In-Game Cosmetics Are Starting To Feel Cheap

Things are getting a bit too routine.

Charging for in-game cosmetics has always been a fantastic, fair way for developers to monetize their free-to-play games. Cosmetics don’t mess with competitive balance (for the most part), but they do give us extra personalization — a timeless reward. However, something is starting to feel off.

I don’t mean to sound too much like the hipster that I am, but honestly, it’s not cool when everyone does it. This has two meanings here. One, simply put, is that if everyone can equip a cool skin through buying it — I don’t feel like the special butterfly that I am anymore. That has always been a problem with purchasable cosmetics, but it seems like they’re in every game now. I’m about to start a council with my friends to determine who’s allowed to wear what, because we all have everything. I mean, we can’t look like a bunch of clowns out there.

Secondly, developers are leaning on this model too much. “Here is our free game, if you want to look like most people, buy-in and get the good skins.” This is so popular now that it’s more uncommon to use default skins in some games… doesn’t that defeat the purpose a bit? I want to be able to support my favorite developers as much as the next fan, but I’m tired of doing it through buying skins upon skins. Maybe we need to normalize video game developer merch drops.

Browsing Reddit, I stumbled across a post that encapsulated this point perfectly. In this thread, Redditor u/Less_Tennis5174524 vents about how game studios are cheapening the feel of cosmetics, calling back to a time when they used to serve as the hallmark of talent and achievement. “Cosmetics matter a lot. In most games, the gear you wear is a reward for your work and a reflection of your level/skill.” In my opinion, this is a huge reason for World of Warcraft’s consistent success and popularity. To oversimplify, most of that stuff can’t be bought. But this is comparing apples to oranges, because WoW uses a subscription-based model.

So how can F2P developers work around this?

Well, StarCraft 2 combatted this feel brilliantly with the War Chest. For starters, the cosmetic packs were designed to fund tournaments, giving us a feeling of purpose when we pressed “purchase.” The skins weren’t just badges of wealth, they were badges proving our support and love for the competitive scene. Additionally, you didn’t just get that season’s skins — you had to earn them. The more games you won, the quicker you’d unlock the cosmetics that you already bought. It was risky for Blizzard to implement monetized DLC that we couldn’t immediately equip, but in-return, the War Chests were quite well-received.

The key is creativity, in short. We don’t expect developers to reinvent the wheel here, but routine feels cheap. Let me go over the top with an analogy. Beethoven was a genius, but he didn’t revolutionize music like people might think he did. He took conventions that were in practice, and he made them better. I’m curious as to what future model will make things better for developers and players alike, because I’m tired of purchasable in-game cosmetics.

NEXT: It’s Impossible To Ignore The WoW: Shadowlands Story (And That’s A Good Thing)

  • TheGamer Originals

A bit of musical expatriate, Andrew studied trumpet performance in college before drifting towards his love for creative writing and video games. Some of his favorites include Homeworld, Warcraft III, Starcraft 2, Apex Legends, Cuphead, Katana Zero, and Bastion. When not hunched over a keyboard furiously typing, you’d likely find him engulfed in anime or Apex — avoiding the sun entirely.

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