From Mods to Mousemats
How CS:GO’s Community Workshop created a new artistic industry.
Community modifications are very much the heart and soul of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. After all, the game itself started as a mod to 1998’s Half-Life, which led to the two creators of the mod Minh “Gooseman” Le and Jess Cliffe being hired by Valve, and their work being published as the original Counter-Strike in 2000.
That didn’t stop the community from continuing to modify the game, introducing new maps, game modes, gun models and more to the FPS. A majority of the more expansive mods were focused on older titles in the series such as the aforementioned original game and its sequel 2006’s Counter-Strike: Source. Now, the newest game in the series, 2012’s Counter-Strike: Global Offensive introduced the Steam Workshop to the series. The Workshop is a community platform enabling players to post their modifications and allow others to vote on their favourite items.
Full-Time Job Potential
With 2013’s Arms Deal update, Valve introduced Weapon Skins — cosmetic items which allowed you to customize your weapon without affecting its in-game stats in any way. With the introduction of the update, the company began hand-picking some of the most popular skins for inclusion in the game, while also paying their creators a percentage of the profits from skin sales.
While you may think that this would simply be an additional source of income for young aspiring artists, even back in 2013, a skin would net you $40,000 a year according to skin designer Chris “CLeGFX” Le, with the estimates now reaching over six figures.
Skins thus are a hobby that can quickly become a job, although getting that far demands a degree of luck and perseverance, since skins are often selected years after submission, and each has to compete with thousands of other skins. This forces skin makers to often do more than create the skin itself, with marketing it becoming an important part of the workshop submission process.
However, the rewards go far beyond a yearly payout. A skin being accepted into the game means that your other skins are likelier to also be accepted down the line. Valve has a certain affinity for building their skin inventories around themes, adding multiple skins sharing the same theme to the game.
This means that there are a few creators who are making big bucks off of skin collections. This includes creators like Coridium, who had 6 skins from his sci-fi inspired Asiimov collection added to the game and Donschi, whose “Neo-Noir” designs appear on 4 guns in the game.
An additional benefit of the way Valve approaches their skins is that they do not immediately take an author’s entire design language as their own, instead using the IP solely for the purposes of the weapons they add to the game. This allowed Puffin, Rigman, SIR and Medic! to sell their design outside of the game, creating an exclusive partnership with Steelseries that our Community Manager still complains about missing out on every opportunity he gets.
With time, it’s easy to imagine a world where more skins cross over like the Neon Rider did, especially when it comes to the more vibrant, digital-art based designs. This adds another layer of involvement for Community creators. It’s not just that they can earn thousands of dollars off of their skin being accepted to the workshop. For some designs, that’s just the beginning, and a platform to promote themselves as illustrators, designers and digital artists.
While only a select few artists will ever get a Steelseries deal like Puffin and co., skins enabled many of them to pursue other opportunities in the digital art and design space. Even if a skin isn’t accepted into the game, it’s still a useful addition to your artistic portfolio.
For example, Le used the money he made from his successful workshop submissions to create RTFKT, a collective which combines digital art with physical sneakers, creating one-of-a-kind collectibles that exist in both spaces.
Not Just CS:GO
While Counter-Strike is probably the most popular (and profitable!) implementation of this model, it’s certainly not the only one. Valve’s other hit game, DOTA 2 uses a similar system for their cosmetics, but other games such as Warframe have started implementing similar features.
It’s easy to see why, as well. Cosmetics are a big part of gaming nowadays, and outsourcing them to the community helps create a unique bond between the playerbase and the game. It’s also a huge boon to the game in terms of the items themselves. The bigger creator pool lends itself to create a more diverse cosmetic collection.
After all, even the best artists have a certain stylistic preference, that will always subtly shine through their work. Sourcing work from multiple people will always create a more original, and more authentic collection, where artists can use their style instead of suppressing it.
If you look at VALORANT or Overwatch, their skins are pleasant, yet they lack a certain oomph, or soul. They’re created to be a certain thing. Shiny. Colourful. But they lack the expression of personal taste and their own character because, because due to their nature, they are less stylistically diverse. There are benefits for Riot in this as well, of course, keeping all the profits from the skins in-house is certainly one argument against creating a community market. Unsurprisingly, Counter-Strike also has skins created by Valve artists, which offer a more controlled, developer-driven experience as well.
However, Valve’s mixed approach allows you to craft an inventory that speaks to you on a personal level, whether it be the more generic skins, or the more original community creations. Would the market be as engaged if the only skins there were from Valve? Probably not.
A Model for the Future?
With the ever-evolving gaming landscape, nothing is certain, however, we feel that community involvement is key to video game growth. Allowing players to create their own content, as well as use other people’s content has been a key to success for many games in the past. Adding a well-thought-out monetary element to the equation is sure to only make it more interesting and profitable.
CS:GO, DOTA 2 and Warframe might be modelling an exciting future in how digital goods are created and distributed in gaming, and we can’t wait to see more.