How to make money through Steam Trading Cards

The Steam Summer Sale is fast approaching and it wants to burn a hole in your wallet, so why not reinforce your pockets with a bit of free virtual money? Valve’s recently-released Trading Card system allows users to earn Steam Wallet funds simply by playing a game. In this post, we will explore a few tips for making money from the Trading Cards system, but we’ll start with the basics.

How do Steam Trading Cards work?

Steam Trading Cards can be earned by playing a supported game through Steam for a certain amount of time. Each supported game features several cards and each person can earn half of the full set of cards for each game. Supported games include FTL: Faster Than Light, The Binding of Isaac, Borderlands 2, Dota 2, Portal 2, Monaco and many more, with new titles being added every Wednesday, approximately one hour after the Daily Deal update.

You can find which cards you are eligable to earn by going to your ‘Badges’ page under your profile. If you collect a full set of cards for a game, you can craft them into a badge to recieve XP for your profile level, a profile background, a chat emote and a voucher. Every game also has rare foil cards which have a very small chance of dropping. Collecting a full set of foil cards will earn you a foil badge along with the aforementioned rewards.

Finally, players can also earn booster packs for each of the games they have collected all of their card drops for. You can check your booster pack eligability for a certain game by clicking one of the “How do I earn card drops?” links on your badge page. Opening a booster pack will give you three random cards for the game the pack is themed for and you can earn them randomly by being active on Steam.

Earning Trading Cards

As I have already mentioned, you can earn trading cards by playing the game they are themed around. If a game has 5 card drops, you can probably play it for a few hours to earn your 5 cards and then after that no more cards will drop but you will be eligable to earn a booster pack for that game. Here are some tips for earning cards.

  • You don’t actually have to play the game. As long as the game is showing up as the game you’re currently playing (which you can see by checking your friends list and seeing the game name under your username), the system will think you’re playing, and so you could have the game open in a window while you do something else.
  • Splash screens count. Some games such as Saint’s Row The Third and Borderlands 2 have splash screens that come up before you launch the game. While you’re on these screens, Steam will still say you’re playing the game and so you’ll still be able to earn cards. This means you don’t actually have to have the full game open for some games and you can free up some memory usage for any other programs you might want to use.
  • You are notified whenever you earn a card (unless you’re in a full-screen game). A little pop-up will appear indiciating that a new item has appeared in your inventory. If you are in a full-screen game and you exit or tab out, you’ll see how many cards you’ve earned from the envelope icon in the top-right of the Steam client.
  • Playing multiple games at once slows down card drops. This was revealed by one of the Trading Card mods from Valve and it means you should only ever have one Steam game open if you’re trying to earn cards. The rate at which the drops are reduced when multiple games are detected is supposedly significant.

Magicka Trading Cards – Source: Steam

Selling Trading Cards

Every Steam Trading Card is fully tradable through Steam trading and marketable on the Steam Market, with the latter offering a quick and easy way to turn your cards into Steam credit. You can find the current market price for a card by going to the Steam Market and typing in either the card name or the name of the game the card belongs to.

The market page for each card will show the current lowest market price, a chart of sales history and a long list of people selling the card with their respective prices. You can set your price when you attempt to sell a card, and the interface will show you exactly how much money you will earn from the card when Valve’s cut is deducted from the total.

Before selling any card you should:

  • Make a plan for the cards that belong to the game in question. Before you sell any cards, would you like to attempt to build a badge from a full set? This requires you to either trade for the remaining cards or buy them from the Steam market, either way you’re unlikely to get them for free. The rewards could pay off, however, as you could get a rare emote or background which, in some rare cases, could be sold for more money than the cards would have been worth. It’s always worth looking at the current market value of the cards, emotes and backgrounds to work out what would be best, although selling the cards straight away would likely be the best option in terms of profit.
  • Don’t go too low. Although setting your price low ensures that people will snap up the cards quickly, it also means that you will earn less money per card and it can be damaging to the value of the card if others decide to try and beat your price. It is recommended to refresh the market page the moment before you sell your card and set your price either the same as the current value or a few pennies lower. Keep in mind that if you’re selling your cards around the time that they start to go up on the market (every Wednesday), the price can quickly drop and change within seconds of your market placement.
  • Don’t go too high. This sounds obvious, but it is always tempting to go above the current market value when you believe the value may go up. If the cards have been on the market for more than a few days, they will likely have found their value. The Team Fortress 2 cards, for example, have been around 15p for weeks and haven’t varied much from that value. The only time it is worth trying to go above the market value is around the time the cards are released as the value may change drastically for the first few hours.
  • Keep in mind that not all cards are worth the same. The value of the cards depend on a few things with the main factors being the amount of cards in the set (less cards = more value per card) and the value of the game (Free-to-Play and Indie Bundle games have less value than more recent full-priced games like Monaco and Don’t Starve). These prices are often also reflected in the emotes and backgrounds for the game.

Foil Cards

Foil cards are expensive. A quick market search for ‘Foil’ reveals prices ranging from £1 to £20 for a single card (and those are based on prices people have actually payed for the cards). Because of this, it is certainly not worth attempting to craft a foil badge and so all foil cards should ideally be sold on the marketplace. These cards can go for very high prices and the values will change a lot near the release of the cards, but later the value will usually come to a halt. Foils are rare, but if you find one you can certainly use it to bag yourself some extra money.

Booster Packs

Booster packs require a bit of planning and a little bit of maths before you open one. Each pack contains 3 cards and they can drop foils, but sometimes the packs are worth a lot more than three of the cards sold individually. At this point you should think about the difference in profit between opening a pack to sell 3 non-foil cards and the price of a booster pack on its own. You can use this difference in price to determine if you would like to take a gamble by opening a pack in an attempt to earn a foil, in which case opening a pack would be entirely worth it. However, it is worth keeping in mind that foil drops from booster packs are also extremely rare.


Steam Trading Cards are strange but wonderful, offering you the chance to earn Steam credit simply by playing a game. A lot of these money-making tips are common sense, but there is a fair bit of strategy to making the most out of your limited card drops too. I wrote this post to hopefully introduce some people to the concept of selling cards for profit and I hope you’ve found it useful. Feel free to use the comments section to discuss trading cards and ask any questions you may have.

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