Counter-Strike’s weapon skins are as numerous because they are glamorous. The top in tactical fashion, they’re bright, they’re weird, they’re occasionally very expensive. Some of us don’t care for them, but a lot more do. They’ve been a remarkable 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 love 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. Many 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 very well 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 will look cool. Or rather, so I would ever guess I look cool.
Counter-Strike’s cosmetic economy is an exciting thing. Yesterday, I opened a case 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 have something better, something rarer.
A little while back I saw an incredible talk by Bronwen Grimes, a specialized artist at Valve. Inside, she discusses how the small CSGO team implemented them economy with weapon skins rust skins. She spoke comprehensive about how precisely players value items and what Valve learned during the process. The initial half is mainly a specialized dissection of how they made the skins but the second half is approximately player value and how a economy’s shaped itself. It even details what they considered for customisation before weapon skins.
For instance, the team viewed 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 ruled out every one of these. In Dota 2, you can always see your hero, so having a customisable character model is practical – you’re able to appreciate it. But also for Counter-Strike, only other players get to view your character and the team unearthed 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 issue would get. Entirely new weapons would cause major balance issues and push veteran CS players from the format which 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 realize 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 values of those cosmetics up. But that’s not what Valve initially predicted.
At first, Grimes’team labored on recreating hydrographic camouflages because they’re fairly easy to complete 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.