Setting up a successful item market for your game is quite a fickle thing with free-to-play games. Creating one for a retail game is even harder, yet Valve appears to have a knack for it. I think it’s a combination of the rapport they’ve built with their user base and the fact that they just make really polished games. Probably the most important aspect of Valve’s item markets is the user integration. A lot of the items are community created. The most popular topic when you hear about Valve’s item markets is the Team Fortress 2 hat market. I want to look at a market that’s attached to a pay-to-play game though, so let’s talk about Counter Strike: Global Offensive. It’s been a bit overshadowed by the success of Dota 2, but there’s a strong dedicated user-base that helps drive this crazy item market. Well, I say crazy as in, I’m trying to imagine me going back in time and explaining this all to my nine-year-old self who’s sitting there playing Genesis. “In the future you can play a game, earn items in the game, then bet them on matches of other “professional” teams that you watch play matches online.”
Valve isn’t shy either about their push for e-sports. (I know that’s a terrible name, but it’s what we got right now.) Between the new e-sports documentary Valve just released, and the tournaments they are funding, Valve knows that competitive gaming is a great opportunity. Pushing for sponsored teams to play your game on Twitch or at large tournaments undoubtedly helps retain long-term interest in a game. With CS:GO specifically, there’s a whole community that revolves around csgolounge. Not only can you put up your gun skins for trade with other steam users, but you can bet them on sanctioned matches.
Whenever you add a gambling aspect to anything, you can expect people to take it more seriously. Watch any match on Twitch and the chat will be filled with people super excited or pissed off because they have their precious knife skin or the like on the line. For the uninitiated, the average weapon skin in CS:GO is around a few cents to a couple of dollars. For the most popular skins it can go up to 60-ish dollars. But for knives, they usually start at $90 and go up from there. So is this a good thing or a bad thing to have people starting to intertwine gambling with e-sports? Certainly it’s nothing completely new, but now it’s made so easy. It just takes a few mouse clicks really and it’s pretty secure, so this gambling aspect is opened up to a broader audience. On it’s face, there’s not much to see wrong with it. You’re mostly gambling item skins and not real money, so there’s no real harm right? But the items themselves represent a time investment, so if someone forms an addiction, there’s still the possibility of them being just as affected as a real gambling addict. Just ask some of the competitive players who get death threats from users who lost some highly valued items because of a lost match.
On the positive side though, (for fans of the games and Valve), tying in an addictive aspect to gaming will undoubtedly help with the push to make e-sports more viable as wide-spread entertainment that people are interested in watching. Just look at fantasy football or the like. Gambling certainly has its dark side, but it’s been ingrained in entertainment forever. At least as far as competitive games are concerned I think we’ll be seeing developer sanctioned gambling start to evolve to take advantage of a market that is certainly there and wanting more.
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