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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. Many of us don’t look after them, but many more do. They’ve been a remarkable success, so much so your 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 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. 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 understand what they’re doing, basically. Me? I’m not some of those people. I just want a very 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 instance 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.

Some time back I saw an excellent talk by Bronwen Grimes, a complex artist at Valve. Inside, she discusses how the little CSGO team implemented the item economy csgo trade bot with weapon skins. She spoke in depth about how players value items and what Valve learned through the process. The initial half is mainly a complex dissection of how they made the skins but the second half is all about player value and how the 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 eliminated each of these. In Dota 2, you are able to always see your hero, so having a customisable character model is sensible – you get to appreciate it. But for Counter-Strike, only other players get to view your character and the team unearthed 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 issue 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 realize now which weapon skins sell for astronomical prices and which don’t. We tend to like the same items, the ones that are flashy and colourful, and thus we drive the prices of those cosmetics up. But that’s not what Valve initially predicted.

Initially, Grimes’team labored on recreating hydrographic camouflages because they’re easier than you think to accomplish 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 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.

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