Valve's Steam platform is launching a new feature, and it's one that promises to form the basis of no small number of addictions: a collectable trading card element.
Launching in beta, the Steam Trading Cards service is an interesting amalgamation of the concepts of achievements and collectable cards: playing selected games results in trading cards being 'dropped' and collected by the player, which can then be used to 'craft' game badges related to the title from which they were collected. There's even a role-playing game element to the system, which sees players collected experience in order to increase their Steam Level. Oh, and random rewards ranging from custom emoticons to discounts on downloadable content.
If that sounds a little confusing, that's probably because it is. Valve appears to be taking elements from a variety of player progress tracking systems - Microsoft's Xbox Live Achievements, Sony's PlayStation Network Trophies, the size of a player's Magic: The Gathering collection and the traditional level-system of a pen and paper role-playing game - and turning them into what it clearly hopes will be a means of keeping gamers stuck to its Steam digital distribution platform.
The idea works as follows: players play one of a selection of Trading Card-enabled games, and during their playthrough receive Cards like an Xbox gamer would receive Achievements. Each game has a 'set' of Cards, but only a randomly-selected half of the set is attainable during play; the other half needs to be traded for, just like a traditional Collectable Card Game (CCG) like Magic: The Gathering or Pokemon.
The reason for going to the effort of earning the Cards and trading with friends for missing entries: each full Card Set can be transformed into a Badge related to that game. Unlike the current Steam Badge system, every time a Badge is created from a Card Set the player receives a reward ranging from a custom profile background or emoticon to discount vouchers on downloadable content related to that game. The player can then start collecting the cards all over again, increasing the 'level' of the Badge and earning another reward from the list. If a player doesn't want a reward, they're free to trade it with another player - possibly for a missing Card from another game.
Finally, the unlocking of a Badge provides experience points which increase the player's Steam Level. Analogous to the GamerPoints score on the Xbox 360, the Steam Level is naught but digital willy-waving, although increasing in level does provide non-tradeable rewards such as profile showcases - where gamers can show off items they have for trade, mods they've made for a game, submissions they've made to Steam Greenlight or just their favourite titles - and extra slots on the Steam Friends List.
Details surrounding the Steam Trading Cards service are available on the official website
, while interested parties can join the Steam group
to be entered into the queue for a place on the closed beta. At present, only play in CS:GO, Team Fortress 2, Dota 2, Portal 2, Half-Life 2 and Don't Starve will earn cards, although Valve is planning to extend the list in the near future.