How To Make Profit: Team Fortress 2
Have you ever wondered how some people have pages and pages of unusuals and promotional items in their backpacks? Everyone had to start somewhere, and for some of you, that is right here! This guide will show you the basics of how to make profit both in-game and financially (that's right, real money!) Team Fortress 2 requires dedication and persistence to be successful, but the rewards can be totally worth it! I have received many Steam games in exchange for TF2 items and other services. I was able to sell hats for gift cards and even cash via Paypal! Making quick profit is easier than you think!
If you like this article, I invite you to join us on Facebook. You can join the Facebook Group to keep in touch with me and discuss your tactics with other readers. In addition, due to popular demand, I have created a Steam group where readers can get together to post comments, share stories, and ask questions about making profit. Plus, you'll be able to join in on exclusive events and giveaways. Don't miss out on this great opportunity to join the Steam group and talk to me and other readers through Steam. Alright, enough chit-chat, let's make some profit!
So you have a bunch of items in your backpack, and you don't know what to do with them. Where do you begin? First of all, you should figure out what your items are actually worth. To do this, you can conduct a search online. There are several resources at your disposal when price checking, so let's take a look at what we've got.
The Spreadsheet: For most items, you can refer to various spreadsheets to obtain an approximate value for your items. There are two spreadsheets which I find particularly helpful, but as with any spreadsheets, you will find some discrepancies. In the past, the Trade Empire Spreadsheet was the most prominent, however the Backpack.tf Spreadsheets are leading the market at this time. The latter spreadsheet also covers Unusual hat prices, but take note that this should not be your only source of information, and I will cover why in just a minute. Do not use the spreadsheet as a set-in-stone value of any item. All spreadsheets that exist, including the ones listed, should be used as references, not exact prices.
Outpost Search: Tf2 Outpost is, in my opinion, the most valuable tool for price checking. Not only can this site help you with prices, you can find trades on the spot, too! If you head over to their site, you can search for any item in the game, and you can see what other traders want for their identical items (and what they're actually being traded for.) I find this method the most effective way to price check Unusual hats. When price checking Unusual hats, keep in mind owners often overprice their buyouts. You should take note of the current offers, both quality and quantity. The more people interested in an item, the more profit a trader can milk out of it. If there are ten Blizzardy Storm Nanobalaclavas on Outpost, and all of the owners are asking for 2 Buds, you can estimate the actual price you're going to get for that item is lower than their asking price. If 2 Buds was a good price for that hat, there wouldn't still be ten of them on the market at that price. Of course, this is merely an example with made-up circumstances, but you get the picture.
Asking People: One of the most common ways people price check their items (especially unusuals hats) is to go on a trade server and ask the approximate value of an item. For the spreadsheet items, you can usually get a quick and accurate answer (but you could also look it up yourself just as quick.) For Unusual hats, level-specific items, and craft number items, you will get mixed answers. In my trading experience, this is the least accurate method of price checking, as many people don't understand how to properly price check a non-spreadsheet item and they resort to other less accurate resources (such as a friend asks a friend who has an unusual...) I owned an Eerie Fire Larrikin Robin, and several people on a trade server claimed I could get no more than 2 Buds for it no matter how hard I tried. However, I received several offers greater than 2 Buds almost immediately after I began advertising it. If you want the most accurate price check, conduct the first two methods and you will be good to go.
The Steam Market: The Steam Market allows players to sell their items for Steam Wallet funds. This is the safest way to make real money on your items, but the money will be limited to Steam purchases. Additionally, the Steam Market can be used to price check items for real-money trades. Even if you opt for the less safe Paypal transaction, you can at least find a monetary value on some of your items before trading. The Steam Market is a work in progress, so not all items are able to be sold just yet, but we can expect Valve to change that in the near future.
Buying in Bulk
You can buy items in bulk from established players who are looking to clear their inventories. Try to find items with a fairly consistent price, and buy them in bulk at a discount price. If an item can easily be sold for 1 refined, try to buy 3 of that item for 2 refined + 2 reclaimed, and sell them on your own, making yourself 1 reclaimed profit. This is a very easy and low-risk method of making profit. If you see an item that is at a low and has reason to increase in the future, make an investment! It could pay off big! Remember, every little bit adds up!
