Community Spotlight: Character Customization
By: Jon Wood
Editor's Note: This is an edition of a weekly column by Managing Editor Jon Wood. Each week, Wood takes to our message boards and examines a specific topic raised by our community. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of MMORPG.com, its staff or management.
It’s Wednesday, and I find myself once again compelled to drop in on one of the many conversations that our members are having in our forums. This time around, it was a thread called Character Customization created by Chrysos.
“I wonder how much dev time and money is put into making customer customization possible.” He said, “personally, I don't get it. Outside of the time you spend creating your character and the time game reviewers spend waxing lyrical about it. What is the use of having 4 different things you can change to your cheeks (see the 2007 CES Conan preview).
“You recognize people in game from the name above their head not because their nose is slightly wider than the other dwarfs. I want to try to be unique in game as well but it seems to me that that is better achieved by being able to get distictive clothing and gear. Be honest how many times has anybody actually looked closely enough at another characters face to notice the subtle adjustements they made during character creation, those times that the face isn't obscured by some form of headwear anyway.”
Personally, I don’t think that I could disagree more. I guess I’m one of those reviewers that “wax lyrical” about character customization, but it’s because I find that customization to be one of the biggest deciding factors in whether or not I enjoy any give MMORPG. I understand Chrysos’s position though. Some people don’t pay much attention tot heir own toon .After all, you’re pretty much just staring at the back of your own head, and yes, other players will recognize you by the name above your head, and generally not by the differences in your face. Still though, for me, I need to know that my characters is different and unique within the world.
When I’m playing my weekly pen and paper game, I don’t necessarily need to know what my character looks like. I never see him. Neither does anyone else. Still though, I know my elf is 5’7” with golden (not blonde) hair with blue eyes. I find that knowing that helps me to enjoy the game. Statistically, it’s useless information, but to me, it adds to the character and lets me enjoy him more. The same is true of my MMO characters.
Jenuvil has a similar perspective, “With regard to the idea that the desire for character customization is somehow based on other players noticing the location of certain pixels, I'd say that's really a small part of it. When I get dressed and put on my makeup in the morning, I'm doing it because I want to like the way I look, not because I care what other people think. When I get dressed for a night on the town, I do it because I want to feel sexy, not because I want to have sex. In a video game, the more control I have over the pixels that represent me, the more connected I feel to them. While things like gameplay and performance are also concerns of mine, there's simply no denying that character customization is a huge deal for me. I frequently choose a character race based on the way it looks rather than the way it plays. That's just how I am.”
“Realistically, is it important to gameplay…” Torak says, seeming to take a middle ground on the topic, “its arguable but overall I would say no. A crappy game doesn't get any better with great customization. Take SWG for example. Now I don't dislike the game but a great many people who post here do. Many will say the game is garbage. (I won't) SWG offers one of the BEST in terms of customization but it hasn't kept or brought back a large portion of the older players. Similar situation goes for CoX, I don't think there is a game out there that does it better but again, we don't see an overwhelming amount of subs out there. (although a respectible amount and a decent game)”
The truth is that a topic like this is likely to highlight the many differences in the likes and dislikes of MMORPG players. One aspect (like customization), doesn’t make or break an MMO. Does the game have customization? PvP? A skill-based system? Monthly fees? The answer to any of those questions may or may not determine whether or not you play a game. That’s part of the fun of MMOs. They really are diverse worlds full of diverse people.