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 of us don’t look after 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 around the web.
I’m gonna be straight with you now; I enjoy the weapon skins. I wish I didn’t – I’ve spent additional money than I’d like on stupid digital keys for stupid digital boxes. Many people 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 understand what they’re doing, basically. Me? I’m not one of those people. I just want an extremely 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 exciting thing. A week ago, I opened an incident and it dropped a knife. My first thought was that I 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 an excellent talk by Bronwen Grimes, a specialized artist at Valve. Inside it, she discusses how the little CSGO team implemented the item economy with weapon skins. She spoke comprehensive about how players value items and what Valve learned during the process. The initial half is mostly a specialized dissection of how they made the skins but the second half is approximately player value and how the economy’s shaped itself. It even details what they considered for customisation before weapon skins.
For instance, 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 every one of these. In Dota 2, you are able to always see your hero, so having a customisable character model is practical – you can appreciate it. However trade csgo skins for Counter-Strike, only other players get to see your character and the team discovered that plenty 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 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 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 costs of the cosmetics up. But that’s not what Valve initially predicted.
At first, Grimes’team worked on recreating hydrographic camouflages because they’re easier than you think to do as a beginning 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.