Garret Fuller: Customization and How To Stand Out
MMOs have always let people tweak their characters. Garrett looks at this and where it's been done well.
Game developers offer several tools to players that help them stand out in a crowd. There are achievements, badges, gear, tabards, banners, and even titles. Yet, players never truly get anything that is their own. As game designers rabble on about giving MMO players a unique experience they offer very few elements that are actually unique to the player. In looking at player rewards in games, perhaps we can find some ways to make ourselves stand out in the every growing MMO crowd.
Gear is the single largest way a player show off in a game. MMOs offer higher and higher level sets of gear but fall short in allowing players to customize the look of what they wear. Why a game like WoW has not implemented a dye system for players is beyond me. Even back in Ultima Online you could dye your clothing and armor to give yourself a unique look. While getting the uber high level gear in WoW is exciting and an achievement in and of itself, there is no reason players should not be able to dye the gear to give it that extra polish of individuality. But why stop at dye, let’s move on to naming your own weapon.
One of the very unique elements in Diablo was the ability to create and name your own weapon. I remember getting the quest, getting the materials and taking that cube and being very excited about giving a name to my new axe. Just the fact that I could name the weapon was very cool. I did not really care what it did. The axe is mine now; it was personalized, and that alone was cool. MMOs fall short in allowing players to name and customize their own items. If you created a competitive level of gear in any end game, and built a quest chain around getting a piece of gear and customizing it with your own personal name, I cannot imagine a player who would not want to complete that task. MMOs should do more in giving players the chance to name and customize their items, heck at least their weapons.
Player titles are another example of trying to give the player a sense of customization. Many MMOs reward titles when players complete a task or goal. You killed ten thousand pigs, now be known as Lord Pigslayer! Warhammer offers a very large amount of titles in their game from the grand and uber to the downright degrading. Still, I have yet to see a game mechanic that allows players to give themselves their own title. So what if a players wants to be Grand Puba of the Shark Tooth Whelps, let them do it, it makes the game fun and makes their character that much more their own. Player titles work well in games and achieving them is a fun game element to MMOs, so why has no one given players the ability to create their own title? Imagine a WoW achievement that said: “Congratulations you have reached Level 80, please give yourself a Title to be known as in the world of Azeroth!”
In terms of customization player guilds are given a standard set of tools to make their guild stand out. While MMOs are a social game and reflect the work of guilds very well, why is the individual never able to stand out from the guild? Guild tabards and banners are cool, especially when your guild can fly them from the flags on top of a keep. However, characters are again forced to use a standard tool to express themselves. Personalized tabards with a guild sash would give players a chance to express their own individuality as well as show the team they work for. If we go back to the real reasons for heraldry in history it was about the individual lords and knights standing out on the battlefield. Knights wanted the armies and soldiers to be able to identify them, whether it was for good or bad. Maybe that knight had a high price on his head or a reputation for killing all prisoners. Either way, tabards and heraldry were used to show off. In MMOs they serve that purpose to a point, but fall short of giving players the full depth of customization.
Game developers need to find more ways to tap into player pride. MMOs foster a place for players to show off their achievements to others in the game world. If you didn’t care about that kind of thing there is plenty of single-player RPGs you can enjoy. As I continually hear designers say, we want to give players a unique experience, well why not offer a unique reward system to go with it? Tapping into player pride and giving them rewards to show their hard work by allowing personal customization also taps into a solo player’s enjoyment of the game. Pen and Paper games work so well because everything in the world is centered on the party. MMOs may offer tools for customization but little is done to really give players something that is directly their own. Whether it is a title, weapon, helmet, or heraldry you accomplish to goals by offering players an item that is personalized. You give them something that is now officially their own and you give them something that can identify them to other players. If MMOs added more customization tools in their games it would give players a whole new level of enjoyment.