We would like to believe that game companies exist solely to provide us with fun, exciting games. Unfortunately, in the real world like any other companies, game companies also have to make money.
It is for this reason that there so often seems to be design features in games, both computer games and board games, that seem solely designed to ensure increased profit for the manufacturer without technically, specifically, necessarily adding any gameplay value for the consumer.
Hoo hoo hwa ha ha!
Of course, most examples of this are controversial. For example, while many players may regret having to buy large quantities of booster packs in order to get the one card they want, others may consider the uncertainty of opening a booster pack just part of the excitement of the game.
This is particularly common in "Free" MMOs, which can be either truly free, with all content available to all players; or only partially free, with limited free content available, making them Allegedly Free Games. For the former, there are usually game-enhancing (possibly even game-breaking) equips and boosts, as well as a variety of cosmetic-only (usually fanservice-enhancing) items, available for real money in some form of in-game cash shop. Several studies have discovered that the presence of Revenue Enhancing Devices in "free" online games, even those that are strictly cosmetic, typically increase the amount revenue generated per player by up to double that of subscription-only games.
The term comes from the Reagan Administration, where Ronald Reagan had more-or-less promised smaller government, and found they had to raise taxes. Well, rather than say they were raising taxes, they mentioned a new way to obtain money: Revenue Enhancement, which people immediately saw that 'Revenue' in this case meant 'tax' and enhancement meant 'increase'.
Contrast Expansion Pack, where one man's Revenue Enhancement is another man's extra content.
Compare Allegedly Free Game, Bribing Your Way to Victory, Guide Dang It, One Game for the Price of Two. May result in Crack is Cheaper.
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Collectible Card Games
In Collectible Card Games, the cards you get in a pack will be randomized, with certain cards more common than others — for instance, Magic: The Gathering packs have eleven commons, three uncommons, and a rare (with the possibility that the rare could be mythic, and one of the commons could be replaced by a foil card). Therefore, to get a specific card, you either have to keep buying packs until you chance upon it, trade with someone for it, or go buy it from the secondary market, while hoping the Standard tournament rules haven't rotated the cards out of play in the meantime.
To make things worse, there tend to be as many or more different rare cards than commons or uncommons in each set. Add to the the fact that most games have a hard limit to the number of copies of any card that can be in a deck. In order to get a full playset of rares by booster packs, the player will likely have 10 or more FULL SETS of the commons, of which only one set can be used in a deck.
Wizards of the Coast have addressed some of this problem in recent years by reducing the size of their sets. In an article around about the time of Shards of Alara, it was admitted that not only do larger sets make it harder to get certain cards, but the economy problems of the last few years certainly haven't helped either, and they were bowing to the reality of said problems making it particularly bad for players to attempt to get much of a collection at all.
The World of Warcraft spinoff trading card game has special "Loot Cards" which have codes on them that can get you vanity items for your ingame character. Anything from a rideable turtle to a pet gorilla, but nothing that will give your character an actual combat advantage. Pretty much the sole reason for these loot cards is to sell more booster packs.
Some Collectible Card Gamesare Revenue Enhancing Devices. The fourth Star Wars game didn't even try to hide the fact that you were going to lose if you weren't willing to shell out enough money to get cards like Anakin, Count Dooku and other Episode II stars.
D&D Miniatures has a similar deal with booster packs. Additionally, miniatures are divided into four "alignments", and all your creatures have to be from one alignment. This significantly increases the number of booster packs you have to buy to make a playable army. Note also that this randomization is considered annoying by those who buy the miniatures so that they can be used to represent combat in D&D.
Hero Clix uses the booster pack model. A booster will have two commons, two uncommons, and one rare. One in (about) every four packs will instead have two commons, one uncommon, one rare, and one super-rare. Given that they encourage you to buy new sets in packs of 12 (you get a free figure if you do), not bad. So, of course, that's not the end of the story. Some sets have chase figures, which have varities varying from 1 in every 50 boosters to 1 in every 100. If you want one, you've got two choices: get extremely lucky, or get over to eBay.
