MMO Fashion: what we like to see.

26 03 2011

I very strongly dislike the idea that my avatar should appear to be wearing the equipables he is using. There are, in my mind, two major reasons a game as well funded and supported as World of Warcraft does not have a vanity tab. (Hint: I do not suspect that lack of funding or support are reasons.)

The first reason I describe with a Warhammer tabletop term: WYSIWYG, pronounced “wiss-ee-wig”. (Go on and try it out; it’s fun to say.) What You See Is What You Get: the character is equipped with precisely what he is wearing. At a glance an experienced player can tell you’re wearing Tier X PvE/PvP gear and thus you’re good at the game, or you’re not wearing Tier X and thus you need to (finger-quotes) “lrn2play”. You may assert that gear and skill do not share a linear relationship. I don’t disagree. Nevertheless, when I ask players why they don’t support vanity tabs, this is the reason they give.

The second reason is a theory of mine, but perhaps you have it too: it turns a player into an effective advertisement for game content. The hope, on the part of the marketing department, is that this will entice players to keep on grinding. Just do a few more heroic dungeons to get those last few badges/emblems/marks/token-things you need to get just one more one piece. Then the next.

Okay, so there’s a third reason that I don’t count: suspension of disbelief. I don’t count this one because our avatars get hit in the heads constantly and they’re fine…because they’re wearing helmets. Helmets you can’t see because, well, you can make those invisible with a check box. Belief in whether my avatar wears a helm is irrelevant: this is all cosmetics. Personally, I wish more MMO marketing departments would have stronger ties to the IP: think about Star Trek avatars and their uniforms, the nature of super hero costumes, or just the fact that nobody in Lord of the Rings looked like a mismatched circus clown (unless they wanted to, I suppose). Or they could just do what they want to anyway and charge more money for the vanity tab. Maybe even an additional $2 a month. If this happens, I’m sorry WoW players…but at least you got the vanity tab. Hell, I’d reactivate my account just to see my paladin strolling around in the suit I built up for her. I have a Skullflame Shield sitting in my bank for that very occasion. Anyway, do you know what hurts my suspension of disbelief more than invisible helmets? People striding around like mismatched armored circus clowns.

One alternative I’ve already referred to is the vanity tab, a la Lord of the Rings Online. One tab is for gear that affects your stats; the other tab is for gear that affects your appearance. A more drastic alternative is of course the super hero costume model used by Champions Online (and I’m pretty sure City of Heroes, though sadly I’ve yet to try that game). These alternatives – especially the second one – dramatically increase the number of unique-looking characters you encounter while playing the game. Star Trek Online leaves less room for variety since there are only so many variations of Star Fleet uniforms (though maybe they’ll surprise me someday). What do all three of these games have in common insofar as avatar looks? In my opinion, the I.P. holds a stronger sway. Something very similar can be said for Star Wars and Lucas Arts, or at least, that is my hope.

I haven’t found a lot of official data regarding player control over avatar appearance in TOR, I’ve got hopes for it. Here are a few reasons why:

Well, I also want appearance slots. Show me where to sign.

For the record, I tried finding a “fashion police/violation”-style picture for this article, but couldn’t bring myself to post any of the dreaded things I found. So instead, you get Kyle. That’s okay, right?

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