How Counter-Strike: Global Offensive’s Economy Works

Counter-Strike’s weapon skins are as numerous as they are glamorous. The very best in tactical fashion, they’re bright, they’re weird, they’re occasionally very expensive. Some people don’t care for them, but a lot more do. They’ve been a remarkable success, so much so your rarest knives sell for more compared to Steam wallet’s cap of $500, and betting and trading sites are springing up all around the web.

I’m gonna be straight with you now; I love the weapon skins. I wish I didn’t – I’ve spent more cash than I’d like on stupid digital keys for stupid digital boxes. Some people know the CSGO economy and play it well. They earn money on rare knives, withhold crates until they’re discontinued and spike in price… they know what they’re doing, basically. Me? I’m not some of those people. I simply want an extremely pink, very ‘80s-disco’style Karambit Fade so I can look cool. Or rather, so I can see right now I look cool.

Counter-Strike’s cosmetic economy is a fascinating thing. A week ago, I opened a case and it dropped a knife. My first thought was that I really could trade it down with my old knife and get an improvement. I’m always wanting to obtain something better, something rarer.

A while back I saw an excellent talk by Bronwen Grimes, a specialized artist at Valve. Inside, she discusses how the little CSGO team implemented them economy with weapon skins rust trading site. She spoke in depth about how players value items and what Valve learned through the process. The first half is certainly caused by a specialized dissection of how they made the skins but the 2nd half is about player value and how a economy’s shaped itself. It even details what they considered for customisation before weapon skins.

As an example, the team viewed player model customisation, entirely new weapons and cosmetic mesh changes for existing weapons (so, to be able to reshape the gun barrel, or the grip or the butt, etc.). They ruled out each of these. In Dota 2, you are able to always see your hero, so having a customisable character model is sensible – you get to appreciate it. But also for Counter-Strike, only other players get to see your character and the team found that plenty of changes to the models caused confusion. There were visibility problems and team-identification problems. The more skins were made, the more severe the situation would get. Entirely new weapons would cause major balance issues and push veteran CS players from the format that they loved. And though the team got quite far with the weapon mesh changes, they realised that the silhouettes became confusing and hard to identify. Weapon skins, however, seemed promising.

We all know now which weapon skins sell for astronomical prices and which don’t. We have a tendency to like the exact same items, the ones that are flashy and colourful, and thus we drive the prices of those cosmetics up. But that’s not what Valve initially predicted.

At first, Grimes’team done recreating hydrographic camouflages because they’re easier than you think to do as a beginner skin, and they imagined the CSGO community would value realistic-looking weapons more than, well, tacky-looking ones. I don’t utilize the word ‘tacky’to be mean – I’m the proud owner of a Blood in the Water scout, so y’know. Tacky, in this context, works. And that’s what Valve realised.

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