Valve has taken a pretty bold stance in preventing Counter-Strike: Global Offensive key laundering—by banning key trading altogether. Late last night, Valve announced that keys bought in CS:GO from now on will no longer be tradeable nor sellable, and will be locked to the buyer’s account.
In CS:GO, “keys” are used to open “containers,” which are very much just loot boxes. The containers are dropped during games, or when spectating certain competitive events, either in-game or through a connected service. In Valve’s realm, the loot box system was first introduced for Team Fortress 2, with rewards that would provide a variety of tweaks to players and weapons. CS:GO’s loot box rewards, on the other hand, are purely cosmetic and serve no real gameplay function.
Meanwhile, due to the Steam Marketplace first and foremost, CS:GO and other Valve games have become hot spots for high-value trading. Keys specifically have always been a placeholder for real monetary values, due to their consistent cost in the in-game shop. As Valve have increased measures to prevent out-of-Marketplace activity, keys have become increasingly used for that placeholder purpose.
Valve recognizes that keys have grown past their intended purpose. The company explained their rationale pretty explicitly in their blog:
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.
They state that the “vast majority of CS:GO users” aren’t going to be affected, specifically those who actually use the keys for their legitimate purpose — opening loot boxes. However, they just can’t let the keys leave their inventories anymore. They acknowledge this will affect “some legitimate users,” they state, “but combating fraud is something we continue to prioritize across Steam and our products.”
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It’s an especially salient move after Valve attracted some lawsuits regarding illegal gambling. In many regions, it’s illegal to gamble online in any shape or form with real money, including in the United States of America. However, for similar reasons to those mentioned before, betting with keys became a loophole for the monetary value. Sites wouldn’t need a license to operate, since no real money was being exchanged. Lawsuits came about when concerned parents saw their kids utilizing these sites, but the ire was directed at Valve given the developers have control over the items in question.
Granted, this won’t stop gambling and laundering with other in-game items, which all have varying value. But the logic appears to be that this activity with other items affects the values as normal marketplace/trading activity would, as opposed to using keys, with a generally understood and consistent value.
The core game of CS:GO is free; it was $14.99 before a December 2018 update.