A few days ago, members of the Steam community schemed to rig the Steam Summer Adventure competition, a metagame running in parallel with Valve s 12-day Summer Sale. Surprisingly, it wasn t the sort of malicious plan you might expect, but a kind of cease-fire alliance meant to bring equal victory to everyone on Steam. As intended, Team Pink won Sunday. Blue won Monday. Purple will win next, if things go smoothly. On Wednesday, a Red victory is scheduled, then Green.
Is a small collective actually having this big of an influence on a Steam-wide, public competition? Valve has already amended the contest to encourage more competition. I took a look at the evidence and spoke to a few of the people caught up in the dark business of virtual trading card market-manipulation. How Valve makes money from the metagame First, a run-down of how the Steam Summer Adventure works if you ve been blissfully unaware over the past week, buying and playing discounted PC games rather than being concerned with your gamified game client. Most of Steam s seasonal sales have included a unique trading card set. Craft a full set of these seasonal cards, and you get something like a unique wallpaper or Steam chat emoticon or in-game reward for a few participating games. The 2014 Steam Summer Sale has its own special set of cards you can badge-ify, but with a twist: participating Steam users are randomly assigned to one of five teams during the sale: Red, Pink, Purple, Blue, or Green. Crafting a badge earns points for your team, and 30 members of the winning team get three free Steam games off their wishlists. Oh, and a few extra cards that they can use to keep crafting.
In review: buying games earns virtual cards which can be crafted into virtual badges which increase the rate at which you earn booster packs which contain cards which you can use to upgrade your badges. It s a circular system designed to keep you inside the Steam client, either nickel and diming you to complete your incomplete set of cards or by selling the cards you ve been given to encourage you to spend that money on a game.
A competition to see who can craft the most badges, of course, makes money directly for Valve and developers by creating more activity on the Steam Market. Valve takes a 5% cut of all transactions, and the developer of the corresponding game takes 10% (a minimum of $0.01 in both cases).
If I sold one of my Steam Summer Adventure cards for its current value, $0.25, Valve would take three pennies and I d get $0.22. The Steam Market tells me that 91,650 copies of that card have been sold in the past 24 hours, meaning Valve s profit of a single Summer Adventure card in a single day could be about $2,800. There are 10 of these cards, and another 10 foil variants, which run about $2 each.
The community s plan Bottom line: we celebrate Steam s price cuts, but in the middle of the Summer Sale Valve has integrated a system that stimulates the Steam economy and nets them thousands of dollars a day from virtual, non-existent goods. Many cards and booster packs have risen in price throughout the sale; Dota 2 booster packs, for example, went from trading consistently at about $0.25 for the past month to hovering near $0.40 over the past six days.
The more trading volume and competition, the more the house wins. But a segment of the Steam community is wise to this. They know that a 12-day period when a five-dollar bill can get you our favorite PC game of all time isn t the best time to be engaged in what s essentially a spending war. So to discourage, or at least mitigate, frivolous trading card spending, some Redditors and Steam forum members have organized a coalition to take competition out of the equation. They ve called themselves Team White, and they ve proposed that each Steam team should win twice, on designated days, through June 28.
I spoke to one of the initial organizers behind the plan, Reddit user DayZ_slayer. It's not really a fun competition when the only real way to win is to spend a lot of cash, the European 20-year-old told me. If they did some kind of event that involved playing games it would be a lot more fun to compete, but they didn't, so I figured we all may as well work as a group and give everyone a fair chance at winning some games.
This seemed to arise naturally, according to DayZ_slayer: many of the teams who had organized individually were planning to compete harder on specific days, he told me, so suggesting that the colored teams take turns simply formalized that process. I checked the Steam groups/subreddits for the teams and saw which days they were planning on winning, the first five days or so didn't really clash. I made the list showing who should craft on what day and then posted it on all of the team's subreddits under the name Operation EWT. A little later I made the thread on /r/gaming and some other guy posted it to /r/steam.
I also spoke to Phil Lendon, a 16-year-old living in England who s bought into the concept of Team White. I first noticed the schedule on Reddit on /r/SteamTeamRed which then spread to /r/Steam and I thought it was a really good idea because here on Team Red we're all about teamwork and communication. When I asked Lendon how much he s spent toward the contest, he told me that he s traded hundreds of pounds to support Red on Wednesday. Too much that it's unhealthy, he says.
