An (Almost) Complete Guide to Making Money on Steam

An (Almost) Complete Guide to Making Money on Steam

This article will primarily talk about the money to be made buying and selling Steam trading cards. For convenience let’s just call them Steam cards from here on. Also for convenience, mostly mine, the steam-logoprimary currency used will be Philippine Peso (PHP). That’s because my Steam account is in PHP and so all of my trades are in PHP. I’ll occasionally refer to a USD equivalent to provide an easier reference to judge a transaction.

There are other ways to make money on Steam. To be honest though I’ve only thoroughly explored the buying and selling of Steam cards. Update: I also post occasional Steam Market tips and observations.

Steam Market Analysis

  1. Cyclical slump (March 2017)
  2. Change in Steam Email Confirmation (January 2017)
  3. Market Crash (November 2016)
  4. Market Behavior During Steam Sales (August 2016)
  5. Prison Architect Steam Cards rise by more than 100% (June 2016)
  6. Gem price stabilizes (May 2016)
  7. Price of Gems up by by around 50% (April 2016)
  8. Loser markets (April 2016)
  9. Account currency (March 2016)
  10. Steam down (March 2016)
  11. Card prices go up (March 2016)
  12. Confirmation needed for steam sales (March 2016)
  13. Xcom2 Cards in a Slump (March 2016)

What are these Steam trading cards and how do I get them?

Most games offered on Steam have virtual trading cards which consist of an event or character from that game. Steam cards are basically like all of the other trading cards you’re familiar with, sports trading cards, comic book character trading cards, etc. One big difference though is that Steam cards are virtual, you’ll never get to hold a copy of the Civilization V Trading card Science Advisor, for example.

You receive Steam cards by simply playing the games on Steam which offer these Steam cards. These card drops happen randomly and you’re only eligible for a certain number of card drops.

If you’ve spent any amount of time in Steam you probably already have some Steam cards. In Steam, click your Profile Name (after Community) and select Badges. There you’ll see all of your cards segregated by game.

Steam Game Badges
Steam Game Badges

Alternately you can also select Profile Name then Inventory to see your cards.

Of course, you can also buy Steam cards through the Steam Marketplace. Select Community then Market.

How much money/income are we talking about?

Not much. Let’s say I buy a Steam card for PHP5 (around that’s around USD.09) and sell it for PHP5.5 (around USD.12) that’s still only a profit of 50 cents (PHP). Even if I had a thousand of those transactions (that’s a heck of a lot of buying and selling) I’ve only made PHP500.

You’re definitely not going to be putting your children through school with Steam Cards.

Also, any money you make is simply credit to your Steam account, you can’t withdraw the money and convert it into actual cash.

Why do it then?

For one, the return on investment (ROI) is crazy high, between 5-15% after 7 days. The example above (buy at PHP5, sell at PHP5.5) is about the average ROI after you have some experience with Steam Cards. With a bit more experience you could sell the cards for higher, around 15-20% ROI, but you have to know your markets pretty well (see below).

I can’t think of any investment which would give you a 10% ROI after 1 week. Most transactions which offer that kind of return in that time frame are scams, ponzi schemes or other fleecing machinations.

Two, it’s better than checking Facebook or Instagram or Twitter obsessively every couple of hours. Now I just check Steam obsessively every couple of hours.

So it’s a hobby. One to fuss over when life gets annoying.

Let’s Get Started!

1. Buy Low – Sell High

The gist of making money with Steam cards is the same as any other commodity. Buy them cheap and sell them at a higher price. Commerce is commerce and the same basic rules which apply to physical goods also hold true for virtual goods.

That said, you need to have a sense of what’s a low price and a high price for that particular card. Many Steam cards fluctuate in a predictable price range band. For example, the average price of a card may range from PHP8-PHP11.

To discover the price range you’ll need to observe the behavior of a card over several days. Sure you can check its trading history but there’s nothing like looking up the price several times a day to make that price range stick in your head.

Look for cards with a predictable price range with frequent dips and climbs. Those are good cards to buy and sell.

For example, check out the price band of Elizabeth I from Civilization V. Assuming you bought the card at PHP1.6 and then sold it at PHP2.5 that’s a profit of .9 or around a 56% ROI. Not bad!

Lots of activity with this Civ V Steam card.
Lots of activity with this Civ V Steam card.

2. Transaction fee – Seven Day Wait

All purchases of Steam Cards are subject to a 15% fee which Steam adds to your purchase price. For example,if  you want to sell a card at PHP1, the actual selling price which everyone will see is PHP1.15.

15% is quite a hefty fee and you need to take that into consideration when you buy a card. You could buy a card at PHP6 and, based on the prices you’ve seen, you think you can sell it for PHP6.15, a small margin but a profit just the same. But if you set your price at PHP6.15, the actual selling price would be PHP7.07!

