Counter-Strike’s weapon skins are as numerous as they are glamorous. The most truly effective 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 phenomenal success, so much so the 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 really like 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. 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 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 an interesting thing. Yesterday, I opened a case and it dropped a knife. My first thought was that I could trade it up with my old knife and get an improvement. I’m always wanting to get something better, something rarer.
Some time back I saw an excellent talk by Bronwen Grimes, a specialized artist at Valve. In it, she discusses how the little CSGO team implemented them economy with weapon skins. She spoke comprehensive about how players value items and what Valve learned through the process. The very first half is mostly a specialized dissection of how they made the skins but the second half is about player value and how the economy’s shaped itself. It even details what they considered for customisation before weapon skins. csgo skin trade
As an example, the team looked over 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 are able to always see your hero, so having a customisable character model is practical – you get to appreciate it. However for Counter-Strike, only other players get to see your character and the team found 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 problem would get. Entirely new weapons would cause major balance issues and push veteran CS players far 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 all know now which weapon skins sell for astronomical prices and which don’t. We have a tendency to like exactly the same items, those that are flashy and colourful, and thus we drive the costs of those cosmetics up. But that’s not what Valve initially predicted.
In the beginning, 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 significantly 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.