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Based on the TF2 Spreadsheet, and my experience in trade servers and trade websites, it would seem that most craftable items sell at much lower than the cost of crafting them or uncrating them. For example:

  • A random hat costs 2.66 refined (2 craft hats) to craft, but the average craftable hat sells at 1.33 refined.
  • A key sells for 2.55 refined. The average item you get from a crate, by my calculations, is worth around 1 refined. Unusual items are worth much more, but the probability of getting one is only 1%.

Is it ever statistically more profitable to craft or uncrate, rather than just buy the items you want via trading?

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FWIW, you can combine two craftable hats to make another hat as well gaming.stackexchange.com/questions/29182/… (which is the entire point of them being called "craftable") Since it usually costs less than the 3-ref crafting recipe, most people take that route instead. –  BoltClock Jul 16 '12 at 9:31
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Also possibly relevant: Arbitrage and equilibrium in the Team Fortress 2 economy (a blog post from the economist at Valve, no less) –  BoltClock Jul 16 '12 at 9:32
    
@TheAnnoyingPyro I agree that it's less costly to just craft two hats together, but is it profitable? It costs 2 to 2.66 ref, and I suppose whatever hat you get will most likely sell for less - though I haven't compiled any numbers on that. –  jSepia Jul 16 '12 at 9:45
    
Ah, I realized I misread that part of your question. –  BoltClock Jul 16 '12 at 9:46

3 Answers 3

The only reason you would want to un-crate for profit is for unusuals, salvaged crates, and the special holiday crates. All ususuals are worth more than a key, so are most (probably all) salvaged crate stranges. The holiday crate items don't start with a high price, but they usualy skyrocket after a few months. Look at festives. If you want specific items from crates, it is better to sell the keys for metal, or trade the keys directly for the items you want.

It all depends on what you are looking for. If you want profit, uncrating is not the way to go. If you want to excperience the thrill of luck, then uncrating is right for you. But, most of the time, profit is not gained from uncrating (unless Gaben is on your side).


Random crafting though, can be much more profitable than uncrating. If you buy two 1 ref hats, and craft them and get a Double Cross Comm (super rare hat), you can resell for a massive profit. But, there are low chances to get these "rare" hats, so it is not too easy to make profit. BUT, if you time it right as a new hat comes out, you can craft for an attempt at a craft # item. The values of these are very odd, ranging from 1-3 keys to 1-3 Buds, depending on the number and the hat.

The same as above applies to random weapon crafts, but random weapon crafts is much more profitable, becuase there are less total weapons. You just get a Class Token (for a class that has a rare weapon), a Slot Token (matching the same slot as the rare weapon), and a scrap, and craft them together. Some rare weapons are worth 1.33-2 ref, depending on the weapon and how new it is. The craft # bit also applies here.

Edits based on recent economy shifts:

Unless you only count the first #30 Slavaged Crate, it is not worth it to unbox Slavaged Crates most of the time. The values of the (salvaged) crates exceed the value of most of the items in it (excluding the rarest drops out of them). You can make profit from unboxing though, if you unbox at the right time. If you happen to have some tradable keys when a new crate type comes out, find a tradable crate, then unbox it, you could make profit. But, with the "wait a week to trade items recently purchased thing," this method takes lots of patience and time. Also, you would have to find someone who wants to buy the item for lots of money early, and does not want to wait. Once 1-2 weeks have pasted, the values of the items from the new crate(s) will have decreased.

The profit from Festives is also dying. With more and more people wanting to try and make massive profit from re-selling festives once an event is over, the prices of Strange Festives are dropping. 2014's Strange Festives are falling through the floor, and I will assume that 2015's will be even worse (in price).

AND, with the rising price of keys (and the dropping prices of everything else), trading your keys for metal/the items you want would be the right way to go. Unless my source is wrong, keys are currently at 18 ref and climbing.

In conclusion: you are better off selling your Keys for either the metal to buy the thing you want or trading the Key directly for it. The chance for making profit from unboxing is way to low, and the profits earned from crafting weapons is too little for the risk involved.

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I had to splice this answer up due to recent economy changes. –  Shadow Z. Mar 27 at 17:01

It really is not profitable most of the time to unbox or craft. Trying to unbox a crate or craft a hat is putting luck to the test. For example, like you said, keys cost about 2.55 ref. while most of the items in a crate cost 1-2 ref, you are always shooting for that unusual, yet you need a lot of luck to get it. If you try crafting a hat, it takes 3 ref, or 2.66 in craft hats. While most outcomes would spit out another craft hat, you could get something worth 4x what you put in, like an all father. It is all luck.

To conclude, it really isn't a good investment to unbox or craft a hat. You are just shooting for that lucky craft or unbox that you might get, and hope to make it worth it. If you want something, best bet is to just try and get it from someone else. Hope this helps

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Agreed, trading is the way to go. –  Steve V. Jul 23 '12 at 19:20
    
Thanks for the answer, but you did say "It is not profitable most of the time"... So is there any case in which it is profitable? (aside from luck-based things like unusuals) That was my question. –  jSepia Jul 25 '12 at 1:59

As for crafting hat for 3 ref, there is always a chance to craft The Allfather, which is worth far more ref (around 20).

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The original post already states that the author is aware that you can craft high-value hats, but that the average value of a crafted hat is only 1.33 ref. –  Schism Oct 22 '12 at 21:13

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