I should hate and fear the concept of Steam's virtual trading cards, decrying them as merely a cynical ploy to sell more games. Yet for some reason there's this itch somewhere towards the back of my brain. Actually it's less an itch, and more like a single finger prodding the part of it that makes me desire new mobile phones and graphics cards that are barely any better in practice than the ones I own already, and causing me to think want, want, want, want, want, want. I don't quite know why. It's something to do with the fact that there is a thing I could collect, and it's going to happen with undue amounts of effort. Even more so, now that these win-by-playing digi-tchotchkes are rolling out of beta and into broad public availability tomorrow.
That's a very short beta period by Valve standards. Perhaps they've tightened up Valve time? As a result, I'm going to alter my estimate of Half-Life 3's release year from 3142 to 2115.
While the trading cards will indeed be out of beta as of Wednesday, sounds like Valve are planning much more for them yet. "We'll be continuing to iterate on existing features and add new ones after the release. There are a few things we have talked about previously that we really wanted to get to, that have now been pushed till post release - Trade Offers, and the Card Binder. They will still get done we just don't have an exact timeline on that."
The ultimate purpose of the trading cards is a little nebulous, but if you collect a complete set of one game's cards, you can create a badge. Once you create a badge, it'll help upgrade your Steam profile, which means um well. Though there is a chance of 'winning' discount coupons. There's also trading with other players to try and get hold of rarer cards. Some cards can also be sold for real money, which I suspect will quickly become a huge after-market. Full details at the FAQ.
Essentially, it's a Steam-wide meta-RPG that's brazenly evailing itself our lizard-brain fondness for compulsion loops. And while I think it's somewhat exploitative, I also think it sounds like a whole lot more fun than Achievements.