There is a line, I think, between metagame-y stuff and full-on gamification, and I’m beginning to worry that Valve might have crossed it. Admittedly, Steam sales have tasked players with accomplishing special goals to earn tangible rewards for ages, but now all of Steam is doing it. Today, Valve introduced the beta for Steam Trading Cards, which can be earned and crafted into badges. Why are badges important? Because this: “Unlike the current badges, crafting games badges earns you marketable items like emoticons, profile backgrounds, and coupons. Level up your badge by collecting the set again and earning more items.” Oh, you can level up now, too. Your whole profile. I guess it’s cool that we’re getting something of worth out of it, but remember when the point of gaming was, well, the games?
So base trading cards sound a lot like snazzier achievements, except with more of a community element. Here’s the skinny:
“Each participating game drops up to half the set of cards into your Steam inventory during gameplay. The other half of the card set can be collected from other community members. Try the beta group discussions, community market, barter with friends, and trade discussions.”
Badges, meanwhile, enter the picture once you’ve completed a card set, and they’ll pop, loot-pinata-like, into a glittering mess of emoticons, profile backgrounds, Steam level XP, and the chance to get a coupon for another game or pertinent DLC. All of that culminates in a level-up, which basically does nothing except make a number increase. Oh, also, it lets you add more friends to your friends list, which seems like kind of a not-great feature to arbitrarily limit.
So basically, Steam’s added super achievements. All well and good – especially since they actually hand out meaningful content for all your hard
work play – but now the system permeates everything. I still need to spend some time with it, but it sounds like a giant numbers game, a rushing overflow of basic, depth-free RPG elements because every modern game ever couldn’t hold them all. LEVEL UP EVERYTHING YEAH. Why? Because you can. It’s there, and for some people, that’s irresistible. A game-changer.
As with all things that emerge from Valve’s time-immune future factory, I’m sure the trading card/badge system will undergo countless experiments and evolutions. Right now, it seems like a potentially problematic, worrisomely hollow shell, but I could see regular events breathing some life into it. Or maybe Valve will dream up something else entirely. This is only the beginning, but here’s hoping it ends up becoming a means to a much greater end.