Remember when you'd buy a game and... that was it? You got the full experience by purchasing the full product one time. The face of the games industry has changed drastically, and now titles without microtransactions, DLC, battle passes, loot boxes and subscriptions are few and far between in the AAA market. Sometimes, publishers went a little too crazy with the monetization.
We'll take a look at the 10 most egregious, price-gouging and extreme forms of paid DLC and microtransactions that sort of lost the whole "micro" part.
Looking Glass Ocular Implant - EVE Online, ~$60
Paid in-game cosmetics are nothing new, and have been around for far longer than monetization of additional content became as widespread as it is these days. We're used to hearing about extremely rare weapon skins in Counter Strike: Global Offensive selling for ridiculous amounts on the Steam marketplace, but since the players sell and set prices there it hardly counts. Things were different when CCP was selling a tiny Ocular cosmetic for your avatar in the notoriously complex space strategy MMO, EVE Online.
Few cosmetic items can boast triggering in-game riots that caused the player-affected virtual economy to buckle. When CCP introduced Aurum as a kind of premium-but-not-quite currency to circumvent financial restrictions in certain countries, the result was this small cosmetic item going for more than a full AAA game. It isn't even a whole skin - just a small metallic implant on your character's face, which isn't even often seen in-game.
Since exchange rates between the different currencies of EVE Online are directly affected by the player-driven economy, huge fleets blockaded and attacked major shipping lanes and trading posts to force the value of the premium currency down. $60 might not seem much compared to some of the other entries in the list, but none of those caused socio-economic upheaval.
Pirate King Pack - Rimworld, $400
RimWorld ended up being a major hit and large commercial success despite its humble beginnings - starting as a crowdfunding project in 2013, RimWorld was seeking the help of fans to accumulate a starting budget of a little over $200,000.
The game eventually launched in 2018, became a sensation and sold over 1 million copies just that year, becoming one of the most popular indie titles on Steam and reportedly generating over $100 million in revenue.
Back when the game was still seeking funding on Kickstarter, enthusiastic fans could pay the $400 tier which, aside of including all lower tiers, would allow them to "design a weapon, animal, or plant for the game". Since RimWorld's original Kickstarter page is still up, we know that 6 people actually backed the game at this tier.
There were also three more expensive tiers, but nobody backed any of those.
15400 Plex - EVE Online, $500
Earning the dubious honor of being listed here twice, EVE Online's premium currency model also features Plex, which is a sort of in-game abstraction of your subscription or game time. Plex, Aurum and ISK - the stuff you earn with regular in-game activities - are all connected to the game economy, with exchange rates fluctuating.
Plex can be earned instead of bought, meaning skilled players can technically unlock or purchase premium features for "free" (though time and effort is required), but CCP also sells the currency. Technically premium currencies are always considered microtransactions, but when you're dropping $500 on space money, all sense of "micro" is lost. Considering the cost of some capital ships (and how prone to being blown up in the game's various highly publicized wars they are), 15400 Plex can disappear in a jiffy.
All the DLC - Train Simulator 2020, $10,145
Do you really, really like trains? Train Simulator 2020 is all about the realistic recreation of the train driving experience, and presents players - or trainees, since this is actually used as educational software too - with a dizzying array of locations, routes and train types to explore. That is, if you buy all the DLC.
The base game still has quite a bit of content, but just like its cousin Truck Simulator, Train Simulator is meant to be expanded with the content you are specifically interested in. Naturally, the developers don't actually expect any one person to buy all of the DLC, rather the idea is that you get the trains, routes and other bonuses you care about while skipping the rest. Still, this would be a completionist's nightmare.
All Costumes - Dead or Alive 5: Last Round, $1,117
Koei Tecmo sure know the audience of Dead or Alive 5: Last Round. This particular fighting game is well known not for its mechanics, not for its storyline or any other factor most games become famous for, but rather for its notoriously low quantity of clothes on female characters and the special attention the developers paid to the physics of certain body parts.
While many will try to convince you that DoA has a legitimate place in the hardcore fighting game pantheon, and they might even be right, the series claim to fame - and controversy, due to being exploitative and sexist - of featuring scantily clad fighters is further reinforced by over a thousand dollars' worth of costumes, most of which further reduce the fabric density on screen.
All Songs - Rocksmith, $6,554
If you are familiar with rhythm games, you are undoubtedly familiar with Rocksmith. Basically a realistic Guitar Hero where instead of big colourful buttons and abstractions of note you need to play an actual guitar, the title became popular both as a party game and an educational tool to teach people how to play real instruments.
