Ten years ago, Bethesda Softworks looked at the growing market in gamerpics (remember those?) and background themes in the Xbox Marketplace for the Xbox 360 console, and wondered if people would purchase something similar in a videogame. If people were willing to buy a virtual drawing of a funny face for their profile, why wouldn’t they buy a pony dress in their game? Thus, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion’s Horse Armor Pack DLC pack was born. A cosmetic bit of fluff for your in-game Oblivion steed, the content was originally sold for 200 Microsoft Points (remember those?) or $2.50. Although it became the poster-child of bad downloadable content, Bethesda pointed out that quite a lot of people bought it, even two years later.
To say the Horse Armor Pack was divisive would be an understatement. Some people felt very strongly that it was the death knell of gaming. They said it was a nickel-and-dime scam that piecemeal sold what should’ve been bundled in an expansion, or even given away for free as a mod. Others thought that it was no big deal. People would vote with their wallets and sanity would win out, tossing the “microtransaction” into the dustbin of history.
Horse Armor was neither as it turned out. It was the start of a revolution in the gaming industry. Far from killing gaming or going away quietly, it instead pointed the way forward. Whole companies and genres are built around this model of selling game content now. In fact, the argument over this experiment looks sort of quaint today. DLC is commonplace. One could even argue that the majority of gamers prefer to pay for their gaming experiences through DLC or microtransaction offers. After all, where would mobile gaming be without in-game purchases?
Hooray for Horse Armor! It changed gaming forever and gave us all a Godwin’s Law equivalent for DLC.