Money laundering is a major problem. The concept of how criminals and their enterprises “wash” their illicit profits so that they can safely spend them is a consistently evolving game of complex math, webs of political corruption, and a network of exploiting financial systems. Since the birth of the US “War on Terror” in the early 2000’s, the global crackdown on the practice kicked into overdrive. But since the problem has existed long before those days, it’s a constant cat-and-mouse game. and now, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) seems to have fallen afoul of the problem.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive players will no longer be able to purchase keys in-game and then trade them via Steam Community market. Keys bought before October 28 won’t be affected. Keys can still be purchased, but are now entirely locked to the buyer account. You still get the crates from VAC-secured matches like normal, but the value of the keys has been all but lost, beyond the bragging rights.
This isn’t the first time a major Valve property has been the subject of extreme measures when it comes to secondary economies, although it’s the first time I’ve seen money laundering get blamed for the problem. Previously, Team Fortress 2 was hit with a full trading ban on in-game cosmetics after a bug completely destroyed and concept of rarity, causing prices on cosmetics in the secondary market to tank, and Valve had to take action by suspending trading. Now, the existing key supply will slowly disappear, and most likely more wack-a-mole will have to be played with RMT in games, like with Dota 2 Arcanas or even Team Fortress 2 keys.
In this case though, the skin trading market isn’t likely to ever come back. The key and loot box system within the game meant that the overall value of the keys in conversion of real world currency had both scarcity and the consistent breakage-like trend of keys disappearing off the market to keep the prices in check. Of course said value was also subject to real-world economic trends, so it too fluctuated, but the popularity of the property helped to backstop any serious losses. This means that those looking to launder money would be well advised to trade in such a commodity if they wanted a stable exchange rate.
Here’s what Valve had to say on the ban:
Why make this change? In the past, most key trades we observed were between legitimate customers. However, worldwide fraud networks have recently shifted to using CS:GO keys to liquidate their gains. At this point, nearly all key purchases that end up being traded or sold on the marketplace are believed to be fraud-sourced. As a result we have decided that newly purchased keys will not be tradeable or marketable.
Also CS:GO has of course been a haven for controversial nonsense for a while now. Unregulated gambling caused a major kerfuffle as the Counter-Strike community was rocked by multiple scandals involving illegal promotion of betting schemes based on skins in the popular FPS. So it looks like we might even see a further crackdown on gambling and other nefarious systems in games, or maybe that’s just my hope that loot boxes disappear doing the talking.