Alert gamers have noticed that some purchasable Xbox Live DLC is nothing more than a code which unlocks content that is already on the disc you paid for; Namco and EA are particularly known for this, as is the PSN DLC (any DLC with a stated size of 100kb is just an unlock key), and Square-Enix's WiiWare releases have begun to follow suit
The "Trope Codifier" probably would be the "Horse Armor" DLC from The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. This was an armor that you could equip on your horse. It was nearly useless (doubled the low health a horse had) and more or less just for looks. If anyone refers to excessive DLC, especially if it's just skins that don't have any effects, as horse armor, they are referring to this.
Bethesda took this one in stride. One year for April Fool's Day they announced a 50% sale on their Oblivion expansion pack Shivering Isles - but noted that due to the money lost from this sale they would have to double the price of horse armor.
They're continuing the trend with Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, the first 3DS game to have paid DLC, with downloadable music tracks for $0.99 each. They have announced that there will be at least 50 purchasable songs in this format; buy them all and you'll have spent more on that than on the game itself! The iOS version takes this into Allegedly Free Game territory: just as much DLC, but comes with only two songs. The sequel, Curtain Call, includes all the songs from the first game + DLC, but also has its own DLC songs (and characters)
Capcom did the same thing with Resident Evil 5. You have to pay 400 Microsoft Points (US $5.00) to play Versus Mode.
The most blatant example of this is the Xbox 360 version of The Godfather: The Game... several already-present in-game merchants won't deal with you until you've 'unlocked' them with real-life moolah. This includes all of the most powerful weapon-upgrades and the strongest henchman. You could also just buy packets of in-game cash. There's certainly an irony to a game about the mafia demanding extra money for special favors.
Rock Band has over 3,000 songs available for download at roughly $2 each, although new songs are no longer being added. Of course, this attracts a fair share of criticism from certain nay-sayers, who would prefer Harmonix to sell them the music on-disc (at a more effective value) instead of selling it as overpriced DLC; however, several track packs and albums are offered at a discount compared to buying each song individually. This is particularly prevalent for The Beatles: Rock Band, whose tracklist included a minimal 45 songs for a full-priced game, with a selection of other songs from the band's catalogue (specifically the missing songs from Rubber Soul, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road) sold separately. And that's not even getting to the instrument peripherals...
A few achievements/trophies in Rock Band 3 flat out require you to buy certain DLC songs in order to get them:
"Mercurial Vocalist", which requires the purchase of at least 3 DLC songs by Queen.
"Dave Grohl Band", which requires at least 5 songs which Dave Grohl performed in (Although some non-DLC songs count towards the achievement, but not enough to unlock it without DLC).note This comes from an Ascended Meme about the large amounts of DLC songs he performed in.
"The Perfect Drug", which requires you to have purchased the song of the same name.
Guitar Hero: None of this applies anymore as all DLC has been taken down.
World Tour averts this with the guitar duels versus Ted Nugent and Zakk Wylde, which appear at first glance to be shameless money grabs. They must be "purchased" through the online music store to be played in quickplay, even though they are clearly on the disk as they appear in the career mode, however they are actually free and simply must be downloaded free of charge from the music store. Otherwise, the Guitar Hero series plays this straight.
In Warriors of Rock, unlocking things is done by earning stars in Quickplay+ mode. There are only so many songs on-disc, which limits the amount of stars you can get total, and DLC songs count towards your star total, so buying lots of DLC makes it easier to unlock everything.
The Xbox 360 avatar system is a surprisingly effective cash cow. For various amounts of Microsoft Points (with a real cost equivalent of 50 cents to 5 dollars) you can purchase clothing items or props for your avatar. These items have no gameplay purpose at all, and only make your avatar look slightly different in the few games that use your avatar, or when you appear in other people's friend lists.
