Valve have announced they will start cracking down on websites which use Counter-Strike: Global Offensive [official site] weapon skins and Dota 2 items as chips for gambling. For years they've quietly tolerated them, but recent gambling scandals and lawsuits have given Valve and CS:GO a lot of nasty attention. They've had enough of it.
I always knew 'skin gambling' would be part of our dystopian future but, to be honest, I had thought it'd be fleshier.
Let's recap once more! CS:GO has loads of different weapon skins which change how guns and knives look but not how they work. Players can get them as 'drops' by playing, by paying to unlock virtual weapons crates, by swapping them in Steam Trading, and by buying them in the Steam Community Market. Skins are purely for funsies but fads and artificial scarcity mean that certain skins are more desirable. Players can also swap skins through Steam or sell them for Steam credit through the Steam Market. That's the legit side, working as Valve intended. This is a good read for more on that. It's largely the same in Dota 2, only with wizard hats.
Then there's the less-official side. Gambling sites connect to players' accounts through legitimate channels and take their skins as currency for gambling. Some sites let players bet skins on competitive matches to win more skins, while others are basically lotteries where people can win all the skins every player put into the pot. And while Steam only lets players sell items for store credit, some trusting people do buy and sell them for real money by transferring payment outside Steam then passing skins over through Steam Trading. Some go for hundreds of dollars.
This isn't all massively shady, to be clear. For many players, skin gambling is just a bit of harmless fun. Though, obviously, any form of gambling can be a serious problem for some people.
Valve have quietly tolerated, but never endorsed, the gambling until now. While skin gambling has caused scandals and upsets before, from scams to permanent competitive bans for match-fixing, a whole load have recently come at once.
In June, a player filed a lawsuit against Valve, alleging that they "knowingly allowed, supported, and/or sponsored illegal gambling" by making it possible. The suit also says that, without age verification, Valve are letting minors gamble. At the start of July, several popular YouTubers admitted that were the owners of a CS:GO lottery they had promoted in videos without disclosing any interests. Another lawsuit went after them. Then another YouTuber admitted they had been paid in rare skins for a video with a faked big win in another skin lottery. It's a bit ugly.
Sounds like Valve have had enough. Here's the full statement they sent us today:
"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."
However, while Valve indeed never received any money from the gambling sites, they have benefitted from the lively item economy stimulated by gambling. Players buy keys from Valve to get more skins, and Valve take a cut of all Steam Market sales.
I wonder if we'll ever see some sort of official - and regulated - faux-gambling on Steam. Valve do often pick up and improve community ideas, and I know a fair few people who have enjoyed skin gambling purely for funsies. It might take a full server of lawyers to clear an idea like that.