How Valve is Earning $30,000 Per Day From Steam Summer Sale Trading Cards


Steam trading cards have been around for over a year now, and most people I know still have no idea what they are or how they work.  In my mind, virtual trading cards have no value.  They fall into a category with gym memberships and the extra 14 packets of fire sauce that come with my soft taco.  Even if I get them for free, I will never use them.  Because of this, I have been passively collecting these cards in the background for some time now, but I have never actually opened up my inventory to inspect them or read about the system in general.  Given their prominence within the Steam Summer Sale, I figured today was as good a time as any to dive into the madness.  I’m really glad I did, because writing jokes for these articles is time consuming, and today, Valve wrote the jokes for me.

Here is the short version… For each game you play, you will be given 5 trading cards over the first several hours of playtime, even if you just idle at the menu.  There are 10 trading cards per game, and if you collect all of them, you can turn them into a badge.  Badges increase your Steam level, which can help you earn totally tangible rewards like wallpapers, emoticons, more detailed user profiles, and occasional coupons.



But Mr. Thomas, if they only give you 5 trading cards, how can you collect 10 and earn your badge?



Great question, Stock Photo Boy!  Basically, the trading card system is like a pay-to-play version of the 3DS puzzle swap game. There is actually a marketplace within Steam where you can trade and sell your cards with other users.  Supply and demand dictate the price, which can range anywhere from $.08 to a lot more than $.08, depending on the rarity of the card.  Rare “Foil” cards are distributed less often, and therefore, they have more perceived value.  While I was writing this paragraph, I had Giana Sisters running in the background, and I happened to “earn” a foil card while I was idling.



You will see at the bottom that the market value of this card is about $.28.  Its value is relatively high, because only 5 have been sold in the past 24 hours.  When I sold it, I got to see a graph of the card’s historical prices.




The value has been flat for a while, but when the cards came out on July 21, 2013, it was selling for around $6.  According to, on July 21, Giana Sisters was $4.94 on Steam, which means that this virtual trading card was worth more than the game itself.  Obviously, the prices have gone down some since then, but remember, it takes 10 cards to craft a badge.  To craft the foil badge right now, you are looking at spending around $3, which is a little under half of the game’s current price, and more than its frequent sale price.


Then, there are cards like this one:



I cannot explain that at all.  I just, no amount of research could… I just don’t understand.




But Mr. Thomas, you still haven’t gotten to the point of the headline.  I feel like you are kind of stringing us along.



Quiet you!  Here is the genius part.  During the Summer sale, Steam has organized everyone into virtual teams, and if you are on the team that creates the most badges, you are entered into a drawing to possibly win some free games.  Because of this, there are a ton of people out there buying cards and creating badges, much more than usual.  It is like Steam’s version of the lottery, and we are Eating. It. Up.




Just today, as of the time I wrote this article, there have been about a million badges created, none of which can be crafted without making a purchase, usually in the form of buying cards on the market.  If you take another look at the foil Giana Sisters card I sold above, you will notice two prices.  This is because on top of the price that I set, Steam tacks on another 15% to the buyer’s cost, which they keep as a transaction fee.  Let’s take a look at how those transaction fees add up within one set of cards.

The Steam Summer Sale has its own trading cards, which you can obtain by voting three times, by making a purchase of $10 or more, or by buying them from other users on the market.  A ton of people are buying them on the market.  Check out the one I earned earlier today:




As you can see, 92,881 of these sold in the past 24 hours alone, with Steam collecting about $.03 each time.  There are ten of these cards, all selling at about the same volume, as well as foil variations which sell at a lower volume but higher rate.  In total, they are selling about 1 million of these per day, and earning $30,000 per day doing so.  If you thought you were good at business, step your game up.  These guys have it figured out.

That $30,000 per day only factors in the 20 Steam Summer Sale cards, but there are a lot more cards being sold.  Standard game cards are racking up between hundreds and thousands of transactions per day, and there are 10 standard cards for each game in the trading card system.  The amount of money they are making on a regular basis for this imaginary brokerage service is astounding, even before we factor in the incentive it creates to buy actual games.

The whole system is definitely a trap, and no one should buy into it, but they are not evil for setting it up.  Ultimately, we as consumers set the prices of these cards, and while Valve takes a little cream off the cocoa, we are exchanging our funds with each other, and we can’t blame them for that.

On a totally unrelated topic, please check back next month for the rollout of What’s Jump’s “Virtual Reader Tokens,” which can be earned by leaving comments, tweeting our articles, or mailing us envelopes full of diamonds.



Thomas Shamburger
Thomas is one of the original creators of "What's Jump?" As a lifelong gamer, writer, and comedian, his goal is to provide readers with humorous, entertaining, and thought-provoking perspectives on current gaming news and culture. His early career successes in the business world helped to pave the way for the site's launch in 2012. As the Editor in Chief of "What's Jump?" he combines his passions for gaming, writing, entrepreneurship, and comedy.
Thomas Shamburger
Thomas Shamburger

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