I have been thinking about the Steam Trading Cards quite a bit lately as my free evenings have been spent playing games in order to collect the free card drops for games that have trading cards. I have received quite a few cards and have been selling the duplicates on the steam marketplace. Overall, I think it was an interesting marketing idea but at it's current implementation is a flawed system. As a programmer, I am use to debugging things so figured I would debug the Steam trading card system. Unfortunately, I do not work at Valve so my thoughts will lead to nothing but the exceeding remote chance that someone at Valve will somehow read this post and agree with my opinions.
Marketing wise, I am not sure that the addition of trading cards will actually sway any purchasing decisions very much for most people. That said, interest in the game generated by people playing the game more to gather trading cards will lead other people to buy the game so from an extended sales perspective this system could be potentially valuable. Unfortunately, due to the way the system is designed, it does not really do this but instead focuses on making commission profit from the marketplace. Why do I say this, well lets look at how the cards work.
There are a set of cards for a game, the number of cards varies but I have seen 5 to 15 Half that number of cards are earned by card drops from simply playing the game. This is the brilliant part of the scheme as poorer players earn stuff simply for playing which encourages them to play. There is the problem of people simply running the game and not actually playing it, but I don't consider it a real problem as the vast majority of people will actually play the game. Once the player has earned the drops from the game, they need to trade with other people, buy cards from the market, or wait for booster packs. Booster packs are only eligible to people who have used all their drops. This actually is a good idea. The problem is that the booster packs gives you cards immediately instead of adding more card drops. This means that once you have received all the card drops you never have to play the game again. This means that instead of encouraging players to play games longer and benefit from the word-of-mouth sales from people continuing to play older games, they are only making a few cents of commission from the marketplace when people sell cards.
The obvious solution is to make booster packs card drops. Still, I am not sure this is the best solution. Getting free cards is really nice and encourages people to continually log on to Steam which could lead to more sales. A much better solution is to keep the random booster packs, but also to give people an extra drop each week capped at the half-the-cards limit. People with drops would no longer be eligible for booster packs which would encourage players to play the older games keeping the communities for those games more active and resulting in more sales. While this would mean more people would earn badges, it would also mean more people trading cards on the market so the market commission profit would not go away plus there would be more sales of trading-card related games.
Such a very simple change would actually make the trading card scheme interesting instead of resulting in people simply playing games to gather the trading cards then not bothering with that game anymore.