In 2006, The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion developer Bethesda did what many at the time thought was unthinkable. The company put an in-game item on sale for real-world money, in a full-price game. It was a cosmetic horse armour set for $2.50.
Oblivion’s controversial horse armour is largely thought of as the first microtransaction in a AAA, premium game. Today, horse armour is one of many items you can buy in plenty of games, including the recently released Diablo 4. But while the idea is not new, these prices certainly are.
Alongside the Diablo 4 early access launch on Friday, the in-game shop went live with a variety of bundles. The store has a similar structure to those seen in most modern games (including Activision Blizzard’s Call of Duty). It offers bundles of character skins, horses, and horse armour.
All of them can be purchased using Platinum, the paid currency that can only be bought in certain denominations. Horse armour bundles are typically the cheapest, at 800 Platinum. That’s the equivalent of $8, which is over three times that of Oblivion’s.
There’s no way to directly buy 800 Platinum, so you can either get the 1,000 pack for $10 and have some leftover, or get four 200 packs for a total of $8. The first option means Diablo 4’s horse armour would be even more expensive than Oblivion’s, at four times the price.
There are more expensive bundles, of course, which can go as high as 1,500 Platinum for horses, and 2,800 for character bundles. The 1,500 horse bundles include a mount as well as armour, which seems a bit silly considering most armour will cover the entirety of the horse.
All of that seems even more silly when you consider, well, how much of your purchase you’re going to be seeing and appreciating. Oblivion is a third/first-person game, so that $2.50 horse armour will be visibile quite often. In Diablo, you’re mostly looking at your character from a bird’s-eye view, so the effect is much less pronounced.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics‘ inflation calculator, $2.50 in 2006 has the same purchasing power as $3.77 today. Meaning even at $8, it’s more than twice as expensive as the inflated price would suggest.
Indeed, the business model for games in 2006 compared to 2023 makes the situation all the more unfortunate. Diablo 4 is a $70 (minimum) game, with day one store, and a season pass coming later. There are considerably more opportunities for constant spending in modern games compared to the Xbox 360 era, at more expensive prices to boot.