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Team Fortress 2 item traders panicking as loot box 'glitch' crashes market

An apparent Team Fortress 2 glitch seems to be making certain rare items far more common than usual, those ‘Unusual’ items with unique particle effects. If you want some pretty particles, now’s a great time for you. But because TF2 is part of the sprawling Steam economy of trading, hoarding, and selling items as much as it is a multiplayer FPS, this is sparking panic right now too. One hat that was selling for £60-127 in the past month, for example, is now common enough to go for £24. Some traders are trying to band together to slow the harm, uncertain if Valve will fix it. But, y’know, if you do want yourself a nice hat…

“WARNING/PSA Don’t trade for any TF2 items at this time – a serious economy flaw exists where certain unboxes are guaranteeing Unusuals,” declares a pinned thread on Reddit’s unofficial TF2 forum.

In English: the game has many different loot box ‘Crates’, and specific ones seem to currently be giving Unusual-rarity items every time.

Unusual items are highly desirable for their particle effects, and in Steam’s weird market just being rare makes them valuable. Steam items can be treated more as currency than actual in-game items to be used, a wad of digicash with a wavering value. With the current Crate oddity meaning many Unusual items are flooding the market, their prices have crashed.

“It is currently not recommended to trade for anything at this time,” the thread warns, and many posters echo. “Real world money trades, although they’ve never been sanctioned by Valve outside of the Steam Community Market, are especially hazardous at this time.”

I find the Steam Community Market an odd and questionable thing, an underground stock market driven by speculators, manipulators, hoarders, and just plain weirdness. The forbidden double-underground market of selling items off-Steam for real cash, rather than just store credit on Steam, is especially iffy. That’s part of what made skin gambling such a legal and ethical mess.

I understand playing the Community Market is an actual job for some people, a way to help fund buying new games for others, and just a bit of fun for others still. I don’t get it, and I don’t like the serious traders driving up prices of wizard hats I might fancy, but I do recognise it as a thing many people enjoy for various reasons. For some of those people, this is disastrous. For other traders, it’s a new opportunity to exploit.

On the lower end of the scale, check out the past month of sales for an Unusual Glengarry Bonnet with the ‘Dead Presidents’ shower of dollar cash. Up until 7am this morning, 23 of these had been bought across the month at prices between £14.46 and £41.10. Since then, 37 of the hats have been bought, with the downward slope starting at £10.73 then seeming settling around £4 for the past few hours.

For rare hats, this can be a huge drop in sale value. Check out the past month of an Unusual Team Captain with the pastel glow of ‘Miami Nights’. One sold for £127 earlier this month. Today they’re going for a median of £24, and still falling.

While several community-run trading sites have temporarily disabled trading or storing Unusual items, trying to reduce what they see as damage, evidently plenty of other folks are using this opportunity to flood the market with cheap Unusual items. Some traders are hoping Valve will soon fix this, freeze the market, disable the items, or maybe even roll it back.

I’ve asked Valve for more about the issue and what (if anything) they plan to do about it, and will let you know if I hear anything juicy back. Once they wake up. All this has happened in the middle of the night for Valve over there in Washington state.

I do feel for people who’ve lost hundreds of pounds of virtual value in this crash, but such an upset was clearly inevitable. A market selling hats for video game wizards is not a sound or stable long-term financial investment. And to hell with it. These are hats for video games, which will now be worn by more fashionistas while actually playing.

The glitch benefits people who are denied pretty hats by the god damn loathsome loot box market which overran TF2 years ago. It’s inadvertently helping correct the mistake Valve made with all this lousy Crate crud in the first place. If only it were intentional.

If you’re looking to pick up Unusual items on the cheap, hit the Steam Community Market now – who knows how long the opportunity will last?

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Alice O'Connor

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When not writing news, Alice may be found in the sea.

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