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Initially, Valve had considered skins that appeared as camouflage would be more desirable to help hide on some maps, but found there was more community interest in bright, colorful skins that made their weapons appear like paintball guns. The addition of skins made the game attractive to expert players, as the skins could be taken as a kind of trophy, showing off to other players how serious of a player they were. Valve’s CEO Gabe Newell described the offering of skins as an “investment” that would retain some nominal value well after the player stopped playing the game, though did state that they had concerns about factors that might fall out of their control with this feature.
Because of the rarity and other qualities, certain skins became highly sought-after by players. Skins became a form of virtual currency, with some items like special cosmetic knives worth thousands of United States dollars. This virtual currency was further impacted by the game giving out “weapon cases” that would contain an unknown skin. A case, and discovery of that skin, could only be opened by purchasing a key in the in-game store for $2.49. At the same time, the most common skins that could be earned had a value far less than the cost of the key, so the player would effectively lose money if they bought a key and found a common skin. Because of this, cases also became part of the virtual currency within CS:GO.
CS:GO is not the first video game where players have traded, sold, or bought virtual in-game items, but the ease of accessing and transferring through the Steam Marketplace made it a successful virtual economy. However, with increased monetary values placed on some skins, the Steam Marketplace became infeasible. The Steam Marketplace only allows sales up to $400, with all transactions subject to a 15% fee collected by Valve. Trades and purchases via the Steam Marketplace required players to add funds to their Steam Wallets to purchase skins from others, with those funds being placed in the Wallet of the seller; such funds could not be taken out as real-world money, as otherwise Valve would be regulated as a bank. As the value of skins grew beyond these limits, new websites opened up that used the Steamworks application programming interface (API) to link players’ inventory to these sites as to manage the trading of CS:GO skins while enabling these users to spend more and receive money through other online banking/payment sites like PayPal or using digital currency like BitCoin, and bypassing Valve’s transaction fee
The player community for CS:GO grew quickly following the addition of skins, further enabled by the growth of streaming services like Twitch.tv. Valve promoted features into CS:GO that made it favorable for professional play (eSports), including sponsoring its own tournament. Several teams arose from high-ranking players, creating viewing opportunities during tournaments; this was further enhanced by the ability for viewers to earn “spectator” skins simply by watching these matches. Compared to League of Legends, one of the most-watched eSports in 2013, CS:GO is considered an easier game for spectators to understand and follow, making it more attractive for viewing audiences. Within a year of the Arms Deal update, CS:GO has seen a significant turnaround in player counts, and posed to be a major eSport. More than eight million players played CS:GO by September 2015, and as of April 2016, CS:GO was one of the top five games watched on Twitch, peaking at more than 525,000 concurrent viewers during a championship round. At the start of 2016, CS:GO was poised to be the largest growing eSport that year