The $50 Million Virtual Millinery
One deficiency of a centrally planned economy is that the central planners cannot foresee the many niches and opportunities that a market will root out. When you hear about virtual economies you may well nod and reflect that the rise of Google and Facebook demonstrate this beyond doubt. But if I told you of a $50 million market in which the principal investment is virtual hats you can be forgiven for disbelief.
Let’s backtrack. In 2007 the computer game company Valve, already famous for the popular Counterstrike, released another online multiplayer shooter called Team Fortress 2 (TF2). It was a hit, and as a result was updated and iterated upon over the years to follow, including the addition of extra weapons for players to use.
It was in September 2010, however, that the true impact of this simple addition was felt. An in-game store was added to allow players to purchase- with real money- the multitude of weapons added, and the ability for players to trade amongst themselves.
But what of hats? In May 2009, items were updated to be distributed by a random ‘drop’ system. Hats were also added to the game. For reference, TF2 is a first person shooter. So you view the world through the characters’ eyes; so you cannot see your character’s own head; so you cannot see any headwear your character might happen to be sporting. Nevertheless, the most desirable in-game hats have sold for up to two thousand dollars.
No-one buys a virtual hat for such ridiculous sums without some form of (baffling) justification. The context is what we’re after: the context being a live and functioning virtual economy.
How, then, can we state that it amounts to $50m? The steps taken to arrive at the figure are available to all thanks to the distribution service required to play the game. Essentially the iTunes of PC games, ‘Steam’ also includes statistics tracking. So let’s work this out.
Team Fortress 2 typically has between 30 000 and 70 000 current players at any time. We’ll use the low estimate of 30 000 to avoid inflating the results. Note that this is concurrent players.
The system by which weapons ‘drop’ to players is fixed to 11 per week, which stop after 10 hours of playing that week. This cap complicates the equation somewhat: players who have already reached the maximum limit are no longer causing weapons to be inputted into the economy, yet account for hours played in the statistics. We’ll use a high estimate of 50% of total weekly hours spent being from players already over the limit, thus not contributing to the economy. That is, 50% of the hours recorded coming from players who have already contributed 10 hours earlier in the week.
So far, we have 30 000 players at all times. Meaning 720 000 hours per day, or 5.04 million per week. Accounting for the assumption that only half are inputting their 11 weapons in that time, we still have 27.72 million weapons added to the economy per week.
Now it gets even stranger. Weapons dropped (and the term ‘weapon’ is used loosely, including sandwiches (see below), mackerel and busts of Hippocrates) can be combined by the player to form a ‘scrap metal’. 3 of these can be combined to form a ‘reclaimed metal’, and three of those can combine to make a ‘refined metal’. Phew! If you were following closely, you’ll have worked out that it therefore takes 18 weapons to make a single ‘refined metal’.
Looking back to our stats then, we can estimate that there are the equivalent of 1.54 million ‘refined metals’ added to the economy per week.
Here comes the kicker: the trading system and the store work in tandem. Items from the store have set prices, which means that the dropped items in the game can be traded against paid-for store items. This system allows us to work out what the market rate for the dropped weapons is.
From Pixels to Pounds
The most liquid asset in the economy are ‘keys’. Each key can be bought from the store for $2.49. Their purpose is to open ‘crates’ that drop alongside weapons (more on that later), but we shall concentrate on their market value. The going rate for a key is between 2 and 2.5 refined metals. Taking the upper estimate (thus the lowest value of metal), we can deduce that 1 refined metal has a market value of $1.
Remember how many refined metals were added to the economy each week? That’s right. The equivalent of $1.54 million dollars is created by a server continuously adding numbers to a system.
Now look back to when this system commenced: May 2009. At the end of November 2011, therefore, a grand total of $46.2 millionhad been added to the game.
…But what about?!
Of course, this figure will be wildly inaccurate.
One problem is that the 30 000 concurrent player figure would probably not have held steady since May 2009. However, considering that the figure currently fluctuates between 30 000 and 70 000, it seems fair to say that our estimate remains conservative.
Every other estimate has been at the low end too. In reality, there are more players putting in more hours, with more hours resulting in more drops, with more weapons and metal added. In addition, there are entire elements of the economy unconsidered here.
For one, hats.
Hats also drop randomly, or can be created by merging 3 refined metals. These are the most sought after commodity in the economy. But there is another tier to hats. ‘Unusual hats’ are the same assortment of headgear, simply with a particle effect- think steam coming off it, or it being circled by a love heart. So far so weird. Yet people go crazy for them, with prices ranging from around $25 to $2000. Yes. Thousands of dollars for a virtual hat surrounded by a visual effect.
