No amount of power ups is going to save you from busted knee caps.
There’s been a recent shake-up in the community for a game called Counter Strike: Global Offensive. The first person shooter is made by a company called Valve, which is somewhat notorious for both offering very popular, free-to-play games—Team Fortress 2 and Defense of the Ancients 2 (DotA 2) are examples—and a random element in cosmetic items you can get for your characters in those games. For the price of $2.50, you get a key, which you can use to open a box.
This may seem like a situation where a fool and their money are separated at a fairly expected rate, but there are cosmetic skins for rifles that can range from $400 in value, all the way up to $23,850 (allegedly.) This is a case of supply and demand, and in a market where people will pay $4,000 for a rifle, it’s just not a surprise in any way. The surprising thing is how easy it is to develop a gambling problem before you’re old enough to get a driver’s license.
In the real world, we’ve got laws that keep kids from gambling. It’s usually because they have poor impulse control, they love flashing lights and wacky sound effects, and as we all know, teenagers will eat questionable amounts of food as long as they don’t have to pay for it. It would be a perfect storm to allow them in casinos.
There’s no such restriction on video game gambling, however, or at least in this form of it. Over the past decade there have been several laws cracking down on online casinos, but very few pieces of legislation have done anything about the realm of video games. They get a loophole for gambling, because the things that you win are said to have “no monetary value.” At least, that’s what they’re saying in this lawsuit that’s been launched against them.
As I mentioned in the beginning, though, there’s been a shake-up, and while it’s not entirely Valve’s doing, it is a very strange, and very interesting, turn in what we know about money and the economy outside of video games. Aside from the gambling that players can do to open mystery boxes, there has been a boom in sites where users can gamble skins against one another. The site in question that’s raised a stink has been one CSGOLotto.
Without going into too many of the details that you could read elsewhere, two YouTube streamers with combined subscriber bases of over 10m viewers—with a majority of those viewers likely being children—showcased videos of themselves playing and winning big on the CSGOLotto gambling site. With titles that describe big wins and payouts, they’re clearly pitching the CSGOLotto service to the under-18 set. All of this without disclosing that they’re the owners of said site.
Sounds shady, doesn’t it? With access to the back end of the site and absolutely no disclosure of this in the video, it would be all too easy for the pair to just tilt the odds in their favor and record videos of big wins to dupe any impressionable child, or adult child, into throwing all of their valuable skins into the pot and pulling the One Armed Bandit’s arm for a shot at a big pay day.
(Actual footage of an asshole that wants to steal money from stupid children without putting an “i” in front of the product.)
When we’re talking about a market where you could easily sell these skins over PayPal to other players, we are talking about real money being gambled. There’s no getting around this. If it were players throwing valuable baseball cards into a pot and doing this same thing, nobody would be confused as to how this all really works out.
Real money and video games isn’t anything new. Second Life has a real estate market. A similar real estate game exists in a game called Entropia, where a property has sold for $26,500. The gambling, however, is a little newer, and a little more concerning for players and parents that maybe don’t want to have their finances hollowed out like a jack-o’-lantern in a horror movie made by pumpkins to warn their kids about Halloween.
The clear conflict of interest from these streamers/owners, combined with the easy exchange of items that hold a pretty demonstrable real world value, is making for an interesting look at what we might be able to expect as we move forward with digitally-imposed scarcity models and game systems that encourage repeated play and repeated pay. Mobile games are practically built on these foundations already, but the gambling between players is fairly new.
Oh, and before you dismiss this as just some flash in the pan gimmick that maybe nets a few people a couple thousand dollars a year, it’s a $3.2 billion a year industry. Billion. That’s like million, but it’s got a B, and it’s probably causing your blood to boil if you’re busting your ass at a dead end job while 15-year-olds are cashing out on pots that could pay your mortgage off.
It’s not even an “In the Future!” scenario to suppose that a person can just support themselves doing this sort of thing. There have already been professional gamers that rake in millions based off of their skills in high profile tournaments. The new ground being tread here is the actual ethics of making money on gaming with mechanisms in place that completely bypass the laws that would otherwise protect individuals and consumers from predatory practices. You know, like owning a casino, then filming yourself winning big in that casino while the blackjack dealer is sweating bullets due to the possibility that they would be fired for not playing along with your charade.
With lawsuits that have been aimed both at Valve itself and with potential lawsuits being currently aimed at the owners of CSGOLotto, we might see some interesting legal standards being set on this subject within the year. In the meantime, put down that free lobster tail and get the hell out of de_dust before sundown.