How A Single Patch Can Shake The Dota 2 Trading Market

That cowboy hat and those two dogs? That’d have cost you $40,000 a week ago.

“Do you want a scoop?”

“Yes.” That didn’t seem sufficient. An emoticon — X and D get a lot of mileage from me — gets stapled on. “Yes, I do.”

Jing is my primary contact in the sometimes seedy world of Dota 2 trading. He’s an administrator at Dota2traders, a straight-laced gent with an encyclopedic knowledge of market prices. Which is invaluable in his field, really, because couriers in Valve’s re-imagining of the world’s most popular mod can fetch prices upwards of $10,000 dollars.

We start with the pleasantries. You know Dota 2 is getting a new patch? Yes. You know the thing about socketing and crafting? Yes. Well, traders are mad about it. Why? Because there’s a chance we’ve all just lost thousands and thousands of dollars. Amid my growing consternation, Jing goes on to provide an account of how one simple update could be held culpable for such staggering financial damage.

Exclusivity is a big, big thing for the Dota 2 trading scene, so big that even silliness like a cowboy outfit for a razor-clawed bear can skyrocket in value due to discontinuation. Last year’s Halloween event catalyzed an interest in Golden Baby Roshans, slightly tacky miniatures of the game’s most powerful neutral creep. Unlike the Western-themed Alpine set, Golden Baby Roshans came with history and a touch of heroism. The only way to acquire one was to either be the fastest at slaying Roshan during a particular cycle or to purchase it from one of the few triumphant winners.

Three Kings of Kick-Ass are we.

But even the gilded, vicarious glory of the immortal[1] Golden Baby Roshans pales in comparison to ‘Legacy’[2] couriers. These commanded the highest prices, the greatest demand — up till now, that is.

Previously, effect and colour were immutable attributes, chiselled onto couriers like Chihuahuas onto Paris Hilton’s fashion sense. With the ‘Three Spirits’ update, however, they’ve become quantifiable goods, capable of being removed from or installed into more desirable beasts of burden. Want a pink “Ethereal Flames” Enduring War Dog? Make one.

“That $38,000 courier is probably worth less than $4000 now,” Derby, a seasoned Dota 2 trader, remarks flippantly.

While the vast majority of players seemed enthused about the curve ball Valve threw, a small division of traders took to their pitchforks. AONomad, who is both Dota2Trader moderator and experienced trader, notes: “Many people are quite literally panicking, as they’ve invested perhaps a little bit too much. Many have failed to observe the old maxim, ‘Never invest more than you can afford to lose.'”

Rawr. Fear me.

“I nearly flew down to Chicago,” Jing confides. The trip would have been for business – to deliver $17,000 in cash to the owner of a legacy courier. “If the patch happened two weeks later…”

“The fact that couriers can now be dismantled to harvest their effect and color code will have interesting and lasting ramifications on the entire market, from the lowest tier to the highest.” AONomad adds. “In the short term, there will likely be many arbitrage opportunities. This is great for the economy, as it allows new traders to make money by buying low and selling high, and it will draw in new people, which always stimulates demand in the long run. Whether this will be enough to reinforce the old status quo of prices is impossible to predict.”

He continues: “My personal guess is the old prices will not be sustainable, because most people will be crafting couriers of the highest possible quality, inflating the supply. I’d love to be wrong, and I very well might be–the Dota 2 trading mentality is obsessed with status, so it’s possible that people will keep spending money to impress their peers in some form or another.”

The next few days were turbulent. Some, convinced that the legacy market would break, began cashing out in a frenzy, desperate to make any amount of money before their collections lost all worth. Others started purchasing couriers in bulk, either to stockpile for future usage or simply to take advantage of the now comparatively rock-bottom prices.

A Golden Baby Roshan will set you back at least $8500. Why? We don’t know.
(Source: Dota 2 wiki)

“Legacy owners mostly fall into three categories: those who don’t care because they never planned to sell; those who bought for appearances and are now ‘smashing’ their couriers to extract the color code and put it into a courier of their choice; and people who bought for profit who are pretty anxious about the near future market.” AONomad explains.

A few turned to crime. According to Mad Matt, career middleman and Dota2Trade subreddit moderator, reports of ‘legit’ traders gone rogue are on the rise, one of the most salient examples being a trader who was purportedly ill-liked but universally regarded as reliable.

“He had traded legit for AGES, built up a lot of reputation. And now he is scamming because people still trust him.” Matt elaborates.

Yet, in spite of the volatile state of the marketplace, opinions are beginning to mellow. Many, including those made poorer by the patch, are optimistic. The price of Ethereal Flames couriers might be plummeting but their loss is watering the growth of the market at large. Items that were once only coveted by die-hard fans or the inexperienced are gaining new life. What was once an economy strangled by its own enamourment with a small, select group of cosmetics is now slowly diversifying, becoming less of a playground for the Illuminati and more a place where everyone can spend unholy amounts of money.

I am coming for your money.

“I found this day coming and I am all prepared for it.” Derby gloats over e-mail. “I own stable investments like Alpine Set which is a hot set in China trading scene and it is immortal — very safe. People will always have desire for these type of items (d2dog, golden rosh, alpine) so that is why I continue. The desire is always there. There’s always someone wanting to buy it. Alpine is limited to around 500 sets in the entire game which is 0.000000?? % of the community. And I own low tier[3] legacies, own immortals and d2dog which makes me a winner this patch! I have anticipated this type of patch coming over a year ago.”

Jing, unluckier by far and victim to a $8000 loss in investment, shrugs. “At first, it was all /wrists but it’s interesting for the market. I wish I had cashed out earlier but blah, that’s life.”

At least this guy only asks for gold.
(Source: Dota Utilities)


[1] Immortals: Immortals are items that Valve will never, ever release again. Not even if you say pretty please.

[2] “Legacy” couriers: In the beginning, courier colors were randomly generated. Over 16 million possible color combinations existed at the time. However, after complaints about certain colors being difficult to see filed in, Valve changed the system to allow for only about eight or so fixed shades. Couriers that did not fall under this color spectrum are inofficially known as “legacy” couriers.

[3] Low-tier couriers: Low tier couriers are generally any courier worth below $30-$50 or so. Examples of these include most of the event couriers, such as Lotus Effect ones, the Greevils from last years’ Diretide and Greeviling and those with less popular effects such as Felicity’s Blessing and Luminous Gaze.