While the base game comes with a broad selection of songs from various artists, you can expand the song library with individual tracks, each of which could be bought for around $2.99. Thing is, around 2200 extra individual songs were available for purchase, meaning if you want to have a complete Rocksmith song library, you'd have to drop $6,554 in total.
Ruler Of Wraeclast Pack - Path Of Exile, $12,500
Path Of Exile has a great deal of goodwill in the gaming community for the simple reason that it came out around the time that Diablo 3 did. Diablo 3 had a notoriously troubled launch, and for years suffered huge quantities of criticisms - Blizzard arguably patched the game up by the time Reaper of Souls was released, but nonetheless the poor reputation stuck.
Meanwhile Path Of Exile launched as a free-to-play hack'n'slash much more authentic to the feel and gameplay of the classic Diablo and Diablo 2, which caused hordes of disgruntled fans to flock to it and sing its praises, helping it grow. Path Of Exile remains hugely popular to this day, and has escaped the ire that most games relying on DLC and microtransactions receive.
While PoE has several pretty expensive 'micro'transaction packs, the Ruler Of Wraeclast takes the cake with a price tag of $12,500. This immense amount of cash will buy you the privilege of design a unique item and enemy that would appear in the game, a special title, a mention in the game credits and several other perks also available in lower tiers.
Apparently, designing monsters is an expensive business, since the $1,500 pack includes everything except that.
Legatus Pack - Star Citizen $27,000
Star Citizen has gone through its share of pricing related controversies, mostly aimed at the high cost of individual ships and game packages despite having constantly delayed release dates. Nonetheless, enough people have faith - us included - in Star Citizen to have recently pushed it past $350 Million in funding.
Though no longer sold, we imagine the biggest "DLC" pack for the game helped reach that milestone. The Legatus pack was only available to players who already sunk at least $1,000 into the game, and was a massive $27,000 package including every variant of every ship that was available at the time alongside a bunch of other highly exclusive goodies and perks that would mark owners as the real high-rollers of the galaxy.
You can't buy the Legatus pack anymore, mostly due to the changes that the Star Citizen business model went through over the years (though we imagine the controversy contributed), but considering the kind of excitement backers have displayed in the past we don't doubt that at least a few people dropped the cash for this - and hey, it's still cheaper than that dumb chisel.
Diamond Chisel - Curiosity, $77,000
At least with Train Simulator, you got a bunch of locomotives and highly detailed realistic recreations of countries and track routes for about $10,000. Here you only get a fancy chisel to use in an infinitely less interesting game for way more cash.
Curiosity was one of Peter Molyneux's many controversial experiments. The game presented players with a massive cube that you could dig through by tapping your screen. All players around the world were digging through the same immense cube with a mysterious, allegedly "life-altering prize" at the very center that only a single person would win. You could play for free and optionally purchase microtransactions that got you special chisels that dug faster.
The Diamond Chisel was particularly controversial, being sold for £50,000. It isn't clear whether anyone actually ever bought it - we're going to guess not - but if anyone did they'd have been in for a huge disappointment. The prize was revealed to be a special role in Molyneux's next game, Godus, which ended up having a troubled development cycle.
Curiosity was "won" by Bryan Henderson in 2013. Today, Godus is still in Early Access, has a Mostly Negative rating on Steam and the winner, last we know of, has yet to receive any of the promised rewards such as 1% royalty payments of Godus' revenue or the God of Gods role in-game.
Planet Calypso - Entropia Universe, $6,000,000
Yeah, 6 million. That isn't a typo, but it does bear some explanation. If you haven't heard of Entropia Universe yet, don't worry - this sci-fi space opera MMO isn't like other games, and despite running since 2003 and featuring some of the biggest exchanges of real money in a virtual environment, it isn't really widely reported on by the media.
While it has many of the trappings of a regular MMO, the game's weird economy which is directly linked to real money makes it an outlier. The kicker is that you can cash out in-game money to actual USD at a fixed 10:1 ratio. Despite looking like a generic sci-fi game, the actual point of Entropia is to be an economic simulator of sorts, and interesting many major real-world companies "play" the game.
You can buy and sell a multitude of virtual goods, and when you add a crafting system into the mix, Entropia can often feel like a job more than a game. Every time you fire a shot, that bullet flying through the air is costing you real cash, in a sense. Players can also own and sell land, which is where Calypso comes into play.
While ultimately the planet wasn't sold to one entity, technically you could have personally bought every single land deed and own the entire virtual planet, the value of which was $6,000,000. The land deeds were purchased in bulk by various real-life companies, who still dropped massive amounts of cash on the virtual land, but not the full 6 million.
They could have, though!