Counter-Strike’s weapon skins are as numerous because 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 many more do. They’ve been an exceptional success, so much so your rarest knives sell for more than 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 you now; I love the weapon skins. I wish I didn’t – I’ve spent more income than I’d like on stupid digital keys for stupid digital boxes. Some individuals 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 one of those people. I just want a really pink, very ‘80s-disco’style Karambit Fade so I will look cool. Or rather, so I can imagine I look cool.
Counter-Strike’s cosmetic economy is an interesting thing. Yesterday, 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.
Some time back I saw a fantastic talk by Bronwen Grimes, a complex artist at Valve. Inside it, she discusses how the small CSGO team implemented that economy csgo trading with weapon skins. She spoke thorough about how exactly players value items and what Valve learned during the process. The first half is mainly a complex dissection of how they made the skins but the 2nd half is approximately player value and the way the economy’s shaped itself. It even details what they considered for customisation before weapon skins.
For example, the team looked over 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 all of these. In Dota 2, you are able to always see your hero, so having a customisable character model is sensible – you can appreciate it. But for Counter-Strike, only other players get to see your character and the team found that lots 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 from the format that they loved. And although 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 realize now which weapon skins sell for astronomical prices and which don’t. We have a tendency to like the same items, those who are flashy and colourful, and thus we drive the prices of these cosmetics up. But that’s not what Valve initially predicted.
At first, Grimes’team worked on recreating hydrographic camouflages because they’re fairly easy to do as a beginner skin, and they imagined the CSGO community would value realistic-looking weapons significantly 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.