  1. phelix says:

    Forty thousand! I know that people love their ingame characters to have shiny hats, but what kind of complete imbecile would spend that money on an in-game item?

    • Serpok says:

      The kind of complete imbecile that earns enough for that $40k price to equate to a 3-4 hours share of his yearly income.

      • kalirion says:

        How many people making $20 mil a year play DOTA 2?

        • Scurra says:

          Actually, I can see it being the sort of game that would appeal intensely to city traders – it seems to combine all the things that enable those guys to, um, make money efficiently (to describe it in the most charitable terms.)

          • Wulfram says:

            I’d expect them to create totally safe triple AAA derivatives by selling tranches of lots of little slices of DOTA items

        • frightlever says:

          Some will argue that there’s no such thing as an investment bubble because items, even virtual items, find a price that people are prepared to pay and it’s only knew information that causes those prices to rise and fall, sometimes precipitously. Me, I use the term bubble freely because it’s a convenient shorthand.

          So, the argument here would be that 99.999% of players aren’t paying anything like these prices and the majority of the money coming into the high end market is actually coming from traders who are late to the party. The guys who get in early will make money and anticipate when the market is going to fail and get out. The dumb money is all that stays invested.

          And I’m not talking about someone paying $50 for an item – that’s the market economy. Unless someone is driving up the market for an item by hoarding – something which wouldn’t be very efficient in a game – then people are paying $50 for something because there’s relative scarcity and reasonable demand.

          The high end stuff though, normal people don’t pay that kind of price, so by the definition of a “bubble” which looks for signs of irrationality, then these prices are in a “bubble”.

          Anyone remember Project Entropia? The space station that sold for $330k? Anyone think that was a solid long term investment? It probably was a good investment for the trader who originally bought it and parcelled it out but nobody that bought into his vision is currently sitting on prime space station real estate.

        • boats says:

          I’d say like 70 at the very least. Source: My insane wealth and love for Dota 2.

      • S Jay says:

        Imagine for a second you earn 20 mil a year.

        And you play Dota.

        Would you spend 40k in a (virtual) hat? Certainly this is not an impressive investment.

        • AngelTear says:

          No matter how much you earn, spending 5-digit sums on skins for a game is not only stupid, but immoral and insulting.

          • TCM says:

            I fail to see immorality in spending your money in a way that harms nobody, no matter how frivolously it is spent. I also fail to see how it is insulting — certainly not for the person who spends the money, as the money has less value to them than the item they receive. The opposite is true for the seller, so they are not insulted. Are you insulted by the transactions of people unrelated to you? That sounds like a personal problem.

            Welcome to the unrestricted free market — everything is worth what people will pay for it, and the values assigned to something come from the collective will of the people who can afford it.

          • AngelTear says:

            It is insulting for the rest of humanity, for all the people who are homeless and sick and starved and poor and without a job (and not just in some faraway country, but in Europe and America too) and have only just dreamed of having 30-40k $ in their hands at once.

            I feel a bit guilty every time I spend more than 10£ on a game (something that is far from a need), but in this proportion luxury is immoral IMO, and it is more immoral the more frivolous it is. I’m not saying it should be forbidden by law or anything, it should simply be forbidden by one’s own sense of decency and human compassion, but people who do this kind of things have completely lost touch with the real world.

          • Cioomperkoi says:

            @AngelTear Decency? Human compassion? It’s my money, that I’ve earned and I’m going to spend it any way I want to, as long as it’s legal. Do I get a little pissed off when I see people buying 40 000 $ couriers? Sure, but that’s only because I’m jealous.

          • Longtime Listener says:

            Huh, wonder if you’d say the same about slave traders?

            I for one am glad that money has completely superseded any need for morality for you.

          • TCM says:

            Money does not supersede morality, however, I am not going to feel guilty about purchasing luxuries for myself because other people are suffering in other parts of the world — there is no point to that, at all.

            I recognize that it’s unfair, and contribute money to causes looking to eliminate hunger, abuse, etc. — but that does not mean I will become a monk and live without luxuries because my money is more valuable to others.

            Given that you presumably own a computer and an internet connection, I can only surmise that you agree with this, else you are being hypocritical.

          • AngelTear says:

            @Cioomperkoi You are basically telling a person with one of the problems I’ve listed above: sorry, but my need for this courier skin is more important than your need to have a home/eat your first decent meal in days/etc. It is not illegal, and it shouldn’t be. You are free to flush your money down the toilet, as far as I’m concerned. But I still find it immoral. Selfish, if you will (the opposite of compassionate, which means “feeling the suffering of others as one’s own”). If that is so, then we agree to disagree.

            @TCM I needed the computer and internet connection mostly to study at university. But yes, I often feel hypocritical because I have many little luxuries while some people don’t have even the most basic needs. But, there’s luxury and luxury: there’s the “I need some time off” kind of luxury (e.g. buy a film/music/a game/other entertainment – it’s not necessary but it still improves your quality of life and, sometimes, your culture) and there’s the totally ludicrous and frivolous luxury, Steam trading cards and DOTA items being prime examples of it.

          • Nick says:

            everyone has their own moral code.

          • Skull says:

            @AngelTear – Most of the high end money in this is going around investors who are just looking to make more money off it, there is nothing particularly insulting about that.

            The end user who is buying this might not be spending all his money wisely, but he could also be giving to charity and helping others. You can’t judge a group of people when you don’t know any of them.

          • xao says:


            Which is why you live on a minimal subsistence diet, own a single set of clothes, and refuse any form of motorised transport, correct? You certainly don’t own a computer or pay for frivolities like internet access, right?

            After all, ANY luxury spending is money that could have gone to help others.

          • arccos says:

            You realize the money doesn’t disappear when it’s spent, right? In these transactions, someone ends up with an item they value more than the cost, and the other person ends up with more money than the item is worth to them. That’s a positive transaction no matter how many people are starving. You’ve actually created more value in the world.

            The money can still be spent on whatever it is you think it should be spent on afterwards, because it still exists.

          • Reapy says:

            For every a hole spending 40k on bits there is someone gaining 40k, perhaps this starving man we visualize convinced some guy to buy those few 1s and 0s for 40k and can now eat for the year? Really you want the super rich spending money like a fire hydrant, it can only be good for it to roll down hill.

