Digital Swap Shop: Steam Trading

A man signs into his Steam account, this morning
A few weeks ago, Valve started beta testing its Steam Trading feature and people have swapped over a million items since then. Were the majority of them hats? I don’t have those figures, but the entrails in this animal say “yes”. The trading feature is now officially live and you can trade all sorts of gubbins with one another. Clarification: “all sorts of gubbins” means Team Fortress 2, Portal 2 and Spiral Knights items so not a great deal has actually changed. Perhaps more interesting than item swapping is the ability to trade unredeemed games, although do note the qualifier ‘unredeemed’. Steam is not letting you swap grubby used goods. There’s a FAQ here. The fact that every public profile now comes with an inventory means that Steam is officially an RPG in which buying cheap games is the grind. The plan is to bring more developers on board in the coming months, so one day you may be able to trade the Incas for a pair of cowboy boots. Truly, we live in exciting times.


  1. Shiny says:

    If I were a developer with a game on Steam, this system would make me think twice about putting my game on sale, since this would in effect give unlimited rainchecks.

    Edit: But on the other hand, having people who have no intention of playing my game buying it to use it as currency could be a positive. Maybe.

    • Calneon says:

      I don’t understand what you’re trying to get at. Why would a developer give a toss about this? Somebody still has to buy the game if they want to trade it. What do you mean by ‘unlimited rainchecks’?

    • DrGonzo says:

      Developers only problem with second hand games is that they don’t get paid for them. I don’t understand what problem they could possibly have with this system. If someone trades goods for your game, someone had to buy your game to trade with them in the first place. Where can they possibly lose out?

    • AiglosCelt says:

      A developer doesn’t put their game on sale to sell it a limited number of times, they put it on sale because they anticipate the increased volume will earn them more money than they’ve been receiving, even at a reduced price point. If anything, this sort of practice will make steam far more valuable to developers, especially those of smaller indie titles.

    • Alegis says:

      Even before Steam Trading one could buy a zillion gift copies and send them to his/her own e-mail addresses.

    • Shiny says:

      By “unlimited rainchecks”, I mean that people could buy copies of a game on sale, and from that point onwards, people could acquire the game for roughly that price whether the game was on sale any longer.

      So, let’s say there was one of those massive one-day sales on a game, 75-90% or whatever. People could buy massive amounts of your game at $5, and then there would be so much supply of the game that whoever wanted one over the next few months would trade $5 worth of stuff for it. So your one-day sale would effectively be several months long.

      That would definitely discourage me from doing massive discounts, because I would no longer have strict control of how long the discount lasted.

  2. ReV_VAdAUL says:

    This is a bit of a shame in a way, a forum I post on regularly has threads where people giveaway unredeemed games they have no other use for. I’m sure that will continue but some of those opportunities to let strangers play good games they otherwise wouldn’t have will now be replaced with trading a game for two TF2 hats and a Portal 2 emoticon pack.

    • SquareWheel says:

      Reddit’s /r/PlayItForward section is bound to get a lot less traffic.

    • Bloodloss says:

      Less people giving away crap like Portal 1 and Half life1 which everyone already has, is a good thing if you ask me.

    • ReV_VAdAUL says:

      But the fact is some still don’t have them. Yes most hardcore gamers got them long ago but the great thing about freebies like that is it lets people curious about games pick up the game for free and give it a go.

  3. Monchberter says:

    Steam Sales just got a bit more exciting:

    Stock up on cheap copies then swap for things you do want.

    So how may hats is a copy of Far Cry worth? I’m sure someone will soon know.

  4. JustOneWay says:

    Apart from the freebies I have received, like duplicate copies of HL2 or Portal, how do I get an unredeemed game on my account?
    I thought when I bought something for myself it was redeemed on purchase.

  5. Lugg says:

    That last line made me chuckle with glee!

  6. jon_hill987 says:

    I’m clearly too old and cynical for all this, I thought the Mann Co. store and promo TF2 hats from unrelated games was/were bad, now this?

    • Bostec says:

      Yeah, it reminds me of being in the school playground trading Pogs, it won’t be something I would use myself.