Free MMO distributor Nexon is notorious for their use of this trope with their free-to-play games; with many offering potentially game-breaking gear in their shop, and a few offering cosmetic items that really ratchet up the Fanservice levels. All shop items are purchased with "NX", an intermediary electronic currency, which itself can only be purchased with real money — either via game cards (available from many real-life shops), mobile phone charges, credit card, or PayPal. NX currency is not available through any in-game mechanism. Examples below:
Mabinogi, has an item shop that offers numerious game-enhancing items including 'gachapons' (items that turn into random gear), items which temporarily enhance or reduce stats, items which increase experience gain, extra characters (beyond your one free one of each race), and in-game pets.
MapleStory, another Nexon game, is even more notorious for this; with many cash shop items being well into the Game Breaker side of the trope. To the point where many players consider the game effectively unplayable without spending considerable amounts of real money, due to the exhorbitant amount of grinding needed otherwise.
Vindictus started out with very few game-enhancing items available in their cash shop; but lots of high-priced cosmetic offerings, most of which existed to up the Fanservice levels. Many more of both have been added with subsequent expansions (with the cost of cosmetic items considerably reduced). While none of them make it to Game Breaker status; many really ratchet up the fanservice levels.
Dragon Nest offers a wide variety of items in the Dragon Vault which make different aspects of the game easier (or practically doable) and more convenient. There's an additional convenience: Almost all of these special goods can be sold in the Trading House for gold, so paying players can effectively buy large amounts of gold with real money. Fortunately for non-paying players there's a steady enough supply of the common cash items that they are affordable at higher levels.
City of Heroes released $10 'Super Booster' packs which contain extra costume pieces (with no effect on gameplay), special emotes (with no effect on gameplay), and a bonus power of some sort (which range from Awesome, but Impractical to rather handy but little effect on actual combat). According to the developers, one of the first packs was so popular that the profits got the next free update out the door much faster.
World of Warcraft has a ton of these, from the aforementioned Collectible Card Game to standard WoW-themed merchandise to a Pet Store where you can spend cash for in-game vanity pets and mounts. The upshot is that this is all purely cosmetic stuff and is in no way necessary to access or complete content...sofar. The most egregious example thus far in World of Warcraft: the Celestial Steed, a mount which provides no concrete in-game benefit, aside from looking cool. The sheer number of orders resulted in a queue on the online store for days. Players realized too late that a mount like that is no longer cool if EVERYBODY gets it. TotalBiscuit parodied that by calling the item "That Retarded Horse," or TRH for short.
Actually, there was a very minor mechanical benefit to the Celestial Steed. When it was released it was one of the very few mounts that scaled with your riding speed; it could be used from the moment you first got a mount and kept functioning at the fastest flying speeds. Someone who had purchased the Steed would never need to buy another mount with gold, saving them a few hundred gold over the character's life. (A later patch made all elite mounts scale this way.) It was also a 'free' mount for all your characters, current and future. All you needed to buy was the training, and the mount would adjust to it.
While store-bought mounts no longer offer any benefits (all mounts adjust to your riding skill and can reach the fastest speed your current training allows nowadays), the indroduction of Pet Battles has brought another possible (though still very minor) advantage for buying from the Blizzard Store: pets bought from the store, while not any stronger than "ordinary" pets, are always Rare quality, meaning that you don't have to search for the perfect pet or the appropriate Battle Stone in-game, a process that can potentially take hours depending on your luck.
EverQuest 2 also has "station store" where you can spend real money to buy purely cosmetic outfits, mounts, and home furniture. You can also buy extra character slots for your account. (Back in the really old days, you could have up to 8 characters per server - now it's 7 per account).
RuneScape has a special flag that you get for buying a £75 ticket to the Runefest convention in real life. A lot of people bought a ticket just for the flag without actually going to the event.
Rift: One advantage to the digital collectors edition (a $10 extra) is a free mount obtainable by all characters in your account at any level. It doesn't help that walking there is pretty damn slow.
