Steam introduces digital gift cards and a lot of hassle


Can’t think of a decent birthday present for that sort-of-but-not-really friend or distant family member? Don’t worry: Steam has your back. Instead of just giving them some cash that they’ll probably spend on a game anyway, why not show that you care — but not too much — by picking up a digital gift card from Steam? They’re available now, if you’re willing to jump through some hoops.

Essentially, this is just a way to top up a pal’s Steam wallet. You can purchase a digital gift card through Steam, select an amount and the friend you want to send it to, and Steam will deliver it with a personalised message. Accepting the gift will add the funds to their Steam wallet.

There are some restrictions, however. Restrictions that John and I unfortunately had to wrestle with when we tried to test the system.

I asked John to send me a fiver (you can send between £5 and £100) because freelancers need to make their money whatever way they can. Unfortunately, we weren’t already friends, which meant we had to go through the whole rigmarole of finding each other, which didn’t work because both of our profiles were private. Apparently you can’t have privacy and new friendships. Eventually, after jumping through too many hoops, we were pals, but we weren’t done.

It turns out that all this effort was worthless because I wasn’t eligible for the gift in the first place. Steam didn’t offer an immediate explanation of why I wasn’t eligible, and we had to find it elsewhere by searching through Steam’s support page. Great. It turns out that digital gift cards can’t even be sent to friends unless they’ve been your friend for three days. This is obviously to stop fraud, but it’s not remotely clear and, ultimately, means that we couldn’t test the feature properly.

Given that gift cards are pretty lazy gifts, and you’d expect digital versions to require even less effort, this is all incredibly silly. I would never consider putting up with this nonsense when there are still physical Steam gift cards available.

So there you have it: lots of faff. You might as well get someone a thoughtful gift instead.


  1. mcjamieuk says:

    Or just buy them something from their Wishlist – barely any thought required!

    • Premium User Badge

      subdog says:

      That said, buying games from friends’ wishlists should be so much easier.

      The wishlist is buried on your friend’s community page under the innocuous “Games” link, then on a separate Wishlist tab. Then you have to go back to the store (or click Visit Store Page) and buy it like a regular game, except you have to buy it as a gift. And the cart for that transaction can’t include any non-gift purchases, for reasons.

      Then you have to choose which friend to send it to, out of all of your friends. At this step you either remember who the gift was for, or you’re out of luck, because there’s no indication of who wanted the thing in the first place.

      And of course it’s send one game per person, because batch gifting multiple games to a friend or a four-pack to friends all in one go would just be too convenient.

      This could all be solved by just making the friends’ Wishlists easy to get to (also, let’s have wishlists look more like curator lists, so people can say why they want a thing!), including an “Add Gift to Cart” button directly on the Wishlist instead sending you back to the store, and including a Send Gift button for Wishlisted games you already own copies for.

      • Premium User Badge

        Drib says:

        ” there’s no indication of who wanted the thing in the first place. ”

        Doesn’t the gifting through steam dropdown say something like “Wants Bad Rats” on it when it’s wishlisted for that person?

        • Premium User Badge

          subdog says:

          You might be right but the real answer to your question is that nobody wants bad rats so it will remain a mystery.

  2. mitrovarr says:

    I can’t really blame them for the security. They just don’t want to be, or be seen as, the redeeming hub for all the world’s stolen credit cards.

  3. hlm2 says:

    There’s not actually any faff here though is there? Isn’t the point of a private profile to not be found? And the fraud thing makes total sense. This seems like a non article. The hoops are 1: be friends for a while, 2: that’s it. Am I wrong?

    • Fraser Brown says:

      Yes, you are wrong. Obviously I want to be found by people I want to be Steam friends with, and changing my profile every single time I want to do that is a pain. And I’m not disputing that protecting against fraud makes sense. The issue was that it just said I wasn’t eligible, it didn’t explain why. We had to find that out ourselves. Faff. Faff. Faff.

      • Jalan says:

        If Steam’s trade system can have explanations and warnings as to why trades won’t go through for days on end, then this junk deserves similar.

      • asret says:

        You could have sent John a link to your profile. The “Add friend” button there is always available, regardless of privacy settings.

      • FelisCatus says:

        The three-day hold on any form of trading and gifting has been in place since 2015, and you can be found by your friends by setting a vanity URL in your profile settings and providing them with a link to that in whatever social media setting or forum pm you desire.

