Counter-Strike’s weapon skins are as numerous as they are glamorous. The top in tactical fashion, they’re bright, they’re weird, they’re occasionally very expensive. Many of us don’t look after them, but a lot more do. They’ve been an exceptional success, so much so 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 enjoy 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 individuals know the CSGO economy and play it well. They make money 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 some of those people. I just want a really pink, very ‘80s-disco’style Karambit Fade so I can look cool. Or rather, so I would ever guess I look cool.
Counter-Strike’s cosmetic economy is an interesting thing. Yesterday, I opened an incident and it dropped a knife. My first thought was that I possibly could trade it down 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 complex artist at Valve. Inside it, she discusses how the tiny CSGO team implemented that economy with weapon skins. She spoke csgo skin trading comprehensive about how precisely players value items and what Valve learned during the process. The first half is mostly a complex dissection of how they made the skins but the second half is all 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 looked at player model customisation, entirely new weapons and cosmetic mesh changes for existing weapons (so, being 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 makes sense – you can appreciate it. But for Counter-Strike, only other players get to view 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 away from the format they loved. And although 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 often like exactly the same items, those who are flashy and colourful, and thus we drive the values of those cosmetics up. But that’s not what Valve initially predicted.
In the beginning, Grimes’team worked 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 a lot 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.