So I’m letting Steam do it’s thing (i.e. download updates) when I notice the little envelope icon is green. A message. It’s a friend request. It’s a name from Breaking Bad, with some sort of clan taggery around the name, and an accompanying Bryan Cranston icon. I have no idea who it is and we don’t have any friends in common. But I’m not picky. This isn’t Xbox Live, where no one could possibly have more than 100 friends. So I accept the friend request. At which point I almost immediately hear that little bloop of an incoming chat message from my new friend.
After the jump, hey mister, how much for the hat?
He leads with idle banter. “What’s up?” he asks. I tell him I’m downloading updates. Do I know this person? Sometimes my real life friends tell me their goofy online names and I forget, and then they talk to me online and I have no idea who they are.
“Ok,” he says. So now the idle banter is out of the way. As far as I’m concerned, it’s still his move in our awkward chat volley, so I go back to watching the updates download.
“Let’s trade,” he says after a moment.
Trade? Trade what? Magic cards? Action figures? Collectibles from Xenoblade Chronicles? Tales of our exploits in Guild Wars 2?
It turns out this fellow is keen to get something I have in my inventory. He tells me that’s why he friended me. First of all, how can this guy see what’s in my inventory? Second of all, I have an inventory?
“Bill’s hat,” he says.
Bill’s (not pictured) hat (pictured)? Oh, right, the hats in Team Fortress 2. Valve’s golden eggs. So this guy who I don’t know wants Bill’s hat. Which is a pretty stupid name for an inventory item. Let me go see what he’s on about.
Oh, that Bill. The old dude from Left 4 Dead. Basically, the Dale or Hershel character. The one I’m about ten years away from identifying with, so I might as well get used to liking him. But what do I care about his hat? I barely even play Team Fortress 2. Last time I tried, here on my LAN, playing the co-op mode with my friends in the same room, we all died in short order and they then declared that it was awful. We spent the rest of the evening playing the new Counter-Strike instead.
When this guy opens a trade window — who knew there were trade windows in Steam? — I’m pretty much inclined to just give him Bill’s hat. What do I care about a hat? But it occurs to me that if this guy is rifling through random people’s inventories to find a particular hat, maybe it’s not just a hat. Maybe it’s got some crazy online value and I’m just some rube who stumbled upon it. In World of Warcraft, I once killed a jaguar a few levels beneath me and found some sort of parrot that was worth a bazillion platinum pieces or something. I was told I should sell it. I couldn’t have cared less. I popped the crate open and had some multibillion dollar parrot hovering over my shoulder for the remaining few days I played World of Warcraft. I was even stopped on the street in Ogrimmar by someone and told I was a fool for not selling the parrot.
So I ask the guy to hold on for a second and I quickly Google “bill’s hat team fortress 2″. I discover it’s some sort of pre-order deal from Left 4 Dead. As in, limited edition. As in, finite supply. As in, this guy could spend the rest of his life grinding away at TF2Bucks or whatever they’re called and never get one.
And while I’m Googling this, the guy is chatting me — bloop bloop bloop — with messages explaining its value. He tells me that Bill’s hat is worth eight keys, and the keys are each worth 1.99 euros. Euros! Those are even better than dollars. I was about to give this guy something worth more than sixteen dollars. Now he’s dumping some weapons into the trade window. Since I don’t play Team Fortress 2, I have no idea how good these weapons are. For all I know, he’s offered me the equivalent of a Hattori Hanzo sword, a Hand of Vecna, and the rifle used to kill JFK. I am clearly out of my element here, bartering for something with no sense for its value.
Meanwhile, my new friend is telling me about his most valuable hat, which I think he says is worth a thousand dollars. That can’t be right. I must have done the math wrong, with the the euros and keys and whatnot. Surely there aren’t thousand dollar hats in Team Fortress 2. Maybe there are. I’m still utterly boggled that people are selling undead chicken pets in Guild Wars 2 for a hundred dollars.
As I’m asking the guy to get back to me later so I can look into it, he apologizes for his English, and says that he’s French. Which explains the Euro thing. But when he says this, I immediately like the guy for how much light it sheds on who he is. He’s either very young, or very bold, or very desperate — most likely all three — to cast about on Steam to find someone with Bill’s hat and solicit a trade from someone who doesn’t speak his native language. If he’d just told me his first name, if he’d just stepped out from behind his fondness for Breaking Bad and whatever those inscrutable clan tags mean, I probably would have given him the hat right there because it’s much easier to extend kindness to a real person than an online persona.
So now I have no idea what to do with Bill’s hat. Play more Team Fortress 2 so I can wear it? Give it to the French Breaking Bad fan? Sell it for keys? Can you even give people keys? And what do you then do with them? Sell it on eBay? Can you do that? Donate it to charity? Let it sit in my inventory and accrue value? When World of Warcraft launched, Blizzard sent me a collector’s edition, but not until after I’d already bought my own collector’s edition at a midnight sale. So now I have a shrink-wrapped collector’s edition of World of Warcraft. Occasionally, someone will tell me it’s worth money on eBay, which I find hard to believe, but then we look and sure enough, it’s worth money. One day, I should get around to selling that to someone who cares enough to pay for it.
But first, I have to figure out what to do with Bill’s hat. That’s where you come in. I don’t normally solicit comments, because I figure people will post comments if they want to. But in this case, as a guy completely out of touch with the economy of whatever Valve is doing with hats and keys and euros, I specifically need your help.