Ten years ago today Bethesda defined bad downloadable content with two dollars and fifty cents' worth of horse barding.
Downloadable content was a relatively new thing back in 2006 when my favourite Elder Scrolls game was released, and players and publishers alike were still getting a feel for what worked and what did not work. Then came Oblivion's Horse Armour DLC, blazing a trail of badness for all to see.
Players could spend $US2.50 ($3) worth of Xbox Live points to deliver decorative armour for their mount to an NPC in virtual Tamriel. The first set was free, subsequent sets cost 500 in-game gold.
Bethesda quickly discovered that people did not think $US2.50 ($3) was a fair price for a cosmetic item that no one else but the player could enjoy. Were it an only game such an item might act as a sign of prestige. "I had $US2.50 ($3) laying about," it would say. But Oblivion is an offline game, and the whole affair was just silly.
Bethesda marketing and PR VP was on top of the situation, issuing a statement the day after Horse Armour's release (via Engadget).
"We tried to find a spot for [the download] that fit with what other things were out there. A Theme costs 150 points. The Kameo thing was 200. We're trying to find the right spot that fits... We're not even a day into this right now. We've got a couple more [downloads] we're working on finishing... We want to put some different things out there and find out what folks want and what they don't want. These are optional things, not requirements, so if you don't want to get them you don't have to."
The lesson Horse Armour provides is a simple one: some DLC is dumb and overpriced.
Three years after its release Bethesda celebrated April Fool's Day with a special sale on Xbox 360 downloadable Oblivion content. Everything was half-off except for one thing. They bumped the price of Horse Armour to $US5.00 ($7).