            Finally, often the problems of starving people go beyond buying them a meal instead of yourself a video game, they will still be hungry the next day. In some places I could even see bloodshed required to keep those fed.

            For the starving and needy on my home front, I contribute a massive amount of money via taxes that are fed into medical aid and welfare for the needy. It’s ok to do things for yourself, that 10 dollars cycling back into the economy isn’t killing a man.

          • AngelTear says:

            @xao I’ve already written that there’s different kinds of luxuries, that have different value for money and different practical consequences on one’s quality of life, and I don’t think one should sacrifice one’s entire life because of others’ needs. All I’ve said is that, there’s a line between decency and utter selfishness in how one spends one’s money, and I don’t know where this line is drawn exactly, but the kind of transactions told in the article are, in my view, morally inappropriate.

            And even if I was the most hypocritical person in the world, you’d be arguing against my lifestyle and not against my idea. My supposed failure to put my idea into practice does not in itself invalidate it.

            The aggressiveness with which most of you seem to answer me makes me think that at least part of your consciousness thinks the same as I do, but that admitting it would simply menace your privileged lifestyle, which you want to keep.

            Yes, I have too much, I could do well with less, and I should spend less time gaming and more time, eg. doing volunteer work. At least I admit it and I feel guilty about it.
            (By the way, the internet allows me to be informed and become more cultured, so the internet and by extension the computer, are not that much of a luxury; they are not a basic need but they are very important in the same way that books have traditionally been considered important.)

          • tamriilin says:

            So you’re telling me, Angeltear, that I shouldn’t spend the disposable income that I busted my ass making, because there is someone, somewhere, who is worse off than me? How is that possibly fair to any party involved? It’s an incredibly deluded, absurd, and naive worldview.

            Yes, of COURSE I wish that there were no homeless people in the world, or poor people, or people who can’t afford health care. But the truth is, the vast majority of those people are completely out of my reach in every day life. Helping anyone in that situation would require a complete change of my day to day routine. I am, quite frankly, not ready to re-invent my life in order to help somebody I don’t even know.

            In addition, I don’t feel the least bit guilty that I haven’t done more to help those in need. My taxes go to fund welfare and disability income programs to help those less fortunate.

          • The Random One says:

            So of course you own only the simplest possible computer and the cheapest, slowest internet available?

            It’s true that many people are badly in need of money for their barest necessities, but just because someone is rich enough to be able to cough $40k in shiny bits doesn’t mean said person is capable of finding enough people to make those $40k feed people efficiently. It’s easy to say how many imaginary Ethiopians your money could feed, but it’s a lot harder to admit that the logistics of getting this money to them are so complex that any entity capable of doing so would probably end up with $20k of that lost in administrative expenses, at least.

            What people are getting at is that, in the same way that you think paying, say, $200 on a computer is a worthy investment to your well being, for some people $40k is a worthy investment for their fun time. You don’t know their story and you can’t know if they have also spent ten times that amount on charitable donations or if they run homeless shelters and send high quality turkeys to them on Christmas and Thanksgivings or if they literally are Bill Gates and have set up a charity that distributes billions of dollars to people who need it. You are judging them exclusively on one single action, even though you admit yourself that you don’t know where the line is crossed that turns ‘harmless fun’ into ‘shameless amoral act’, or what standards it should be judged by (gross money spent? percentage of one’s earnings? perhaps a ratio between money spent and its perceived usefulness? by whom, you?)

            That said, as many people posted, those buyers are probably traders, which means they’re essentially investment bankers, in which case “amoral” is an exceedingly generous way to describe their mindset.

          • Nick says:

            You could eat for a hell of a lot longer than a year on 40k.

          • solidshredder says:

            I really think people who earn exorbitant yearly incomes spouting the whole “I earned it! I can do what I want with it!” are incredibly selfish, irresponsible, ignorant, and narcissistic. If you’re in a position to spend 40 thousand dollars on a purely cosmetic digital item, I think the term “earning” that money is a bit unfair. Most first world markets are set up so that, once out of living the “day to day” poverty dance, accumulating money becomes trivial. Things like diversified portfolios and other similar investments are as close to guaranteed money as you can get. While the return on these investments might be only 5 percent or less a year, that number becomes staggering when you consider an investment of millions of dollars. Sadly, a decent number of today’s rich were “born into it” or born with access to the necessary capital to make incredibly safe short term and long term investments. They also have the ability to take high-reward high-risk opportunities that the rest of us wouldn’t dare. A loss doesn’t cripple their ability to continue on, on the contrary they will threaten the countries economy, in effect holding it hostage, until they are inevitably bailed out. They are “too big to fail” so in turn the poor MUST pay for their mishaps as we have seen with recent bank bailouts. And if they win, they win big and keep all of those profits to themselves. Let’s also not forget that in the United States the richer you are the more disproportionate your taxes become. Which, as some may know, is unconstitutional for a reason. To simplify, it takes money to make money. So please, for the betterment of all of mankind do not delude yourself into thinking you EARNED that 20 billion dollars. The system is set up to take care of you. The system that is composed of permanently poor people. The middle class has become all but non-existent. The POOR take care of YOU. The rich freely admit this with their “trickle-down” economic defense. “Continue to give us special privileges like personally unaccountable corporate contracts and we will pass the benefits back to you!” The problem with this line of thinking is that most, when asked to do their part and allow the money to trickle down will revert to the selfishly ignorant “I earned this, I can do what I want.” defense. There is no conceivable amount of work that you could do that would ever justify the kind of economic discrepancies we are seeing today. A banker on wall street works forty million times harder than a miner or soldier? Do you know of any rich minors or soldiers? If work equated to wealth, all such persons would be rich. In almost every definition of morality that I can that of, you have a clear and present OBLIGATION to think of the starving well before you decide to buy a digital hat for 40,000 dollars.

          • UncleLou says:

            The thing is though, he doesn’t burn the money. He gives it to someone else. It really doesn’t make a difference if he has the 40k, or if the seller has them, does it? Would it really be less immoral if he had kept the money in the bank instead of spending it? And what if he simply gave it to a random person on the street? Can it make a difference whether he gets a virtual item in exchange or not?

            Mind, I am not having any definite answers here. I am just finding it difficult to have a firm opinion on whether this is immoral or not.

