Steam Summer Sale Groups are an Ingenious Tactic to Increase Revenue

Valve Logo

Valve Logo

When Valve first introduced Steam Trading Cards I was uninterested. There seemed no point other than increasing one’s bragging rights and nabbing some digital doodads (emoticons, profile backgrounds). As the beta got underway I found something seriously intriguing about the cards – you could make money off them. Yes, it was only a pittance, and only for users who have purchased something on their accounts, but it was neat to me. The fact that Valve ended up getting tons of its user base to fork up money for, well, effectively nothing amazed me.

They’ve outdone themselves with the Summer Sale’s group system. There are five groups (purple, red, pink, green, blue) and users opt in when they choose or after crafting a badge. Group selection is random, or at least is not up to the user themselves by default. Each day, people who craft card badges grant points to their respective team. After a 24 hour period the group with the most points is crowned winner. Of that group, 30 members get 3 games off their wishlist. Every winning member who participated also gets two Summer Sale cards.

By itself, this encouraging of group spirit is cute. It’s only once you pay attention that you realize it’s an ingenious way to get even more revenue at no cost. You see, Valve implemented tokens which can change how this whole group game plays out. Some tokens steal points from one team while others allow the user to swap teams. The team swap token is especially damning. Don’t like your team? Pay to move elsewhere! Of course, nothing can force you to do this if you don’t want to but many users are defecting (currently to Team Purple) anyway.

And why? The prizes are incredibly meager. Getting two Summer Cards instead of one is nice but certainly not worth ‘gambling’ on a team swap token if you’re not lucky enough to be on a winning team by default. Nor is the possibility of winning three wishlisted games worth it. But come on, that chance is nearly impossible anyway. 30 people will win out of the thousands, if not millions, on any given team. Really, it appears people primarily are acting on the impulse to become a “winner” pure and simple. Some out there are willing and able to spend $30 (current going rate for purple tokens) just for that likelihood.

Of course this isn’t an attempt to call out human nature or wasteful spending. I mean, we’re already participating in a long term digital rental culture by purchasing from Steam. I just can’t help but be constantly surprised by how Valve manages to outdo itself with ways of generating more money. I had thought cards were the furthest this would ever go but clearly I was wrong.

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  • maverynthia

    Not only that I hear people on Reddit are gaming the system.

    • Reddit enjoys inflating itself. I spent some time checking out their Steam Summer Sale threads wherein they attempt to get Community Choice votes to sway one way and they rarely ‘succeed’. With an inability to even do that much it’s doubtful they’re in control here.

      With that said, someone is gaming the system and I think it’s Valve. The result is actually not terrible as it lets every team have its chance in the spotlight equally… The problem is that they let everyone believe this was a REAL contest and have gained copious monetary rewards because of it.