I have played Riot Games’ League of Legends for about 5 years now and spent over $400 on it. The ultra-expensive “Prestige” skins have intrigued me since the first one released in November 2018, but I never seriously considered purchasing one because to my rational mind, they were just ludicrously expensive. Unlike the Epic ($10) and Legendary-tier ($15) skins that release in batches every few weeks, Prestige skins were simply a low effort re-coloring of an existing skin.
However, with my long-time main champion receiving her first Prestige skin in the next patch, I find myself doing a heel turn. As a loyal main, I own all six of her skins and several of the “Chroma” re-colorings, and I feel like it is not enough for me to own only the regular, $10 version of Battle Queen Diana. I need the Prestige Edition to complete my collection and show other strangers online that I am a dedicated Diana player. But I also find myself asking — how can it be that what I once thought “ludicrously” expensive, I am now excited to hand over my money for? Why have so many people seemingly defied logic to purchase Prestige skins?
Note: All prices quoted are USD.
A Prestige skin costs somewhere between $195 and 115 hours
In a similar vein to the behavioral economics concept of payment decoupling, League uses an intermediate currency of Riot Points (RP) in its shop, which is purchased according to the following schedule:
Prestige skins further decouple the payment process, as they are not purchased directly with RP. Instead, they are acquired in a convoluted process in which 2,000 Event tokens can buy the Prestige skin in the Event shop, or 100 Prestige Points in the Prestige shop can buy a selection of non-event skins.
Each event, 300 tokens are freely obtained via “missions” or by playing enough games. To earn the remaining tokens and Prestige Points, there are two methods:
- The labor-intensive method: Purchase a Battle Pass for 1650 RP ($15). This grants tokens after each game for the 4 week duration of the event — 10 tokens per win, 5 per loss on Summoner’s Rift.
Assuming 50% win rate and 30 minutes per game, earning 1700 tokens will require ~115 hours! If one prefers the Prestige shop’s selection, then even more grinding is required to earn the 2200 tokens to trade in for 100 Prestige Points.
- The quick but expensive method: Tokens can be directly purchased by buying loot box bundles. 2,000 tokens can be obtained from two 12,500 RP-bundles of 800 tokens and one 6250 RP-bundle of 400. This costs a total of 31,250 RP, or a whopping $195!
A common hybrid approach for those who are willing to do some amount of grinding is to earn the 300 free mission tokens, then buy the remaining 1700 tokens for 26,750 RP, or $165.
Also, 100 Prestige Points can be purchased at any time from Masterwork Chest bundles for a total of 17,550 RP, or $105.
In summary, Prestige skins can cost as “low” as $15 and 115 hours, or as high as $195, though players can pay in any combination of grinding and purchasing tokens. Many who opted for the lowest cost Battle Pass route reported feeling completely burned out and in need of a break away from the game. Paralleling many things in life, a Prestige skin is earned either through hard work, or by paying a lot of money.
What exactly makes a Prestige skin prestigious?
On the surface, a Prestige skin is a white and gold recoloring of an existing 1350 RP skin, and the champion’s appearance will have some modifications.
The in-game model reflects the new colors and outfit, and some effects are changed to a golden hue.
Riot product manager “I am Carlos” had envisioned the Prestige skin line to be instantly recognizable collector’s items for players to show off and evoke feelings of awe in others. In a forum post at the launch of the Prestige line, he described the vision as follows:
With Prestige Editions we’re striving to capture the the “cool, rare” skin feeling, but without withholding the base skin. Some of us have had the experience of…seeing the elusive Young Ryze skin in the loading screen. This is one of the rarest skins in the game. It doesn’t have the most features or effects, but everyone knows it’s a rare skin…[Prestige] allows players that value rarity/exclusivity an avenue to show off their collection
League’s loading screen displays the splash art of the skin you chose to use to all nine other players. A Prestige skin’s name will be written in a telltale dense text and framed in a shiny, golden border.
Model animations and voice lines can priced, but the pride of being seen in a Prestige skin is priceless. But how and why can such feelings be evoked in the skin’s owner and their fellow players? This is because Riot has successfully positioned Prestige skins as in-game status symbols.
Value-based pricing over cost-based pricing in luxury
If the worst case scenario for a product is a price war with competitors, then the best case would be being able to dictate sky-high prices to a willing consumer base. The luxury industry has proved for years that with savvy branding and product positioning, it is entirely possible to drastically raise consumer willingness-to-pay on a low cost product to achieve large profit margins.