          • solidshredder says:

            I think giving it to a random person or doing other such silly things would be just as morally reprehensible. “With great power comes great responsibility.” That’s what I’m really trying to say here. He should be focusing the power of his wealth to do the most good while obviously taking care of his day to day personal obligations. There’s no way to know if that random person you bought the hat from is Hitler or not. You could have just funded the Nazi Resurrection. All for a digital hat. I’d say that donating 5,000 barrels of grain to the red cross is a much safer investment.

          • Grargh says:

            This seems to be the online equivalent to a 40k wrist watch (with the added risks of losing it to some technical glitch or the value plummeting). Personally, I am disgusted by people flaunting those things with the sole purpose of rubbing their status and wealth into others’ faces. In a world where the distribution of said wealth is incredibly unfair and has just about nothing to do with ones actual contribution to society, this behaviour is simply obscene and should feel insulting to anyone not living under such lucky circumstances.

          • Josh W says:

            On the general thing about feeling guilty about spending money, personally, I like paying for things like games, pictures, etc out of my crappy income, because maybe that means that someone else can actually have a better job.

            I hate the way that inequality in wealth and power is distorting things, for all the usual reasons
            (enough food to feed everyone, enough available energy not to destroy the planet, enough space for everyone, if only we could reorganise a bit to help the poor or powerless)
            but I don’t think we should give up on luxuries, on culture or entertainment. Cos it’s going to take a while to change this, and things like those represent presumably the world we all want.

            There are loads of writers, artists and game designers out there who give up on making loads of money, on taking as much for themselves, and work together to make cool things. I think we should support the people who practice that attitude, in charities and in business, across the full spectrum from sorting out people’s basic needs, people’s weird subtle needs through to mostly pointless decoration and amusing things.

            When people start paying ridiculous out of scale amounts for stuff, especially status items that are just built around artificial scarcity and exclusivity, I do start to frown a bit, but I don’t think it’s their fault that they’ve got a completely out of scale idea of the value of money, unless they got that money in a dodgy way. It’s just an example of how our system is a bit bust. I don’t think they should feel guilty, just be a bit more poor, so they don’t have more money than they can reasonably spend.

            If we assume it’s normal for people to have such a huge discrepancy of wealth, then yeah, they should take on that responsibility seriously, as some of the most powerful people in the world, and not just waste wealth that could be saving dying people etc. But that’s just too much responsibility for one person. Better for them to either pay people to spend their money wisely for them, with some broad accountability to make sure it’s not wasted, or just pay more taxes and have that do it for them.

          • xao says:


            I’m not arguing against your lifestyle (as I have no idea what it is), just pointing out the logical conclusion to the idea that selling something can become immoral simply because of the price tag. If you can’t tell when such a cost becomes immoral then your philosophy needs re-examination. If one shouldn’t sacrifice one’s entire life, how much should one sacrifice? Is it a percentage or an absolute value?

            As far as other posters’ privileged lifestyles, well, now you’re not only making assumptions as to motives, but also about the underlying facts. Essentially you’re down to just making shit up to support your philosophy.

          • Nixitur says:

            Solidshredder, did you seriously just invoke Godwin’s Law?
            Hahaha, what the hell, man.
            I was about to share my opinion here, but then you started talking about Hitler in a comment thread about virtual economy. There is absolutely no reasonable response to that. Bad form, Shredder.

          • solidshredder says:

            I hope you understood that the Hitler reference was a joke. The odds of that happening are astronomical. However, my original point still stands. You can spend your money in wiser ways that have an immediately discernible and positive impact.

      • 00000 says:

        The imbecile that believes he can sell it for more.

        It’s like investing in a railroad to crazy town because you assume you can sell your ticket before you reach the end of the line.

      • Jack Mack says:

        “The kind of complete imbecile that earns enough for that $40k price to equate to a 3-4 hours share of his yearly income.”

        From what I’ve heard the people buying these kind of items are middle-class joes who are so addicted to it that they spend all their savings in the store.

        link to

        “I’d use birthday money, I’d eat cheaper lunches, I’d ask my wife to pay for dinner so I’d have a spare $10-$20 to spend in the store. Which does mean, I guess, that I was thinking about it even away from the game.”

        Does anyone have any statistics? What’s the average income of a Dota 2 item buyer? Not the trader, but the one at the end of the chain who eventually buys and keeps the item?

    • Longtime Listener says:

      I’m hoping beyond hope that it’s some sort of clan/team wide purchase. I mean if twenty people chipped it would only be… $2000 each.

      Nope that’s still ridiculous.

  2. Longtime Listener says:

    I’m trying and failing not to laugh.

  3. Crane says:

    Well, if you spend tens of thousands of dollars on virtual items, you’re indulging in an insane gamble.

    Even the legal precedent regarding ownership of such things is poorly defined at this time, regardless of the pitfalls relating to their inherently ephemeral nature.

    If you made a lot of money from this, congratulations. You were probably smart, but you were definitely lucky. If you lost a lot of money, then consider it a lesson about the nature of ‘worth’.

    • jrodman says:

      I challenge that given the risk and the reward, trading dota 2 cosmetics for profit is probably not very smart.

      • vivlo says:

        It’s a high risk, yet potentially very rewarding market. There are worse things investors do.

        • TCM says:

          I got a hot tip on this company’s stock from my brother’s wife’s aunt’s uncle. It’s gonna skyrocket in a few months. Trust me. The news might be covered in rumors of buyouts and bankruptcy, but believe me, this will pay huge, put your life savings in it.

        • Longtime Listener says:

          Except the entire market is imaginary and built around something that doesn’t exist in any physical way beyond a few lines of code on a server. It doesn’t matter how well you invest, one spilled coffee cup and your entire portfolio is worthless.

          Not to mention the old piracy cliche. You can copy a digital product without losing the original. Valve could at any moment release billions of copies of currently ultra rare couriers.

          This isn’t investing, it’s gambling and the casino could be shut down at any moment.

          • TCM says:

            “Except the entire market is imaginary and built around something that doesn’t exist in any physical way beyond a few lines of code on a server. ”

            Kind of like a lot of modern currency’s assumed value?

          • Longtime Listener says:

            …not really. The value behind the money is still there it’s just that no one… knows where. The world economy is basically this link to

          • scim says:

            Yup, just like the “real” market was all real a couple years back. There were oodles of profits and investment opportunities until they came to the conclusion that those didn’t really exist and investors lost billions upon billions, due to cleverly constructed financial packages. Well the market of virtual items is very real, there is time and effort involved in acquiring them which according to some courts gives them real world value regardless of the fact that there is a real money marketplace involved. But you’re right, legally it’s still mostly unclear. Can a company just pull the plug? What can people do when the company comes back on their word and release some of these legacy items? Is trade regulated and if so how? But how is that not true for Steam as a whole? What would happen if Steam were to pull the plug and all those games wouldn’t be accessible anymore or any other supplier of a “DRM”‘ed service like say iTunes?