Valve's response Up until today, the plan had gone smoothly. Each team won on its designated day. But today the plan is showing signs of falling apart. Valve, apparently unhappy with the lack of competition between teams, changed the contest to award second- and third-place prizes to the runners-up each day. Purple may still come away with first place, but at the outset of today it s already a tight race between the colors. The game has changed, a post on the Purple team subreddit reads. We need to let purple win but go for second, a member of team Red comments. "What the heck guys? It's purple's day!" a Pink thread exclaims. Lendon, the Red team member I spoke to, wrote back to me this morning after he noticed Valve's change to the competition. "It's turned into a free-for-all, once I had heard of the news I knew it was going to go to hell. However, I believe, as many other Redditors do too, that the new rules for the competition were to prevent the rigging of the competition, as we saw yesterday when Pink one with over a million points above everyone else, Valve had to take action. However, I personally don't believe the changes to the rules are even worth it, as people's chances are even more reduces to win, as-if it wasn't hard enough already to get a winning three games, it'll be even harder for the 2nd place and 3rd place and not even worth the effort."
It s unclear whether this change will encourage competition enough to disrupt Reddit s plan. On the surface, it seemed wild to me that a small percentage of people could be driving the massive point swings we saw in the initial four days. After all, there s only a few hundred people each in these colored Steam groups, and just 140,000 on the Steam subreddit, most of whom probably aren t aggressively participating.
But the Steam Market tells us that just a small number of tokens that steal 1,000 points from another team the most valuable item for influencing the Adventure competition are trading hands. In the past 24 hours, just 88 have been bought off the Steam Market at between $8 and $5 each, and about the same amount of 500-point tokens were sold in that period. Even if a single team were buying those tokens, it isn t that much of a swing relative to the 1.2 million that the Blue team earned yesterday.
More likely, the organized non-competition pact by Reddit and the color-specific Steam communities created single, dominant leader, which not only discouraged the other big spenders who are engaged in this competition but probably discouraged some amount of casual crafters from chipping in too.
With the adjustment made by Valve, today will be an interesting test of the internet s ability to dictate the outcome. Purple, who s meant to win today, has a modest lead as I m publishing this, but we ll have to see if the Steam Trading Card Illuminati s grand plan survives through the week.
After a one-week hiatus, Chatty Twitch Highlights returns with great vengeance and furious anger! And in this post-E3, Steam Summer Sale world we're currently living in, there are plenty of highlights to be found. And there's no better game to lead off with than Battlefield Hardline before cringing through Outlast and taking it home with a good old-fashioned Team Fortress 2 Shackbattle.
Here's a compilation of some of the best Shacknews Twitch highlights for the week of June 21, 2014.
Every Friday, the PC Gamer team reactivate their opinion circuits to bring you their best and worst moments from the week of digital entertainment. We ll start with the good news THE HIGHS Phil Savage At the start of the week, Valve updated the TF2 site with a countdown clock. It was enough to reignite my interest in the game, and fill its fans with a joyous sense of silliness and light-hearted conspiracy. There's an incredible circus that emerges around Valve's updates they're events, because they're filled with the possibility that anything could happen. This time, the rumour was bread, and that meant a week of wheat-based humour that culminated in an epic, funny and surprising short film. It also resulted in an actual TF2 update, but we'll get to that on the next page...
Ben Griffin Mr. Tom Senior introduced me to a handy website this week. It s called Logical Increments and it s amazing. This massively helpful resource is meant for those brave souls about to embark on custom PC construction, compiling all the parts they ll ever need (motherboard, CPU, etc.) and ranking them in terms of price and power.
It was only late 2012 I splashed a few grand on the PC of my dreams. I went for the best of everything: 120hz monitor, Cyborg R.A.T. 7 mouse, dual GTX 680s, 16GB RAM, Astro A40 headset. According to Logical Increments, however, my PC is merely exceptional . That s only one step above outstanding ! Still, despite pouring my life savings into slightly more frames in Battlefield 3 (I wish that were a joke), I don t regret a thing. Now excuse me while I weep into my cold soup.
Samuel Roberts: The Steam Summer Sale is here! And we re all in big trouble. I ve set aside about 50/$80 for what feels like one of the most significant events in our calendar now, and I m not sure exactly what I m expecting out of it. I m hoping to pick up Saints Row IV, Rust and maybe Wolfenstein at a reasonable price not to mention a dozen more games that are likely to sit on my hard-drive unplayed for the next three years. It s raw capitalism, baby. It s not what people need it s what people want!
