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Games platforms and money laundering

How one company has tackled in-game laundering.

Kind of.

Free for seven days.

As the wheel once more turns in the direction of the question of the use of online games for nefarious purposes, games company VALVE has taken the radical step of removing the facility to trade certain items that it discovered criminals had been using for money laundering.

VALVE had discovered that "keys" to "loot-boxes" in its game Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Quite simply, the keys are bought within the game but criminals were using them as tradable assets.

VALVE operates a number of large-scale on-line games and while they are all separate, there is an umbrella service called Steam. Steam operates a marketplace and it's well known in financial crime risk circles. VALVE says that it's going to lock keys to the purchaser's account, making transfer impossible and therefore rendering them impossible to use as a laundering scheme. But, criminals are not so easily put off: as this article is written, a quick visit to the Steam Community Market shows that while (on the first page at least) there are no keys for Counter-Strike, there are more than 100,000 "cases" for sale. Prices begin at USD0.03 depending on the case. There are keys shown for other games.

See https://steamcommunity.com/mar...

Like many games, players build up credits in games which they trade for in-game assets which they they sell for real money. The laundering comes in because the assets never commingle with real money and can be traded ad infinitum because they do not deteriorate. They do, however, depreciate. The cost of some boxes shown on Steam have fallen by more than 70% in the past two weeks.

Valve has been remarkably open about what it found. In a statement it said "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."

That does not affect the hundreds of thousands of keys already in use but it's an excellent start.

The entire "loot box" concept is being closely watched and it's not only VALVE that uses such ideas. The first concern is that most boxes are closed until they are opened. That sounds stupid but it isn't: it's like those dodgy market traders who hold up a box and say "the contents are worth ten pounds, who'll give me a fiver." Some countries have said that is is tantamount to a lottery, that lotteries are gambling and therefore the scheme is illegal. VALVE has always argued that this is not the case - and it is true to say that boxes sold on Steam often itemise the content - but to make this clear it has introduced a "tool" that allows inspection of even locked boxes.

In some countries there has been concern that loot boxes have been used as security for gambling credit on other platforms. The winnings in those games could then be sold on Steam. Again, the risk of laundering is almost palpable.

Readers will find this article instructive: https://www.somethingawful.com...

First, "cosmetics" doesn't mean make up. So that's a worry for parents of teenage girls - another new twisted word to cope with. Secondly, this stuff isn't new as that article, from 2016, shows. Nor is the idea of trading so-called cosmetics. In fact, in game trading has been going on since before it became notorious with Second Life and that's virtually pre-historic.

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