When Valve introduced weapon skin ‘crates’ to Counter-Strike: Global Offensive just under three years ago, it was advertised as letting players “experience all the illicit thrills of black market weapons trafficking without any of the hanging around in darkened warehouses getting knifed to death.” While it certainly delivered thrills to a segment of the playerbase, and likely played a part in the success the game enjoys today, it led to a different kind of illicit activity:
Specifically, gambling that uses skins and other tradable items as chips and prizes rather than in games of chance, or against the outcome of popular esports tournaments.
If you look at the ‘most popular’ page of the Steam Marketplace, a few facts quickly leap out: almost all of the items are likely to be from CS:GO, there is a high volume of trade traffic, and all the prices are listed in your local currency. While gamers cannot officially take money out of Valve’s digital economy, money earned from the sale of skins and other in-game items can be spent on more skins, chances at new rare skins, and of course, new games.
Not all skins are created equal, of course. For some players, these sites are a harmless way to have fun with duplicate or low-level items that would otherwise go unused. On the other hand, some of these items regularly sell for hundreds of dollars, and many of these sites do not require users to verify their age.
The practice of virtual gambling has come under the spotlight over the last few weeks, with a pair of lawsuits filed against Valve for enabling this situation. Situations such as a pair of YouTube personalities failing to mention their conflict of interest in advertising their own CS:GO gambling website have only added fuel to the fire.
Valve speaks out
In response to this controversy, Valve’s Erik Johnson has released a statement clarifying the digital distribution giant’s position on gambling sites. Namely: that Valve is not involved in any way with these gambling sites, and that the way they operate is against user and API (application developer) agreements.
“In 2011, we added a feature to Steam that enabled users to trade in-game items as a way to make it easier for people to get the items they wanted in games featuring in-game economies.
Since then a number of gambling sites started leveraging the Steam trading system, and there’s been some false assumptions about our involvement with these sites. We’d like to clarify that we have no business relationships with any of these sites. We have never received any revenue from them. And Steam does not have a system for turning in-game items into real world currency.
These sites have basically pieced together their operations in two-part fashion. First, they are using the OpenID API as a way for users to prove ownership of their Steam accounts and items. Any other information they obtain about a user’s Steam account is either manually disclosed by the user or obtained from the user’s Steam Community profile (when the user has chosen to make their profile public). Second, they create automated Steam accounts that make the same web calls as individual Steam users.
Using the OpenID API and making the same web calls as Steam users to run a gambling business is not allowed by our API nor our user agreements. We are going to start sending notices to these sites requesting they cease operations through Steam, and further pursue the matter as necessary. Users should probably consider this information as they manage their in-game item inventory and trade activity.“
While the removal of API-mediated gambling may put a dent in the practice of item-based gambling, it is unlikely to halt it entirely. The outcome of the pending lawsuits – and any future actions from Valve – are more likely to determine their fate.
This article originally appeared on TheMittani.com, written by Ryan Vincent.