As part of their ongoing efforts to transform Team Fortress hats into a one-world currency, Valve have just introduced the Steam Community Market, currently in open beta. For the time being, the beta is limited to Team Fortress 2 items, and only crates, keys and consumable items such as tools, tickets, paints or Strange weapon parts can be bought or sold from the Market. According to the official Community Market Steam Group, support for more games will be introduced during the New Year.
The Market itself is designed to expand the Steam economy beyond simple trading, whether it’s in or out of a game. Players can buy or sell in-game items with real money, using digital Steam Wallet funds. Items are placed on sale through a very simple, surprisingly quick process – and purchasing items is just as fast and painless. There’s no support for auctions or bidding, which means you can’t buy items using other items. Only time will tell if Valve will ever add that sort of functionality to the Market; but personally, I don’t think any additional payment options or systems would harm the intuitive, accessible nature of the Market, so long as they were properly integrated within its framework.
In any case, navigation is very smooth (though filter options are badly needed, especially to sort between prices), and it’s incredibly easy to find what you’re looking for, at very affordable prices. Make no mistake: this is a very well-designed, and quite frankly brilliant system. By playing Valve’s free games, and obtaining free items within those games, players can actually make money simply by playing free games. And since Valve collects a minor Steam Transaction Fee from each and every exchange that takes place on the Market (5% of any given Market transaction, with a minimum of 1 cent per each transaction; there’s game-specific transaction fees as well, such as the TF2 Fee, which is 10% of any given TF2 transaction), they are still making quite a bit of money from the Market. A very interesting approach, for sure.
But the real genius of it lies in the fact that through the use Steam Wallet funds (which cannot be exchanged back into real money), the Steam ecosystem remains entirely a closed circuit of sorts – whatever money you make within the Market isn’t going out of the Steam economy. You’re either going to spend it on Steam games or in-game items – which means that no matter what, at the end of the day; the publisher, developer, and the community item creator are all still going to get their fair share. What else can I say, apart from how you can definitely tell they’ve got a very experienced economist on staff at Valve?
So as we can all see, it’s a very well-conceived system which promises numerous benefits for not only the Steam economy, but also for the Steam platform as a whole. I’ll definitely be watching this with great interest. If there’s anything else you’re curious about, then check out Steam Support’s official Community Market FAQ.