I noticed that a lot of games tend to have hats. I was wondering why? Is it some sort of tradition to add hats to your games? What makes this trend so popular in game development?

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    \$\begingroup\$ As far as I know, that originated from TF2 \$\endgroup\$
    – Bálint
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 12:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Bálint I've seen this far earlier. Novelty hats were also a feature of Ragnarok Online, for example (first release was 2004). \$\endgroup\$
    – Philipp
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 12:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Bálint Just found that TF2 got the first cosmetic hat options in 2009. \$\endgroup\$
    – Philipp
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 12:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ RuneScape got cosmetic, tradeable hats in 2001. I'm sure there are plenty more early examples. \$\endgroup\$
    – OrangeDog
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 16:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, those hats in Tetris really made the tetronimos come to life! \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 16:59

4 Answers 4


Players like to personalize their characters. Players also like to show off their achievements in the game to other players. Hats are a very easy to implement way to do that.

  • Because they are right on top of the character's head, they are a very visible feature. A hat can usually be seen from most angles other players will usually see the character.
  • They don't have any joints which require complex animations. You can simply append them statically to the head-bone. That makes them simple to produce for 3d artists.
  • Novelty hats can have almost any shape imaginable, so the artists have a lot of creative freedom.
  • They are unlikely to interfere with any other features or animations of the character model.
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    \$\begingroup\$ In addition to this, some games use character silhouettes to allow players to identify opponents from a distance. Hats are small enough to not alter the silhouette while still allowing the character to appear different. (To use the TF2 vogue, compare the hulking Heavy to the lithe Scout. Even if they both are wearing football helmets, you're never going to confuse them) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 15:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd also add "Hats don't take up an inventory slot typically associated with major gameplay effects, like weapon or [body] armour slots" - even in games with gameplay-modifying helmets, the stats/abilities conferred by a helmet are often much less impactful than body armour or primary weapon slots, and so more palatable for players to use this slot for an expressive/cosmetic choice rather than pure playstyle optimization. If you gave me a hilarious rubber chicken collectible, but I had to give up using my BFG 9000 to equip it, I'd be much less likely to take you up on the offer. ;) \$\endgroup\$
    – DMGregory
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 17:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ In sprite-based games, a hat can be placed on the head as a separate sprite, without needing to synch with the walk animation. This is way, way easier. Isometric or other top-down views also mean that the hat is on the part of the character pointed at the player, and hence is far more visible than, say, boots. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 21:46

Beyond a game design perspective, the reason a lot of games have hats is mostly due to Team Fortress 2's hat system.

Team Fortress 2 added hats in 2009. The ability to trade hats and hats being at different rarities made them into a very popular feature and somewhat of an inside joke (being that Team Fortress 2 was a hat trading game with a FPS minigame).

Games have had cosmetics in some form or another for a long time, but TF2 certainly popularised the idea of hats being used. Subsequently, other games used hats as cosmetics, often as a reference to TF2.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Yes, but why hats? Why not shoes or vests or little paper flags? And why Team Fortress 2? Other games had tradable cosmetics before. What made TF2 more influential in this regard than other games? \$\endgroup\$
    – Philipp
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 14:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ Why not hats? For other games, because TF2 did it. For TF2? They can't do guns, because they already have functional varieties of guns. It's harder to do full body skins, especially if you want an economy (more hats=better). I'd say the major reason is that they fit the sense of humor in the game perfectly. This is evident through the number of completely ridiculous designs of hat they have. Anyway, the question is "what makes this trend so popular in game development?". The answer is "because TF2 made it popular". Yes, other games had hats, but it's about what made them a popular thing. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 14:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is the correct answer. Lots of games have had personalization options, but hats specifically were popularized by TF2. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 15:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Philipp This is only conjecture but to answer What made TF2 more influential in this regard than other games?, I would have to point the dirty finger of blame at memes and Reddit. TF2 was popularized during an explosion of internet meme popularity. I have never personally played the game but I can tell from memes that hats are the bees-knees of TF2. \$\endgroup\$
    – MonkeyZeus
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 19:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Ryanwhite TF2 was popular long before they introduced hats \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 23, 2016 at 12:12


  • ... are easy to design/make
  • ... don't require much space in an inventory (depends on the game)
  • ... are easy to theme according to an in-game event or a away-from-keyboard event (such as Halloween and FIFA World cup)
  • ... can show off how long the player has been playing the game, or how dedicated he is
  • ... can let the player to show off without masking/hiding the face of the character; or it can be used to mask the player's face, depending on the hat.
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    \$\begingroup\$ ...and it's natural to change hats, so you can have several or upgrade them if the circumstances change. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 12:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ don't require much space in an inventory What do you mean by this, and why would this matter when designing a game? \$\endgroup\$
    – Sebi
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 13:40

Commercial Reasons for using Hats in Video Games

I want to outline the commercial incentive to game publishers (and distributors) to utilize hats as a cosmetic feature in a video game. This commercial reasoning is directly related to the sentimental value gamers often experience. All points addressed use reference to previously mentioned reasons (which are largely valid reasons).

  • Hats give us a feeling of independence and a sense of autonomy while playing a game that we like - particularly in a game with a community that we feel we're a part of. This makes us feel accomplished and gives us a sense of reward.
  • (mentioned earlier - RE: hats showing accomplishment, loyalty) These attributes keep gamers engaged while playing, and encourage players to continue supporting the game - commercially keeping the game relevant, while satisfying players psychological need for their own ability to display an item that is a statement of their loyalty, or their general position in the game; and in some cases: personal wealth.
  • Commercially, these games engage a high number of players, who may continue their subscription with their goal being set on the attainment of a particular "hat" ("cosmetic symbol"). This also contributes to the competitive aspect - further fueling players to play more, and keep the community alive.

Lastly, a note on controversy related to greed and increasing profit margins thru simple additions. I would suspect that many view these game items as a poor, "sell-out" features as many see certain micro-transactions based games that use a "pay to win" model. I'm sure many, as I do - disagree with this logic. The game developers only stay profitable by adding attractive and enticing content that players want. With the addition of hats to a game - it is unarguably a cheap way (little relative expense is needed by the developer) to keep players immersed in the virtual environment,to sustain profits, and even to keep the development team engaged with the community, providing artists with the ability to make decisions about upcoming design content.


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