend money in-game to unlock more card drops. Once you have a full set, you can melt them down into Steam XP, a custom background for your Steam profile, a custom emoticon, a coupon for another game, and a shiny new badge for your profile. If you’d rather, you can keep the cards for the sake of the collection (although they’re useless aside from aesthetic value); if you’re super lucky you can get a ‘foil’ (special shiny version of the card) that looks pretty nifty in your inventory.

It’s genius: you’re paying to level up.

The best part is that as your profile levels up, you can customize it more (read: “show off more”). You can put a custom showcase on your profile to show off how many games you own (those Humble Bundles are finally paying off), what badass items you have hoarded (see all my TF2 hats? ALL THE HATS), or even your “rarest achievements” (if you beat Dark World in Super Meat Boy, everyone should know). So you pay to level up, you get badges, and you can show off even more stuff – it’s an expensive exercise in self-worship.

I’m playing this stupid meta-game and giving Valve money because I want shiny badges on my profile and a higher number next to my name. I mean sure, the higher level means more chances at getting bonus card drops, but that just helps me show off my badges which is really just an indicator of how much money I’m willing to sink in. The people crying out that achievements should be based on merit and not money have a solid point, but never underestimate the vanity of a gamer. If there’s a way I can make the number next to my name better than yours, you better believe I want to do it – and Valve knows I’m not the only one willing to pay for it.


  • // iLag

    I believe that this is actually one of the better attempts at gamification. Two things worth mentioning: 1) nobody is forcing you to take part (but ah, the vanity!) and 2) you can actually make a little money by selling cards. Consider it a cashback.

    I’ve got to admit that I do not care about my gamerscore or my Steam level or whatnot. I just like to play games without needing any of the meta-thingamabobs around them. Someone else’s mileage may vary. Well, let them (buy my cards, that is).

  • Tom Auxier

    I’ve always been a fan of Valve’s gamification efforts. I’m not a fan because I care about my profile–it looks like a ghost town over there–but rather because it gives me an excuse to go back to games I wouldn’t have played.

    More than anything else, I’m indecisive. I putter around in my library trying to decide what to play. Now, a bunch of games have huge arrows on them. “Hey, maybe I should replay Borderlands 2, that was a really good game,” I can say, instead of, “Oh, shit, I have two hours, I’m not committed to anything except making fun of Sonic Generations, what do I do!?!”

    • DireMuffin

      That’s a great way to describe it; it’s the same for me. It’s also the only reason Super Meat Boy is on my desktop right now. ;)