            And as for the duplication problem. The market corrects itself. It is happening already. People have found ways to abuse account “hacking” and customer support. Basically you let yourself be hacked, the person trades away your items. You request your once in a lifetime account rollback and presto. You will have your items back. Unfortunately, due to the fact those items may have gone to valid customers already Valve cannot take them away from the person who “stole” them. More often than not those items have been traded already (good luck following that rabbit hole and not pissing people off). Granted you have to concoct a believable story for Valve support, but this has happened and the trading community has acted accordingly (made it known this happened together with nicknames, steamid’s, item screenshots etc. so people will not buy these “duped” items, simply because they are not unique anymore (which was their unique selling point in the first place)).

            Markets like these are in their infancy and so is all the regulation that comes along with it. It’ll be ironed out over time, but as of right now these are (and will probably remain) very volatile markets that can net a person who knows what he’s doing a hefty sum of money, but it can cost him a whole lot too. Hmm, I wonder where I’ve heard that before.

  4. Eddiestrike says:

    I sold an item on Dota 2 for £50 a few months ago. Seriously, who is buying this stuff? Crazed fanatics

  5. InternetBatman says:

    Oh no, parasites have slightly less blood to suck!

    • ch4os1337 says:

      Seriously, thought $80(min)-$450 for a knife skin in CS:GO was bad but the rarest Dota 2 couriers are ridiculous.

  6. Renato Costa says:

    The Dota Trading prices never cease to amaze me, like when you can afford actual games on steam from simply farming and selling your own trading cards (and overpricing a foil card? Amazing).

    Also, reading this through my rss I thought I was going to USGamer. Great to see Cassandra branching out! Nice article as always.

  7. CobraLad says:

    That business trip part is just surreal…

  8. Awesumo says:

    I was shocked at how much money I got for the various free Team fortress hats I had got over the years – enough money to buy 2 full price games… but this? THOUSANDS?! madness. Pure madness. I can’t help but think people are manipulating these markets with fake trades to push up prices and make big money on the few ‘real’ trades that take place (A similar thing happened with bitcoins… fake trades by the people running the markets to drive up the value of their personnal stock.)

  9. lautalocos says:

    why…i….i can`t…i….
    why the hell people spend so much money on a single game?!
    i just can`t understand this.

  10. Tom Davidson says:

    It seems to me that if you can afford $50K for a rare item, you and a few friends might as well commission your own game and give yourself all the rare items you want. Of course, I wouldn’t be surprised if a number of Korean MMOs got started this way.

  11. Loyal_Viggo says:

    WTF did I just read?

    Quit yo jibber-jabber.

    • Ross Angus says:

      I barely understood a word too, but I’m glad RPS is trying to cover all the bases. Ours is a broad church.

    • JFS says:

      I didn’t understand a single word. No, really. I just didn’t.

    • Okami says:

      I could read the words, but they didn’t make any sense.

  12. mpk says:

    I sincerely regret that time I put £4 into my Steam wallet to buy a TF2 hat.* But damn, microtransacting is not something I ever wanted to start dabbling in – game expanding DLC is one thing, but hats and horse armour?

    So I just can’t understand virtual goods that have a value of $40K. I mean. Really?

    *I was drunk, and it was shiny.

    • kalirion says:

      Well, an item has as much value as someone is willing to pay for it.

      Who are you to say that a $40,000 painting is more worth it’s price than a $40,000 TF2 hat?

      The only difference is that DOTA2 items in this case are at the complete mercy of Valve, as this article has shown.

      • mpk says:

        Well, there’s that. There’s also the fact that I can touch a $40K painting. Virtual goods… what can I do with them, other than look? And even then, that look is going to be abstracted by whichever view is presented by the particular game they inhabit.

        • Eej says:

          If you own a $40k painting you are not going to touch it with your hands anyway so I don’t see what the physicality of an item has to do with its value. A book isn’t valuable because of the paper and binding that makes it up but the ideas inside it. $100 million in GOOG shares are not valuable because you literally have physical shares in Google.

          • Longtime Listener says:

            Because it exists.
            Anyone could make a print of it but they can’t make the original.

            With digital goods on the other hand?

          • TCM says:

            Do let me know how that Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V goes for you when you try and get a TF2 Max’s Severed Head, or a Dota 2 Immortal set. One you can display for others to flaunt your status, ie, the purpose of purchasing such things, and not one that only you can see, please.

            I am not saying the items have the values given to them at the moment, but there is value in scarcity, and value in status. Given that those items will — if the words of the companies behind them are to be taken at face value — never appear in stock again…

          • iainl says:

            To run one of these businesses you’ve got to invest a serious quantity of money in virtual goods that only have value because they’re rare and wanted. Both qualities are at the mercy of the game owner, who can release additional stock or tweak the game in a way that makes the item less desirable at any time. Even if they say they don’t plan to.

            That’s a significant risk, and one you only take because there’s pretty big profit to be made in the meantime.

          • Ergates_Antius says:

            The most important difference between a $40k painting and a $40k virtual hat is precedence. Art has a long and stable history of being a valuable artifact – people have been buying artwork as investments for a long time. If I buy a painting by Renoir today it is likely that it’s value will (at least) remain the same or (probably) increase. It is incredibly unlikely that in a few years time the whole art world will go “Holy Shit! What the fuck were we thinking?” and my painting becomes valuless. It’s a reasonably safe investment.*

            The same cannot be said for DOTA2 items (or any online game items). People investing in these items are making a load of assumptions and taking a lot of risks. Any number of things could render thier investment worthless almost overnight (e.g. the event this article is about). It has all the hallmarks of an investment bubble, like the thing in Holland with the daffodils. On the other hand, this means the potential profits are much higher.

            * There are obvious exceptions to this – e.g. people buying works by new and/or relatively unknown artists in the hope that they become popular in the future.

      • Awesumo says:

        A $40,000 painting is likely to retain its value. I don’t think you could say the same about oblivion horse armour, nor about anything from TF2 in another 10 years, nor dota 2 in ~15 years.

