A ‘small’ essay about the future of the Counter-Strike franchise/CS:GO
[There is a tl;dr at the bottom if you’re not keen to read this much text]
During the past few months I had an ongoing thought experiment about the future development of CS:GO. I asked myself a few questions including “Could there be any new CS game anytime soon? If so: within the next 10 years?” And then I kept thinking about what would happen if there won’t be any new CS game ever. What would happen? How would Valve approach this kind of development? How could CS stay relevant under these circumstances?
First things first, Counter-Strike has got a successful 20 year long history – with no real end in sight. CS is one of a few games which doesn’t really need to be revolutionized. Evolutionary development is where its been the past 2 decades of the franchise – and the past ~7 years of CS:GO’s lifetime. The game has changed during the years: Metas were formed, evolved and died down. Economy changed, new guns were introduced, skins added, new maps developed, a new UI got released and much more. Yet CS:GO is still Counter-Strike in its core and it will stay like that.
So, what will happen to the franchise in the future? To start off, I am 99% sure there won’t be a new CS title in the coming years for a multitude of reasons. I’ll just roll with two main reasons in here:
- Skins. During the life span of CS:GO dozens and dozens of skins have been added to the game, a whole market/industry, betting and more grew out of this. Some stuff died in the meantime – especially gambling, but there are still millions of dollars sitting in many inventories all around the globe. Releasing a new title without taking care of these items will result in many angered players. The CS:GO skin value would drop significantly and much money will be ‘lost’ in the process.
- What would you even get out of a new CS?
Less Bugs? Rather unlikely. CS:GO has been actively improved over the last 7 years and is relatively free of bugs. Sure, there are a few here and there, but overall playing CS:GO is a pleasant, polished experience – compared to other games out there. A new title would likely imply a much less polished experience – at least shortly after release.
What about content then? Skins, Stickers, Sprays, Music kits, Maps – all of this is already part of CS:GO and being added on a regular basis. A new title would add no value there. Valve has all the possible options available with the existing iteration of CS.
Improved performance? Increased graphical fidelity? As mentioned by Valve a while ago, Source2 can be implemented in modules, which means instead of developing a whole new title from scratch, old Source engine parts of the game can be replaced bits by bits with improved equivalents of the Source2 engine.
So, with a new title being very unlikely, what must be done with CS:GO to stay attractive in the future? What needs to be adjusted/reworked/updated/added to the game? That’s where this thought experiment gets interesting, as that’s what we, the players, will eventually see as new ‘Major Updates’ coming our way.
As mentioned before, a slow and steady implementation of the new Source2 engine is quite easily possible. Some bits may likely cause issues during the process though:
Issue no.1: Physics. Grenade physics, movement behavior, bunnyhopping, skill-/strafe-jumps, surfing and more. Porting these (and more) perfectly to the Source2 equivalent modules might be a rather big challenge as players had many years to master every bit of CS:GO’s physics behavior and will be very sensitive to different behavior – even if being minor. Yet, I still see this becoming reality. Maybe not during 2019 or 2020, but I am very sure it’ll come eventually. This gets me straight to the next point:
‘Issue’ no.2: Beta client (including Beta MM feature). Currently, there is no real Beta client for CS:GO which makes testing and comparing changes quite tedious. Whenever Valve decides to push beta versions to the main game on Steam, you have to jump back and forth (always downloading & installing) with the versions if you want to test new features and compare them to the current iteration. With the continued development and implementation of features and changes, there will be issues and imperfections along the way. To iron out any issues which may arise, a proper Beta client with the ability to play official (unranked) MM matches is probably one of the smarter moves Valve could do. Maybe with a limited map pool to keep queuing times low. Every bit of upcoming changes could be tested that way. Especially when it may come to new engine modules.
Issue no. 3: Incompatibility issues with a new SDK and map format.One of the main benefits of Source 2 for CS:GO could be the new Source 2 editor for creators. However, this means that maps would end up having a different file format and might require a new rendering method. The main issue here is not that the new format won’t run, it’s that older maps will likely become incompatible. Many maps from the Workshop would become unusable.CS:GO would either need to be able to render both types of maps or Valve would be in need of releasing a tool which would convert old maps into the new file type.
Other reasons for further implementation of Source 2 modules, is to renew old and rusty parts of the current client:
- Community Server Browser. The current iteration in the client is rather outdated. A modern version would be very much appreciated by the community. Looking at the longevity of the game, it only makes sense this will also be reworked at some point.
- Demo system. Similar to the server browser this module is also pretty outdated. Since I’m not frequently using the demo viewer, I don’t know what exactly should be improved, but some faster scrolling through the demo file would definitely be a start. This might require a new demo file type though with more keyframes or similar.
Let’s get to the hot stuff now: For the following things you really should think further into the future than just the next 2 years. Let’s try thinking about the next – let’s say – 15 years. What does the game need to stay fresh? How much can the game change to achieve that, but still stay the Counter-Strike we love to play?
The first thing which comes to mind here is obviously content.
Content part 1:
Let’s start with the map pool. These days the active duty map pool consists of 7 maps. Most of these maps were in the game for a very long time. Players got used to it, love them, hate them or just take them as they are. Outside of the active duty map pool there are some hostage maps and some maps made by the community. If the CS:GO devs sticks to their active duty treatment of the last few years, they will occasionally temporarily remove a map (roughly once per year) to rework said map and reintroduce it later, when another map will be temporarily removed. Recently, Vertigo was introduced to the active duty map pool, while Cache took the next spot of temporarily removed maps. (Cache will likely return to the active duty pool after the first 2020 Major tournament.)
