Steam is currently testing the waters on a number of new projects, but the newest one is perhaps the most intriguing. Steam Trading is currently in opt-in beta testing, but will let you trade in-game items for other virtual bits and piece – including full games.
At the moment, the trades are limited to Team Fortress 2 items only, but that still means you have any number of hats to test it all out with. (These hats can be bought, crafted, won, found or earned in-game.)
It’s an interesting interpretation of the microtransaction mechanic, which will potentially see gamers stocking up on cheap or free in-game items until they have enough to outright acquire complete games. (We’re guessing the easier the item is to acquire, the less trading value it has, by the way.)
This doesn’t mean that Valve will allow you to buy games straight from the virtual shelves, using only hats. Instead, this is a good way of dealing with those games you may have bought, acquired in bundles, or been gifted but not yet installed into your library. Now, you can give them to other people, and receive shiny headwear in return!
It’s a fairly simple process at this stage – after opting into the Trading Beta, the exchange is initiated through Group Chat or through a new menu item on your Friends List (there’s a tutorial to show you how it all works). Then it’s a matter of working out what each item is worth to you, and deciding on an appropriate trade. (Still don’t get it? Here’s a handy FAQ for you.)
Valve has not commented on when this system will expand to other games, or if it will include real-money transactions at any point.