Don't Stick To Trade Servers
There is a time to trade on specified trade servers, and there is a time to stray from them. For example, if you are trying to sell Bill's Hat for several Keys, you will want to head to a trade server. Not many non-traders just horde Keys in their backpack. However, competitive servers are great for small-scale trades. Many players who are searching for a specific weapon will offer to pay a scrap or more for convenience. You can also pick up tools cheap from competitive players who could care less about the trading aspect of the game. Decal tools and Name Tags can often be bought at a low price, then resold for their value to someone on a trade server.
Exchanging Craftable Hats
This is one of my favorite methods of making profit. Enter a trade server with two craftable hats. Tell people on the server that you are going to craft the hats and you would be willing to trade each one for any craftable hat plus something extra (often called a sweetener). Take any deal that doesn't include crates. There are many instances in which you can get an extra reclaimed metal from a person who prefers your class-specified hat over theirs.
Trade Example: Handyman's Handle (Pyro) for Master's Yellow Belt + Paint Can
Someone who has a Yellow Belt dislikes playing as a Sniper. If that player prefers Pyro, he will likely be willing to include at least a weapon or two extra. Just be sure the person trades you a craftable hat in return for yours. You can find out whether a hat is craftable by hovering the mouse over the item. If the description shows "This item cannot be used in crafting," ask politely for a craftable hat in its place.
Hold Off On Crafting Metal
One of the easiest ways to obtain more metal is to craft the item drops you receive. However, as a trader, you should hold off on crafting metal until you can make a worthwhile amount. Many people request specific weapons during gameplay, and most players are willing to trade a scrap for the sake of convenience. You could potentially double your profit by trading rather than crafting. This trading method actually works quite well in combination with the Exchanging Craftable Hats trading method. Something as simple as saying "Trading a bunch of weapons, just ask!" on a competitive server is a great way to sell a weapon for a scrap or more.
Provide An Alternate Service
I was able to make a lot of profit by providing a Steam Avatar service. Using Photoshop, I completed avatar requests in return for donations. I received as little as Dalokohs Bar for one of my avatars, but I also received as much as two hats for a set of six avatars. Runescape and other online games are also very common in trade scenarios. People will do anything in exchange for Runescape gold. I never found interest in that game, but keep in mind what your computer abilities are and which game is more important to you. Be very cautious when using this method. Scamming is common, and you should find a trusted middle-man if you feel it is necessary.
Use of Forums
Forums are an easy and free way to advertise items you have for sale. While you play the game, keep posts on multiple forums with items you are trading, what you are expecting in return, and how they can contact you. I recommend leaving your Steam ID on each post. Steam can alert you when a new player adds you to his/her Friends List and you can discuss terms of trade. Forums are also useful in finding a middleman. Keep an eye on the thread rating and how others react to his/her service. Sometimes middle men require a small fee. Other times you can complete trades for free. Once again, be cautious about who you choose for this job.
I recommend you use the same username on all forums. Many people jump from one forum to another, and it is surprising how quickly you can become well-known by the quality of your trades. This strategy helps traders prove their reliability because it is easy to post a link to alternate forums. As long as you still have the same username, people will generally trust you.
I noticed a lot of my friends no longer play Team Fortress 2. From asking around my friends list, I was able to get two Bill's Hats, two cans of white paint, and a bunch of other random paints as well as rare vintage weapons for free. It is a wise idea to make friends on other games, especially those with old promotional items. You never know when you can pick up a rare item for no cost. Make the most of the items that are only collecting dust in your friends' backpacks. You can view your friend's backpack by visiting his/her profile and clicking "View Inventory." Keep an eye out, and remember to always ask nicely.