If this development will continue as it did, this basically implies that we won’t see any real new, original map in the active duty pool anytime ‘soon’. Looking at their history of reworks, Mirage and Overpass did not receive such treatment yet, so their remakes might be a thing before anything new will happen. Personally, I expect Mirage to be the next map receiving the rework treatment since it’s currently the oldest map of the pool from a technical standpoint.
What’s next then? Will Valve rework older reworks until they managed to finish round 2? On the one hand that seems unlikely to me and on the other hand, that seems boring to me. Counter-Strike will not evolve like that. The map pool will eventually get stale – it might even be exactly that already – and the game and tournaments could suffer from that.
Another option would be Valve introducing new, official maps on a semi-regular basis. However, will that work for Valve and their usage of resources? What’s left as option is the implementation of community maps into the active duty pool. As Cache has shown before, community maps do indeed have the potential to be played on Major tournaments. However, how would Valve approach this development without disrupting the current flow?
As we all have seen, Operations – as map delivery method – are not a regular thing anymore. The last Operation – Hydra – ended in November of 2017. Nowadays, community maps get directly included into the game – about four at a time (It doesn’t look like Valve settled on a fixed number yet). Two of these maps are rotated out every 3 months to make room for two new community maps which consist of one new addition and one map from past operations to re-experience some memories. The measurement behind these map swaps is supposedly play time. Maps with the longest play time / lowest queue time stay.
Coming back to the active duty map pool: Community maps with the longest play time could be introduced to the active duty main pool into a slot which is reserved for new additions to the pool. I’ll call this the Hot Seat from now on. Maps sitting in this slot will be played at majors. After each – let’s say one – major the Hot Seat will see movement. The least played active duty map will be moved to the Hot Seat. If the least played map is the one being on the Hot Seat, the map will be removed from that pool and make room for a new one. This method will make slow changes of the active duty pool possible and will incentivize mappers to do their very best to create maps which will survive the Hot Seat. A system like that would also not save any official map from being ‘kicked’ from the active duty pool. This 6+1 active duty/hot seat system could keep the map pool fresh at a reasonable rate.
Content part 2 – also map related:
CS:GO offers a variety of casual games modes. These are good for some quick fun but aren’t really interesting to the competitive player (ignoring DM here). The competitive game modes are defuse and hostage.
If some community mappers decide to work on custom game modes, will we see the implementation of these game modes to the game anytime in the future? Maybe as part of Operations? At this point it doesn’t really matter if they are created for casual experiences or balanced for competitive 5vs5 gameplay. Simply the thought about more custom experiences sounds interesting and I’ll be open for new experiences any time.
Content part 3 – guns:
Valve released a few new guns over the years. They were released rarely, but that is a good thing. Balancing weapons is a very hard task and as any experienced CS:GO player can tell, it can end up really bad. Still, adding new weapons to the game will be an interesting addition anytime they will come.
A random idea I had is the addition of a battle rifle. A semi-automatic rifle with limited ammo capacity (10-20 bullet magazines), no scope, large damage values and high accuracy with a price of $3500-$4000. Basically, a one tap machine (looking at you, Scream).
Now that we’re done with the content topic, let’s look into another ongoing issue: Cheating.
Valve is using machine learning to auto-report cheaters which are then being reviewed by players via Overwatch. The next step here is improving the system to a point where an AI bans cheaters automatically.
Since CS:GO became free-to-play, dealing with cheaters became a harder task. However, Valve could do something about this. Bans could be tied not only to accounts, but also to hardware-IDs. If there are players sharing a single computer and one of them got banned, the other users of this machine could be forced to identify themselves via their ID or phone number.
Related to this topic, is the toxicity of parts of the player base. CS:GO already has a kind of forgotten feature, which could be utilized to battle this:
These days they are a mostly ignored feature and rarely people make use of it. If this part of the game would be highlighted more and would give players an actual reason to go for these, we could see an improvement of the overall behavior. Reward players for being good sports. Give them an XP boost for continued good behavior or something similar.
Lastly, let’s talk about System requirements: Frequently, I see that players with ancient computers complaining, that their performance is bad. A game which is constantly being updated and improved will inevitably see a change in system requirements. Since the requirements are incredibly outdated from 2012 it’s no surprise these machines struggle to handle it these days. I’d recommend to Valve adjusting these requirements on a 3-5 year basis so they will stay up to date down the line. Having 2012 component requirements in 2025 doesn’t seem smart to me – something must change there. You could say the system requirements need a ‘best before’ date.
Since this could go on forever, I’m going to stop here. Do you agree/disagree with what I wrote here? Do you have any additions about the future of CS:GO? Did I forget something?
Forgive me that this post became so long, but I really liked having this thought experiment of what could be. Have a nice day 🙂
-There won’t be a new CS title anytime soon
-Source 2 will finds its way to CS:GO eventually
-There should be a proper beta client down the line
– +Cache -Mirage after first 2020 Major
-New active duty pool system (6+1 hot seat) at some point after Mirage and Overpass reworks
-New community game modes
-New guns from time to time
-VACnet won’t just submit cases to review but start banning automatically
-System requirements with best before date