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Horse Armor is a downloadable content (DLC) package containing armor that could be placed on a player’s horse for the Xbox 360 release of the game The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. After being heavily mocked by the gaming community, the term “horse armor” became associated with useless and overpriced DLC packages.
On April 3rd, 2006, Bethesda Game Studios released the first DLC for the game The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, charging $2.50 for access to an item called “Horse Armor.” Once installed, the player could visit an Orc non-player character (NPC) and receive a set of armor to be placed on a horse (shown below). While the first set was free, each subsequent horse armor purchase would cost the player 500 gold.
The same day the DLC was released, the gaming news blog Joystiq published an article about the armor, which criticized Bethesda for charging for a simple in-game item. On April 4th, 2006, Evil Avatar Forums member bapenguin posted an interview with Bethesda vice president of marketing Pete Hines, who responded to questions about the Horse Armor DLC backlash:
bapenguin: It seems there’s been quite a bit of backlash from the $2.50 horse armor skins. What’s your take on it?
Pete Hines: Honestly there’s not a lot of info out there for us to go on. We tried to find a spot for it 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. How much is something you can use in the game worth versus a gamer picture pack, or a theme, and so on.
On July 14th, Urban Dictionary user Ironhammer submitted an entry for “horse armor,” describing it as a term used to “describe video game features that are useless and overpriced.” On December 11th, 2008, a thread was created in the Gamespot Forums titled “Whats this running joke with horse armor?”, to which several others replied that it was a mocked DLC. On January 30th, 2009, Bethesda published a blog post listing the top purchased DLC packages for Oblivion, with horse armor ranking in at #9. That day, the gaming blog Destructoid published an article in response to Bethesda’s post, which expressed surprise that people were still purchasing the item. On November 14th, 2011, the Internet humor blog Cracked published a list of the “10 most insulting things video games charge money for,” listing Horse Armor at #10. On September 18th, 2012, Game Industry posted an interview with Pete Hines, who addressed the customer reaction to the Horse Armor DLC:
Pete Hines: “You can look at something like Horse Armor pack as an example. The reaction to Horse Armor wasn’t just about price. It was more of a lesson: when you’re going to ask somebody to pay X, do they feel like they’re getting Y in exchange? If they don’t feel like they’re getting their money’s worth, they’re going to bitch.”
On March 18th, 2013, the 2D platformer game DLC Quest was released, in which the player purchases upgrades from an in-game DLC store with virtual coins. In the game, the player can purchase armor for their horse for 250 coins (shown below).
On April 10th, 2013, Redditor Left_Side_Driver submitted a post to the /r/Minecraft subreddit, which featured a screenshot of a horse wearing armor in an upcoming update for the indie sandbox game Minecraft (shown below). In the comments section of the post, Redditor thevdude joked that he couldn’t “wait to buy the horse armor DLC.” Within nine days, the post gained more than 7,400 up votes and 770 comments. On April 18th, the unfinished Minecraft update 1.6 added horses as well as armor that could be crafted for the steeds.