EVE Online, with its Summer 2011 expansion Incarna, has introduced the Noble Exchange, where you can buy "premium" clothing and accessories for your (new in this expansion) avatar, using a new currency called "Aurum" which is only available through Real Money Trade. Unfortunately, the prices in the Noble Exchange are set extremely high, often charging as much for avatar clothing as one might spend for real-life clothing. Furthermore, leaked information from CCP that they might sell ships, ammunition, and even faction standings on the Noble Exchange in the future left many players in an uproar...but the uproar was large enough (and mirrored in canceled subscriptions) that CCP backpedaled furiously (and many other consequences too lengthy to detail here).
In many wargames, after having bought the books, you have to buy large quantities of miniatures in order to play (and paint them if you want to play in a sanctioned tournament). For many people collecting and painting miniatures is the main appeal, not an added cost.
Games Workshop is getting most of the flak nowadays, partly because their franchises are among the most popular but mostly because they've severely tightened their grip on independent vendors to control pricing. Another aspect has been their aggressive marketing of pre-made terrain kits. Contrast this with their earlier sales of instructional books like How To Make Wargames Terrain which detailed methods for creating do-it-yourself terrain. It is probably no coincidence that those instruction books ceased printing when GW started upping its production of pre-made terrain.
The 4E books for Dungeons & Dragons repeatedly encourage the reader to sign up for the online D&D Insider service. In fairness, there's general agreement that it's at least worth it for a DM for all the tools to simplify running a game.
The multiplayer modes of the GameCube games Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles and The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures require each player to use a Game Boy Advance connected with a GBA-GCN cable to play. While this did make things a bit more streamlined by not making players constantly pause to go through their menus, or clutter up the screen with windows, it did make non-handheld gamers upset at being asked to buy a handheld system to play a console game with their friends.
The Sims franchise (both the original and The Sims 2) and its countless expansions. Sims 3 takes it to a truly ridiculous level with the Sims 3 Store. We're talking 2,000 Sim Points- that's $20- for a set of 47 items! And a lot of Store stuff was available on release day, raising suspicions that they held it out of the retail game on purpose.
There have been accusations made, such as this comic, that the limited number of installs allowed by the DRM in EA's PC games from Spore is a form of this. While some complaints are fairly mild, in other cases, such as Spore, the DRM is essentially invasive malware that also contains horrible install limitations (sometimes 3 "total" installations).
Railworks turns this trope up to eleven with its DLC on Steam. The price for all of the DLC combined is over FOUR HUNDRED AND TWENTY-SEVEN DOLLARS, with single train addons usually costing twenty dollars each and route addons going forty. Add to that the fact that new DLC becomes available about every week, crack may indeed, be cheaper. The cost for all the DLC jumped from over $700 to over $2000 in six months, and it shows no signs of slowing down. There is some free DLC... at least one of which requires another, not-free DLC train to play.
As a simulation, the DLC is modeled to as close to real life as possible, something that requires a lot of time and money. On top of that, none of it is required, rather it's a case of buying the train you like or the route you'd like to take.
In Burnout Paradise, after you buy Big Surf Island, anything that used to show the "Paradise City" logo now shows a "Paradise City: Big Surf Island" logo. Also, you get a new main menu so you can choose which expansion pack to start from, and a new car menu that lets you choose between different types of cars. Oh wait, it does all this even if you haven't bought the pack, so that most of the main menu selections lead you to a "Oh you haven't bought this yet? Well get out that credit card!" screen. There's also a new page to flip through on the pause screen that promotes the store, which means one more microload between you and the options menu. Big Surf Island itself also gets added, so your £10 just lets you access it. Otherwise, it's fully visible, and you can even start to drive across the bridge to it... only to be greeted with a pop-up menu saying to buy the Island to continue. If you refuse, the game will face you the other way and drive you back into Paradise City.
Made worse when EA dropped the online store for the PC version completely. As well as making certain vehicles which were supposed to be free with the Ultimate Box unattainable, the game will confusingly show you a white screen where the ads used to be, with no explanation.
