Did I Have a Stroke? Or Did I Just Make Real Money Selling Fake Cards?

So I’m sitting in my pajamas the other day, trying to fight off a bout of insomnia, and I’m staring at the Steam Summer Sale splash page.

I’m looking the bounty of fantastic, highly discounted games, and I sigh to myself. I’m flat broke (not “oh, I can only afford one or two games this sale,” but honest-to-God, zero-dollars-in-my-bank-account broke) and I’m feeling like I’m missing out on some great stuff.

I notice the promotion they’ve got running. “Summer Getaway Badge! Collect trading cards to craft a game badge and earn rewards!” Valve had just recently taken their trading card system out of beta in preparation for blowing it out with their summer sale. It’s… weird, to say the least.

Steam Trading Card Market

Basically, certain games will offer virtual trading cards that are unlocked by simply playing the game. Each game will only unlock a certain number of cards — usually anywhere from three to five — and most have about five to ten per set. Once you collect enough of them, you can turn them in to earn badges and little mini-rewards — things like wallpapers and emoticons. Crafting badges also earns you XP for your Steam account, allowing you to raise the cap on your friends list, or increase the rate at which you earn said cards.

The short of it is that Valve has officially gamified videogames.

I check my inventory, and I notice that I have a couple from a few of the games that I’ve been playing. I click on one of them. There it is. A picture of the Engi Cruiser from FTL. Hooray. This thing is useless. It doesn’t do anything, there’s no way I can unlock them all to earn a badge, and the rewards for unlocking badges are pointless.

Then I notice a word on the sidebar description for the card: Marketable.

I’ve known that there’s been a market for a while — to say that people go ape shit over Team Fortress 2’s hats is an understatement — but I’ve never taken the time to use it for myself. So the wheels begin to turn: I’ve got these cards, and I’m not going to do anything with them. Why not throw it up on the market and see what happens?

I click the “sell” button, and a screen pops up. A graph showing the median selling price of my trading card appears, showing me trends and current sale price of my item — my God, Valve has created their own stock market. Looks like the Engi Cruiser card is going for around $.20 right now. I put that value in — I’ll end up making $.17 if it sells. I click “list.”

Not even fifteen minutes pass before I have real money in my Steam wallet.

Granted, that money is store credit — it never leaves the Steam ecosystem. But within a few hours of loading up games, earning their trading cards, and posting them on the market, I’d made enough to buy a legitimate copy of Surgeon Simulator 2013.

Surgeon Simulator 2013

Am I taking crazy pills? What world am I living in right now? This is patently absurd.

People are out there right now perusing the Steam Marketplace, actively looking for trading cards, and using real money to buy them. Why? They do practically nothing.

And Valve is clearly making hand over fist on these cards. Sure they make pennies for each transaction, but do that hundreds of times a minute, and you’re basically given a license to print money. It’s like they took the “Take-A-Penny” concept from Office Space and not only found a way to legalize it, but make users clamor for it. They’ve essentially invented a revenue stream out of thin air.

I’ve made around $20 in the few days I’ve been taking advantage of this. It’s not a ton of money — I’m definitely not quitting my day job to pursue a career in trading card sales — but it’s enough to get this broke-ass gamer a few of the things he’s been looking to pick up during the Steam sale. So far I’ve purchased Surgeon Simulator 2013, Reus, Gunpoint, and The Swapper — and I’m not even close to being finished.

This is quite possibly the dumbest thing I’ve ever had the chance to experience — and that’s saying a lot, considering all the dumb things that go on within this industry. But hey — if you’re willing to hand me your money for fake stuff so I can buy real stuff, by all means. I won’t stop you.

David Roberts is the senior lead editor at Gaming Trend. When he’s not reporting on the ins and outs of the industry, he can be found rambling incoherently on Twitter.