Head over to the Rust store page on Steam and you'll notice a new option offering "Items available for this game," including clothing and firearms, that can be purchased for real money. It's the first (and, as far as I know, only) implementation of "Item Stores," a function introduced in the latest update to Steam that enables developers and community creators to sell in-game items directly to players.
The Rust Item Store exists, and will continue to exist, alongside the Community Market, and pricing will often be different. The Red Shine Pistol on the Rust Item Store, for instance, goes for around $3, but costs just under $5 on the Community Market; the Forest Camo T-shirt, on the other hand, costs the same $3 on the Item Store but can be had on the Market for 5 cents. That might sound a bit sketchy, but product descriptions on the Item Store very visibly include the Community Market pricing as well.
"Part of the reason for having the market prices next to the listings is to make it clear to people if the price is lower somewhere else. Items will come and go from the item store, but they'll be available on the market as long as people are selling them," Facepunch Studios mastermind Garry Newman explained. And while the Rust Item Store currently features studio-made items "as a test for the system," it's mainly in place for community-created items.
Newman acknowledged that the Item Store bears some surface similarities to the paid mods fiasco that caused so much upset earlier this year, but noted that the products it sells are strictly cosmetic, and they're also given to players through random, timed drops in the game, meaning that nobody will be excluded.
"I think the [paid mods] launch on Skyrim gave a really negative vision of what the future looked like. Instead of showing how it would lead to better, more supported mods, it showed how you were going to be asked to pay for the shit you were getting for free yesterday," he said. "Pretty much all the modders I've spoken to would at least like the choice to sell their mods. Personally I think they deserve to be able to make that choice themselves. It's not a choice that should be made by us, or Valve or by the neckbeards on Reddit."
He expanded upon that thought in a post on his personal blog, in which he said that Valve's approach is good for everyone, including people who can't, or don't want to, spend money on this stuff. "They hate traditional microtransactions because it’s a paywall. But on Steam they play the game and get random drop items, and can then sell and trade those items on the marketplace," he wrote. "It’s not unfeasible that a player will make more money selling items than the game itself cost."
Newman said the backend for Item Stores has actually existed for some time now, and that as far as he knows it's available to any developer who wants to use it. "Steam doesn't really partition features off for certain people, everything they add is there to be used by all developers," he said. "We're just agile enough to have gotten there first."
I imagine it won't be the last.