Possibly the biggest source of monetary profit from Team Fortress 2 comes from the rare Unusual hats. These hats are obtained only by opening Mann Co. Crates using Keys. You have a 1% chance of uncrating an Unusual hat, so I don't recommend buying a bunch of Keys. People generally want Earbuds and Bill's Hat offers for their Unusual hats. Most Unusuals cost at least one Earbud, though there are a few exceptions. Unusual hats can be valued anywhere from $15 to well over $1000. You can sell Unusual hats over the Steam Marketplace for Steam Wallet Funds, or you could take a chance by selling for money on Paypal. The latter method is a bit more risky unless both parties are well-known for completed trades of this nature. I personally prefer to sell for Steam Wallet funds because it is safe, and I find myself buying most of my games from Steam, anyway. This is just a more convenient way for me to add funds into my Wallet without digging into my checking account.
As far as trading Unusuals go, be aware that Unusual hats are a slowly declining market. You can't buy much of anything for the long run, and it's usually best to sell out for promotional items (such as Earbuds) and restart whenever it is profitable. There are general tiers of effects and classes that you should be aware of when trading, and you must be able to recognize the current trends in order to make profit (some effects are "in," while others are "out," much like fashion styles.)
Some class-hats are generally more well-liked than others. Though nothing is set in stone, Soldier and Demo hats seem to be the most valuable while Heavy and Engineer Unusuals are the least valuable.
Some Unusual hats have themes, but before I go any further, let me explain something very clearly. Traders can make up a theme out of ANYTHING. If you have any doubt, it's probably not a themed hat. What do I mean by themed? A Dead Cone with Bubbles can be seen as a Wet Floor symbol. However, if someone tries to pass off an Unusual Batter's Helm with Purple Energy as a "Purple Flurp" theme from Jimmy Neutron, you can see why not everyone would make the connection. Nuts & Bolts is one of the lowest-tier effects, but that effect is highly valuable on Engineer hats. The Nuts & Bolts effect is a theme for the Engi, as is Hearts with Medic, and Burning Flames with Pyro. You should only consider a hat themed when the theme is very obvious. Remember, not everyone has your imagination!
Finally, I would like to conclude with some small trading tips that you may already know. When you advertise and leave your Steam ID, people will add you. Nine times out of ten, they will be lowballing you. Your best option is to hear their offer, but be patient and check with a friend if you have any doubts. If the person gets mad and says he's giving you a good deal but can't wait, your mental red flag should raise because 99 times out of 100, he's lowballing you. People that make these low offers opt to add you rather than offer wherever you're advertising because they don't want to be seen lowballing in the public eye. Adding people to discuss trade terms is more personal and is usually more successful than just throwing out an offer onto their post.
Also, be cautious of the old switcheroo. I know it's a lame trick and you feel invulnerable to it, but hear me out. One trader offered his Hearts Private Eye plus a bunch of lesser items for my Bubbling Crown. Knowing this was a fantastic deal even without his sweets, I accepted his trade. Before we traded, he asked for 2 or 3 crates to unbox. As I occupied myself searching for the crates, he switched out his Unusual Private Eye for a regular Private Eye. I very nearly accepted the trade, but one last glance over the terms and I had caught him. It was very sneaky, and I reported him to Steam. I'm guessing I'm not the only person he tried this trick on, as his trade status was listed as "Probation." Check every user's profile page before you trade with him. If the person is under trade probation, proceed with caution. ALWAYS check over the trade terms one last time before accepting an offer.
There are a few hats in the game that can only be obtained via promotion, such as Genuine items, Bill's Hat, the Monday Night Combat set, and Earbuds. The value of Genuine items seems to be decreasing as the yellow-text versions are released and multiply. I advise you to sell Genuine items before the yellow-text versions are released. Items such as Bill's Hat, Earbuds, Lumbricus Lid, and Essential Accessories are valuable and can be stored until the value increases even more. All of these items have doubled their original value. I do not doubt that as long as Team Fortress 2 is popular, these hats will continue to increase in value.
As I've told many of my readers, investing in promotional items is like investing in the stock market. Prices rise and fall very often. If you can buy when they're cheap and sell when the price rises, you will be in good shape. During one of Valve's Christmas updates, the BMOC and Ebenezer hats were released, and they were difficult to obtain. The BMOC was relatively expensive, but I noticed the Ebenezer's value was dropping like a rock about halfway through the update. The price averaged as low as 2 keys for this promotional item that was going to be cut off, so I bought in before it was no longer obtainable by means other than trading. I was able to double my investment on the Ebenezers within a week or two. Keep up with the start and end dates of promotional items, and take notice whether the price is increasing or decreasing in value.
