Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Selling peacock feathers to sexually frustrated gamers.

There is an economic concept called a Veblen good. This is a product which is desired *because* it is expensive. Like a rolls royce, or a gold plated apple smartwatch, or other frippery. Its ‘utility’ if it can still be described as such, is a price signal to other people. Its basically the same as a hat that says ‘I have lots of money’, and in a more primitive way, its a peacock, or one of those monkeys that shows its buttocks at potential mates. Its purpose is external, to tell other people about your worth.


Most goods, thankfully are not Veblen goods, but goods that provide utility. My keyboard provides the utility of letting me communicate. It has a logo on it, but frankly nobody is going to have sex with me because I own a corsair keyboard, so its primarily being sold for what it can do.

This subject occurs to me today because in my various musings about DLC and micro-transactions I realize that what I hate is ‘Veblen DLC’. In other words, if your micro-transaction gives me some convenience feature, or some new content, the ability to play on new maps etc, I’m cool with that, but if its just a vanity purchase then…I kinda hate that. I noticed it when browsing the in-game ‘store’ for company of heroes 2. I’d happily buy new maps and some new tanks etc, if available, but the focus seems to be on silliness like different textures for my tanks, or even a gold-plated ‘faceplate’ for my stats banner. I am not short of cash, but the idea that I’d pay money to announce this to some random person over the internet through the proxy of a different ‘faceplate’ texture is kinda sad.


And yet… the gold-plated apple watch. This is a real thing. And ultimately, its all peacock feathers. Big companies, worth real billions of dollars put together marketing plans to persuade us (subconsciously) that members of the opposite sex will throw themselves at us if we have high status, and this high status can only be achieved through this car/handbag/sunglasses.


Although its less clearly about sex, groups of males together competing to be the best are ultimately competing to show dominance and strength to attract a mate. Ultimately, unless conflict and competition is about food, its probably subconsciously about sex. This is no different to what all animals do, its just with humans, some of us ‘monetized it’, presumably so we can earn higher salaries and do the same thing ourselves. That £1.59 faceplate is actually a peacock feather, a way for a sexually frustrated young gamer to show they are the alpha male.

So next time you see someone wearing a gold apple watch, remember. its just a monkey showing their buttocks.

8 thoughts on Selling peacock feathers to sexually frustrated gamers.

  1. I’m not sure if your interpretation of why people buy cosmetic DLC is really all that on the money. At the very least, I don’t think it makes for a good blanket assessment. Paradox games are a great example: they’re primarily single player affairs with [i]huge[/i] amounts of purely cosmetic DLC that people presumably buy. I know I do, especially when they’re cheap enough that I can just grab a ton of them for a few bucks. No one knows that I own it, and no one would care if they did.

    Another example that’s probably closer to what you’re talking about: Dota 2 cosmetic items. 90% of the cosmetic items in that game are too insignificant to even really be noticeable by other players, and the vast majority are so cheap on the marketplace that I guarantee there’s no signaling going on. I don’t usually spend money on them, but I do like playing stupid fantasy character dress-up and sometimes I’ll throw a few pennies at an item that I like on the marketplace.

    There’s definitely something to be said for people treating high-end and very visible cosmetic DLC as status items, but I think for the majority of people it just taps into a collection/customization impulse.

    1. Yes thats true. I should have made a distinction between mere customization, which is more understandable, and the over-the-top DLC like some of the expensive ships in Star Citizen, and the nonsense like a private island in that MMO game from years ago.

  2. Games where the DLC is raw power (this also includes time) are ones that I simply won’t play. In something like Clash of Clans, being at the top of the leader board is a communication of how much money someone has spent on the game- buying the “convenience feature, or some new content” is tbe only way to avoid the frustration built into the game, and thus play the game.

    On the other wrist: a game like League of Legends makes most of its money selling cosmetic goods. This game is significantly more fair because it is balanced around skill rather than money.

    Whenever I see a F2P game, I look at what I can buy. If it’s mostly cosmetic, I know it has a better chance at being fun than if it’s mostly convenience and content.

  3. I think you’re misusing the term “Veblen good”, you write. “I realize that what I hate is ‘Veblen DLC’.” Veblen goods are liked the more they more expensive they are, so the fact that you hate it is a first clue that this might not be the case. If cosmetic DLCs were tru eVeblen goods, then game companies would also need to sell *more* of the expensive DLCs than they do sell of the less expensive ones, and I doubt that is the case.

    We have status symbols outside of gaming. You might have a scarf of your favorite sports team or a t-shirt with a band you like. You’re showing support of them, and by letting others perceive it, hope to accrue social capital. In computer games, there are various ways to do it: you can support the devs financially and get cosmetic DLC (which even in a single-player game shows up in screenshots), you can take part in a guild, you can make mods or run a fan-moderated forum or a fan website or do other social media activities. Good games allow various ways for their fans to convert effort into social status in the game community, and cosmetic “supporter” DLCs are a part of that strategy.

  4. I just used ad block to block your butt image. Please re-use that image so it will forever not show to me. Ack! Monkeys are the worst. We need UDLC and FDLC. Useful DLC and Flair DLC.

  5. As per a couple of the other responses, your point on cosmetic DLC/paid items might not be true depending on the type of game. In F2P games it’s generally considered a good sign if they *only* have cosmetic items (or at least have very heavy restrictions on what functional items you can buy), as it prevents the “pay to win” crowd from ruining everyone’s fun.

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