Most gamers are aware of Steam, the PC gaming platform that allows you to buy and play games, but not all gamers are aware of the Steam market, and the trading of cards that are associated with the games you buy.
The Steam market is a place to buy and sell virtual items. Steam community members can use the funds in their Steam wallets to buy these items from other community members.
So exactly what are Steam Trading Cards? They are virtual cards that are earned by playing games on Steam. Players can then sell these cards to other Steam users on the Steam market, or alternatively you can collect sets of these cards that can then be turned into game badges and tradable Steam community items used to customise your profile (see the trading card FAQ here).
Up to half of the cards in a set that are available for each game are earnt simply by spending time playing the game - they are directly tied to playtime within a game, and are independent of any achievements you are getting within the game. The other half of the cards must then be collected from other community members by way of trade or purchasing within the Steam market and forums, or if you are very lucky, you may receive a "booster pack" from Steam containing three random cards from the set.
Once you’ve collected a set of cards you can then "craft" them into a game badge. Badges will earn you Steam experience points, profile backgrounds, emoticons etc, and the badge you earned can then be displayed on your Steam profile.
For me personally, I am not fussed with badges and emoticons and profile backgrounds etc, but I do like the idea of being able to add funds to my Steam wallet by virtue of selling the cards I obtain by simply playing games. The only problem here is that I am very busy with my work and home life, and finding the time to game has become a struggle.
This is where the concept of "Card Grinding" comes in. In essence, it is a work around to enable you to get the card drops from playing your Steam games without having to physically sit in front of your PC for hours upon end. In fact, you don't even have to have the game installed! Our friends at reddit have put together a simple "how to" guide on this.
I have used this method on some of the games I own to obtain cards, as I know it will be a long time before I can find the time to play them.. Granted you don't get a huge return for your time and efforts with card grinding (I made about $10 USD in 4 hours!), but it is nice to get a little something back.
The Steam market, along with it's involved community members and the trading cards that come with games, make the Steam platform more than just somewhere to buy games from.. It has become a mini ecosystem within itself, and as it continues to evolve, it can only mean more gaming goodness for us gamers.