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The staff of gets together to bring you some behind the scenes insights on stories, the industry and the site itself.

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Contributors: BillMurphy,MikeB,garrett,SBFord,Grakulen,

Community Spotlight: Importance of Character Customization

Posted by MikeB Saturday February 18 2012 at 5:16PM
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In this week's Community Spotlght, we focus on the thread "The importance of character customization" by Findariel. In the thread, Findariel grades the customization options offered in a number of popular MMOs and polls the community on their value of good customization options:

Firstly I must admit I´m probably one of the most character oriented players around. I simply love to have characters that can look and dress like I want them to do. For me, immersion stops when my character looks horrible and animations look embarrassing.

Thus there´s not a lot of games to choose from if that was my only criterion (fortunately it´s not):
WAR actually looked nice, I love the warhammer outfits and characters and outfits actually looked good from the start. Too bad the end game is all about an endless PvP grind and that at any given moment there was only 1 best oufit you could wear. What a waste of a very stylish game! My score: 6/10 (for stylishness)
WoW looked reasonable, initially I played humans as I hated the night elves look but I was very happy with blood elves and dranei. Gear looks weren't all that impressive; all the mixed (undyable) gears, you basically looked like a mess. The huge shoulderpads weren't my thing either. The tabards were ok though. My score: 5/10 (including a +1 for the barbershop)
Frankly LOTRO is horrible, customisaton options are very limited and they run very strange. If I were a develeoper I'd be too embarassed to release a game with animations like that! It' s the one reason I quit playing, I really couldn' t stand looking at it anymore. My score: 2/10
EVE has no characters that can interact or see each other, you' re basically a spaceship with a 2D picture as avatar. My score: 1/10
AoC doesn't have nice looking characters and the ridiculous big weapons really look a bit out of proportion imo. My score: 4/10
GW did an ok job in my opinion.  Especially after a few expansions and the unique possibility to mix all the faces and hairstyles and armor sets because stats and looks were not connected, you had quite a choice of decent and unique looking characters. "Toggle off" headgear and capes was another good thing. The possible styles were still a bit limited though, in my opinion most sets for one class (profession) still looked too much alike. My score: 7.5/10
Rift has very stale looking characters and you can only pick one face per race/gender, which is really very, very poor. The clothes are ok but don’t look very spectacular either. My score: 4.5/10

Why can't game designers start to lay some more emphasis on the character their players can make? GW has learned us that a lot of people even want to grind for vanity gear and special looks. I think asian game developers generally do a lot better job and their characters generally looks a lot better, although the options aren't always that extensive either.

Read on for the community's thoughts!

Four0six doesn't tend to care about character customization in gear based games:

In any gear based game I don't even bother to care about character customisation.

Why? Even if it's dyable, you and all your buddies/strangers will have the same 'clothes'....Ask any kid in highschool if that is cool.

I  L O V E D the character creation in the CIty series ( Heros/Villians/Going Rogue ), this in my opinion is REAL character creation. WIth a likelyhood of you NEVER encountering another who looks like you at all. But, here you have a game with NO gear, so unique characters can be bountiful.

Senjinn admits his vanity:

Vanity has always gotten the best of me. How my character looks has always been extremely important.

The worst character creation system imo was in Vanguard. The bodies always seemed disproportionate. Heads were always too big or too small. They had sliders but i still couldn't get things to look right. The best system was probably Aion. I only ever played the trial, but spent most of that time in character creation because the game itself didn't really appeal to me. Favorite character model of all time is definately gnomes in EQ2, the alternate appearance ones. The original models from EQ2 rank down near Vanguard but i thought they really made up for it with the alternate ones.

As far as armor goes most games have a lot of variety , so i can usually find something i like. The only game i can think of that was bad is Shadowbane. I only played for the first 6 months. So maybe it got better later on. I remember my bard having to run around in this frilly pink and purple costume , with a big funky looking hat with a feather in it. It made me look like Huggybear.

Datarin ties the importance of customization to what players actually do in a game:

I would argue that character customization is much more directly linked to what you do in a game as well; merely looks won't get you far, but the general look and feel of your character would bring you much further: roleplaying is just one such outlet. In that case, EVE would rank far above LOTRO and others. Vanity graphics are just what they are: vain and useless unless you add an emotional attachment to it.

It should come as no surprise to any of you who are familiar with my writing here that I also find good character customization to be 'extremely important'. I started playing games of this sort with MUDs, where I was always free to bring whatever character concepts I had to life, including what I imagined them to look like. I resisted jumping into the MMO genre for many years for the same reason many people feel a good book is better than a movie based off said book: imagination trumps all! It's partly for this reason that I feel a good character customization feature is extremely important for me to be able to enjoy a new MMO.

If I don't feel like my character is my own, it's hard for me to appreciate anything else the game has going on, though there are a few exceptions mostly dependent on the type of game. For example, I don't fault Dungeon Fighter Online for not having a robust character creation feature. In general, however, there's just nothing that bothers me more than feeling like I'm essentially playing 'Attack of the Clones'. I don't need every game to be City of Heroes-esque, but if I can see 50 duplicates of myself in a crowd, there's something definitely wrong.

What about you? How much do you value good character customization? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

DixonHill writes:

For me, chracter custommization is very important. The character is the inworld representation of myself, and since he/she will be the one thing i will see/look at the most while playing, i want the character to look like i want.

I can understand, that others are like "i could not care less how my character looks like, because xyz." Fine, those may simply hit random or choose presets.

So, with a deep customization system, everybody wins, or better to say, nobody loses. Therefore gamedevs should make their customization systems as good as possible and technical reasonable. 