Many transactions which look good will actually end up losing you money once you take into consideration the Steam fee.

All purchases of Steam Cards are also subject to a 7 day hold before you can sell them on the Steam market or trade them. This 1 week hold negates any quick turn around plans you might have for your Steam cards.

Steam cards will become available for sale/trade at the same time every day. In Philippine time it’s 4:00pm. So if you bought cards on March 1, they would be available for sale/trade starting 4pm on March 8.

3. Find your markets – Know your markets

I tend to look at each game as being a separate market. Usually all the Steam cards of one game will trade in around the same price brand. There are exceptions of course but as a general rule most Steam cards of the same game will be similarly priced.

Most of the Steam Cards for Xcom are similarly priced.
Most of the Steam Cards for Xcom are similarly priced.

Before dipping your toes in a new market, observe the price fluctuations for a couple of days. It’s critical you get a sense of the price band of the Steam cards you’re interested in.

When starting out, find 2 or 3 markets, watch them for a couple of days, get a feel for the price ranges.

After you’ve made some money on Steam you’ll notice that you’ll still have credit left over even after looking for good deals in your customary markets. Then you’ll need to branch out into new markets, again getting a feel for the price ranges.

4. Foil cards are like hookers – They look  good when you hire them but afterwards you realize you paid too much

Foil cards are uncommon/rare versions of ordinary Steam cards. Because Foil cards are more rare they’re also more expensive.

It may be tempting to buy a foil card and make a projected profit of PHP10 in one go instead of the usual profit of PHP.50 on one transaction.

Resist the temptation! The prices of Foil cards are much more volatile than the regular Steam Cards. What may look like a good deal in the flush of the moment may not look so rosy one week later.

Because Foil cards are rare, there’s less of a market in them. Usually only 1 or 2 of the same type of Foil card get sold in a day (this of course depends on the market). This lack of transactions means there’s no averaging out of price. One minute the price could be PHP40, the next, PHP16.

Getting a feel for the Steam card price ranges is possible because the volume of transactions allows for a mean to emerge. You don’t have that volume with Foil cards.

I’ve personally gotten burned on several Foil cards which I thought would do great but ended up costing me money.

Nowadays my strategy for Foil cards is to only buy them when I’m really sure that the price being offered is well below the market rate.

5. Nitty gritty – Organizational Tips

Making any sort of money with Steam cards requires you to be organized, this part of the exercise appeals to the OC (obsessive compulsive) in me.

As with anything organizational, Excel is a must. Keep an Excel file which tracks how much you bought each card for. Since there’s at least a 7 day gap between your purchase of a Steam card and when you can sell it, you’ll need to have a system in place to track just how much you spent on each card.

I also make general notes in my Excel file such as what is a good price, based on the history of the cards, to pay for cards from a certain game. I also note how much in the past I’ve been able to sell each card for.

Do your buying through your browser. The Steam client is clunky for checking out the prices of multiple markets.

I bookmark the search results of each market in my browser and then just open all of the bookmarks as new tabs to check all of  them. I do this several times a day to check if there are any good deals in the markets I’m trading in.

6. Using the buy order feature

You can place advanced orders for any steam card or item. Simply input the amount per card you are willing to spend and how many cards you want. The system will automatically fill your order if someone sells that card at your selected price.

Auto buy or buy orders are great when you already have a feel for what is a good price in a particular market. Moreover I place buy orders usually on markets which I’ve classified as abandoned.

Note also that you’ll need to cancel your buy order if you want to manually purchase a card at the market rate. Say you have an order to buy 5 Xcom Psi Class cards at PHP3 per card. Then you see that someone is selling that card at PHP3.45 and you want to buy it now. You’ll have to cancel your existing order of 5 Psi Class cards before you can buy the one card at PHP3.45.

Slow and steady wins the race

Dealing in cents won’t make you a millionaire or perhaps even a thousandaire. But it’s immensely satisfying when you buy a card at a low price and manage to sell it a week later at a much higher price.

And again, Steam trading is more productive than just checking Facebook.

7 thoughts on “An (Almost) Complete Guide to Making Money on Steam

  1. Funny how you erased your name in the screenshots but missed that one small part in the Recent Activities section that, of course, indicated your name. I added you on Steam haha (I’m from UP too lol) Love your blog

    1. Hey Math, Glad you enjoy the blog! I went over the screenshots but can’t find the one which has my Steam user name. Anyway if you’d still like to add me (went through my friends list but no one new is showing up) I can email you my Steam name.

  2. Hey,
    It’s funny to see how you developed a very similar trading system as i did. I have an important difference though. I think it’s better not to tell anyoney, because the market has very small capacity. I reach up to 50% ROI without uncalculated price changes 😀

    1. I haven’t really let the cat out of the bag as I haven’t shared which games I usually trade in. That said I actually don’t have a problem with more people Steam trading; I figure a larger trading volume is better for everyone.

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