Valve is currently under fire in the form of two lawsuits that allege the company is profiting from a global gambling marketplace that has sprung on Steam around Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Both suits point to a number of websites that allow players to wager and trade Counter-Strike: Go weapon skins. There's also a second use, with players using valuable skins to bet on professional CS:GO matches. Since players can buy skins with cash, it's like using digital casino chips. A Bloomberg report cited a $2.3 billion pool of wagers using Counter-Strike: Global Offensive weapon skins.
The first lawsuit was filed on June 23, 2016, with the plaintiff and Counter-Strike player Michael John McLeod arguing that Valve "knowingly allowed an illegal online gambling market and has been complicit in creating, sustaining and facilitating that market."
The second was filed on July 1 by a mother and uses some of the same language as the first lawsuit. Her suit further notes that a number of these sites, including CSGO Lounge, CSGO Speed, CSGO Lotto, and OPSkins, lack age verification, meaning minors can participate in gambling. The suit says that Valve knows these sites are essentially gambling and refuses to block them so it can profit from their operations.
"Valve is the barkeeper who allows illegal gambling operators to set up shop in its backroom and sell chips for a fee to customers on their way in, but claims it is powerless to stop the illegal gambling racket and benefits from having a packed house every night," claims the second lawsuit. "The value of Skins has gone up because of the gambling marketplace Valve created, sustains and supports, and Valve has directly profited from the sale of Skins, in addition to third-party business ventures such as a league based on CS:GO."
Today, Valve answered some of those charges in a post on the Steam Community site. The company insists that it does not profit from the operations of those sites, beyond any profits obtained from the basic Steam item trading process.
"We'd like to clarify that we have no business relationships with any of these sites. We have never received any revenue from them. And Steam does not have a system for turning in-game items into real world currency," wrote Valve's Erik Johnson in the post.
The post further outlines how those third-party skin trading sites work. Each site maintains Steam accounts that allow them to conduct virtual item trades of a huge scale. Valve says this use of its OpenID API is not allowed.
"These sites have basically pieced together their operations in a two-part fashion," wrote Johnson. "First, they are using the OpenID API as a way for users to prove ownership of their Steam accounts and items. Any other information they obtain about a user's Steam account is either manually disclosed by the user or obtained from the user's Steam Community profile (when the user has chosen to make their profile public)."
"Second, they create automated Steam accounts that make the same web calls as individual Steam users. Using the OpenID API and making the same web calls as Steam users to run a gambling business is not allowed by our API nor our user agreements."
Despite having a working knowledge of how these sites are operating, Valve isn't going to completely block access. Instead, the company is going to request that these sites stop working through Steam.
"We are going to start sending notices to these sites requesting they cease operations through Steam, and further pursue the matter as necessary. Users should probably consider this information as they manage their in-game item inventory and trade activity."
The question of enforcement remains a bit open-ended, but the legal troubles seemingly have Valve looking at a booming market that it has ignored up until now.