What Types of Downloadable Ingame Content Are There and Why Do We Buy Them?

As explained in our previous article, games conquer us so easily because they let us fulfill our basic needs in a way that brings us more pleasure and less hurdle than when we fulfill the same needs in real life. And as the gaming world is shifting towards the F2P monetization model, game producers tend to anchor this pleasure to the purchase of the ingame downloadable content (DLC) as their main source of income. In this article, we’ll take a look at what types of DLC are there and why gamers buy them.

In fact, many contemporary F2P games give you just enough free content to make you start liking the game. But then, at each step towards a better gaming experience, you’re facing the necessity to buy some sort of DLC. Moreover, now even paid games leverage this channel to get more income, which sometimes gets on gamers’ nerves — just like in the case with EA’s Star Wars: Battlefront 2 where the main characters were only available for an extra payment.

One of the many memes making fun of the EA’s DLC for Battlefront 2.

While this new practice might seem unfair to some gamers, it actually has some tangible upsides, too. Before the advent of F2P, if you didn’t have spare $100, there was no chance you’d be playing a video game at all. In turn, today, anyone can play amazing games at no cost, even if those may take thousands of hours and millions in cash to develop. Moreover, as many game producers roll out new downloadable content long after the game release, now you can always get a fresh gaming experience and stay engaged in your favorite games for long. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that gamers need to pay for these benefits, even if not directly at the point of the first contact with the game.

So what sort of downloadable content is there?

Depending on the game genre, complexity, and the platform you choose, there can be a different number of ingame features that bring you pleasure through fulfilling a variety of your needs. And those distinct features will encompass the use of different types of downloadable ingame goods.

Say, when you play an iPhone Puzzle game, most of your pleasure comes directly from solving the puzzle across different levels. When you’re playing World of Warcraft, though, you have a much wider spectrum of activities to source the pleasure from: choosing the appearance and the race of your character, communicating and competing with other gamers, solving quests alone or with other users, discovering new lands, etc.

In the first case, you’ll most likely want to pay for unlocking the new levels or extended functions of the app to solve puzzles quicker and better than other players. In the second case, you might want to buy new skins, gold coins to pay for any other ingame items in the game, or an extension that unlocks new lands and quests.

In this regard, ingame items can be classified by the reasons why one would purchase them:

1) Better ingame performance:

One of the major reasons for people to play games is challenging themselves as they complete increasingly complex ingame tasks and prove they are capable of overcoming the arising difficulties. That’s why a big chunk of downloadable content contributes to gamers’ capability to do so:

  • Ingame currencies: this is the most universal and easily accessible ingame item, often serving as a point of access to any other DLC that gamers are craving for. That’s why such currencies are in high demand not only in simple mobile games like Candy Crush Saga where they help to unlock new app features but also in complex MMOs where they can be exchanged for anything else from skins or boosting to subscription days. However, even though most people love ingame currencies for enabling an unobstructed play, some claim that game producers introduce those to hide the real value of the items they sell and reap more profits, especially with exchange rates other than 1:1;
  • Armor, weapons, vehicles and other stuff that increases your ingame strength and takes your overall performance to a higher level.
  • Extra items not included in the original game — characters, outfits and so on.
    For example, in Street Fighter IV gamers can download custom outfits for their favorite players and Epic Games provides Gears of War 3 players with new characters that can be added to the game.
  • Extra maps, quests, levels and other features that expand the game narrative and increase the game lifetime value.
    Activision offers new downloadable levels to Modern Warfare gamers every several months and regularly releases new songs for its Guitar Hero series, too. By downloading new levels or songs, players can continue to enjoy new challenges after completing the original game.
Warcraft 2: Beyond the Dark Portal expansion pack to the acclaimed 1995 Warcraft 2: Tides of Darkness
  • Boost and cheats — this DLC unlocks game parts which are usually only earned by playing the game. Such downloadable content includes the “Time is Money Pack” for Skate 3 and the In-Game Money content like in The Godfather: the Game.

By the way, the two last examples reveal another way to classify the DLC: it can be transferrable or non-transferrable between gamers and thus either bought from the game producer and his partners only or traded on external platforms by the gamers themselves. Say, if you bought an extension to your favorite game which unlocks new quests for you, you normally can’t retrade it for other gamers to use it in their gameplay. But if you want to give or sell your ingame currency or skins to other gamers, you can easily do that and they can then retrade it once again — not in all games, though.

