Day One

Every fortune starts small. You’ve just gotta start somewhere.

In Team Fortress 2, there is a system called the item drop. Weapons, crates, and hats are dropped at random to players, with a weekly cap. Each type of item has a wide range of values based on availability—hats being the least common, and most expensive. Think of it as the minimum wage, with a little luck involved. 

When starting from nothing, it can take a while to get running. So you’ve got to accumulate whatever you can, and get started trading. The first dollar is fairly easy to get. What really determines your success is what you choose to do with it. Let it sit, and it’ll stay a dollar. Put it to use, and it can grow into a fortune.

In Team Fortress 2, the most commonly dropped items are weapons. Because they are in such high supply, their market value is very low—namely, one unique (non-special) weapon is almost always worth either one scrap metal, one weapon (only in an exchange for another equally desired weapon), or two random weapons. For reference, one scrap metal can be crafted with two weapons. It may seem peculiar at first that a weapon is almost always exchanged for double. But really, a person needs some kind of compensation for the services s/he provides. A weapon’s value is low, and so the addition of another covers the cost of convenience.

One service a person may provide is called scrapbanking, where a person may exchange two weapons for one scrap metal. The scrapbanker then sells each of the weapons for a scrap each, making a 100% profit. Putting in a little time this way allows a person to quickly build up enough of a backpack to enter into higher risk/reward trades. Unfortunately, scrapbanking is almost entirely automated these days, making it difficult for a trader to compete. Therefore, as scrapbank bots provide the least amount of convenience in-game, you’ve got to go to your customers. And so, as I ventured into the in-game trading world for the first time in over a year, I set out to sell the first items I received. 

But there are so many people doing the same thing, selling the same items. How can one possibly stand out from the hat-hungry masses?

Back in the day, I ran Chimalpopica’s Collaboration Shoppe w/ the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I entertained with a distinct mixture of wit and comedy. Because it didn’t cost me much to do so, I gave out free items here and there to renew interest whenever it got quiet. People who didn’t even want to buy took their time to join in and have some fun, thus acting as a brilliant advertising campaign. It’s important to invest in some form of advertising, in order to get yourself out there—whether by putting in more time and effort, some money, or both.

Unfortunately for my shop, disaster struck: at one point, the Steam Powered Trading Forum moderators decided that it would be a good idea to extend  “bumping” (posting to bring a thread back to the front page) rules to the trading forums, disallowing anyone from bringing their threads back to the front page. They then changed the automatic forum layout to show only the newest threads. But there was an arbitrary limit for the amount of threads which could be posted each day. Because of all of this, trading threads would only last 10-30 minutes before disappearing completely from sight, thus effectively ruining any kind of shop or service, and drastically lowering anyone’s chance at trading anything. The moderators even deleted threads, wherever they found some rendition of the dreaded word “bump.” Everyone still boosted up their threads because it was the only way they could keep trading on the forums. I was permanently banned for bumping one of my threads—for trying to run a shop. Then 70% of my threads were deleted for seemingly no reason.

But I digress. My point still remains: go out there, and make a name for yourself. Check out what other people are doing and do it better, or concoct something original. 

New Beginnings

I love economics. And it’s not because I drilled terms into my brainnor was it because I have an affinity for reading about other’s successes in a textbook. I love economics because, through a lengthy venture in hat and video-game trading in a virtual economy, I have learned to analyze and evaluate market trends, to trade and barter, and to deal with the psychological aspects that follow gains and losses. These things are invigorating, because a good call based on good research and analysis means an actual gain for me, while a bad one or even inaction will cost me. And by actual sums, I really mean a notable amount. Without any prior experience, this adventure earned me a total of approximately $2,200, and taught me more concepts and life lessons than a university economics class ever could—all stemming from a $0.49 investment.

I met and dealt with all kinds of people from all across the world. There were the dregs of society: these were bad apples whose sole intention was often scam or rip me off; some could hardly articulate their wants and needs, and would solicit an endless amount of information as if I were their personal financial adviser. Sometimes I would begin to lose hope in finding a fair trader with a brain, given all the horrible people I met. And yet, I kept going, because I was holding on to something: that there’s some good in this world, and it’s worth searching for. I was right, and those whom I looked up to, who made it far by trading and dealing with others fairly, as professionals, quickly became my friends. 

But things got too big. The stress got to me: the expectation to always be online to conduct trades, the constant soliciting, opening up the client and finding thirty new communication requests to sort through, and even having too many friends to talk to, simply became too much to contend with. It got to the point where I couldn’t log onto Steam, the trading platform, without immediately being messaged by three people at a time and having to deal with psychological discussions, whilst giving price quotes, and all the while discussing the newest Team Fortress 2 update. I couldn’t even get five minutes into a game without a person asking for trading advice. But, I helped them. I gave my assistance and attention so readily because my personality wouldn’t allow me to do otherwise; I was too kind, too willing, and too accepting.

So, I cashed out. I sold it all in bulk, because I was tired; I didn’t want to take the time to sell everything piecemeal, even if it netted me a hundred more dollars. I knew that if I did, I would trade one thing for another, and the other for yet another, and never stop. I would never stop trading up. It really wasn’t a bad thing; I just didn’t want to deal with it anymore. 

But now I want back in. The market has changed drastically. My research has determined that it is harder than ever to make it big, due to increased automation and a notable capital disparity between those who hold and distribute the majority of the wealth, and the ever-increasing masses trying to score a profit. 

I’ve made it before, numerous times. I started over with a clean slate at least twice before. Now commences the true test: humble beginnings in an unfamiliar and unforgiving environment, in which the odds are now stacked against me. In this blog, I will share my progress, my experiences—from both the past and present—, and my knowledge. So, join me in my re-embarkment into the steam trading community. This quest and reminiscence will most definitely contain valuable lessons about economics, as well as entertaining and challenging trade experiences, and perhaps a couple amusing tangents.