Taking the most authoritative site’s minimum confirmed figure of 25 000 unusual hats, and once again a low estimate of $50 (I know…), we can add another $1.25 million to the increasingly ridiculous total
Secondly, anything bought in the store.
The multitude of items in the economy can each be purchased from between a few pence and a worrying number of dollars. Valve do not provide figures for sales, but we can work out an approximation for keys.
The only method of acquiring unusual hats is to open a crate with a key (which must be purchased from the store), with a 1% chance of acquiring one (and a 99% chance of getting another random item). Given that there are at least 25 000 confirmed unusual hats in the economy, that is roughly 2.5 million keys sold (totalling $6.25 million).
Having consistently used low estimates, we can be confident in a minimum figure of $52.7 million (regular drops + unusual hats + keys), without even taking into account weapons bought in the store, promotional items and more. The true figure is probably double this.
That is not, it must be stressed, to say that Valve can laugh their way to the bank with such money (although the $6.25m figure for keys sold does allow precisely this). The vast majority of it will remain within the game: it will remain virtual. Even people paying ridiculous sums of money for fancy virtual hats will likely plough it straight back into virtual goods, either to trade their way up, or to fulfil a peculiar desire for an unusual Otolaryngologist’s Mirror to match their Surgeon’s Stethoscope.
Stories such as the 15 year old who made $10 000 profit buying and selling virtual hats, for example, cannot be extrapolated beyond an even tinier niche within the economy.
In spite of this, the very fact of this vast, bizarre, economy’s existence- a haberdashers niche within a niche- is surely worth some discussion.
Is Valve Releasing a New Counter-Strike Game?
Out of nowhere, there’s rumours flying around tonight that Valve is on the cusp of revealing a new game.
It’s not Episode 3, but for many, it will be the next best thing: a new Counter-Strike game.
Most of the chit-chat so far is based around testers (and eSports commentators) having very recently got some hands-on time with the rumoured project at Valve HQ. Some of them even pausing to take happy snaps of the trip.
All of the testers are involved in some way or another with the eSports scene, in particular competitive Counter-Strike gaming, and have apparently been down at Valve HQ giving their thoughts on a current build of the project.
Its full name is supposedly Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and is due out in Q1 2012. Whether it’s a major update to the existing Counter-Strike or an all-new title isn’t clear yet. According to the testers, some of the changes it would be making to the series’ tried and tested formula would be new guns, new grenades, revamped maps and free ammo.
Oh, and the fact it’ll be running on an updated version of Valve’s Source Engine. And hats? No word yet on hats.
We’ve contacted Valve for more info, and will update if we hear back.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive [ESEA News]
I’m so excited for this! But I still want my Episode 3, Valve!
First Dota 2 Tournament Will Be at Gamescom with a Million Dollar Prize | Piki Geek
Anyone who’s been following the development of Dota 2 already knew that the game would be making an appearance at Gamescom 2011. As revealed in a surprisingly casual update to the game’s official website, though, that first public showing of the game will coincide with an international tournament featuring some of the world’s most renowned DotA teams. In other news, Valve has enormous brass balls.
According to the website, the tournament will be held in a “group stage double-elimination playoff format” with all the hardware being provided by NVIDIA. This massive tournament will feature sixteen teams, all of which are prevalent in the current and previous DotA competitive scenes. Those of you who’ve followed the game in the past might recognize teams like MYM or OK.Nirvana as fairly big stars in the scene. As if playing a game for the first time in a competitive scenario wasn’t enough pressure, these guys will be doing so while on live video stream, broadcast simultaneously in Chinese, English, German and Russian.
As if all that wasn’t enough, the winner of The International DotA 2 Championships will take home $1,000,000in prize money. I really don’t feel the need to stress how absolutely huge that prize is for eSports. If nothing else, it’s quite apparent that Valve is not messing around with Dota 2. I honestly cannot fathom the immensity of this tournament.
It seems more details will follow as Gamescom treads nearer and nearer, so stay tuned. Who knows, maybe Valve will announce they’re giving away buckets of gold with every copy of the game when they release it tomorrow, because they feel like it.
This actually makes me sad. It is very obvious that Valve is just using this as a publicity stunt to generate interest in a totally new game.
Offering a large prize purse for a totally new game for it’s first competition is indicative of a very advertising campaign and Valve definitely has the financial clout to pull this off.
To see competitive gaming go this way is really disappointing. This might seem great in the short term but in the long term it is not. Valve is definitely not going to continue sponsoring such large prize money in future tournaments and the hype would just die off. Everyone would go “This is great! right now, but it isn’t. They do not seem like a company that is as supportive as Blizzard is to the competitive gaming community.
Please prove me wrong, Valve.