  13. Drinking with Skeletons says:

    I increasingly find Valve’s business practices to be absolutely sickening. What are the purposes of these kinds of things? Trading cards, hats, now whatever the hell a courier is; Valve can’t be unaware of the shadow economies that spring up from these kinds of things.

    Sooner or later the media is going to get hold of some horror story about this stuff–a bankruptcy, a murder, something–and there’s going to be an awful lot of scrutiny directed to the industry at a whole.

    State governors have tried and failed to impose restrictions on video games on the basis of promoting violence, but what will happen when the wider public learns that a video game company has crafted what looks for all the world like a narcotics market, complete with massive paydays and (presumably clandestine) money exchanges?

    • jon_hill987 says:

      But that happens with anything, anything can be considered a collectable, people have been murdered over old rare books, count on it, would you ban reading?

      • Drinking with Skeletons says:

        That’s a false equivalency for two reasons. First, books are not generally designed to be rare; I can’t think of one, though I’m sure they exist. Rare books become items of heated dispute entirely separately from any intention or influence from their authors. They want books to be available and sold to as may people as possible. Valve artificially limits these DOTA 2 products and knowingly releases them into an environment that allows for and encourages (via advertising, word-of-mouth, and simply seeing the items) extreme trading behavior.

        Second, books were not viewed with inherent skepticism by authority figures. Sure, powerful organizations might engage in censorship, book burning, etc., but that had to do with content. Nobody was searching for evidence that would allow all books to be curtailed in some way.

        • xao says:

          The whole concept of limited run first editions is about designing artificial scarcity into books.

    • aiusepsi says:

      Valve’s implementation of microtransactions is actually fairly inoffensive, especially in Dota 2. All the items are cosmetic only, and you get a steady stream of free items just from playing. It’s a world away from the exploitative free-to-play games that attach success in the game to spending money.

      That people will pay large amounts of money for rare items really isn’t that weird. People have always bought status symbols. In the past it might have been a fast car, or a fancy TV. Today you can buy a rare Dota 2 item.

      • kalirion says:

        DOTA 2 items are cosmetic only? Really?

        link to

        Essence Bonuses
        24% Critical Strike Chance
        +40 Move Speed
        +45 Attack Speed
        +200 Health
        +24 Magical Armor
        +16 Attack Damage
        +4 Physical Armor

        This doesn’t read as cosmetic only to me.

        • thristhart says:

          Haha, that’s a bit of a funny misunderstanding. The Greevils were used for a silly christmas minigame called the Greeviling – those stats are entirely separate from the actual Dota game.

          edit: to clarify further, you can have your courier use the Greevil model, but it doesn’t have any non-visual impact outside of the Greeviling.

          • Falcon says:

            Thanks. I was about to post this! Those stats were only for that mini-game, and it was entirely possible to get all of the drops for that mini-game in-game without paying a cent.

        • Squirly says:

          Nevermind, ninja’d.

        • Nick says:

          I guess the lesson here is try not to comment on stuff you know literally nothing about.

    • HadToLogin says:

      It’s already a fact* that TF2 keys are used to steal money – latest example being Humble Bundle, where traders are selling BTA bundles for 1, maybe 2 TF2 keys (depending on current BTA price, always less then it is) and after few days those bundles disappear from buyers, usually with note “one who payed for bundle made chargeback”.

      It’s hard to believe Valve doesn’t know** about that. But I’m pretty sure they just don’t care – they received their cut, so they have no problem. They did wrote “don’t trade for stuff other then in Steam”, didn’t they?

      *Well, not really. Nobody was able to catch and then prosecute anyone for doing this, but really, there’s no explanation for that kind of sales if there isn’t some criminal stuff in background – either by using stolen Credit Cards, or by using their own and doing chargebacks after trades.

      **That would be great question for GabeN, RPS. When you’ll see him again, ask him if he knows he’s supporting criminals.

      • kalirion says:

        Valve has implemented a safe trading system for actualy tradable Steam items. That is as far as their responsibility goes.

        And yes, they warn you that if you try to trade outside of the system, you are at your own risk. They even put a pop-up warning if you use the trading system to give something for nothing in return.

      • Artfunkel says:

        Merchants pay a fee for each chargeback. Valve are losing money every time it happens.

        • Awesumo says:

          Worst – Humble bundle pays the charge back, and you can bet that overheads come out before they work out what % goes to charity.

          • Deano2099 says:

            Can’t you choose exactly where your money goes with Humble? The overheads come out of the Humble Tip.

      • Baines says:

        Stolen credit cards are an issue with stuff like Humble Bundle. You steal a card, buy a bunch of bundles, and sell or trade those bundles before anyone gets wise. Credit card abuse is supposedly the reason Humble put a limit on how many bundles you could buy in a day.

        As for fraud on Steam, as well as the market for in-game items, Valve certainly knows all about both. They’ve long used Steam as a test bed for economic studies. Valve knew full well what TF2 hats would do, and DOTA items, and trading cards. And Valve likely made a small fortune from their cuts.

        (And wasn’t it convenient that, despite promises to do so, Valve never bothered to implement a decent way to trade trading cards during their boom? Causing people to sell them on the Steam Market, where Valve was raking in a cut on every sale?)

    • Ergates_Antius says:

      I don’t really see how this relates to Valve’s business practices. They don’t make any money of these transactions. It’s not their responsibility to ensure stupid people don’t throw vast amounts of money away on junk – especially when they’re not the ones selling the junk.

      Random anti-Valve kneejerk reaction is random I guess.

      • Longtime Listener says:

        “They don’t make any money from these transactions”
        Yes they do. They take a 5% cut on every marketplace transaction.

        • goncaneses says:

          I don’t think these trades are using the marketplace, atleast the big ones.

          • SkittleDiddler says:

            Well, Valve certainly aren’t doing much of anything to dissuade that kind of behavior, are they? One could go so far as to accuse them of enabling the black market by controlling item rarity.

          • Ergates_Antius says:

            Again though – how can giving away a cosmetic item for a game for free be turned into an insidious act? Valve are not the world’s mothers, it is not their responsibility to stop people wasting their money*.

            The OP described valves behaviour here as “absolutely sickening”. Seriously?

            * Whether or not spending these sums of money on these items is wasting money or not is, of course, another matter.

