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Explaining the rise of keys in refined, and the drop of refined in USD


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Back in the 'good old days', when keys were 2.66 refined, all was bad. Keys were too expensive! Fast-forward to 2015 Q1, keys are 19 refined, all is bad. People have always complained about the price of keys. But are they rightfully doing so?

 

In 2012 (and earlier), keys sold for about 2.33 (2.66 later) refined and no more. Refined sold for about $0.40 PayPal, and keys were $1.20. This was because of carders, people who use stolen credit cards and launder money. In the TF2 economy, carders bought $2.49 keys from the Store and sold them for PayPal to resellers ($1 or so), who then each continued to flip them for a profit. They got about 40% of the money back in a clean, untraceable way. Definitely worth it for carders, since simply transferring money to your real bank account (or even using several proxies) can easily get you caught. Some later carders also bought buds for above market value, you can read more on this here. Very important is to note the amount of refined in the game (according to stats.tf), which at the time was about 600k). This was even before the change in idling making it significantly less worthwhile! (April 2013)

 

Now in 2015, Valve has almost completely eliminated the once common carder through various means (such as the untradable cooldown), and keys have skyrocketed in PayPal to about $1.80 (still not the $2.49 in the Store, and it never will be, but it certainly improved). SCM was also introduced since (well, it was in beta in December 2012, but that's basically 2013 anyway). That said, keys are 19 ref and rising at the time of writing, and refined is about $0.10. Since 2012, more people have been playing, and tons more drops have been spawned in (2 years + ~12 weeks = 116 weeks, * 8 drops per week and you end up at 928 weapons per player as a theoretical maximum, which is 51 refined). That's right, 51 refined (as theoretical maximum) per player. Steam reports 80k concurrent players at the time of writing, let's say even just 20k of those players trade, you end up with 1,020,000 refined metal. Those 80k players are just a small portion of those who play TF2 every week. stats.tf states it knows of 3.2 million (so 2.6m added) unique, unduped refined (at the time of writing), and that's just the amount of ref in public backpacks! Since then stats.tf has indexed lots of refined that did exist at the time, but that it didn't know about, but you should also consider that a lot of people still craft hats/tokens/reclaimed/scrap with metal, and so on. There's also millions of scrap and reclaimed metal and I'm not even taking that into consideration.

 

It should be pretty straightforward to do the math now. Since 2012, there has been at least 4.3x as much metal in the game. If we take the old value of keys ($1.20, 2.66) and multiply 2.66 by 4.3, you end up with about 11.33 ref for a key, or close to the current price of ~$0.10. Adjust that for the current key price (2.66 * (1.8 / 1.2) = 4 ) and we get the 17-ish ref. Given that ref is more or less useless, and the price is coming close to $0.09 right now anyway, give or take 2 ref isn't that odd. Once again, that 2 ref should still be easily to explain if we take into account the additional scrap and reclaimed in the game, as well as any that might be in private backpacks.

 

In conclusion, no, the economy is not dying whatsoever. Ever since the carder problem got dealt with, keys have had a way more healthy price in the second hand market. People may complain now that keys are skyrocketing in refined, but that's only because they have been too low in the first place for too long. The increase in price matches the growth in quantity, as it should, in a functioning economy.

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Nice breakdown, you've included some really good points in here and I can tell that you've actually researched the topic unlike most out there....

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