All these types of ingame content have a clear functional value on their own and cover primarily the self-realization needs of gamers as they strive for better performance and a better version of themselves inside the game. However, ingame goods like cool armor can also be used as a way to show off inside the ingame community, thus fulfilling the Social and Esteem needs, which are the main drivers behind the second type of downloadable content.

2) Social interaction and ingame status:

This sort of ingame content is bought mainly to achieve social recognition in the gaming world and stand out from the crowd of ingame characters. As a result, such items cover the Social and Esteem needs rather than help you raise your game and perform better:

  • Non-functional skins, non-combat companions like pets — or even goods for those pets — and other cosmetic add-ons that make your character look cool inside the game but don’t improve his performance.
    Funnily enough, the motivation behind buying this sort of items is so strong that often gamers spend up to $2,000 for skins — something most people wouldn’t pay even for a piece of clothing in real life. On the other hand, this type of add-ons sometimes causes massive backlashes as gamers keep claiming it’s just one more ridiculous way to make them open their wallets.
    One of the loudest examples of such items is The Horse Armor paid DLC from The Elder Scrolls IV and interestingly, it depicted what happens when game producers try to sell an ingame item that doesn’t really meet the gamers’ need. The point here is that The Elder Scrolls IV is played offline, meaning that only the gamer himself can enjoy the view of his horse. Therefore, this horse armor would not fulfill the Esteem need such items usually address in MMOs — and so everybody exposed the uselessness of such DLC straight away.
The Horse Armor paid DLC from The Elder Scrolls IV

Unique or limited edition items that enable you to show your belonging to the group of sophisticated gamers and true admirers of the game. These can raise in value even more if they’re somehow connected to famous gamers or tournaments.

A good example of such items would be the Dragon Lore CS:GO weapon which was sold for over $61,000. What made it so special was the fact that it was a souvenir skin, meaning it’s only available from souvenir packages that one can get solely during a Valve-sponsored CS:GO tournament.
Another example was when an unknown user bought a one-of-a-kind virtual car for $110,600 — almost what 2 real Porsche would cost him, except for he’d save on the gasoline.

While these are the two main types DLC if viewed from the perspective of gamers’ purchasing motivation, there are other reasons for buying such content, too.

For instance, sometimes we purchase ingame goods not because of our true needs and rationale but because game producers came up with tricky schemes to make us do that. Say, gamers can make a certain armor type a must for those who want to move on to the next level or partake in a given quest. Yet, they also make it close to impossible and very time-consuming to naturally gain that item via playing. At the same time, they’re politely offering you to buy this item for just $3,99 — and you would often agree.

Or another case of why one would buy ingame goods — according to ESA, 30% of all gamers are kids under 18 and it’s their parents who sponsor their gaming endeavors and buy them the DLC, often as a present. Furthermore, as the gaming sphere is booming, many people even outside of the gaming community tend to buy some sort of DLC as an investment or speculation tool. For instance, a virtual club Neverdie in Entropia Universe has been bought for over $600k as an investment into virtual real estate — and paid off in several months. Then, the purchase of a whole planet followed up in the same game — this time for $6 mln paid by a company.

However, for the people that aren’t really familiar with this space — like gamers’ parents or investors — the purchase of ingame items is made extremely complicated due to the lack of simple & efficient trading services — and here’s where FiPME steps in.


With the F2P monetization model, purchases of downloadable ingame content have become a must for gamers to enjoy playing across most of game genres. And while in many cases we consciously choose to buy a given item to fulfill our Self-realization, Esteem or Social needs and get more pleasure from the gameplay, some of us choose to do so after being psychologically tricked by the game producers.

However, at FiPME, we believe that while some game producers indeed exploit gamers to boost their income in any way possible, in most cases it’s more of a fair exchange between the gamer and the company. Eventually, we need to embrace this new gaming business paradigm and come to terms with the fact that the ingame content trading helps game producers to stay afloat and acts as one of the main drivers of the whole industry.

But what has been always bothering us at FiPME is that even for those willing to purchase the ingame content, the experience linked to it is often not as smooth as it could be. As a result, the overall experience for gamers gets degraded and the game producers face difficulties, too. That’s why we’ll do our best to make the ingame content more easily accessible and provide the shortest way towards the best gaming experience for gamers while respecting the rights and the efforts of the game producers.

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