The main draw of the new Steam Trading Cards system is in the rewards for crafting badges. Cards are used for crafting badges, which grant some great rewards to the user. And the rewards are really quite useful; profile customization allows users to add ‘wallpapers’ to their profile pages, adding something of a personal touch to them, and, while limited at the moment, will be expanded on greatly in the future according to Valve. The increased number of friends is also an obvious advantage for people who have hit the friends list limit. Both features are very welcome, giving some significant benefits to users who take part in the system. What’s the problem then?
Well, an important question stemming from all of this is: why aren’t these features available at the start? Why do we have to spend hours sinking time into various games, some of which we normally would not play at all, in order to unlock arbitrary trading cards to craft into badges to fill up an arbitrary XP bar, just to gain access to these features? If such features can be easily implemented, why would Valve add such pointless, unnecessary barriers? The fact is, the system was not designed with generosity in mind, or to truly benefit users. It was not designed simply to give users access to some awesome new features. The system was designed in order to encourage players to spend longer hours playing games for unlocks, ultimately benefitting Valve, and Valve alone. The result is a system that gives the illusion of ‘progress’ to users, by making them feel like they are receiving new features, when in actuality the system is doing little more than holding said features back and putting up barriers.
This ties in with the whole idea of ‘gamification,’ which has been the subject of much discussion lately. Gamification is the addition of ‘game-like’ features to non-game systems, with the aim of engaging users and encouraging them to spend more time on the system. In essence, it offers ‘game-like’ rewards for completing tasks that a person otherwise may not wish to perform. Steam Trading Cards, for example, rewards playing games with cards, which, when crafted, fill out an XP bar. In theory, this would encourage users to play games more, as they are receiving awards for play.
The problem with this idea, however, and one that Steam Trading Cards runs straight into, is that it does not promote an interest in the game itself; it, instead, simply encourages mindless ‘grinding’ for the reward at the end. When one sinks several hours into a game in order to receive a trading card, badge, achievement, or whatever else, they are not necessarily doing it because of their enjoyment of the game itself; they are simply grinding for the reward at the end. Steam Trading Cards most certainly does not exist to promote a love for games; it, instead, exists to encourage users to sink as much time as they can into games for the sole purpose of receiving an extrinsic reward at the end – a larger friend’s list, or profile customization options. Gamification, as a whole, is a glorified marketing ploy, and Steam Trading Cards is unfortunately no different.
All of that having been said, I am not trying to convince everyone that Valve have suddenly become an evil, money-grubbing corporation out to exploit its users. Valve have obviously done a lot of good for the gaming industry overall. They are most certainly not perfect, however, and their new Trading Cards feature is a very flawed system that should be addressed. In any case, while I don’t expect Valve to do away with the system entirely, I do hope they pay attention to, and work to correct the problems with it in the future.
Any opinions on the arguments I raised? Any possible suggestions for how the system could be improved? Please leave comments in the section below! Keep it polite please.