Will Steam’s New ToS Finally Put an End to Unregulated Skin Gambling?

Make it stop already...

The secondary market for various online goods has existed for decades now and it seems that it has grown to be a really big industry, and a significant amount of people manage to pull in enough money through the trading of virtual goods to make it their job, basically. All of that would be absolutely fine but, as always, there’s a certain type of person that aims to further their own selfish goals at the expense of many other people, having zero consideration or remorse regarding their well-being.

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Yes, as the title goes, this is about unregulated skin gambling, and it seems that Valve has finally decided to take steps towards weeding out gambling that does not occur directly on their platform, Steam. But the culprits in this story are (ab)using Steam as a platform (talking about API and the Trade feature) to conduct their “business” activities.

Valve’s New Terms of Service Bans Gambling Activities on Steam

xMercy has posted a tweet regarding the update of the Terms of Service which presents the following change which raised some eyebrows:

“As a Steam Subscriber you agree to abide by the following conduct rules. In general, as a Steam user you should be a good online citizen and do not do anything that prevents any other Steam user from using and enjoying Steam.

More specifically, you shall not do, or attempt to do, any of the following on Steam:

ENGAGE IN COMMERCIAL ACTIVITY
Examples of such prohibited behavior include: posting advertisements, running contets, gambling, buying or selling Steam accounts, selling content, gift cards, or other items; and begging.”

STEAM ONLINE CONDUCT

Gambling in the USA is a serious business with a lot of regulations and fairly strict laws, and ever since the rapid growth of the skin market in CS:GO, thousands of different skin gambling sites have sprouted across the Web using different loopholes or being straight-up illegal (but set up in another country, for example). A lot of these sites are plainly dishonest, offering insane amounts of money to streamers and content creators to advertise their site, and then “tuning” the odds of winning for them while they are making their content so that uninformed viewers start believing that anyone, including them, can hit the jackpot. When they actually try to play themselves, they just end up losing their skins in the majority of the cases, and then risk getting dragged into the rabbit hole of trying to make a miraculous recovery of their funds.

(Yes, there is a scene for esports match betting as well, but I feel no need to cover it thoroughly.)

Related: When Did Spending Thousands of Dollars in Video Games Become the New Normal?

Rare are the people who refuse to participate in such evil machinery, and I’ll show you one example below.

Where is Valve’s responsibility in all of this gambling nonsense?

Well, apparently, nowhere? There has been a recent legal case about which you can read on PC Gamer, where Valve was found… not guilty. And in hindsight, they really aren’t guilty from a certain standpoint. They haven’t directly organized, advertised, nor endorsed skin betting of any kind. From another standpoint, they should take some responsibility when it comes to activities that are being done in their ecosystem. On paper, they already have forbidden the sale of Steam goods for real-life money (instead, you should sell your stuff on the Community Marketplace and earn yourself a Steam Wallet fund) but in reality, this has not been the case, because actual control of these activities is rarely done.

However, for some reason, they decided to update the Terms of Service. It’s good that they took some responsibility. It took them a while to publish the drop chances for their CS:GO cases (after given an ultimatum by the Chinese government in order to keep operating in China) which inadvertently revealed to the general public that the in-game case opening is teetering on plain gambling as well, like every other loot box in every other game that offers them. This is why I always mention that people should spend their money in moderation when it comes to microtransactions, or I outright publicly advocate against some purchase offers we are being bombarded with. Seems that the game developers made a historical trip into the “insert coin” era to find ways how they can additionally monetize their “content” and to milk us dry of our hard-earned money either through cosmetics or outright pay-to-win stuff.

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Some countries like Belgium, for example, legally proclaimed that Loot Boxes = Gambling. Indeed, you are not in the position to win real-life money with your “rolls”, which makes some people not believe that Loot Boxes are a form of gambling, but you are investing real-life money into CHANCES of winning virtual goods of different rarity (rarity being made artificially, of course).

Will someone PLEASE think of the children?

Yes, I am aware that this is an awful headline, because this “excuse” is commonly being used to implement some draconic measures (especially when it comes to user privacy online, but I won’t go into that now), but in reality, we NEED to think of our children. You can’t monitor your children 24/7, you can only educate them and raise them as well as you can to stay as far away from these modern-era plagues as possible. However, some regulations and steps need to take place to save the ones who don’t (want to, know how to, or just simply can’t) save themselves. I am not saying that this ToS change will make a miraculous cure for all the people who bet their CS:GO skins out of control, but every long journey commences with the first step.

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Gambling addiction is a big problem worldwide. Some say it’s worse than abusing illegal substances. I know a lot of families that have been devastated by gambling, with people losing their houses during various gambling activities, or the combination of gambling and loaning money from shady people you have no business being around. Children open their Steam accounts early in their youth, parents usually do not enable any parental controls (that are available, btw) and then they’re just one step away from the rabbit hole. They will inevitably see someone gambling or advertising gambling (whether it’s a streamer, or someone in the random matchmaking who has the gambling website name in his Steam display name so that certain someone can get a small % bonus on the site advertised), and they will want to try their luck, not knowing about the potential ramifications of such action.

This is severely devastating if the individual who starts his first gambling adventure is really young and is in the process of forming himself on all levels. The “high” you get from winning a gambling endeavor is a huge dopamine bomb, and due to (in gamer slang) diminishing returns, it’s harder to reach it the more you gamble, and your wallet is not getting any thicker.

Will this ToS change really shut down all skin gambling on Steam?

If you are asking me for an opinion: I don’t know. There are probably measures that can be taken by the developer team to detect trades that are en-masse done to bots on gambling sites, and then to proceed with bans of the said accounts, but it might end up as an eternal cat-and-mouse chase. There needs to be serious and committed enforcement of this policy. But seeing how the customer support of literally every “big tech” company is understaffed, with long queues for replies, I do not see how this will actually put an end to gambling. Now, you need to gamble with the existence of your Steam account if you want to keep gambling with the skins on it. “Yo dawg” meme?

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It’s redundant to write that “gambling is bad” but it needs to be said. Gambling businesses would not consistently grow for centuries if they didn’t have a certain stream of income. The game is rigged from the start. I worked on a certain gambling machine a decade ago, on which the owner can set which percentage of the money put into it by people is allowed to go out of it through winnings over the course of a day. Now imagine how easy is to code odds in JavaScript on your website… That’s all you need to know.

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Finally, if you have a gambling issue, or know someone who does, please get (them) help. There are institutions in almost every corner of the world that deals with this addiction.

That’s it for this article, folks. I invite you to explore content on Prima Games, we follow and report on a lot of popular games, and check out our Features section for a lot of interesting reads. See you around!


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Author
Nikola L
Nikola has been a Staff Writer at Prima Games since May 2022. He has been gaming since being able to hold an Amiga 500 joystick on his own, back in the early 90s (when gaming was really good!). Nikola has helped organize dozens of gaming events and tournaments and has been professionally attached to gaming since 2009.