    • Xocrates says:

      I can see how one would consider the Mann Co. and abundance of TF2 items a bad thing (heck, not a huge fan of it myself), but I don’t see how that logic extends to a method to safely trade games and micro-transaction based items.

    • jon_hill987 says:

      Because it makes microtransaction games and the pay for items in them more legitimate a business model as if it wasn’t prevalent enough already. When you no longer have to worry about spending money on these items as you can trade them for items in another game or even a whole new game when you get bored of it it becomes easier to justify spending the money and people will spend more. This will make that kind of game more profitable for developers and will take over as the main model, a model I am not overly fond of.

      Like I said, I’m too old and cynical for this.

    • Bilbo says:

      “When you no longer have to worry about spending money on these items as you can trade them for items in another game or even a whole new game when you get bored of it it becomes easier to justify spending the money and people will spend more.”

      Right, but isn’t that a fairly good reason to dislike microtransactions & item stores less? The purchases aren’t just “becoming more easily justifable” in a vacuum, said justification increase is happening precisely because they’re making microtransactions a better proposition by giving your purchases better lasting value. If the thing becomes less evil shouldn’t you also reappraise it?

    • Keymonk says:

      It was happening before Steam trading came in effect. Now it’s just safer to do.

    • jon_hill987 says:

      OK, I shall clarify. I don’t want them to be too profitable because I don’t like that kind of game and all games are in danger of becoming that game.

      Old. Cynical.

  7. GenBanks says:

    How much longer till an MMO gets launched with proper steamworks integration?
    Having an MMO’s items viewable in the steam inventory would be pretty cool.

    • icupnimpn2 says:

      If in-game items have some life outside the game, it’s only a matter of the time before items on Steam gain some cross-game compatibility. How about a hat you can wear in any of three or four games?

    • Doug says:

      This already happened some years ago: link to

    • Keymonk says:

      If I understood you right, that’s exactly what Spiral Knights has done. It’s integrated so that your Steamlinked Spiral Knights account lets you see all your Knights’ items in the Steam inventory.

  8. Theory says:

    Much more important than this story is some new HL2-esque concept art on Valve’s website. What are those things?

    Edit: I love how their open positions range from software engineer to chef.

    • IDtenT says:

      I’m loving the psychologist posting.

    • trigger_rant says:

      Valve is always hiring. For all positions. Just not anybody.

    • Film11 says:

      Aw, I missed their “We’re always hiring for all positions. Seriously.” line.

    • JFS says:

      I want to be Valve’s game psychologist. I really do. A shame you need four years of research thraldom in order to qualify :/ Who needs empirical evidence anyway when you can just rule-of-cool it?

  9. Tei says:

    The best thing of Steam trading, is that you can drag hats in the chat.

  10. c-Row says:

    So from now on, a Peggle is both a size and a currency conversion tool, i.e. “Game X is worth 18 Peggles”. It’s just natural evolution.

  11. Film11 says:

    The advantage of this system is that it is now much more secure to trade games for virtual (TF2) items. Prior to this, all you had was the other person’s word that they would fulfil their part of the deal. Although I dislike the general practice of all this trading and how it has distorted TF2 from its original form, anything that reduces the number of scams and upset users is a good thing.

  12. aircool says:

    For a moment there, I thought they were actually gonna do it. Y’know, actually let you trade games. Mebbe via some sort of token system or something?

    Sadly, I checked, and we’re still in the real world.

    • liquidsoap89 says:

      Well, this is hopefully just a start. I think whichever major distribution platform can get on board with the trades will be in a huge advantage over everybody else.

  13. Daiv says:

    WTB Portal 2 pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeese trade anyfffiing
    u got steam gold? get hats good yes! Hello?
    LFG Indie Store section.

  14. Rinox says:

    I traded two (expensive) hats for a copy of RO2.

    By that account, steam trading is awesome.

  15. Arona Daal says:

    Does anyone know a good Forum/way to find the Stuff i want to trade for?

  16. Moonracer says:

    I see an advantage here when there is a Steam sale 4 pack and I don’t have 3 friends to share with. I can hold on to the extra(s) for trading. Of course the advantage is mostly Valve’s.

  17. Bel says:

    Am I just behind the times, or did they just add ‘Small Mode’ on the view menu?