It seems as if the Christmas update was the end of Vintages as we know it. I myself invested heavily in the summer items only to find they were never to upgrade to the coveted blue text. However, certain craft weapons can sell for a high price, that is, if you're lucky enough to get them on an early attempt. For example, The Maul still has no blueprint. That means the only way to get it is to smelt 3 weapons into a melee token, 3 more weapons into a class token, then combine the tokens and add an additional scrap for a small chance at crafting The Maul. Naturally, this weapon is much more valuable than common drop items.
After the discontinuation of Vintage weapons, Valve introduced a "craft number" for the first 100 of each hat and weapon randomly crafted. For example, the first ever Original (rocket launcher) crafted by a player received the permanent name "The Original #1." This item was dubbed 'the original Original' and is on the market for a fortune. The craft number item market is very unstable and can be a good source of profit if you can buy cheap. For instance, I bought Sultan's Ceremonial #49 with my Outback Intellectual + Ornament Armament (at that time my items were worth up to 9 refined, but I knew they would decrease over time.) Within a few weeks, I turned Sultan #49 around for 5 keys. I did a similar trade with Stocking Stuffer #23, buying low at 6 Refined and reselling for 10 refined. Note these prices were from a totally different time in the Tf2 market, and you should not use them as a present-day reference with regards to prices.
The Oddly-Leveled Items Market
Back when Team Fortress 2 was a new game, weapons and hats were found at random levels. Some people are very intent on getting specific levels on their items, whether it be their birthday, favorite number, or something vaguely significant to them. Ironically enough, a lot of people trade oddly-leveled weapons without realizing/caring. There are many people who will trade good items to get a specific leveled item. The price on these oddly-leveled items varies greatly between traders, but Level 0 and Level 100 seem to be the most significant. Trade these for a duplicate item of a regular level plus a nice sweetener.
Vintage Hats and Weapons that are level 0 or 100 can go for very high prices. They are among the rarest items in Team Fortress 2 and should not be sold for anything short of a fortune. If you see an opportunity to trade someone for these items, capitalize on this quick, then sell it for more!
There are many forums and other websites that promote trading in Team Fortress 2. However, two sites that I have found really stick out from the rest. These resources will have you log in through Steam. From there, you will be able to display up to 8 items from your backpack and choose from a list of possible items that you want in return. Real people can view these trades and usually respond fairly quick.
The first resource is the Team Fortress 2 Trade Post. This resource is very helpful due to extremely high traffic. However, its main pro was also its main con. This site was often slow to load, and one motivated web developer decided to capitalize on this obvious flaw. The Team Fortress 2 Outpost was designed similar to the Trade Post with a few distinct differences. When it released, it was much faster than the Trade Post. As people converted to Outpost, traffic decreased on Trade Post. Both resources are, in my opinion, equally valuable for trading. The most unique feature about the Trade Post is that nobody can see offers made on your items but you, so there is no need to worry about a 3rd party stealing your trade. This does inhibit your ability to price check, though.
Strategically, you should approach trading on these two resources in two ways. First, propose a trade naming EXACTLY what you want. You'd be surprised to know how often someone just happens to have the specific items you are looking for. If you don't know exactly what you want, sometimes it's best to leave your items "open to offers." It is not uncommon to make more profit by doing just that. Leaving an item open to offers requires some persistence, as you will likely be rejecting most offers.
Don't just propose your trade and run away! Make sure you check out the recent offers by others. If you see a good deal, take it immediately or it will be gone before you can blink! Don't miss out on these important opportunities. They do not appear as often as you'd like them too, but then again, I wouldn't be writing this if trading was easy.
Those wishing to make profit may benefit greatly from the wonders of gift-hording. I'm talking about the Halloween event, featuring infinite gifts over an extended period of time. Here's a marketing tip. Horde all the Halloween items you can, and sell them before the event ends. Then, when Halloween is over, the community suddenly doesn't care about the Halloween-restricted items, and you can buy them back much cheaper than what you sold them for. This marketing strategy will remain true for any and every holiday-restricted event for the duration of Team Fortress 2's life. Give it a try! Sometimes, you have to skip looking wealthy in one update to make profit for the future!
