The Outfit Designer Won't Save Crafting
In the recent Producer's Roadmap, Bruce Maclean dropped the news we'd known about for awhile, Star Wars: the Old Republic would have some kind of Outfit Designer. Coming in the spring with Game Update 3.2, it's supposed to be an 'awesome new feature'. Let's speculate as to how this new feature will work and how it might integrate with the existing crafting system.
Some might argue that the game doesn't really even need an outfit designer these days. There's enough variety of gear and dye options that not even a casual player such as myself has to worry about having to wear gear that looks wrong for our characters. I once wrote a lengthy treatise on all of the horrible helmet choices the game had a couple of years ago, but it's easy enough to hide the head slot on your character. However, when it comes to the rest of your gear, you're stuck with two choices: wear quest drops and simply swap out when you get an upgrade, or you get yourself some nice-looking orange shells and drop some mods and a dye module in them and just upgrade the mods as you level up. The advent of orange shells in the first year of SWTOR pretty much nuked any of the crafts that generated gear. I haven't used my Synthweaver or Armormech to craft actual armor in over two years, I just use crafting to make a ton of mods for my alts. Gear won't sell for much on the GTN unless they're orange shells, and as I recently skimmed through the armor recipes, they pretty much reuse the same half-dozen art models with slightly different colors per production craft over the entire course of leveling the crafts to max.
Naturally, the big culprit as to why orange shells are so prevalent are because they're a huge component in the Cartel Market. Until the game went free-to-play and introduced the market, orange shells were relatively rare and coveted... if they looked good. Also, I'm sure I'm not the only person who noticed how all the best-looking gear and the widest variety of options came from the plethora of packs. And the neat thing is that you really don't have to even spend real money to get them anymore. Unless you're gunning for a majorly popular and rare gear set such as Revan's armor, you can just easily buy the shells for insanely cheap prices on the GTN a few days after a new pack drops. I've got a whole cargo bay stuffed with armor from the Cartel Market that I can't even sell for the amount of the GTN deposit on my server.
We've seen cosmetic gear systems in games before. Lord of the Rings Online has had one since 2008, giving all characters on an account two free cosmetic outfit slots once a single character has reached level 20 and a server-wide wardrobe to keep pieces in. World of Warcraft has had its transmog system in since 2011, which allowed players to transmog individual gear pieces into other gear pieces and give a new use for Void Storage. WildStar launched with its costume system last year and doesn't include a storage option but it does have a better dye option. Both LotRO and WildStar also allow players to modify the looks of their mounts. I don't ever see SWTOR bothering with the mount customization option, simply because one of the bigger selling points for the Cartel Market packs are the rare or super-rare recolored/reskinned mounts. It's rather a pity, because I'd love being able to take the now-unavailable Hyrotti Scrapper model and applying the look to any of my other speeders. Or painting all of my speeders blue and silver.
However, which methodology will BioWare choose to use when it comes to the Outfit Designer? I don't see them overhauling the Collections system to account for partial gear sets and turning it into a wardrobe system like what LotRO has. Much like modding speeders, there's too many hooks sunk into the Cartel Market and getting people to buy packs. I don't foresee them ever letting companion-specific gear be available to put on any other character just like how the Havoc symbol isn't present on any gear that can be traded to or used by non-Trooper PCs or NPCs. Still, there is precedent for certain lore-based gear to be set to be unmoggable, just like how WoW has gear that can't be mogged.
I also don't see the dye system changing. To be honest, it doesn't really need to be. I know a lot of people are still grumpy that dye modules are consume-on-use, can't be extracted, and some require grinding reputation to learn the schematic, but I've been used to that since 2008 in LotRO, so it's not a going concern. I'm more concerned with the rarity of some dyes that are only obtainable via the Cartel Market. Some of the basic color schemes were recently released to Artificers as new schematics, albeit in slightly different shades, so that helps to some extent. SWTOR also has a feature that LotRO does not: match to chest. The only page they could really take from LotRO's book is the notion of allowing a player to pick which color a previously-dyed piece of gear would have. There, you can dye a piece of gear multiple times and then go back and use any of those previous dye options the next time you want to use that piece of gear as a cosmetic. I don't foresee them following WildStar's method of letting people learn the dye permanently once they used the module, because that would destroy the Artificers' cash flow for modules. You can't craft dyes in WildStar, so that makes more sense for their methods.
I'm going to state it straight up: I don't believe we'll see something truly innovative and new when they do release the Outfit Designer because of the game's history with adding new systems and how those features stack up to similar ones in other games. I'm expecting it to be heavily influenced by the Cartel Market and the purchase of Cartel Coins or significant sums of in-game credits for unlocks, much like the Appearance Designer kiosk. In that vein, I expect to see something more like WoW's transmog system than anything else. Perhaps we'll get a per-character storage locker of some kind for gear that isn't in Collections and the use of CC or credits for various unlocks. An NPC would then take our creds or CC and let us look one way but have our stats be stored somewhere else.
What I can foresee them doing is divorcing stats from gear entirely as they've hinted at doing for awhile, so that when a player brings up their character's paper doll, the slots on there would be for the mods that crafters make and their cosmetic gear would be visible on another tab. Sadly, what that would do to any production craft is pretty much turn them even more overtly into mod-crafting skills. The armor recipes I can make with my Synthweaver or Armormech, for example, would have no use in this new system. Plop one of the six basic skins into the OD, slap a dye on it, and call it good. When it comes to lightsaber crystals, BioWare already demolished the need for Artificers to craft anything other than the super-fancy level 50 crystals like blue-black or something because all the basic leveling color crystals are trumped by the level 10 +41 crystals easily obtained via the Cartel Market and/or GTN.
I suppose the final question is what will an Outfit Designer system actually add to the game other than another credit/CC sink? If we didn't already have dyes and orange shells to play with, I'd say such a system would be a huge deal, but I'm still very curious to see how this will make crafting and the use of world drops and quest loot meaningful again. Will it save armor and gear crafting? I honestly can't see how it will, because they can't take away anything we already have without the majority of the community throwing a massive fit (justifiably, no less). BioWare would have to drop a seriously awesome set of schematics in-game for people to find or grant a number of them to production crafters to make up for the damage orange shells did to their work.
What do you all think about this?