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Unusual Hat Pricing: Explained!
By \:D/ and 1 collaborators
An easy-to-understand explanation of how and why unusual hats are priced according to their effect and "tier". It hit the #1 spot on /r/TF2 and has been republished on SteamRep, so you know it's gotta be good.

This guide predates the Robotic Boogaloo update. As such, none of the 2013 effects are listed and I don't plan on revising the guide any time soon.
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Preamble
You just spent $2.50 on a key to open your Mann Co. crate, and to your utmost surprise, you found something actually valuable inside.

Congrats - you're now part of an exclusive club of thousands of people who own unusual hats. Here's what you've gotta know before you should even start thinking about trading it off.
What's an unusual hat?
Alright, this ♥♥♥♥'s super simple: an unusual hat is simply, well, a hat. However, two things about this "unusual" hat are different: one, it has purple text, instead of the normal yellow or orange you'd see, and two, most importantly, it has a snazzy particle effect attached to it. See below.

Why are unusuals special?
By most players, they’re seen as a status symbol, simply because they’re so rare. Each crate has a 1% chance of dropping an unusual – and some unusuals are worth much more than others. I’ll go into that later. Anyway – unusual hats are special because they look awesome (usually) and generally cost a lot to unbox. This isn’t the rule, of course, since many players have found unusuals with their first, second, or third unbox, but new effects can command astounding prices.
So, unusuals cost a lot of money – do people trade them? Which ones are the best?
I'll tackle this one part at a time.

Firstly, unusuals can be worth anywhere between a few dollars and a few thousand dollars. To give an example of the lower range, let's take a look at this hat:

(Smoking Detective Noir, $35)

This is a Smoking Détective Noir, a hat for the Spy. It commands a price of around 28 keys[backpack.tf], which is roughly equivalent to $36 USD at time of publication. It's certainly not the worst hat, but it's definitely not at the level of the best hats available. It's valued lower because the effect is "lower tier" and Spy hats generally cost less (because he spends most of his time disguised).

Now, let's take a look at the other end of the spectrum. The hat in the image below is worth roughly $1,500 USD. Why? Three main reasons:
  • It's a hat which three of the most popular classes can wear (Soldier, Heavy, and Medic).
  • The hat itself is visually similar to that worn by M. Bison from the Street Fighter series of games.
  • Sunbeams is a highly-desired effect on any hat.

These attributes combine into the Sunbeams Team Captain, which is worth approximately 50 buds[backpack.tf]:

(Sunbeams Team Captain. $1500.)

This provides a great opportunity to segue into my next point, which is to explain the reasoning behind hat values.

I'm going to say it upfront: it's arbitrary. The entire TF2 economy is arbitrary, and it's a fascinating microcosm in which its denizens have created a barter system which is both intricate and idiotic (to some).

Anyway. Unusual hats, as I said before, are composed of two components: the hat itself and the effect attached to it. Both of these have different levels of desirability, which can be bewildering to new traders. Not to worry, though: I'm here to explain!
Hat Tiers
I'm not going to go through every hat and assign it a value - that'd be an exercise in futility, as I'm sure the great folks at Valve are working their robotic hineys off, modeling and texturing new hats for TF2 players to buy and trade. I'm just going to point out some stereotypically "top-tier" hats and some bottom-tier ones, also known as "cancer". I know that "cancer" sounds like I'm some sort of /b/tard, but that's actually what traders call it. Their words, not mine!

Some top-tier unusual hats include:
  • The Team Captain
  • The Surgeon's Stahlhelm
  • The Killer Exclusive
  • Samur-Eye
  • El Jefe
  • Villain's Veil
  • Triboniphorus Tyrannus
  • Troublemaker's Tossle Cap
On the other hand, you've got some seriously ugly hats classed as cancer, including:
  • The Nanobalaclava (which I, personally, have a soft spot for)
  • Coupe D'isaster
  • Madame Dixie
  • Dread Knot
  • Geisha Boy
  • Janissary Ketche
  • Doctor's Sack
(Sunbeams Nanobalaclava, owned by yours truly. $120.)
Effect Tiers
Fortunately, there aren't nearly as many unusual effects as there are hats, so I'm happy to list them out here - though I might miss a few! Please note that this is all subjective, and I'm sure that some people will disagree with me.
  • Top Tier
Includes effects like Burning Flames, Scorching Flames, and Sunbeams. Also includes some exclusive Halloween effects like Cloudy Moon and It's A Secret To Everybody. These are the best and most expensive effects that you can get, and they look absolutely <em>fabulous</em> - and, as you'd expect, they command a premium price. Hats with these effects can cost anywhere from 4 buds (cancer hats) to 100 buds (the Burning Flames Team Captain is an example of this).
  • Mid-Tier
These effects fall just a little short of being the best available - this tier includes Green Energy, Purple Energy, Circling Heart, Haunted Ghosts, and Cauldron Bubbles.
  • Low-Tier
Now we're at the effects which not everyone loves, or which are valued lower than the rest. In this tier, we've got effects like Vivid Plasma, Searing Plasma, Stormy Storm, Blizzardy Storm, Smoking, Steaming, Orbiting Fire, Eerie Orbiting Fire, and Orbiting Planets. These effects aren't the worst by far, but they're not the most desired either.
  • Cancer-Tier
Now we're in the realm of "oh my gosh, this hat is going to be hard to sell unless it's a high-tier hat". The effects on these hats are either ugly as heck or aren't visible enough for people to notice in the heat of battle - this includes stinkers like Orbiting TF Logo, Orbiting Peace Sign, Massed Flies (occasionally worth quite a bit with certain hats), Bubbling, Green Confetti, Nuts n' Bolts, and Purple Confetti. The absolute worst hats with these effects will sell for as little as eleven or twelve keys.
(Purple Confetti Furious Fukaamigasa. $24.)
Hold on – you keep talking about keys and buds. What the heck are they?
Aha. This bit is important. Mann Co. Crate Keys (also just known as "keys") and Earbuds (shortened to "buds" usually) are the de facto currency of the Team Fortress unusual trading economy. Keys are worth about $1.25 each, and, at the time of publication, buds are worth approximately $32 each. Other, more expensive items exist as lesser-used currencies (such as Max's Severed Head and the appropriately-named Hat of Undeniable Wealth and Respect), but they're really only used in really big trades - so, usually, you'll see traders asking for x amount of keys for their cancer hat, or y amount of buds for their Nuts n' Bolts Surgeon's Stalhlhelm.