Some people accuse Square-Enix of doing this for Final Fantasy XII with the strategy guide by making a deal with Brady Games. First, most of the guides that were in the limited edition version came with various artworks, so naturally people will want to grab that by pre-ordering the game. Second, the Infinity+1 Sword and many other rare enemies and drops are impossible to get to on your own (especially the strongest weapon, which requires not touching 4 specific treasure chests/urns, with a vague warning about this offered only after you've come across two of them) without a strategy guide. Of course, the internet countered this plus the guide didn't even have complete information on everything, which is something Brady Games is infamously known for with other games like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Parasite Eve 2. The Brady Games guide for Final Fantasy IX was also pretty much useless, since it told gamers to plug a code into Play Online.com for half its expected content.
In Mortal Kombat II, there is an audit on a information screen called "Kano Transformations" as well as a random end game text message that says "Where is Kano/Sonya/Goro?" This is only there to con players into trying to find a secret that doesn't exist (selling guides to sucker kids was big business back when MK was huge and the Internet was not the infinite font of free information it is now; some of the sillier inclusions in Mortal Kombat 3 such as animalities and brutalities were made for the same reason).
Furcadia has Revenue Enhancing Devices called Digos, which let players walk around with winged characters or even play as dragons and whatnot. They make ALL their money this way.
SoulCalibur 4 and Ace Combat 6 are clearly making money via DLCs. The former lets you buy additional tracks, characters and character equipment (including weapons which can be unlocked in-game without the DLC, but it's specified in its description before you buy it, both on Xbox Live or PlayStation Network) while the latter offers special planes and custom paintjobs for them (including several Idolmaster-themed and Call Backs to earlier games).
Fallout 3 is an odd example. The DLC actually adds a fair bit of content into the game, but the only way to carry on playing after the storyline finishes is to buy the Broken Steel DLC. In most games, "playing after the story finishes" would be seen as a bonus, but Fallout 3 is ostensibly an open-world sandbox game (like Oblivion) and the original ending is incredibly contrived; at least one of your companions in Broken Steel actively lampshades how stupid the original ending was. Fallout 3 and Oblivion are also particularly odd as they were made with the expectation that they would gather a large mod community, meaning that any DLC released has to include a relatively significant amount of content in order to be worthwhile. After all, why buy horse armour DLC when the mod community can do an even better job for free?
There's the crates too. As mentioned above you can get items by random drops, or by crafting them from other items. However, with the arrival of the Store, you would start getting crates as random drops. A crate is of no use at all on its own, and needs a key to open. Whilst crates are come across on a fairly regular basis, there's only one source of keys. Yes, you guessed it, the Mann Co. Store. When you open a crate with a key, you get... a random item. You're basically being asked to pay for extra random drops. Whilst some of the items you get from crates are unique and can't be gotten by any other means, most of the time all you'll get is a bog-standard item that you probably already have three of in your inventory as it is. Did I mention that keys are one use items and you need to buy one for every crate you find? You can't even recycle crates into scrap metal if you don't want to use them, your only option other than opening them is to junk them. (Thankfully, crates drop in addition to rather than instead of normal drops.)
However, weapons obtained from later crates have been given the "Strange" quality prefix, Strange weapons are just like normal weapons, but they have counters like number of kills, making it less of a loss if you open a crate and find something you have already.
Note that Team Fortress 2 was not the first game to make players pay for keys to random drops, just the first to be popular in the West. In fact, ZT Online has a daily prize for the player who used the most keys that day!
They sell "map stamps" too. All that gets you is a hat (one per customer, not one per stamp), a place on the stamp scoreboard for the corresponding map and a warm fuzzy feeling that you are paying the dude who made the corresponding map.
With the Mann Vs Machine game mode they introduced the idea of paying to play on official servers. The missions are different from the default ones (but anyone can play the missions just by bothering to chose something different than the default) and you get an exclusive slightly modified copy of a weapon everyone gets for free already. And a small badge.
