The global arms trade is one of the most lucrative markets in the world, but two young gamers have discovered the virtual weapons market isn't too shabby either.
Artur Minacov, 21 and John Brechisci, 28, founded a site called OPSkins in January, and say they've since made a fortune buying and selling virtual video game gun skins online.
Based in Montreal, OPSkins is an in escrow system for the sale of virtual gun designs, also known as skins, earned from playing the first person shooter video game Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Users come to the website and put their skins up for sale, and the company then keeps the item on hold until money from the buyer is received.
Minacov and Brechisci manage the risks of the transactions and keep 10 percent of each sale. The two founders say they deal with an average of $120,000 in transactions per day, which means a daily profit of about $12,000.
The men say they started their venture because players were getting scammed selling their virtual weapons online outside of the Steam Community Market, the hugely popular marketplace owned by Counter-Strike's developer Valve.
"People used to sell their guns directly on forums", said Minacov. "The buyer would pay via Paypal, but afterwards, would chargeback as soon as he got his item. So people who sold the weapon were getting scammed. The community wasn't happy about it, so we tried to find a solution."
The reason some users have attempted to sell items outside of Valve's official marketplace is simple: When a user sells an item through Valve's marketplace, they can only use the proceeds to buy other weapon skins, or new games on Steam, said Minacov, who runs the company from his parent's basement.
"With us, people cash out the money they are getting from each sale. Some can make a lot of money out of it," he explained.
New Counter-Strike skins are rewarded randomly, earned by completing challenges, or bought through the Steam Community Market—and every day, between 10,000 to 15,000 items are exchanged on OPSkins' site. Some of those items sell for thousands of dollars. The most expensive item, a virtual knife, sold for $5,000.
Is that an insane price to shell out for a virtual weapon? "There is scarcity attached to some items, but it's all cosmetic," said Brechisci. "Plenty of users don't think it is ridiculous. Actually, 370,000 users don't."
While OPSkins is totally independant from Steam's Community Market, the men say that Valve hasn't given them any trouble. "We had talks with Valve," said Brechisci. "They shut us down once. They investigated what we were doing and then they turned us back on and said we were good to go."
In fact, their business is doing so well that OPSkins says it now employs 20 staff members, spread across the US, Canada and Europe.
On July 9th, Montreal is hosting the ESWC Counter-Strike: GO World Finals, and OPSkins will be the main sponsor, investing $100,000 in the event. "It's huge for our city," said Minacov.
It's also a huge sum for a 21-year-old still living under his parents' roof, but the young entrepreneur isn't too caught up on numbers. "We want to give back to the community but it's also an excellent way to advertise our product."
Correction - 30/06: A previous version of this article said that OPSkins co-founder Artur Minacov dropped out of college to focus on his business. Rather, Minacov dropped out to pursue a previous business that was not OPSkins.