Sunday, August 23, 2015

How CS:GO's In-Game Economy Can Grow a New Generation of Players/Fans and Slow Down Hackers

I've written about Counterstrike and Valve before; most recently being about CS:GO not being ready for the Free-to-Play model. This article will explain how Valve has designed a system where they have created an in-game economy and added a secondary ranking system that has creatively solved the balance between wanting to grow the player base without flooding the competitive matchmaking system with hackers and griefers while growing wave after wave of new players.

Link to original article:

To address the secondary ranking system to get it out of the way; Valve implemented a experience-based ranking system as well as keeping the original skill-based ranking system. While the original system is important for the system to create balanced teams for matchmaking, the newer experience based system serves two purposes - to tell other players how long that player has been at it as well as slowing down the rate at which hackers and griefers can access the competitive matches to ruin it for others. Every account must hit at least level three to play competitive matches, which takes just under a day's worth of hours in-game to get through - this prevents people from just buying new copies and jumping straight into serious games. It gives the system a chance to slow down an individual account and assess what it is doing before letting it roam free.

Now, down to the fun bit:

While Global Offensive isn't free to play yet, the in game economy (briefly explained in link at beginning of article) has created what I would call a "free by referral" system. Valve's system creates a direct-dollar translation of value of items/skins/etc which while it can't be directly traded back for cash, it can be used for other items and more importantly, games in the Steam marketplace.

So, CS GO players that have been at it for a while who have accumulated a stock of items from drops can then theoretically trade it in for more copies of CS GO to give out to friends and strangers. I'd love to see the data that shows the correlation of Steam sales of CSGO with dumps of items into the Steam marketplace and bulk purchases of copies from individual players.

This means that players of any level can eventually earn enough in-game to purchase the game for others without spending another cent on the game, giving the general in-game economy a 'pay it forward' kind of vibe, which is fascinating on an economic as well as social science perspective.

On the other hand, it's generally used by these players to create 'smurf' accounts, basically accounts intended to hide the user's actual skill level. These smurf accounts are used as a vacation for high rank players and/or trolling purposes - while not quite as uplifting as the thought of buying other players copies, it is a real part of the CS/Steam economy.

There is something innately interesting about Counterstrike as a game. On the surface, it's another FPS game, shooting your enemy and winning. The level below that, there is an appreciation for the level of thought high-level players need to compete - everything from usage of sound to the in game physics of throwing a perfect grenade. The level below that is the most interesting - hidden deep past the actual gameplay is that fact that Counterstrike is actually a game about economy. If you ever watch a game, there is a bar at the top of the page that indicates one team's buying power over the other. It's an aspect that can make or break teams - if a player or two refuses to go along with the rest of the team in buying strategy, the opposing team can splinter and slowly rip the team's ability to buy effective weapons and body armor. The quick math needed to analyse the economies of both teams, deciding whether or not to save, partial buy, or full buy is amazing, and is a trait needed for leaders of these teams.

An explanation of how buying strategy affects the game in this video:

Continuing on how CSGO is actually a lesson on economics, the actual marketplace and the buying and selling of skins is the world's easiest lesson on the principles of supply and demand. Watching new cases of weapons skins jump to the 20 dollar range in the first week from rarity and demand to seeing it sell for 10 cents a month later from the market being flooded with the same box will teach your child about the stock market and IPOs better and faster than playing with the real stock markets (see picture below).

The last point about the in-game economy is about how these items are part of the change in how sponsorships work- main sponsors now know what kind of viewership their money bought, and the community itself is now part of the funding for major events, with sticker sales contributing towards the prize money at this year's competition at Cologne. The quote below is from the CSGO newsfeed:

"CS:GO fans had the opportunity to directly support their favorite teams and players and their response was unprecedented: thanks to crowd-funding with event stickers, the players and organizations received a total of over $4.2 million!"
 This means that as teams grow their fanbases, they can now feel directly involved with the amount of pull/sponsorship they will receive, a new addition to the world of e/sports and how that microeconomy works. This realization should further drive the reach of CS/Valve in the long run through the effective harnessing of self-interest in the respective parties.

So, at the end of the day, this article is actually about how Valve and GabeN has basically tricked a bunch of people around the world into learning about how an economy works, and how good flow of currency can help individual teams in competition as well as the system and new players as a whole by combining the principles of capitalism and teamwork together. Absolutely silly and fantastic simultaneously... good job, guys.

Thanks for reading.


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