The Game-Trading Market
Steam games can make you tons of profit, but only if you're smart about what you trade for the games and when you trade for them. I did some experimenting of my own during the 2012 Steam Summer Sale, and it really paid off! By the time the sale was over, I was a more wealthy TF2er and had five games to spare (not counting the two that I kept for myself.) So what's my strategy?
First of all, I found that the Game-trading market is easiest to enter and exit during Steam sales, and I recommend waiting for a big sale to do the bulk of your trading in this area. I started the sale with about 20 keys to spend on whatever I wanted, so I got a few people to buy me some $2.49 flash deals. In return for these games, I traded one Key and one Refined Metal for each game. This was very easy because Keys are in the Mann Co. Store for $2.49. When I offered the extra Refined, some traders were quick to collect the reward. I was able to turn most of these games around for 2-3 keys. This method is a bit more difficult with the Steam Market now in place, but you can make the same kinds of trades using the lowest market price for keys as your base like I used the store price in the past. As a trader, you should try to capitalize on the people that have no intention of reselling the game. The players that want to keep the games are usually the ones that are willing to let you make your profit.
I advise you to sell all the unwanted games in your inventory by the end of the Steam Sale. Once the sale is over, demand for Game-trades takes a nosedive for a few reasons. Most people, by the end of the sale, have a new game or two installed and are ready to play. Players don't need games piling up in their libraries, so demand for games declines. Traders also like to bump up the price of games after a sale, so fewer people are willing to buy at that time.
I prefer sticking to the cheap games when I go for profit. It's low-risk, and even if you fail to resell, you got a new game out of the deal! Advertising on TF2 Outpost worked well for me, but I sold most of my games on Trade Servers. Because I was dealing in cheap games, I didn't have to bother finding an Unusual Trade Server. My asking price for each game was affordable by the majority of all TF2 players, and by making a key or two profit from each game, Steam Sales will be a resource for me in the years to come.
A Note On Idling
A lot of people use idling servers to let their game sit open while they go about their business elsewhere to ensure they get all of their item drops for the week. While Valve has done a bit to fix the broken system they used to have by adding a drop item cap and making the player accept the new drop item before getting more, people continue to utilize idling servers. I don't recommend idling unless you're just starting out and are really in need of a couple extra weapons to craft metal. When you get to the point where you're selling higher-tier items like festive stranges and unusuals, the profit you make from idling becomes negligible.
Throughout the history of trading, not just in TF2, man has devised methods to target the ignorant and unwary. You'd like to think trading started honest and fair, but simple human nature would prove you wrong. I would like to give you some tips to keep you on the cutting edge of trading. Everyone will get scammed at some point, but a good trader will learn how to counter the loss and make up for it in profit.
First off, keep up with the TF2 Spreadsheets. Not just one, but take a look at several of them (especially when trading Unusuals.) If you have any doubts about the value of your item, conduct a search on TF2 Outpost and see what other people are doing. Between spreadsheets and your own research, you will get a pretty good idea what your item is worth.
I'm not going to list every type of scam; that would lead to people submitting new method after new method, and suddenly this article would be "How to Scam on TF2." I don't want that. I strongly encourage honest trading because the purpose of this article is to help you make honest profit. You may wonder how it's possible to make ANY good profit without ripping a person off to some degree. Here's the kicker. If you make an honest trade with a fellow TF2er, and both parties are satisfied, you can make legitimate profit. There is a catch though, and I would like to introduce you to a term that may or may not be new to you: Sharks.
Whether you've experienced these people first-hand or not, you're probably familiar with the concept of sharking. This is a scam method in which players search for others with one or two valuable items in their inventory and try to fake a good deal for them. A common practice is to find players with one Earbud and nothing else of value. That player probably got the Buds when they released, and stopped playing the game since. Therefore, the player does not know the value of Buds, and would trade them for just about anything that looks nicer. Sharking IS scamming, and you can get banned for doing it. I've seen it happen.
