Better than Plus: Why Steam is Still the Superior Online Service

Before you take to the keyboard in a fit of rage and decry my above statement, allow me to say this: I am a PlayStation Plus subscriber, and I love everything the service has to offer. Great free (and mostly recent) games, insane discounts, frequent sales, and a great selection of titles within nearly every genre makes the service one that shouldn’t by any means be dismissed. In fact, Sony stepped up their paid service to not only rival that of Xbox Live Gold, but surpass it by allowing people to consume their content in an organized and generous way.

But it still doesn’t rival Steam.

I’m not even close to being a prolific PC gamer. Yes, I have a competent PC that will run most games on their highest settings, and yes, I do enjoy sitting down at my computer to play the great games available on that platform. But don’t ask me what a driver is, how to upgrade your rig, or even what makes for a good video card. I’m just lucky enough to have PC gamer friends that hold my hand through the PC buying and maintenance process.

This isn’t because I have been averse to PC gaming; it’s simply because I’ve always been a console person. The first system I ever played a game on was a Super Nintendo, and in my life I’ve only ever owned the major consoles and handhelds available on the market. For a long time, a PC was a machine that allowed for the occasional bouts of Doom, Sim City, and the awful educational games my grandmother often mistook as being “cool”.

When I did finally jump into PC gaming, Steam was something of a revelation. Like the PS3, it offered free multiplayer, plus all of these games, readily available, and often at discounted prices. Like so many others, I have made my impulse purchases during Steam sales that I have never (and probably will never) installed or played. And while the Steam sales have admittedly been giving us diminishing returns, even on the days in between paychecks when I couldn’t possibly afford to buy a game I still find myself impulsively checking to see what new sales have cropped up in the last 24 hours.

I’m even enthused by Steam’s friendly nature to indie games, being that indie games are often some of my favorites to be released in any given year. Scanning Greenlight and clicking a thumbs up on awesome projects is something my inner philanthropist takes joy from, and I’m hoping that the PlayStation 4’s self-publishing ability will one day rival Steam as an indie-friendly platform.

But the most important factor that has led to my favoritism of Steam is one that I never would have imagined to sway my opinion: trading cards.

Do I like gamer scores and trophies? It’s an odd question that yields two answers. Yes, I do love hearing the pops and pings of these rewards while playing a game, thanks to the gratification of a meta game that rewards accomplishment, but I’m rarely compelled to engage in the excessive challenges put to me in order to earn ancillary rewards that have no bearing on my real life. I’m more of a get in, get out player, and while I’ve played with the idea of earning platinum trophies or a full 1000-point achievement score, I know it’s something I’ll never realistically be compelled to do.

But here’s the kicker with Steam trading cards. Much like achievements or trophies (or the in-game achievements on PC), they’re earned while playing a game. And when they’re earned, you have two options: keep them for yourself, or sell them.

Yes, sell them . For actual money.

The amount is never anything crazy; $.20 here, $.15 there, and every now and then you might stumble across a truly rare card and earn upwards of $.50. Once you choose to set the price and put the card up on the community marketplace, actual money is put into your Steam wallet upon purchase and can be used to buy future games on the service.

This is an amazing idea for a number of reasons. One: it has actually compelled me to go out of my way to try and earn these cards, simply because I’m literally being paid money to play a game whenever I sell them. Two: it encourages me to purchase more games from them, because I already have some money stored on the service that will ultimately discount the price I pay out of my own pocket.

Imagine what would happen if Sony or Microsoft allowed you to do this. Maybe earn pennies for every achievement point, or sell bronze, silver, gold, and platinum trophies for varying amounts based on the difficulty to earn them? People could sell these items online, earn credit toward their chosen service, and potentially be driven to make more purchases on the platform. It encourages a positive ecosystem that rewards their players with something more tangible than bragging rights.

Yes, I love getting free games every month, and I’m currently downloading Dyad on my PS3 from Plus even as I write this.

But earning a measly $.18 for playing a game never felt so good.