        • Maniac says:

          And in the case of trading cards, the developer of the game the trading cards are for get an even bigger cut. something like 10% if I recall correctly, thus… Well, in the case of trading cards it’s adding value to both consumer and developer. And there’s nothing wrong with that whatsoever.

        • Deadly Sinner says:

          That’s only for Valve stuff. It’s 2.5% for non-valve stuff and 0% if you’re trading directly.

    • C0llic says:

      All buyable items in Dota 2 are purely cosmetic (and they also ALL drop for free). It’s about as benign a way as possible to run a free to play game. More harmless than TF 2, LoL and any other example I can think of. You get no tangible benefit as a player at all.

      There will always be people who hugely overvalue such things, and possible negative consequences for that, but what you’re really saying is; it’s valve’s fault people go to shady lengths in order to earn money, and they are also responsible for people spending amounts of money you personally find offensive.

      Personally, I’m happy to play an excellent game at no cost to myself whatsoever.

      • Cinek says:

        “(and they also ALL drop for free).” – no, they don’t. All of the items that got really high prices do not drop in the game for free. Perhaps in past they did (or you had to finish special task to get it) – but not any more. That’s what makes the price go up.

        • Ergates_Antius says:

          They might not all drop *now*, but they *did* drop for free. Correct me if I’m wrong, but none of these items were sold by Valve at any point?

          • jrodman says:

            No, lots of these items were for sale at various times. It’s just many of them were not widely purchased then taken off the market.

          • vagabond says:

            There are a number of items that you cannot get as drops in game. ( link to )

            Some items you can get the basic version of as a drop, but the version with fancy visual effects only comes from unlocking a chest with a key (couriers basically).

  14. Trespasser in the Stereo Field says:

    Did that guy just shrug off an $8000 loss?

    • The Random One says:


    • Runty McTall says:

      It may have been a notional loss – ie he bought the item for price X (say $1,000), last week it was valued on the market at price Y ($18,000) and now it is valued at price Z ($10,000). If he’d cashed out a week ago he’d have made $8K more so in that sense he has a fair value loss but he hasn’t actually lost money over what he bought it for yet.

      Or he bought he did genuinely realise a loss of $8K and has deep pockets / a philosophical outlook on life.

      • PopeRatzo says:

        That’s common thinking among stock traders and certain business types. A professional sports team owner will say he “lost $500million by not having a new stadium” even though his team showed a billion-dollar profit.

        Or someone who sells a rising stock one day before it hits $100/share even though he bought the shares at $10 and sold them at $90 says he “lost $10/share by selling too early”.

        It’s a bad way to think about any investment, including virtual codpieces for horses.

  15. strangeloup says:

    And I thought the TF2 economy was batshit crazy.

    Then again, they’ve just released a rarely-dropped item which allows you to turn 100 copies of a regular weapon into a “Collector’s” version, and those are commanding £60 and upwards on the community market. What’s the difference between a collector’s version and a regular version? It has a different border colour in your backpack. That’s it.

    I think Valve’s economist maybe overdid it with the coke this month.

  16. Freud says:

    I have no idea what couriers are and the article doesn’t explain it.

    • kalirion says:

      Yeah, it’s easily googlable, but it seems info that should be present in the article.

      Apparently Couriers are summonable animals that you use as gophers to carry items to/from the base, and Custom Couriers are cosmetic items which change what the Couriers look like.

      Or I could be misunderstanding it.

      • jon_hill987 says:

        You got it. The default one is a kind of donkey thing. Custom ones give you dragons, tigers, badgers, all sorts. “Unusual” ones have particle effects.

    • Serenegoose says:


      As for the rest of the article, people have been investing in things that’ve went obsolete since cash got invented, surely? If you want to play that sort of game, I haven’t any sympathy for you when it goes to shit. Eggs and baskets spring to mind.

    • oxykottin says:

      Just to add on to the explanation. The courier are highly valued in Dota 2 because most skins and items are character specific. During the picking process hero’s can be blocked from the match so if you have a rare skin or weapon you can’t use them. However, the courier can be used with all hero’s in any match.

  17. Moraven says:

    Is most of this trading done outside Steam? Exchange money outside steam, trade item in Steam?

    Are these items one time use, as in you attach it to your attach for use in game, thus permanently on your account?

    • jrodman says:

      Very few items “bind” in dota 2. There are some, like the whateverthing I got for being in the beta. Tournament tickets must be “used” to gain tournament access which removes their itemness and gives your account a flag.

  18. Moraven says:

    Riot recently brought back some old skins for special events, part they are underused skins part they probably want their artists working on something else.

    At least Riot was nice enough to reimburse, in full, the price you said for said skins and your player card will be unique during the loading screen. Downside is my Hockey Jax and Curling Veigar will soon not be as unique nor get as many comments.

    Other than giveaway codes most skins are bought in game and instantly attached to your account.

    • dairyproduct says:

      Well the difference is Valve didn’t set the price for Legacy Couriers, the traders did. If Valve were to do any form of reimbursing, it would only be $2.50 for the key which was bought to unlock the courier.

      Also, Valve never said “We will not be selling these couriers again”, it was a change in their system which removed the randomness for difference colors unlike Riot who set up two systems of skins “Limited Edition” and I believe “Legacy Skins” and completely turned on it.

  19. Yosharian says:

    Haha good on Valve, some of this stuff was getting truly ridiculous.

  20. blind_boy_grunt says:

    see that mr. meer? That’s how you do footnotes (links back, if anyone wondered).

  21. S Jay says:

    30.000 for a hat (or whatever that is).

    I can’t even… oh, man… there goes my faith in humankind.

  22. PopeRatzo says:

    I’ll just be right over here, hoping fervently that we’re not talking about real money. It would make me so sad to learn that these dollar amounts reflect real money someone is spending on these things.

  23. Medicine says:

    Nobody? Okay.

    *Strait-laced. And don’t give me any of that “both are acceptable” bollocks.

    Also, good article.

    • Bull0 says:

      Except it’s not bollocks. link to

      • Medicine says:

        I’m not taking anything from people who pass actual new words into the dictionary. Frankly, I don’t even think “groovy” should qualify.

        • Bull0 says:

          The whole purpose of language is to communicate with your fellow man.

          • Runty McTall says:

            Amen brother!

            I would add that I consider it an imperative upon the speaker to try to make it as easy as possible for the listener to understand whatever they are trying to communicate. After all, the speaker is implicitly asking of the listener to give them their time and attention – the least they can do in return is be as efficient in using it as possible.

