Steam trading cards are currently in beta, and they’re really weird. An adjacent but separate system to achievements, they land silently in your Steam inventory as you play. Some are earned in-game, others through trading, and all can lead to rewards when you have a full set - Steam XP, emoticons, backgrounds, and occasional discounts.
Bar an arbitrary Friends list cap, our Tim found the new system to be fun and friendly. But that was before today’s addition to the Trading Cards FAQ, which reveals a direct correlation between cash spent in free-to-play games and cards earnt.
The FAQ now states that free-to-play Steam games will drop related cards at a rate dependent on your purchasing history.
“If you've made purchases in-game prior to the Steam Trading Card Beta, or if you purchased TF2 prior to the Free to Play Update, you'll have 4 or 5 drops available for these games,” write Valve.
“You'll receive more card drops when you buy items in game, approximately one card drop for every $9 USD spent.”
The system would appear to allow players to circumvent the ‘trading’ segment of card-collecting, if they’re willing to pay for it.
Cards are also listed on the Steam Marketplace, with prices ranging from 40-50p to £30 for foil varients.
The move isn’t entirely unprecedented for Valve - in the past, they’ve used Steam achievements as incentive for the purchase of particular games during Steam holiday sales. And it’s worth remembering that a beta is just that - everything is subject to change.