Yesterday marks the beginning of yet another seasonal Steam sale. This typically means another themed event to accompany the daily discounts, and this year’s summer sale is no exception, but users who aren’t already enjoying the recently introduced Steam trading cards might be less than thrilled about the nature of this event. The Summer Getaway Sale predictably implements the new feature with the unveiling of ten Summer Getaway trading cards.
Always in search of ways to convince potential customers that Steam is more than a typical online distributor with some neatly packaged digital rights management, Valve has famously made a habit of supplementing its well-known seasonal sales with themed objectives, contests, and other giveaways. Last year’s two big events, however, were arguably lackluster compared to those which had come before, and this isn’t a nostalgia-induced observation.
The Great Steam Treasure Hunt of winter 2010, for example, was a pretty big deal. By completing special objectives related to in-game actions and community participation, Steam users could enter into a series of drawings to win free games. Every two days, twenty people won the top five games from their wish lists; three users then won a hundred games at the end of the event. The Steam Summer Camp Sale in 2011 followed a similar format with a few differences, namely that a single “ticket” was earned for each completed objective. Three of these tickets could then be exchanged for something at the prize booth (e.g., free downloadable content for a Steam game). Each ticket earned also came with automatic entry into another free-game sweepstakes in which 100 people won ten games.
The Great Gift Pile event, which took place the following winter, was perhaps the most notorious Steam event to date. This time, each completed objective came with one of three prizes: a lump of coal, a coupon, or a free game. Seven lumps of coal could then be “crafted” into a non-coal prize, and any remaining lumps of coal at the end of the event were used as entries into yet another Steam game give-away: One lucky person won every game on Steam, 50 won ten games, 100 won five games, and 1,000 won the Valve complete pack. Unfortunately, Humble Indie Bundle 4 was going on at the same time, and the name-your-own-price bundle included Steam keys for some of the games whose achievements were needed to win prizes.
People quickly realized that, by creating dozens of Steam accounts and buying dozens of bundles for $0.01 each, they could vastly increase their odds of getting free stuff without spending a lot of money. All of that free stuff could then be traded back to their main Steam accounts. Because of this easily exploited loophole, Steam ran out of third-party coupons before the event was over, and Humble Bundle was forced to raise the minimum price for Steam keys to $1.00.
Compared to the previous events, the Summer Sale of 2012 was a massive step down. Discounts went on as usual, but the sale was devoid of any contests or cool prizes, possibly due to the previous event’s Humble Bundle shenanigans. Only a few community-based objectives were posted for the duration of the sale, and the only reward for participation was an easily obtained Steam badge. The following Holiday Sale was more of the same.
These last two events did come with a couple of new features which return this summer: Flash Sales which roll over every few hours (like Daily Deals on crack) and a Community’s Choice poll to determine which of three games will go on sale next. It should be noted, however, that the games featured in Flash Sales and Community’s Choice polls always seem to end up as Daily Deals anyway.
So here we are, at the start of another sale, and again there no sweepstakes or contests in sight. Furthermore, with the absence of any specially themed achievements or objectives, it looks like the last remnant of the old Steam events has been swept aside to make room for something presumably more lucrative.
This event’s special badge can only be earned by crafting all ten Summer Getaway trading cards, and these cards can be obtained in a few ways. The easiest is by casting Community’s Choice votes (three of which are good for one card), yielding a maximum of one card per day. Unfortunately, this only works if your Steam level, based on previously collected badges, is five or higher. If not, or if you can’t check into Steam every few hours for the next eleven days, you’ll have to turn to alternative methods: spending money on Steam (which is likely Valve’s favorite option), crafting badges for games you already own (which involves collecting other sets of cards), trading other items for the required cards (which means you need something worth trading), or simply buying the cards from other users on the Steam market (a monetary transaction from which Valve takes a small percentage).
As Valve continues to push the new trading card feature, frequently adding to the list of participating games, it’s possible that the use of trading cards to earn a badge, as opposed to the completion of special achievements, will be the norm in future Steam events.