            This is why I think it is reasonable for people to get ticked off with a lot of people’s bad verbal habits. Although it is strictly true that the speaker may have delivered the all the information necessary to decode whatever it was they were trying to communicate, it is genuinely hard mental work to parse out various pauses, uhms, ahhs, sub-clauses, broken fragments* and slang phrases that you can just about deduce the meaning of, but with attendant uncertainty about whether you’ve actually got it right.

            * If you have ever read a transcript of a conversation, or even something like witness testimony at a trial, it’s amazing what percentage of spoken sentences just get terminated about 40% of the way through.

        • TCM says:


        • Nick says:

          Yes, god forbid the dictionary ever evolves with the usage of language itself, that would be madness.

  24. Janichsan says:

    And this, dear friends, is why you don’t trade intangible digital items for ludicrous amounts of money.

  25. ividyon says:

    Eh, there’s worse bullshit out there in the world… for example, players of a foot-to-ball game being traded between clubs for millions of euros. I’d say that’s a much bigger offense than buying a DOTA2 item for 40k.

    • Grargh says:

      While these sums in real life sports are absolutely ridiculous, you have to keep in mind that they are the result of fairly rational calculations by the clubs concerning both prize and advertising money to be gained. The whole situation is a sign of a seriously degenerated understanding of sports, but this is not money burned by individuals for vanity and bragging rights.

  26. maximiZe says:

    Great article, I wasn’t expecting this.

  27. Press X to Gary Busey says:

    I hope this is some kind of speculator-to-speculator market and people don’t actually spend thousands of dollars on items just to use them. Items that will be entirely useless some time in the future.

  28. SominiTheCommenter says:

    Why? Can’t just spend that money on Kickstarter, if it really is burning your pockets?

  29. Beelzebud says:

    Okay I’m going to try to be sympathetic to people who spend thousands of dollars for vanity items in video games, and then complain because the “value” got taken away, somehow.

    Nope, can’t do it no matter how hard I try. If you have money like this to blow, look for sympathy elsewhere.

  30. Dave Tosser says:

    XD shouldn’t get mileage from anyone. Neither should $38,000 virtual item prices.

  31. PopeRatzo says:

    I’m driving a nice Nissan GT-R in the new NFS game, and I’m willing to let it go for a mere $60,000.

    Just paypal me the money and I’ll send you a screenshot right away.

  32. KevinLew says:

    While I wouldn’t pay $20,000 or whatever for a courier in Dota 2 (I have more common sense than that), I find it amusing that people find this so unbelievable when high prices are all over in video games.

    I need to point out that there’s an infinite number of Kickstarter video game campaigns that have $5000 and higher tiers. That’s hardly any different. In the end, you still paid at least half of that money ($2500 or more) for a single video game. Then there’s Eve Online, where journalists report about how many millions of virtual dollars are spent or lost due to some war or feud happening in game.

    • PopeRatzo says:

      You’re absolutely right. Kickstarter is as vaporous as these Dota2 prices. You’re still just throwing money into the fireplace.

      When the only thing keeping the scarcity high is the good intentions of Valve, and Valve’s only charter is to make the most profit for its investors, you’re asking for trouble. Scarcity could disappear with a keystroke, anytime.

      • PikaBot says:

        You are aware that Valve is not a publically traded company and so does not have investors to make profit for, yes?

    • PedroTheHutt says:

      Not quite, a Kickstarter is an investment, not a pre-order. Without community backing the game simply wouldn’t come into existence, as opposed to a pre-order where the game will come out whether you get the exclusive goodies or not.

      Also, Valve is a privately owned company, it has no investors to worry about. Gabe Newell stamped Valve out of the ground with the Microsoft millions he gained from buying stock in it in the 90s, at an employer’s discount.

      And like others have said, these multi thousand dollar trades happen outside of Valve’s community market system so they don’t see a penny of it.

  33. FoxCharge says:

    When are people going to figure out that Ursa’s Alpine Stalker set is not western-themed?! It’s called “Alpine” for a reason. Alps. More specifically, the Swiss Alps. The set is traditional Bavarian clothing, not some frontier cowboy BS.

  34. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    That’s insane. And it feels so immoral. To even dare to sell such a minor thing to people for so much money.

    • xao says:

      What’s the minimum acceptable ratio of majority to cost then?

    • says:

      It’s only immoral if we’re claiming some kind of universal/transcendent morality, which flies in the face of some of our worldviews, but most people don’t want to think about that.

  35. Shakermaker says:

    Enjoyable read, thanks Cassandra.

  36. Haplo says:

    This is such a neat example of supply:demand dynamics.

    • Grargh says:

      It is also a very neat example of some people needing medical help.

    • PopeRatzo says:

      No, it isn’t. This has nothing to do with “supply/demand”. It is entirely an hysterical bubble. An example of what happens when prices become unmoored from anything rational.

      “Supply” has no meaning in regard to digital data, except on a level so small that it is inconsequential. When the entire “supply” could disappear tomorrow in the event that Valve went out of business (though unlikely), how can you even talk about supply? Further, the entire supply could double, or triple, with the click of a mouse.

  37. Jerppa says:

    I wonder if that $40k courier thing helped the buyer get laid.

  38. Dreadtron says:

    Slaves can have slave fun, while master counts his key and ticket money.

  39. Keasar says:

    ““That $38,000 courier is probably worth less than $4000 now,” Derby, a seasoned Dota 2 trader, remarks flippantly.”

    I have absolutely no sympathy to give to these people.

  40. bstard says:

    Great article! More of these and less konsole knobbery.

  41. Jonfon says:

    “Wait! Bubbles can burst?”

  42. hjd_uk says:

    Absolutly bizzare. The numbers in this are insane. I really really dont care that virtual bear costumes are dropping in market price. I hope Valve make everythign free – just mix&match your own desgins – everything $1.

  43. Dances to Podcasts says:

    See, this is how you do an interesting post about those dota/moba/whatever games. Not like that LoL non-news from a few days ago.

  44. Phasma Felis says:

    Jesus, Valve! Do you think this is a game?!?!?!?

    No, seriously, your tears are delicious. Can you turn your head so’s I can get a close-up of your glistening cheek, there? There’s really nothing funnier than a grown man losing his life savings in an imaginary pet market crash.