Valve have hired an economist to study and help improve their various virtual economies. Yanis Varoufakis says he'll be writing "weekly reports on our projects, experiences and ideas regarding Valve's various social 'economies'" as he goes.
Valve MD Gabe Newell was a fan of Yanis' blog , and got in touch as Valve were struggling to understand and manage the economies that result from being able to buy and trade in-game items for real money in games like Team Fortress 2. Interestingly, in the e-mail Yanis quotes from October, Gabe says: "Here at my company we were discussing an issue of linking economies in two virtual environments (creating a shared currency), and wrestling with some of the thornier problems of balance of payments".
It's interesting to guess what this could mean. The economies of Valve's games are already linked, in that you can buy their in-game items with real money, and trade them for gift copies of games or items from other games. But trading is rather crude - if your Dota 2 hat is worth more than my TF2 weapon, we can't make a fair deal.
They could be looking into some way to let people sell their items to each other, either for real money or the equivalent as Steam credit. At GDC in March, Valve's Joe Ludwig said players "object pretty strongly" to virtual currencies in a presentation on Team Fortress 2's economy, but the issues stemmed from being forced to purchase this virtual money for real cash. As a supplement, it may make sense.
Anyone want to buy my Community Rocket Launcher?