CS:GO’s Art Plagiarism Problem – The story of the growing problem of stolen artwork in CS:GO

CS:GO’s Art Plagiarism Problem – The story of the growing problem of stolen artwork in CS:GO

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. It is a game that has been around for over a decade now and is literally the home for some gamers, including me. Now, imagine if you are going to buy paintings to make your home look better, only to find out that the ‘reputed’ artist you bought the painting from had stolen the design from someone else, tweaked it a bit and passed it off as their original artwork. And, on top of that, once the authorities took notice of this plagiariser, they showed up at your door, took out the painting that you had put your money in, and replaced it with another painting which you don’t like. You’d be angry, right?

Well, talk to any CS:GO skins aficionado, and they’ll tell you how often it has happened to them. Yes, I am talking about the rampant problem of plagiarism in CS:GO skins. For those of you who are not in tune with the skins scene, it might seem like a problem that can be passed off as a small inconvenience. But the truth is, people have lost thousands of dollars because some skin creator decided to put up a skin that was ‘inspired’ by another artist’s design.

Let’s take a deep dive into the world of CS skins and look at how it affects not only the people who bought the skins but over a million players active on CS:GO every day.

Why write about this now?

That is a very valid question. There have been several cases of skin designs having unauthorised copies of artwork in-game and Valve taking them down in the past. But, it doesn’t look like they are learning from their past experiences.

In February 2023, Valve released the Revolution Weapons case, which brought along a host of community-made skins. One of those, was the AWP | Doodle Lore. If you didn’t know, the AWP | Dragon Lore, which was a part of the now-discontinued Cobblestone Collection, is one of the most fabled, expensive, and recognisable skins in CS:GO. The Doodle Lore was touted to be the poor man's Dragon Lore. And, it all made sense. As soon as the case started dropping, the unboxings began, and people went on a wild goose chase to hunt down all the Doodle Lores available on skins marketplaces.

But it wasn’t long before bad news hit the community. A Twitter user by the name – Danidem, who also has a few skins in game, decided to call out the creator of the Doodle Lore for copying the design of the gun, while also alerting the original artist, vexx.eth from whom the design had been stolen. And, it wasn’t long before vexx, filed a DMCA claim on the design, and Valve had to take down the skin.

Now, this is where things got interesting. After it had been verified that the artwork had indeed been stolen, some people thought that Valve might give it the same treatment as the M4A4 | Howl, and make the skin, Contraband, which would have exponentially increased the value of the skin by cutting down the supply. Between the announcement of the news, and Valve taking corrective action, despite the alerts from skin experts, some people went ahead and invested in the Doodle Lore. And guess what? All of them lost money.

Due to several factors, the design being one of them, the replacement skin that Valve added, the AWP | Duality, in place of the Doodle Lore, did not get as hyped and the demand for the skin was infinitely smaller than what had been expected. So, every single Doodle Lore investor lost money.

Having read through this part, you might be wondering, why this article? And, let me tell you why.

Not the first time this happenin’ boy

CS:GO’s skin scene has been plagued by copied designs for ages. It started with the M4A4 | Howl, and skins alongside it, were a part of the Huntsman Collection and Huntsman Weapon Case. Then, there was the M4A4 | Griffin and more. Now, between these instances where Valve caught people copying designs, we saw a change in approach. 

With the Howl, Valve had decided to give the skin a special, Contraband status. This meant that there would be no more production of the skin in-game, while all the existing instances of the skin in people’s inventories would remain intact. This, as mentioned earlier in the article, put a halt on the supply of the skin, which was still in high demand, increasing the value of the skin. By a lot.

CSGO M4A4 Howl Patch Note
The note published by Valve about the M4A4 | Howl and other skins in the Huntsman Collection and Case

Since then, there has been a change in the approach taken by Valve. Every skin after the Howl has been taken down, with every instance of the skin people’s inventories being replaced by another skin, which is legitimate. But, a certain section of the player base doesn’t take note and continues to invest time and again, whenever a skin is found to have a copied design.

What more?

Well, whenever such things happen, the trust between Valve and the skins designer community goes for a toss. Valve has been actively promoting the community’s involvement in CS:GO’s in-game items, be it skins or stickers (which haven’t been spared by this issue by the way), and even maps.

Now, when skin creators take to making unauthorised skin designs, it sparks a feeling of mistrust from the giant that is Valve. Being the brand that they are, every time a stolen design is published in-game and is called out by others, it takes a toll on Valve’s integrity as a brand. They must have a quality-check process in place, and such incidents beg people to differ from agreeing that they are failing somewhere.

To prevent this, there are two ways in which the brand can go ahead. First is Valve stopping community submissions. They haven’t yet, and for good reason. If they do, the monetary implications for dedicated skins creators will be humongous. There have been speculations that creators who have skins and stickers in-game, and even maps, have been paid upwards of $200,000 in some cases. If Valve halts the submission system, then the creators will lose out on a LOT of money.

The second approach, which they could take in a much more extreme scenario, is that they only have a group of trusted creators whose submissions they consider for publishing in-game. Now, this is something that they are very much capable of pulling off. But, if they do, then the smaller creators, who are sat there, hoping for their content posted on the community workshop to be published, will take the hit for something that they would have never condoned. That is, copying designs.

Moving on

The recent Dreams and Nightmares skin-creation competition hosted by Valve had a large number of skins posted on the workshop by creators of all scales. Everyone had a shot at claiming the $100,000 reward if their skin was accepted in the game. Now, imagine if there were only a handful of people who were allowed to participate. 

Not only would it affect the player base, which is creating or thinking of creating an in-game item in the hope of making some money off the game they love. And, as a ripple effect of that happening, it will also cause the players, in general, to lose out on having an in-game item that could have potentially been in the game and loved by all. It is a loss for everyone.

With Counter-Strike phasing into Counter-Strike 2, with newer models, it will be interesting to see what new skins are included in the game. And, if there’s another instance of a copied skin slipping through the cracks, what will Valve do? Let us know what you think should happen. Write to us at editor@skoar.in, and you have a chance to have your opinion featured in the next issue of the SKOAR! Magazine. 

Satvik Pandey

Satvik Pandey

Satvik Pandey, is a self-professed Steve Jobs (not Apple) fanboy, a science & tech writer, and a sports addict. At Digit, he works as a Deputy Features Editor, and manages the daily functioning of the magazine. He also reviews audio-products (speakers, headphones, soundbars, etc.), smartwatches, projectors, and everything else that he can get his hands on. A media and communications graduate, Satvik is also an avid shutterbug, and when he's not working or gaming, he can be found fiddling with any camera he can get his hands on and helping produce videos – which means he spends an awful amount of time in our studio. His game of choice is Counter-Strike, and he's still attempting to turn pro. He can talk your ear off about the game, and we'd strongly advise you to steer clear of the topic unless you too are a CS junkie. View Full Profile