I want some refined for a hat. How can I do that? Well, I have a single refined saved up in my inventory from the past (earned via trading, not purely through item crafting.) I could buy a hat, or craft one with three refined. Three refined gets me a hat with my name on it, or about 1.44 refined gets me someone else's crafted hat, according to Scrap.TF's prices, and it is a lot more for a more unique 'uncraftable' hat. Refined is the cornerstone of the market, and it's basically worthless since it has a technically infinite amount. Now, before Valve cracked down on Idlers, you could make a lot of money with maybe a couple of hundred dollars, especially with 6821 accounts in your possession!
Now, Valve has a massive virtual economy, and a hoard of users behind it (Some of whom are more than willing to pay hundreds of dollars for a knife!), and with any economy you don't want people messing with it. Much like the real world has outlawed insider trading, Valve bans people who flood their market, destroying the price. The funny thing is, Valve's in-house economist later went on to work for the government of Greece to help solve their economic crisis. Now, Valve probably wouldn't come after some small-scale idler using their main or their
smurf alternate account. They want to go after the people who had hundreds of people running TF2 in textmode to make that sort of money. With the new policy, you have to be running on a VAC-secured server, and your items don't pile up, but rather you get one, and you must alt out and click to accept it. No third party programs, either! But, I don't think Idling is completely dead, especially on a small-scale thing.
Let's do some napkin math. According to the TF2 wiki, we can get around 10 items before the probability falls off a cliff, and assuming a worst case scenario of 70 minutes per item (Worst case scenario, but it's only costing us about an hour of time) we get 12 hours per account. That means for each virtual machine slot, you can get 14 clients, earning 7.77 refined per week. That means you'll be using a best-case scenario of maybe 30 watts of power per slot, adding up to 5 KwH, meaning you probably spent 50 cents to earn 85 to 93 cents worth of refined. Add that up over a year, and you get a whole $18 profit. Not enough to even buy Dark Souls III, maybe instead you should get Garry's Mod since you enjoy wasting time so much.
"But what if you run multiple clients!" you might ask. Well, that's going to cut into your profits some more, fella. It costs $5 USD to get a premium account, and you're probably going to spend that money on some bitchin' keys to get some sick
knives unusual hats. Crates are worth a scrap, or 0.11 refined because that's the lowest it goes. Good luck getting any sort of cash out of that, since the market is even more flooded with those, so you might as well delete them. So now your profit is down to $13 per client per client for the first year, investing in a deprecating 'currency'. Will TF2 even be around with Overwatch coming out in a few months time? You'll spend maybe $20 to set up four clients, earning you $3.52 bucks a month, for the market to potentially collapse in a month, leaving you $16.48 down the gutter (Not counting electricity!)
So, why the fuck did I make this? Well, TF2 Idling is definitely a thing of the past, but Farming may be coming to fruition. I'll be making another blog post as I research into this phenomenon.
TL;DR: Overwatch may bring an end to our hat economy, but if it doesn't you could probably make a few cents a day, if you spread your initial investment over a year.