Should DLC for video games be free

Cost of digital games


Many games pretend to be free. Most of the time, players end up paying anyway. shows which payment models are available and how excessively high costs can be avoided.

Payment models for digital games

  1. Full price game (Buy2Play)

  2. Many computer games can be purchased with a one-time payment. As with other digital products, the digital game can be transmitted on a data carrier or via download. This classic payment model has steadily lost its popularity in recent years. The advantage of Buy2Play games is that there are usually no additional costs.

    However, there are also pitfalls here: More and more Buy2Play games also offer in-game purchases or paid add-ons that expand the gaming experience.

  3. Subscription (Pay2Play)

  4. With the ever increasing internet speed, regular game updates have become standard. MMO games like World of Warcraft have no defined game end: the game experience should be endless.

    Therefore, they are often played over a long period of time. In order to finance the servers, the support and the constant further development, monthly subscriptions of around 10 € per membership are required on the shelf.

    The monthly subscription to World of Warcraft currently costs 10.99 euros. This price only applies if you commit to six months.

    The subscription model has a number of psychological effects:

    • "If I've already paid for this month now, I'll take advantage of it."
      A subscription tempts you to play a lot. In addition, they then tend to integrate gaming firmly into everyday life and to bind themselves more closely to the game, for example by making regular appointments with (online) friends.

    • Most people believe they are immune to the tricks of pricing. But unconscious processes mean that they usually perceive a slightly smaller individual amount as cheaper. Very few people realize that the 10.99 euros for the monthly subscription over a year add up to over 130 euros. As a one-off purchase price, this amount would be perceived as excessive.

    • Out of sight, out of mind: Subscriptions are often debited monthly by direct debit. The money transfer does not take place physically at the electronics store checkout. Without the haptic reference to the payment process, the money may be looser. There is also the risk of forgetting the subscription over time and continuing to pay without even using the game.

    Subscription models have also become established for game consoles in recent years. The online networks "PlayStation Plus" and "Xbox Live Gold" enable online games. They also attract with free games. The subscriptions cost 60 euros per year. The costs for a game like Fifa 19 add up: almost 70 euros purchase price, 60 euros per year for the online network of the respective console. In addition, there are the costs for possible in-game purchases.

    The PlayStation Plus membership is advertised in the Playstation Store.

  5. Without purchase price (Free2Play)

Free2Play is a sales concept and business model for games with an online connection. Free2Play games can initially be played for free, but often only offer basic content or are interspersed with advertising. Additional digital goods that provide playful or cosmetic advantages can be purchased for a fee. The business model has come under fire, among other things because it can induce the game mechanics or aggressive advertising to encourage people to spend as much money as possible in the game.

The range of "free" games is particularly large in app stores. In 2017, 97 percent of sales with game apps in Germany were generated through in-app purchases, as confirmed by the Association of the German Game Industry. There are also extremely successful Free2Play titles for PC and console, such as Fortnite: Battle Royale, World of Tanks or League of Legends.

The dances in the successful Free2Play title "Fortnite: Battle Royale" are very popular. They can be had for the equivalent of two euros.

Cost of playing

After purchasing a digital game, follow-up costs can arise. The gaming industry has developed several business models that can also be used to make money while gaming.

In-game purchases

In-game purchases are the acquisition of virtual services or goods within digital games. It is irrelevant whether the game can be obtained for free or for a fee. In-game purchases are common, especially for Free2Play games. Various goods, additional content or skins can be purchased in the game.

The gaming industry pushes certain psychological “buttons” using game mechanics that are similar to those used in the gaming industry. In-game purchases are often offered in collection boxes, so-called loot boxes.

A common resource that is sold is time: certain processes in game mechanics are deliberately made very tedious and tough. By investing premium currencies, the game progresses faster. Such premium currencies are, for example, gold bars (Candy Crush Saga) or jewels (Clash of Clans). The purchase process usually takes place in the in-game shop, where the currency can be purchased for real money.

If additional content is not only used for embellishment, but is also important for game progress or even victory, one speaks of the Pay2Win principle. Loot boxes have been the subject of particular discussion because they blur the lines between gambling.

The shop for the game Candy Crush Saga allows in-app purchases. The jokers presented as candy can be purchased in the shop for real money and help to overcome difficult levels. Up to 169.99 euros can be spent here with just one transaction.


DLC stands for "Downloadable Content". This is the name given to additional content for games that can be downloaded from the Internet onto a console or PC. A DLC can contain new maps or items or otherwise expand the content of the game world. DLCs ​​are usually chargeable.


In-game advertising is used when a brand or product is advertised within a game. Advertising can be part of the game scenery or the game plot. With dynamic in-game advertising, advertising content changes over time.

Advertising is ubiquitous in sports simulations like FIFA.


Collecting data is a key business foundation for many tech companies, and game makers are no exception. On the one hand, games can use data on gaming behavior to improve the game, for example by defusing levels that many fail at. On the other hand, the app can try to read the data from the device in order to market particularly targeted - and thus lucrative - advertising.

If an app requires certain authorizations during installation, of which it is not clear whether they are necessary for the app to function, particular caution is required. Likewise, profiles in social media should not be carelessly linked to apps. If it is a bit more inconvenient, it is better to create separate accounts. For children and young people in particular, it is often not easy to see through which data they are disclosing.

Recommendations for parents and gamers

Digital games can come with certain financial risks. presents some possible strategies that can help you stay in control:

  1. Buy only at a fixed price

  2. If you like it more traditional and manageable, you can try to buy only games with a fixed price. Many games, especially from smaller studios, will continue to be offered this way. You should make sure that the fixed price game does not actually contain any additional costs. Because games like Fifa or World of Warcraft have both high acquisition and follow-up costs. The decision for this model enables a clear overview and control of costs, but restricts the number of playable game titles, since Free2Play games are excluded.

  3. Don't spend any money and block in-app purchases

  4. The strategy of playing Free2Play games but strictly refusing to make in-app purchases is very common. Studies assume that 95 to 98 percent of gamers do not spend any money on Free2Play titles. In-app purchases can be deactivated in the app store so that you cannot accidentally spend money. For children in particular, distinguishing between premium currency, in-game currency and real money can be a real challenge. Blocking in-app purchases can prevent this risk for children. In addition, special game websites for children offer free games with no hidden costs.

    Only two to five percent spend money on Free2Play titles and thus generate the entire turnover. From the point of view of consumer protection, regulation by the legislature would be desirable. Alternatively, players must learn to deal responsibly and thoughtfully with the costs of digital games.

    "The consumer advice center NRW demands clear information about paid content and its specific costs in euros before the first opportunity to use games. This applies in particular to the different categories of in-app purchases and the influences on the gaming experience. Last but not least, this also serves to protect Minors who are a relevant target group. "

    Consumer advice center NRW

  5. Maintain control of payment methods

  6. An important strategy for keeping track of your own expenses or those of your children is to make a conscious decision about payment methods. From an educational point of view, prepaid cards are particularly recommended because they encourage controlled and relatively conscious spending behavior. If no other payment methods are active, the expenses are also limited by the currently loaded credit.

Many variants of prepaid cards for online shopping are available at the checkout of supermarkets. This also includes cards for app stores and the online portal Steam. With “paysafe” cards, on the other hand, you can pay almost anywhere online.