Why hundreds of thousands of bots descended on a Steam arcade collection


Enlarge / 400,000 bots can’t be wrong.

Monday night at 11 p.m. EST there were 18 players logged in and playing the Steam version of Capcom Arcade Stadium (according to SteamDB Data from the Steam store itself). Ten hours later on Tuesday morning, the game peaked at over 488,000 simultaneous players, placing it behind only the perennial favorites. Counter-Strike: GO and Dota 2 to The list of the most played games on Steam for the day.

No, the idea of ​​playing classic Capcom arcade games on PC didn’t become 27,000 times more popular overnight. Instead, the sudden “success” seems to be driven by automated bots taking advantage of an unexpected opportunity to make “free” money by creating and selling Steam Trading Cards.

Steam Trading Cards Explained

Since the launch of Steam Trading Cards in 2013, players have been able to earn, buy and sell the purely digital collectibles in thousands of games on Valve’s online platform. For most of the supported games, a player can get half of the available collectible cards just by putting in play time. To get the full deck of a game, a player must purchase the rest of the game. Steam Community Market. There, other players can offer their excess cards for sale, with the price of commodities determined by floating buy and sell bids that fluctuate with supply and demand.

Steam Trading Cards have no inherent value outside of what the gamer market is collectively willing to attribute to them (much like NFTs, just without the decentralization or “one on one” uniqueness). But many Steam users enjoy collectible cards because a full set in a game can be redeemed for a game-specific badge that will be linked to your Steam account and profile page. These badges, in turn, earn XP to elevate your Steam user level, a visible online social distinction that can get a player listed. in a world ranking if they are really dedicated to the idea.

Most Steam collectible cards are only worth a few pennies a piece (or a little more in the case of a rare 1 in 100 “foil” variation). But this small profit potential causes some players to win and sell as many cards as they can. And because of this market opportunity, a wide variety of software “bots” have been designed to mimic human activity in your Steam games, earning collectible cards without the need to take the time to play games. games themselves. While the use of these bots is technically against Valve’s Terms of Service, the enforcement of this rule appears patchy, especially when compared to the stricter actions against cheaters in online games.

An opportunity to earn money?

Usually, the value of Steam Trading Cards earned in the game is much lower than the asking price of the game, even with extreme sales of 99 cents. There are a few exceptions though, such as when some Argentinian players discovered that the vagaries of currency arbitrage meant they could actually make money by buying certain games at bargain prices and selling the resulting collectible cards on the open market.

To prevent players from collecting “free money” from trading cards in free games, these titles generally do not drop cards. unless you spend money on DLCs or in-game items. In fact, in 2017, Valve had to take action against “bogus” game developers who were abusing the ability to generate free Steam codes for their own games in order to earn money. money from the generated collectible cards.

The price of this digital collectible card has dropped since it became available for
Enlarge / The price of this digital collectible card has dropped since it became available to “free” players.

There have been a few occasional and unintentional exceptions to this rule, however. RGT-inspired shooter Geneshift, for example, saw brief explosions of popularity after the automated bots realized that the game was still dealing trading cards during a 48-hour “free play” promotion. Life is strange 2 seen too his competing player counts the peak from hundreds to hundreds of thousands on September 17, 2020, in its brand new first free episode briefly gave up valuable trading cards.

Valve can manually turn off collectible card withdrawals for free games when it sees this happening, but often the damage has already been done by the time the company can respond. The price for a representative Life is strange 2 collectible cards, for example, fell from 10 cents to 4 cents after robots flooded the market last September. This prize has not yet returned to its previous levels, although the game no longer offers collectible cards for free download.


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