You have the item(s) of value, and you need to guard them from dishonest traders. If you feel uncertain about a trade, you should always think twice about pressing the big green trade button. Take a moment to talk it over with a friend, or even post here. Chances are, if the person is "in a hurry" to trade, he's trying to prevent you from discussing with another player that may advise you against accepting it. You should also take a moment to check the person's Steam profile. If the player is listed on Probation or has a private backpack, you should proceed with caution.
Be smart, avoid scammers, and don't scam. You can get banned for scamming. I've seen this happen to a guy with tons of unusuals. He lost EVERYTHING. Valve locked his account and those items have gone to waste. The best way to avoid being scammed is to keep up with the values by conducting your own research. Always be honest, and nothing will ever come back to haunt you.
Understanding The Market
The Observant Stuff That Economists Do
There are an infinite number of methods people use to make profit in their own ways. My goal is to help readers like you get the edge by understanding the market; that is, which items increase over time, and which will decrease.
Let us begin with an example. Vintage Hats, the once-coveted blue-texted apparel have become drastically less valuable over time. As new hats are released, players begin to realize the blue text doesn't mean as much as the extra refined metal or two they can get from downgrading to non-vintage or "unique." This extra metal is in turn gathered and traded for new items. Hats are all about showing off your wealth. What's more frustrating than getting owned by some jerk who taunts using the newest weapons and apparel? Face it, Vintage Hats are old school, and taunting at your dead opponent doesn't show them your hat is Vintage. The lesson here: most hats decrease in value over time.
Now, let me contradict everything I just said. There are hats and miscellaneous items that are increasing as time goes on. These hats include Earbuds and Bills. Earbuds were a promotional item first introduced to Mac users simply by logging in to Steam from a Mac. Earbuds were once as worthless as Alien Swarms. What happened? Valve, without any prior indication, cut off the promotion. Suddenly, Earbuds were worth a fortune! Since the termination of the Mac promo, Earbuds have remained the main trading unit of "big sales." As Earbuds increase in value, everything else drops in comparison. For example, Max's Severed Head was once valued at five Earbuds. At this point, people are growing tired of Max Heads, and their value is decreasing (Another possible source of this decreased value is a duplication scam in November 2011 where Max Heads and other items were somehow cloned and resold into the market.) But the question remains: why hasn't anyone grown tired of Earbuds? One update to the game allowed players to equip two miscellaneous items at the same time. Suddenly, players could show off their Buds and their License to Maim. These twists in gameplay promote the use of certain items, in this case miscellaneous items, and we see an exponential increase in their values.
Now that we have some kind of understanding of the past, how do we predict for the future? Think of items that people want that are suddenly hard to obtain. Observe the items that are increasing in value, and try to understand why. Name and Description Tags have increased dramatically because they were primarily obtained by unboxing a crate that doesn't drop anymore. Don't be fooled by this increase and invest heavily in these items! Because they are available in the Mann. Co store, they will hit a price ceiling and will probably increase and decrease with the value of metal and keys. Try to predict which items will be demanded in the future that no longer have a stable means of supply. If you invest in such items, you could cash in big!
I would like to close this article by giving you the opportunity to talk to me directly. Let me know which methods worked for you, and which ones just aren't going so well. You can leave a comment below and even join us on Facebook to get the latest news and updates. Feel free to advertise your stuff on the page, too. You might as well take advantage of free advertising wherever you can, and Facebook is a great place for that! If you've made it this far, you're going to be ready for the competitive trades in no time at all! I wish you the best of luck, and don't hesitate for a second if you have a question. I am always happy to help!
More from Shwheelz
Amazon Deals - Support This Lens!
When you navigate to Amazon via one of the links below, a small percentage of every purchase you make will automatically go to the author of this article. Whether or not you purchase one of the recommended items, that small amount gets to the author -- at no extra charge to you!
Archimedes plush that comes with a game promo code for an exclusive item!
The Medic's Bag to store all of your valuables, be it the laptop you play TF2 on or something you need to carry around campus.
Show that you bought from the Mann Co. Store! And I mean the REAL one!
Valve has many TF2 action figures available, including this BLU Pyro!
© 2011 Shane