Cory Banks: The Steam Sale is a great way to pick up some old classics you may not have played before, and the one I'd recommend just came back to Valve's service: Fallout. The early games in the series were absent from the service for six months, as Bethesda and Interplay argued over rights issues in court. That's all over, thanks to a $2 billion settlement, and now Fallout, Fallout 2, and Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel are all back on Steam (and GOG, too). Even better: as I write this, you can buy all three games on Steam for $13.
Andy Kelly: Thank you, Valve, for adding buy orders to Steam. As someone who regularly sells trading cards, this will make all those tiny amounts of internet coins trickle into my imaginary wallet a lot faster. I made 5.60 this week by selling cards, enough to buy brilliant adventure game The Last Express. Free game! Sort of. Buy orders means Steam players can set up a standing order for a particular card or hat, and they ll buy it as soon as it s listed. This means I don t have to put something on the market and wait patiently for one of these mysterious people who buy Steam cards to stumble upon my listing.
Wes Fenlon: I've spent a good chunk of this week thinking about Pillars of Eternity. Sam and I both had a chance to see a demo of the game at E3, which I wrote a preview of here. The demo was short and sweet and left me wanting to know much more about the game than it told me. I have no idea how long its quest will be, or how its writing and story will measure up to its forbears. But I could tell that the engine Obsidian has built looks fantastic, a modern take on classic isometric 2D, and I've been imagining what that could mean for the next five years of RPGs. The upcoming Torment: Tides of Numenera is also using Obsidian's technology. Could we see a new gorgeous isometric RPG build on what Obsidian has started year after year?
THE LOWS Andy Kelly: This is the first ever Steam sale I haven t been excited by. Not that there aren t some brilliant deals Far Cry 3 for less than the price of a pint of premium lager was pretty good but because I just have too many games already. Years of Steam sales and Humble Bundles have left my games library bloated and overfed. By a rough count, I have almost 200 games I ve either never played, or played for five minutes. And good games, too. Ones that deserve my attention. So I m not taking part in the Steam sale this year. Even if there s a really, really good deal, I m ignoring it. Because my library is getting out of control, and my pile of shame is more like a tower of shame. A ziggurat of shame. A temple of shame. But it s also quite nice not to have to feel that sting of guilt after spending spurious pounds on a game I probably won t get around to playing for a year. My wallet is safe this summer.
Cory Banks: During E3, BioWare producer Cameron Lee told us that Dragon Age: Inquisition would have "40 major endings." It might have been an overstatement to say "major," though. This week, BioWare's Mark Darrah clarified that "major" doesn't mean "unique," and that the game will only have a few completely different endings. It's not a huge deal by any means, but I do think it's important for BioWare to not lead people astray on this point. Mass Effect fans are still (still!) angry about the cookie-cutter endings for their Shepards, and Inquisition is a nice opportunity for BioWare to make some amends. If I'm controlling a character and making choices, I want those choices to matter. It sounds like they still will, but overstate things.
Phil Savage: I love TF2. I've played it for 300+ hours since Steam started tracking that sort of thing, and an unknowable period before then. It is, in no conceivable way, a 'low'. But when this week's Love & War update was released, I was filled with a sense of is this it? Yes, the new weapons are interesting, and yes, the new taunts have resulted in constant mid-battle conga lines these are both good things. But I remember these updates were deserving of the effort the community put into celebrating them. New modes created new considerations for each class, new maps directed battles in unexpected ways, and new weapons had a clear purpose and class-focused theme. It s starting to seem as if Valve are better at the things around each update the comics and films than at knowing what to put in their game.
Samuel Roberts: The amount of drama over the Watch Dogs E3 2012 rendering options locked away was kind of baffling a load of people decided Ubisoft didn t include it in the finished product to spite PC players, but unlocking it, according to Ubisoft, creates a load of performance issues that puts the game into a less playable state. Watch Dogs undoubtedly shipped with its fair share of issues on PC uPlay being my biggest bugbear but I m not convinced this instance warranted quite as many tinfoil hat conspiracy theories.
Wes Fenlon: This is a bit off the beaten path, but I was sad to see a headline this week that Phantasy Star Online 2 has been brought down by a DDOS attack. The entire MMO is currently down, and it could be days before Sega is able to get it online again. That sucks for dedicated players, but it also reminds me that PSO2 has been conspicuously absent in the west for a good two years now. Sega said they were going to bring it over, and then...nothing. It's been more than a year since PSO2 was scheduled for a US release. What happened, Sega? Is an official western release ever happening?