Major update: Cor, this didn't go well! Currently the Steam Winter Auction is a big "nope". Head there now and you'll see a message saying there have been "some issues" with it, and it's closed until they can fix it. Those issues, we've heard, are that bugs meant people were getting millions of gems, and the whole economy went kaput. Of course Steam's fervent community was going to find exploits right away, and it looks like they found the mother lode. Quite how Valve will repair everyone's sales, swaps and crafts in the last 12 hours it'll be interesting to find out. I expect a lot of strops.
From today, until next Thursday, Valve has just announced they're running a Steam Auction. This is a way for users to trade ("recycle" they say) unused items in their inventories for "Steam Gems", which can then be used to bid - from next Monday - for games in an auction. Because it's come to this.
I'll be honest - I find Steam utterly bemusing these days. As an online store it's relatively simple to use. Everything beyond that, I feel like a confused old dad staring at the Skylanders pages of the Argos catalogue. I'm delighted it's all there, and I envy those neck deep in the fun it has to offer, but I remain bemused.
So wow, when the muddle of bits and bobs that clutter up the system are now transferable into currency that allows you to bid on 45 minute-long auctions for games, I'm spinning. But that's what's happening. If you've things like trading cards, backgrounds, emoticons (there are emoticons?!), you can exchange them for gems, and then get into the madness of trying to outbid the rest of flipping Steam.
There's going to be a lot of build up here. You can start gathering gems now, either from your current inventory, or from garnering trading cards by playing games (or, let's be honest, just leaving them running in the background). Come Monday at 7.45am PST (15.45 GMT) the crazytimes begin. After 45 minutes, a new round of bidding will begin, and that'll keep looping until Thursday 18th at 10am PST (18.00 GMT). For every round, one of each item on the list gets awarded.
Bids are already building up for the first round, which I suspect is likely to be the most expensive. A copy of CS:GO will currently require you to bid more than 50,800 Gems. There's to be 100 rounds, and 2000 titles included, so 200,000 games to be "won".
What to make of it? There's inherent worth to trading cards, since they can be sold to other Steam users, FOR SOME REASON. But that tends to be a few pennies. So perhaps this is a good way to clear out the cupboards. Sadly it doesn't appear to allow you to get rid of bloody "gifts" for games you've never heard of and no one wants, which I would pay money to be able to get rid of at this point.