Sharks, hustlers, and earbuds - The hidden world of Steam trading

James used another tool, called an inventory scanner, to browse the complete inventories and friends lists of any given player or group.

“By doing this you could do stuff like scan groups of people who were Sam and Max fans, because [Max’s Severed Head] is an item that’s worth like 2.7 Earbuds [close to $100], and it was given to people who pre-ordered Sam and Max on Steam. Or you could scan for people who were Mac users, because Earbuds were given to every Mac user who played TF2 at the time it was released for Mac.”

Once these sought-after users were discovered, a shark could simply send them trade requests or friend invites and suss out who among them were unaware of the value of their items. Then, they could talk them into trading away their valuable items in exchange for items worth much less.

I wonder if I have any rad hats. I do get harassed a lot for trades

I have dozens of those steam cards. I have no idea what I’m supposed to do with them. Apparently people buy and sell them?

I just block any unsolicited friend invites that aren’t from Qt3 or RPS members these days. Though I did get my (then quite expensive) DotA 2 key in exchange for a hat.

Sell them man! Think of it as discount coupons that Valve gives you for playing games. Each is usually worth anywhere from 4 to 20 cents. It adds up. I’ve gotten a few indie games for “free” using money I received from selling these cards.

Fascinating. Great article.

I got into this trading stuff a bit when Steam Trading Cards were introduced. Ended up with enough playmoney to have only spent 50 cents on Steam in the last year. Wasn’t worth the time it took at all though (especially when considering all the attempted scams/sharks/worthless haggling), but I had fun swapping artificially scarce virtual pixels with people.

Valve makes it pretty easy to earn extra Steam credit without doing any real work. They often discount their ingame Store items, and then you can resell them on the market later after the sale is over. Gun Hat Stickers with team logos for a recent Counter-Strike tournament were 25 cents each. They’re selling on the market for $3 now. One of my friends spent almost $1,000 on them and resold them all for what’ll likely be a lifetime supply of games.

You can mark your profile and/or inventory as private. That stops them unless you put an interesting item on the marketplace :)

If you click on the items in your inventory it should say if they’re worth anything at the bottom right. New feature.

I traded my earbuds for a copy of Space Marine.

A long while ago I was contacted by someone after my Sam and Max items. I was surprised, to say the least. I was suspicious, but somehow he ended up offered me whatever I wanted, so I decided to call his bluff and aim big and just choose a game on the front page of steam. He accepted and soon I was the owner of a recently released Batman Arkham Asylum. I was so exciting about getting a full price game that I threw in a bunch of other crappy items.

Found out the next day the Hat + gun was worth two or three times that :’(

The guy hasn’t been online since the day he traded me. I like to think he ran off with the ‘money’ into the sunset.

edit: But at least I traded for a game I considered one the best that year, rather than Space Marine. :P

I always sell my cards as soon as I get them. I think the most I ever got for a card was like $1.00, and most cards I sell come in under $.10.

I unlocked a rare Dota2 item during the last steam sale worth around $200. It took about 10 minutes before I found myself with a whole bunch of new people trying to be my steam friend.

Can anyone tell me what the earbuds do/are that they’re a defacto currency unit?

They’re a set commodity. You could only legitimately get them if you installed and played TF2 on a Mac when that version launched.

Unlike something like the Sam & Max hat though, they’re also plentiful enough to be traded back and forth.

I remember I had Earbuds and also the full Sam & Max pack. When Steam added trading functionality I ended up selling these items and all of my other ones (I think I had all of the Pyro hats at the time and lots of others as well) for about $150. Needless to say, I was extremely happy, though I have the impression that they would be worth quite a bit more these days.