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2022: Special Issue: Ludomaterialities

Steam and the Platformization of Virtual Goods: An Analysis of the Weapon Skin Economy in Counter Strike: Global Offensive

November 15, 2022


Random reward mechanisms, such as loot boxes, crates and cases, have been increasingly implemented by computer game companies to monetize additional content. These mechanisms have been wildly criticized, especially for being addictive and a digital form of gambling. This paper, however, analyzes the phenomenon from a media-economic and cultural studies perspective in order to determine to what extent random-based reward mechanisms can be regarded as a platformization (according to Helmond, Niebog and Poell) of computer game culture. This connection is exemplified by the weapon skin economy in COUNTER-STRIKE: GLOBAL OFFENSIVE. The economy consists of virtual goods (skin cases and weapon skins) that can be acquired, exchanged and traded via the platform Steam. Additionally, the labor of users is commodified in the process: the creation of user-generated content (modding) is monetized, on the one hand, and the distribution and evaluation of the content is centralized via Steam, on the other. The analysis of the weapon skin economy thus makes it possible to focus on the entanglement of labor, play and economization.