If you want to do any sort of trading for unusuals, it's imperative that you have either one of these currencies - nobody will sell to you otherwise.
I unboxed an unusual. What’s it worth? Is the deal I got offered worth it?
Firstly, pricing unusuals is tricky - there are lots of different sources for pricing of unusuals, and some are more reliable than others. Lots of people use TF2PriceCheck's Unusual Bible[www.tf2pricecheck.net], but I've found that it's often susceptible to outdated prices and bias by the few people who bother to "set" prices. On the other hand, backpack.tf's price list[backpack.tf] is democratically determined by people who actually have to provide proof of the hat's value (trades where it's sold at a certain price, etc.), which is why I wholeheartedly recommend it. However, again, it's important to note that not all prices on the site are accurate. When in doubt, submit a price check request to /r/TF2Trade and you'll (hopefully) get a good range of opinions.

Of course, it's up to you what you sell for, but backpack.tf is generally a good guide for a ballpark price to set on your precious hat.
(Stormy Storm Triboniphorus Tyrannus. $130.)
What is a shark?
A shark is someone who preys on new users by offering them low-value items for the new user's high-value items. Here's an example:
  • Shark sees Unassuming Noob unbox a Green Energy Fruit Shoot and immediately sends a trade request.
  • His interest piqued, Unassuming Noob accepts the trade request, excited that he'll get something really nice out of this trade for his shiny new hat.
  • Shark tells Unassuming Noob that his new hat is only worth, say, five keys (or offers a few laser weapons). Unassuming Noob, being the new player that he is, accepts Shark's lie as truth, and goes ahead with the trade.
  • Upon completion of the trade, Shark leaves the server immediately and goes to sell off the Green Energy Fruit Shoot for 3 buds - a ridiculous profit.
  • Unassuming Noob eventually finds out that he was sharked, and is sad about it.
Sharking is ridiculously immoral, and only ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥s do it.
Someone offered me PayPal/WebMoney for my hat. Should I accept?
This really depends on your level of experience with unusual trading. If you’re new to it, I would highly recommend that you only trade for TF2 items like buds and keys. If you’ve done a bunch of unusual trading before, then feel free to make your own decision on it, since you likely know the risks behind selling hats for money.
(Massed Flies Grim Hatte. $180.)
Conclusion
Y'know those nights where it's nearly midnight and you feel a bit like writing a guide to help noobs out then it's 2 AM and holy ♥♥♥♥ I need to get up at 7 tomorrow morning?

Yeah.

Anyway, I hope I've stayed coherent throughout this - I'm talking from experience, though I'd very much like to thank, in no particular order:
  • the lovely folks at /r/tf2trade and the associated Steam group - they're always very happy to explain things to new players and often spend their time making guides on how to profit from trading
  • shokwaav, for making (and allowing me to use) the fantastic screenshots included in the article, which demonstrate unusual hats and effects
  • Brad Pitt (not the actor!), for starting the backpack.tf community
  • base64, for providing some absolutely fantastic data on the economy through TF2Finance[tf2finance.com].

That's all for now.

(originally published on my personal blog[theohmanifest.wordpress.com])

(Themed hats? Not even going there. That's a whole 'nother kettle of fish...)
476 Comments
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MarioForLife Nov 30 @ 6:16pm 
MAH DREM IS NUTZ N BULTZ GIBUS!

But seriously, its Scorching Modest
-=FaZe=- Festive autist Oct 12 @ 4:52pm 
I just spent 1500 dollars on a hat that exists within a virtual gameworld.

Meanwhile, people are starving in africa.
Need A Dispenser Here Aug 30 @ 7:07am 
You've gotta be pretty mindf*cked, brainless, idiot with no social life to buy a f*cking hat worth of 1500$. Really. Unless you live in a rich family where money is not an issue.
[DFS] Unstable™ Aug 16 @ 12:58pm 
My dream unusual: Charmer's Chapeu with spellbound effect
[FIW]Crazy Agile Jul 30 @ 6:41pm 
I honestly Love bubbling affect...... Then again Everyone calls me derpy. Bad eyes, Very clumsy, and focus is a tad off.
cerberus103 Jul 12 @ 8:14pm 
my least favorite effects are the TF logo, heart, secret to everybody, nuts and bolts, and massed flies. all of the rest i think look cool
Why is leg? Jul 1 @ 8:47am 
I have an unusual Firewall Helmet for the Pyro, painted black, with the Poisoned Shadows effect. I don't know how valuable it is.
Jeffro_ Jun 29 @ 4:18pm 
i like the fetti hats and the orbiting tf2 logo
'Pootis' Jun 2 @ 6:59am 
My Favorite Unusual Effect is Circling TF2 Logo, Now I Feel Bad *Grabs Tissue*
Exonautprime May 24 @ 10:48pm 
Wow my medic looks just like the one in the picture only i waer Dad Uberstermann.