There are three hats that goes to those who have spent the most in one of three categories.
The main gimmick of Skylanders is that you select a character by putting a physical figure of it on a "Portal of Power" peripheral, and the figure itself stores all of the character's personal data like stats and experience. The game comes with three figures - dozens more are sold separately. Plus a bunch of special promotional variants.
To Activision's "credit", they aren't being completely exploitative about this. The game is actually pretty good, even with just the three characters already included. At the very most, you only need one character from each of the eight elements to play this game to the very fullest; so that's five figures to buy on top of the three in the box. Not great, but not money-gouging.
The second game can go either way. They're not forcing players to reinvest; as all the old figures can be used in the new game, and they even put together a cheaper package without the portal peripheral for those who already own one. However, old figures are treated as So Last Season compared to the updated ones so you may feel the need to buy them anyway.
There are a number of Collectible Card Game machines in arcades with cards containing data for one or more game entities, Animal Kaiser being a notable example. Players usually buy or rent a starter pack at the arcade counter and the machines dispense additional cards when games are won or completed.
A related system uses a card that can store all of a player's game data like a memory card. These tend to be far more expensive, with some games offering cards with different capacities depending on the price. Naturally each is specific to one game.
Aside from the payment for Xbox Live, one has to wonder why users need a Gold membership to access content that is normally free to access (but not necessarily use) on other platforms such as Netflix, Hulu/Hulu Plus, Facebook, Twitter, or even the entire rest of the internet (Internet Explorer). Microsoft has since realized the error in their was.
The Real Steel game for the Xbox 360. Not only can you buy game-beating robots and parts from the start, but until you drop the Points, you can't paint your robot, play a mirror match or the robots from the film in multiplayer. This leads to a huge gap between the grey proles and brightly-painted rich people in online multiplayer.
Angry BirdsStar Wars II features "Telepods" — any Angry Birds Star Wars 2 Jenga sets you buy comes with figurines you can scan into the game to customize your setup of birds (or pigs, in certain level sets). However, there is a limitation to using Telepods in that you can only use one specific bird/pig per level. If you want, say, a lineup of nothing but Jedi Lukes or Episode III Anakins, you have to buy them from the in-game shop with in-game currency, and getting unlimited amounts of them with this method is more expensive than the limited amounts.
PlanetSide has revenue enhancers primarily in the form of cosmetics - camouflages (ranging from reasonable camos to silly chrome or iridescent neon camos), helmets and hats, and vehicle gear (cosmetic armor plating, underbody lighting, Tron Lines, etc). Many camos and helmets are now designed by the players, who make a profit off of them (similar to the Mannconomy in Team Fortress 2). Weapons can also be unlocked with real money - though the often absurd prices ($7 for the majority of guns) means that they are generally only bought during sales unless they're Nanite Systems (cross-faction) weapons.
Ubisoft have started doing this with multiplayer passports. While a code for the passport for a particular game comes free with the game, it can only be used once, forcing anybody who bought it second hand to buy a passport if they want to use multiplayer.
Online passes are now widely-used, including by EA, meaning a purchaser can't sell the spot on the server they paid for by buying new.
EA recently introduced a subscription service which will be required to pay for if you want beta access to their games, something that was previously free. Admittedly you also get offers on games, but many users suspect more and more previously-free services will be gated off in this way.
Pre-order bonuses such as downloadable content (DLC) are now used to entice to encourage players to pay to pre-order and pay full day 1 price for the game. What's worse is the DLC content may well have been cut from the main product for this purpose, meaning the cost of this revenue-enhancement-device is a worse experience for everyone else.
At its most cynical, DLC in general can be a form of this, especially if the content was originally intended to be included in the original product but cut to generate more money later. This also enables companies to charge more for season passes and complete "Game of the Year" editions.
Publishers of college textbooks make minor changes every few years and call it a new edition, in order to discourage used book sales. That being said, most of the time the new editions of science/math textbooks just shift problems around or bring in problems from even older editions.