It’s not like unpaid cosmetics don’t exist still. I just wrapped up Star Ward Fallen Order which provides many free cosmetics for the character, robot, ship, and lightsaber. They are in game rewards for the collectibles.
I feel like this is still super common in single player games.
Paid cosmetics tend to be popular in multiplayer games. Which honestly makes sense to me since those games have to continue to provide support and keep the game fresh for several years after release. Paid cosmetics help fund that effort. And players who are into that sort of thing can give back to the game they enjoy. I prefer when games provide both free and paid paths to unlocking the cosmetics though as I think it he free route actually would give players incentives to play game modes that might be less popular (i.e., extra loot for particular game mode on different days of the week).
It’s a little annoying when games make cosmetic content paid only (or the in game way of unlocking it is so unachievable it is basically paid only) but at the end of the day, the game is either fun or not. If the game is fun, then just play it and don’t buy the stuff. If the game isn’t fun and you just feel stressed over competing over who has the best paid cosmetics, move on. Obviously some people have addictions around this and struggle with it and should probably seek professional help if they can’t say no to cosmetic paid content.
But the really evil is pay to win content. People should absolutely not support games with this. Which is why I don’t get the point of the original post. People were disappointed in the cost of a cosmetic upgrade in a single player RPG. That seems fair since it is odd to lock one specific item behind a paywall, even today. And people also don’t want pay to win. Both seem like things that are reasonable to agree with. It’s weird OP is trying to compare them as if to say we haven’t progressed at all or we progressed negatively or something.