We all love to level up. Scratching the XP itch feels good, so much so that Steam itself got in on the action. Every Steam user has a level, with higher levels granting bonuses like extra slots on your friends list and higher drop rates for booster card packs (more on those later). My Steam account is sitting at a measly level 13, paling in comparison to the 1000+ of those at the top of the . Determined to salvage my Steam cred, I reached out to , , and , three levelling experts with levels of 1052, 903, and 515 respectively. They had plenty of advice for a rookie like me, but before we dig into their strats, let's run through the basics.
- Crafting badges awards XP.
- Badges are crafted from trading cards, which drop as you play games.
- A game will only drop half of its full set; you need to trade for or buy the rest on the Steam marketplace.
- Each crafted badge nets you 100XP, and you can level it up four times by collecting and crafting the same cards again, for a total of 500XP.
- Having crafted a game's badge, you will occasionally receive booster packs containing three random cards from its set. The higher your Steam level, the better your chance of scoring a booster pack—every 10 levels grants +20% to their drop rate.
Knowing these basics, I assumed that the way to get a high Steam level was to simply buy and play a boatload of games. After talking to the experts, I quickly discovered how wrong I was. You don't actually need to own a game to craft its badge; you can simply trade for or buy the necessary cards on the Steam marketplace. Considering the size of my Steam backlog, I was very glad to hear this. But how do you know what cards to buy?
Tools of the trade
is your first stop for all things badge-related. Full card sets are listed with their average purchase price on the Steam marketplace, with plenty of filters to find the cheapest sets and hide ones you've already crafted. Simply sort by price, click on the cheapest set's marketplace link, and you'll be taken straight to the current Steam listings for the relevant cards. From searching to buying, the whole process takes a fraction of the time it would directly through Steam.
Steam Tools also features a level-cost calculator for approximating how much you'd need to spend buying cards to reach a particular level. It doesn't factor in XP earned from non-card badges or Steam sales, so it's a bit of a high-ball estimate, but it still puts the cost of Steam levelling in perspective. For example, if I wanted to join the ranks of The Cpt Froggy, StrikeR, and ROFL, I'd only need to fork out a mere $100,000. Chump change!
Another useful site is . Here you can trade your duplicate cards for ones you actually need by using the site's automated Trading Bot. Just remember that bots are forbidden by the ("You may not use cheats, automation software (bots), mods, hacks, or any other unauthorized third-party software, to modify or automate any Subscription Marketplace process," it reads), so use at your own risk.(opens in new tab)
After collecting a full card set, I expected the next step would be to craft some badges. As The Cpt Froggy explained to me, though, it's actually better to save your uncrafted sets for the big Steam Summer and Winter sales. All badges crafted during these sales events award you with bonus Steam event cards that can be crafted into event-specific badges, each of which can be levelled up endlessly during the period of the sale. This is where The Cpt Froggy focuses his efforts, saving every four out of a game's five card sets for crafting during the next sale. ROFL and StrikeR echoed the importance of going all-in during sales, with StrikeR telling me 'seasonal sales events [are] hands down the best way to level up your profile.'
Turning fodder to fuel
When it comes time to craft, XP won't be your only reward. Every badge you craft drops three random items, stuff like emoticons and profile backgrounds that I'd always written off as junk. But as StrikeR pointed out, it's junk with monetary value. In fact, at one stage The Cpt Froggy was making an average of between $25 and $40 a day just selling the drops from badge crafting. By reinvesting that money in more badges, he was able to boost his level to the massive 903 it is today.
Unless you're badging the latest and greatest games, most of your item drops will fetch only a couple of cents on the marketplace, but they're cents you can put to more cards, and more badges. And if nobody's in the market for your , you can break it down into gems which you can then use to craft booster packs for even more cards—and the cycle of crafting continues.(opens in new tab)
As shiny as they are, foil cards are a bad investment. A badge crafted from foils earns the same 100 XP as a normal badge, but foils sell for much, much more on the marketplace. StrikeR advises selling foil cards and using the funds to buy multiple cheaper, regular cards instead.
Beyond buying up cards, there are a couple of special badges good for a few easy-ish hits of XP. The Game Collector badge is automatically awarded when you own a certain number of games, beginning with your first purchase and levelling up at various milestones along your way to owning every Steam game in existence. The Pillar of Community badge can be crafted by performing simple actions on Steam, from reviewing a game to voting on Greenlight, and it can be levelled up twice for extra XP. You can find a list of all the tasks you've yet to complete in the Badges section of your profile.
Huge thanks to The Cpt Froggy, StrikeR, and ROFL for their valuable insight. This article wouldn't have been possible without them.