Just how Counter-Strike: Global Offensive’s Economic system Operates


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 of us don’t take care of them, but many more do. They’ve been an exceptional success, so much so that the rarest knives sell for more compared to the Steam wallet’s cap of $500, and betting and trading sites are springing up all over the web.

I’m gonna be straight with at this point you; I really like the weapon skins. I wish I didn’t – I’ve spent more money than I’d like on stupid digital keys for stupid digital boxes. Some individuals know the CSGO economy and play it well. They generate income on rare knives, withhold crates until they’re discontinued and spike in price… they know very well what they’re doing, basically. Me? I’m not one particular people. I just want a very pink, very ‘80s-disco’style Karambit Fade so I can look cool. Or rather, so I can imagine I look cool.

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

A little while back I saw a fantastic talk by Bronwen Grimes, a specialized artist at Valve. Inside it, she discusses how the small CSGO team implemented the item economy with weapon skins. She spoke in depth about how players value items and what Valve learned throughout the process. The first half is mostly a specialized dissection of how they made the skins but the next half is approximately csgo trade player value and how a economy’s shaped itself. It even details what they considered for customisation before weapon skins.

For 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 eliminated all of these. In Dota 2, you can always see your hero, so having a customisable character model is practical – you get to appreciate it. But also for Counter-Strike, only other players get to view your character and the team discovered that a lot of changes to the models caused confusion. There have been 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 away from the format 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 same items, the ones that are flashy and colourful, and thus we drive the costs of these cosmetics up. But that’s not what Valve initially predicted.

Initially, Grimes’team labored on recreating hydrographic camouflages because they’re easier than you think to complete as a starter skin, and they imagined the CSGO community would value realistic-looking weapons more than, well, tacky-looking ones. I don’t use 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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