Guide to leveling-up on Steam

Quick hacks to get you farming, trading and leveling up in no time. Like a boss.

By Siddharth Parwatay Published Date
06 - Dec - 2013
| Last Updated
06 - Dec - 2013
Guide to leveling-up on Steam
If you've been playing games for sometime you must have certainly heard of or seen the not so recent implementation of the leveling-up system on Valve's digital distribution platform, Steam. Sure you can tell people that you use Steam only to play games (mostly Dota 2, we know), chat with friends, and NOT to show off. But you know deep down you're fooling yourself right? How do you explain that steadily growing Steam library? Humble Bundles suddenly made you more charitable *yeah right* and now that you've got yourself a job you want to negate some of the bad karma you gathered through your pirating adolescence by giving back to the dev community? Of course not! You want to show off. Period. You can't help but look at your inventory on Steam whenever you login, you are drawn to the badges page to check out how much XP you've gathered thus far, and how much more you need to advance to the next level. Well there's no shame in it child. Granted you may not be doing any of the "lame ass" tasks that you need to do to get a badge here and a shot of XP there. But that my friend, must be more to do with the fact that you don't really know how it all works, rather than your disdain for a class-divided hierarchal society. 
Another possibility – and a more likely one – is that you were waiting for someone to come up with an easy way to do it; a cheat sheet or hack if you will. First of all congratulations you’ve found a soulmate in this guy, but other than that, I’ve got some sad news for your TL;DRing ass – this ain’t a cheater’s guide to levelling up on Steam. I wish it were, I honestly do… Nah I kid! There are some nice tricks below.
(If you know the mechanics of Trading Cards, Badges and Leveling-up, scroll down to Trick No. 5. That’s what you came here for anyway. Run along now...)  
In case you’re still not convinced about the benefits of levelling up on steam for the sheer show off value, there are some tangible advantages of it too. For instance, every 10 levels you get an extra profile showcase where you can show off particular aspects of your gaming street cred. You can display things like Rarest Achievement Showcase, Game Collector, Favorite Game etc. Leveling-up also lets you further the limit on the number of friends you can add on Steam. Oh you didn’t know there’s a limit to that did ya? Well there is and you damn well be willing to jump through hoops to get those unlocks. That’s just how the mind works, there’s no escaping it. A carrot dangled gets the cart moving. And for Valve it means big big money.
Defense Grid cards look beautiful don't they?
Anyhoo, let’s begin:
There are essentially three interlinked steps to levelling up on Steam. One - Playing games, Two - Buying more games, and Three - Crafting Badges. The last two – if you want to do it the easy way – require you to spend money. But there is still a work around to be able to not spend money when crafting badges and still level up; we’ll come to that later. First the mechanics of this system.
Playing does not directly add to your Steam XP, but forms a basis on which you earn the items required to level up. The items that we’re talking about are of course Trading Cards. Trading Cards come into your inventory by way of what Steam calls “Card Drops”. If a game has the possibility of collecting 10 cards, 5 of those will be dropped into your inventory just by playing the game. Even for a total of 9 cards, 5 are dropped. Or in other words, roughly half, rounded to the larger whole number. The remaining 5 you’ll need to trade for with other Steam users or friends or there’s the option of buying those missing cards from the community marketplace. Since card drops are not linked to game achievements, there’s aren’t any grindy shortcuts to getting more cards. The cards are released to you simply based on playtime. Roughly every 45 minutes you get a card. So the point of this section is to tell you to keep playing. Now we understand there are games in your library you bought on a whim and you don’t really feel like playing them anymore. If you don’t want to play and still get all the benefits go to the tricks section for a nice hack. 
Buying games
Buying games should ideally be the first step or rather a prerequisite to all of these right? Well yes, but I’m not talking about about buying a game so that it enables you to unlock its cards and badges. What I’m talking about is buying games from wherever you can from whatever sources so that you unlock hoarder’s badges. These also add significant amounts of XP to your overall level. There are also badges that you get during special steam promotional events like the “summer sale”. The badges that you get during these events are unique, and are a good way to get extra xp.
Crafting Badges
Most of your leveling up activities on Steam culminate into this ultimate goal – Crafting Badges. To recap: You get cards by playing a game > you collect remaining cards in a set by trading on an exhange > when complete you turn the set into a badge, releasing glorious XP and some other stuff. The other stuff includes discount coupons, backgrounds and emoticons to your inventory. While these items are tradable, most of them are low value. But sometimes you do get thrown a Rare item which can fetch great dough on the market. Of the three backgrounds and emoticons can be put up on the exchange for cash (hence marketable) but discount coupons can only be bartered or in other words traded. So in a nutshell that was how it all works. Now let’s move on to the good stuff shall we?
Yea you don't like jumping through hoops for XP... neither do we
Game the system
1. If you have card-drops remaining i.e you’re yet to get all cards in your quota for a particular game, leave a game idling in the background. You’ll get card drops every half an hour or so just as you would if you were actually playing the game. Don't try to leave more than one game on. Steam will only detect one. There are also Booster Packs to look forward to. Once you have received all of your card drops, you become eligible for a booster pack which is basically fancy talk for a bundle of 3 additional cards. Booster packs are granted randomly to eligible users as more badges are crafted by members of the community. To get booster packs you don’t even need to be idling the game in the background. The only requirement is that you log into Steam once a week. 
2. Extra keys from Humble Bundle sales (or any Bundle sale for that matter) can be used to trade for cards. Heck if you think you can get better value for your cards on the open market by trading them for other cards you are free to do so too. Head over to forums such as tf2wh, steamtrades, and the official trading cards group to find offers you can’t refuse. 
3. Foil badges are difficult to craft. And Foil cards are rare, so unless you’re in it for the long haul it’s better to sell off all the foil cards that you’re fortunate enough to receive. All that extra money will help you buy regular. However note that foil card/badge = extra e-penis. cards.
4. Price your cards right. Usually a few cents over the average price works, you just have to wait it out. Pricing a few cents below the last sale price lets you get rid of your card fairly quickly, you know for the times when all you want to do is make a quick buck. 
5. Here’s a trick that’ll give you maximum XP without spending a cent and with minimal effort. First identify a game in your library with fewer card slots per badge. In my case that was DLC Quest and I bought this game for less than a dollar. It has 5 slots. You could also go ahead with Borderlands 2 (which has 6 card slots) or Counter Strike Global offensive (5 slots). What you do is idle all your other games which support card drops and gather all possible card drops you can. Then you sell all of them and you can expect to make anything between $0.10 to $0.23 per card at the current rates. Next you use that money to buy all cards of the 5-slot game and upgrade your badge level over and over again till you reach the level 5 badge for that game. The higher level badges give the same 100 xp, but display a cumulative XP count. In any case the fewer cards per badge approach still saves you a ton of effort.
6. Cards of AAA titles sell for more when they are recently released. So if you've obtained the game recently sell all cards immediately at a high price then wait it out for 6-8 months and use the money to buy back all the cards at a much cheaper rate.
7. Giving back to the community has certain benefits. Perhaps jumping through hoops to get the pillar of community or community ambassador badge is not your thing. But there are some other achievements you may want to set your sights on: translators, developers and community
(With inputs from xitij2000 and Barbarian Monkey
Siddharth ParwataySiddharth Parwatay

Siddharth a.k.a. staticsid is a bigger geek than he'd like to admit. Sometimes even to himself.