One notorious example is La Mer’s signature Crème de la Mer. One fluid ounce sells for $190 despite its primary ingredients being mineral oil, petrolatum, and glycerin, which are effective but also extremely cheap and commonplace ingredients. But the heavy glass jar the cream is housed in, plus its luxurious adverts, fabled backstory, and celebrity fans, all accord a sense of pride to the user as it sits on the vanity shelf and a feeling of luxurious pampering when the cream is applied. Though the cream itself may have costed in the single digits to produce, the overall La Mer experience is worth $190 per fl. oz. for many.
A similar concept is leveraged by luxury fashion’s infamously high margin perfumes and sunglasses. Because these companies have invested so much in developing their famous brand identities, the prices of perfumes and sunglasses, which are much cheaper to produce than high quality clothing and leather goods, can ride the coattails of the brand’s value. They get away with being priced at the high value that customers ascribe to the brand’s products, rather than based on their costs of production.
In League of Legends, the main drivers of pricing for skins are new particle effects, animations, voice lines, and sounds. Prestige skins have none of these. But at up to 31,250 RP, they are priced far beyond the next most expensive type of skin — the 3250 RP ($25) Ultimate skin. It is clear that unlike most skins in League, Prestige skins were priced to the value that they bring to the player rather than based on the cost of the skins and art team’s efforts.
Creating the perception of value
To elevate their value in the eyes of players, Prestige skins use similar tactics to the luxury industry. For starters, Prestige skins are rare due to their extremely high prices and limited availability. Event Prestige skins are only obtainable during their respective events, when 2,000 tokens have to be gathered in only 4 weeks, while the ones in the Prestige shop disappear forever at the end of each calendar year.
But also like many luxury brands, Prestige skins are widely recognized despite their rarity. One obvious reason is the word “Prestige” in its name, so even a non-player would be aware of its premium nature, especially if a golden border accompanies the skin. Second, nearly every player is exposed to the event Prestige skins. Most players visit the Event shop each event because of the free 300 tokens, and the Prestige skin sits highly visibly in the top row of the shop. And third, the Epic-tier skin that Prestige skins are based on is available to everyone, so those skins serve as similarly to an advertisement to the playerbase of the Prestige-version of the skin.
Finally and mostly simply, the white and gold theme looks premium. No matter how rare and recognizable a skin is, players would not ascribe much value to it if they did not find the skin beautiful to see and use.
The result is a skin that is inaccessible to but desired by many. Fans celebrate when a Prestige skin is released for their favorite champion, and many resolve to work for the skin before it even arrives in store.
All of this is in contrast to the Gemstone skins, which are quietly tucked away in the Gemstone shop and are obtained in such a difficult method of loot boxes that many do not appreciate just how challenging it is to earn a Gemstone skin. Also, when asked why they chose to spend their time and money on Prestige rather than Gemstone skins, players responded primarily that it was because Gemstone skins were “ugly” and indistinguishable from each other.
This is not the first time that in-game items have become expensive in a way that seemingly defies logic. In the trading card games Yu-Gi-Oh! and Magic: The Gathering, rare cards have been able to sell for hundreds of dollars. This was possible because the games grew and cultivated their communities to the point that people valued being able to show off and gain status in the eyes of their peers. The high margins are realized when the game publishers sell card booster packs at a price far higher than the cost of the paper and ink used. But customers willingly purchase these packs hoping for a chance of finding their own rare card inside.
Valve Corporation’s Counterstrike: Global Offensive also enjoys a large, thriving community where one’s weapon skins are highly visible to other players. Rare, flashy skins serve as the community’s expensive status symbols, despite the trivially low cost for Valve to produce these skins. Valve’s profits come from loot boxes, which players pay to unlock in hopes of winning a rare skin, and from taking a percentage of each skin sale in its Steam Marketplace.
Diana will mark the 29th Prestige skin since the line’s inception two years ago — a rate of more than one per month! Like any other business line, the Prestige line has had its ups and downs. Some skins are more successful than others (I have seen countless Prestige K/DA All-Out Kai’sas while I have yet to see my first Prestige Arcanist Zoe), and complaints have surfaced about their increasing quantity and declining quality. Nevertheless, it is clear that Prestige is an overall highly profitable and successful product line that Riot is more than happy to continue growing.
Anyone can print cards or virtual cosmetics and sell them at a high price, but few companies can successfully convince their customers of that value. What Riot has achieved with Prestige skins should serve as a case study in value-based pricing and expanding profit margins by positioning items as virtual status symbols. In the meantime, I can’t wait to have my own Prestige skin soon and show off to strangers online!