Sun Feb 19 2012 3:49AM Report
theniffrig writes:

Character customization is definately one of the most important factors for me when I play an MMO. Some MMO's are miles ahead in this regard (such as Champions Online) & some or ok (like LOTRO & WoW since it got transmognification) & some are still stuck with what was the norm back 5 years ago  (SWTOR).

However, having said that, I have noticed that once I got the exact "look" i wanted for my character, I found that I no longer had any real motivation to get new gear, because then all your grinding for is 'stat-sticks'. I'm sure i'm not the only one who feels this way. Maybe developers know you need that carrot of impressive looking gear to constantly keep players playing the game, cause if you give them the awesome gear looks to begin with they might just stop playing the game.

Sun Feb 19 2012 7:58AM Report
mithrillion writes:

In my opinion the first priority of character customization is to add some uniqueness to your character so it is branded with your style and can be distinguished from others. In this sense, EVE is way ahead of many others. Even though you cannot paint your ship atm, it is really hard to make two identical faces and your friends can easily recognize your portrait.

The system of WoW used to be counted as very flexible but now it is quite aged. Basically your initial customization has little effect on your appearance. "Transforming" gears is a way to avoid identical looks everywhere, but there should be a better way.

Unlike one of the opinions above, I think the system of SWTOR is one step forward. Weapon and armor modification is a good solution to both same looking characters and same looking stats. They are currently moving the stats on entire armor sets to mods. Even if you hate this game, you have to admit it is smarter than simply a tranformation spell. However the uniqueness of a character is still a very distant thing.

Guess the developers tend to believe customization is more a vanity thing than a scoial thing. It does not work for me. I don't wear gears to show off my achievements. I do so to make my character more "me" than a "player controlled npc". Future game designs should focus on how one can be distinguished from another instead of just how gorgeous a piece of equipment looks like.

Sun Feb 19 2012 8:38AM Report
logan400k writes:

Customization is fun and in that way it is important. What bothers me though is when you see a relatively 'low-tech' or older game with better customization than a newer / more powerful game. It means the dev team was lazy and character appearance was an after thought. Well that seems a bit odd if you ask me. Did someone draw the short straw having to come up with hair styles?

Sun Feb 19 2012 9:35AM Report
Delvie writes:

I like LOTRO for the appearance slots but it took me a very long time to come up with a character that had unique looks.

Most of the games need to put in tons more options - I want to be able to create a character who is a short fat ancient and in the same game be able to create a tall skinny young man/woman/alien.

I can understand that height differences can screw up animations but there are quite a few games that have gotten around this problem. 

Probably the other big thing that drives me up the wall is the games where certain genders can only play certain classes.  For that matter certain races can only play certain classes - not being able to play a Hobbit Champion is ridiculous, especially since they can play Guardians.

Sun Feb 19 2012 10:52AM Report
JabberW00kie writes:

Character creation is so important to me at the initial set up.  Even though I know the in game model usually doesn't show much, specially once you add armor, I still prefer to make a character look like I want.  This is the #1 way I identify with MY in-game character. 

In customizing I prefer to make the entire character too.  Having many facial options and 4 'standard' body types is ANNOYING.  Would love to have options with every part of the body but at least give me sliders for body size & height. 

AND how hard can it be to make the head size match the body.  Give me a slider that changes head size to match the body or make it MY choice on how they look.  It is SO frustrating to spend time making the head face I want then when I look at the body model it looks like a mismatched head on the body type I chose.  But if I want a pin-headed warrior or a balloon headed mage to emphasize my character then let me do it.  We are talking about role-playing games here. 

But - If there is not a lot of character creation options then there should be lots of real look options in game with equipment.  And I mean playable armor options by real look.  We all can 'look' different in town but if we can't really play in different looks in-game then it is frustrating.  Since the in game model doesn't vary too much the armor / clothing makes all the difference.  I usually play a tank and leave my helmet on.  Big armor & shield with helmet makes the character customization in game mostly moot to the game world but not to me. 

Even though armor / equipment tends to remove the character look I STILL prefer to have customized my character's look at the start.  I have restarted games working on my character's look (many times in some games).  I am the one who has to look at the model all the time and if it gets annoying, RESTART. 

The limits of character customization has turned me off in some/ most games.  I agree with many earlier posters regarding 1 sex / size / race for a given class doesn't work for me.  I might try the game but I don't like it and I won't play it for very long if at all. 

So ultimately give me options to make MY character look the way I want them to look. 

Sun Feb 19 2012 12:47PM Report
badgerer writes:

Although it represents a big challenge for the animation team, I'd rather see work done on different postures, and having visual components that reflect something other than where something was looted, like for instance a stoop for all that time in a low-celinged dungeon or a limp for the time that cave troll scored a quadruple crit on your leg.

.. oh and even if that different posture was limited to your idling animation, would be amazing.

Sun Feb 19 2012 7:42PM Report
Kyleran writes:

Substance before style, customization really isn't important in my book, I prefer engaging gameplay over options to modify my character.


Sun Feb 19 2012 11:47PM Report
fansede writes:

At least someone mentioned the superhero genre. They demand character customization and I loved every bit of it. City of Heroes/ Villains - no two toons were exactly alike. Champions and DC universe also boast such character customization I wish the fantasy devs could embrace. Why cant the gear based games offer up "accolades" for in game accomplishments that offered a gear piece with bonuses or the option for just the bonuses to exisitng character equipment?

Fri Feb 24 2012 4:44PM Report writes:
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