        It is not Valve’s job to constantly remind people of basic anti-fraud measures that have now been in place long enough that everyone should be aware.

      • hlm2 says:

        What do you want a private profile to do exactly?

  4. kalirion says:

    The dumbest of all – looks like it’s impossible to buy a Steam Wallet Gift Card using your own Steam Wallet.

    • daver4470 says:

      There are actually complex and boring accounting reasons for that prohibition. Long story short, it creates an enormous accounting burden for the company, because you’re acquiring “scrip” (= money that’s not physical money) in exchange for other “scrip”. Which gets weird due to how scrip (gift cards, gift certificates, etc.) is accounted for.

    • LTK says:

      If you want to transfer steam wallet funds from one account to another you can just set up a market transaction, though I suspect you can’t get around having to give Valve a cut that way.

  5. Rane2k says:

    I think this makes a lot of sense. You have to make sure that the system can not be abused as a money laundering machine. There are probably laws in place in several countries that regulate this sort of thing.

    • daver4470 says:

      There are — but the more relevant thing is that there are laws in most developed economies that say if you do certain things relating to holding and dispensing money (which specific things trigger this varies by jurisdiction), you will be legally treated as a bank. And banks are subject to a LOT of regulation, most of which a company more or less can’t meet the standards of unless they’re actually a bank.

  6. Robbobin says:

    While I don’t think I’d ever rush to buy gift vouchers for someone as a first choice and agree with the sentiment it’s a kinda lazy gift, and while actual money is objectively better than vouchers, I actually kinda like receiving vouchers for gifts. I hate buying shit like clothes or games because of that nagging feeling that I should be saving it for something “more important” like bills or a car or something. Vouchers are way more fun to spend than real money, fuck the haters.

  7. gi_ty says:

    This is very useful for me! I can finally buy steam wallet funds for my sons account without having to log in to his account buy the things and the re-log into my own account. It is very convenient for that scenario.

  8. Ivan Ulyanov says:

    This might also be useful for anyone living in a region with lowered pricing, since you can’t just buy games for your friends from more developed countries if you’re, say, in Russia. Even if you were willing to pay the regular price – that is not an option you’re given. I’m guessing this solves that, if in a very unsatisfying way.

  9. Ejia says:

    How does this work across regions, if at all? If someone in the UK bought £50 worth of digital funds for someone in the US, would they get $50, or would they get an amount in whatever the exchange rate Steam uses? Or do they send $50 and pay however much that is in pounds?

  10. alms says:

    Unfortunately, we weren’t already friends, which meant we had to go through the whole rigmarole of finding each other, which didn’t work because both of our profiles were private. Apparently you can’t have privacy and new friendships.

    Huh? you just need to copy paste the link to your community profile, whose URL is fixed even if your profile is private.

  11. April March says:

    So in order to do something on Steam it’s needlessly complicated and in the end it doesn’t even work. Must be a Tuesday.

  12. Lobotomist says:

    But I clearly remember getting Steam Gift cards as rewards on some Twitch competitions ? And it was year ago …

    These cards worked for everyone.

    So what are these now ?

  13. Spoon Of Doom says:

    You can add people without setting your profile to public. And complaining that a private profile can’t be found publicly seems kind of… silly? What were you expecting?

    And that it didn’t immediately explain why you weren’t eligible seems like a minor UI flaw, that I estimate 80 to 90 percent of people who use this won’t even encounter, because the premise of
    1. I use Steam
    2. My friend uses Steam and I know it
    3. I know they play enough to warrant buying them a Steam gift card
    makes it highly likely that I’m already Steam friends with them, I’d think. And if all that didn’t apply, I’d be more likely to buy either a physical gift card or a gift code from some reseller instead, imho. If I’m not friends with someone on Steam, I won’t change that just because I want to buy them some store credit.

    Describing having to be friends for longer than three days and looking up a support page if something goes wrong seems pretty exaggerated.

    Maybe (hopefully) I’m wrong, but I have a feeling that the overall tone of RPS is getting more and more negative, sometimes, like in this article, feeling like they’re just looking for the most pessimistic angle on a topic. And that’s not even going into the whole “gift cards are lazy and you’re a bad friend if you gift them” thing.

  14. Ross Angus says:

    I’ve just used this, in the past:

    link to

    (Summer sale still on, you say? Interesting)