Perfect Ten: The perfect MMO cosmetic system

Whenever I hear about or get into a new MMO, one of the very first things I’ll be asking is if the game has a cosmetic outfit system and how involved it is. Wardrobes used to be a rarity in the genre, although as time went on these systems thankfully became more prevalent.

So yes, I’m a grown adult man and I’m totally into playing dollies with my video game characters. C’mon, it’s a pretty fun thing to do. You get to stand out from the clones around you and express your own personality through fashion that costs you, if not nothing, then far less than you’d buy at the mall.

But not every cosmetic system is created alike. When I was thinking about the best systems found in MMORPGs, I realized that many of them had drawbacks and advantages that differentiated them from other games. So what makes for the “perfect” MMO cosmetic system? I have a few ideas. Several ideas. OK, 10 ideas.

I feel prettier.

1. Separation of gear and cosmetic outfits

Let’s start with segregation. I’m not a fan of “transmogging” or whatever the hip young kids call it when you modify the visual appearance of your current gear to the desired look. It’s too fiddly and often is a way to stick it to players as a money sink (or even a real world money sink, if you have to buy tokens to do it). Plus, every so often I do want to see the actual appearance of the gear I’m wearing. Ideally, a cosmetic system should be separate from your real gear visuals, in its own clear category with its own UI.

2. Great selection of dyes

Cosmetics aren’t just about the actual clothes; they’re also about the colors that those outfits sport. Having dyes period is a must, which is why it’s a shame when an MMO eschews dyable outfits in favor of making you collect one of each fixed-color piece.

But if you have dyes? Go to town with them, devs! Offer a vivid and fun selection of colors to make us recall the glory days of opening up those massive packs of Crayola crayons and choosing shades that aren’t merely primary colors.

3. Dye channels

Continuing in this vein, offering more than one dye channel (a region of armor that will accept a dye color) is definitely preferred. Sometimes you encounter MMOs where there’s only a single dye channel or the dyeable area is so small that it’s washed out by the fixed color of the piece. The more potential for control and customization over how an outfit is colored, the happier I am.

4. Saved patterns

A recent trend in the cosmetic scene is where MMOs remember and store looks of any gear you happen to pick up (or equip, even if temporarily). This not only saves so much space in your bank but it allows players to enjoy “shopping” among patterns that they’ve unlocked as they’re creating a new outfit. Anything the game can do to keep me from having to juggle more inventory is always welcome.

5. Multiple outfit loadouts

I will become a best friend to any MMO that makes the extra effort to save and load outfits that aren’t actually in use at the time. It’s really frustrating when I want to switch outfits in a single-outfit game and then have to overwrite cosmetics with new ones… only to have to go through the same process later on to change back. If we’re spending a lot of time fine-tuning an outfit’s look, some sort of save feature would be appreciated.

This, I feel, is an absolute must. If an MMO is going to do cosmetics at all, it should give you more than one cosmetic outfit in your wardrobe. One outfit is the bare minimum of flair, a “nice try” effort. Nay, I say! Shower us with multiple loadouts so that we can revel in your game’s system and create outfits for all sorts of occasions! When I log into a game, I want to have the freedom to easily swap my outfit based on my mood or what I’m doing in the MMO that night. It’s a great boon to roleplayers as well, who dearly appreciate different outfits that keep casual and battle wear separate.

6. Great and varied armor design

You could have as fully featured a cosmetic system as was ever designed, and yet if your armor and outfits suck, it’s all for naught. It seems elementary — yet necessary — to say that your MMO has to have outfits I actually want to wear and think are really neat. Additionally, there must be a wide amount of variety in types; if all you make is jagged plate or billowing trenchcoats in a thousand different designs, I’m probably going to get sick of all of them in one fell swoop.

7. Expressive cosmetic-only pieces

Don’t misread that as “expensive.” While I do enjoy creating sensible and modest outfits, every so often it’s fun to cut loose by including cosmetics that express a lot of personality. This may be through exaggerated designs, lighting, particle effects, or animated bits. Sometimes accenting an outfit with just one of these out-there pieces makes it cool without being obnoxious.

8. Free (or cheap) cosmetic swapping

My question: Does your game allow me to swap between saved outfits with or without a cost? If it’s with a cost, then I am frowning sternly in your direction. I’m not talking about unlocking outfit slots, but the cost associated with creating and changing between outfits. As I said before, I want to be able to pick the outfit that appeals to me on a given day without having to weigh an associated cost with it.

9. Cosmetic weapons

Not every game sees weapons as part of an outfit, but I always do. And while cosmetic outfits are pretty standard, allowing players to cosmetically pick or alter a weapon skin is not. When I find that perfect weapon look, which is usually slim and smart-looking, I want to stick with that instead of being forced to hoist around whatever endgame monstrosity the art team created.

10. In-game guide

Collecting gear pieces is a huge motivating factor to my play, and if I happen to find a shirt or pair of boots with a design I’ve never seen before, that is a bigger reward to me than something with two more points of stats in whatever. But where to find these? A perfect cosmetic system would not only show you what you’ve attained but also list the uncollected pieces and where to find them. As always, the more information an MMO can give me in-game is always appreciated.

Everyone likes a good list, and we are no different! Perfect Ten takes an MMO topic and divvies it up into 10 delicious, entertaining, and often informative segments for your snacking pleasure. Got a good idea for a list? Email us at justin@massivelyop.com or eliot@massivelyop.com with the subject line “Perfect Ten.”
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22 Comments on "Perfect Ten: The perfect MMO cosmetic system"

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Tia Nadiezja

So… Star Trek Online.

Seriously, whatever negative one can say about that game – and one can say a lot – Cryptic nailed the costume system.

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CasualSlacks

I always felt like what they did with STO was a step down from Champions Online as far as customization. Then what Cryptic did with Neverwinter customization stepped down further again.

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Malcolm Swoboda

RIFT went from being the most blah of blah, to my favorite system. Only please add notes telling me where to get things.

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Marc Hill

Rift has the best wardrobe system hands down. you dont even need to equip it, just have picked it up once and its unlocked on ALL of your characters on that account. lots of dyes that you dont need to pay for, and also for weapons.

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Robert Mann

Depends on the MMO design, to a huge extent. For current design and probably future design gear based themeparks, I completely agree with this article… including other things like temporary makeup (face dye FTW!), hair adjusters (make hair shorter, longer, different colors, all within or changing styles), and even layering (multiple cosmetic items in a slot, layered to show one over another.)

In games where the focus isn’t so much on combat, and combat gear, I want to see similar systems except… there’s no need for it to be such a cosmetic system there. Instead in such games I’d like to see reasons for wearing different clothing, such as armor and weapons for combat, working clothes suited to professions, dressy outfits for attending some in game event, etc. Offering choices of how to get ready for each is still great, but I’d like to see appropriate attire under the correct circumstances in such a game (and a dress with high heels probably isn’t the best choice for a duel with axes!)

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Melissa McDonald

The Secret World has the best one I’ve played, separating cosmetic clothing from buff items entirely.
But, without a player market of player-made clothing, their choices are bland and limited. Dark pants. White shirt. Meh. Galaxies had far more clothing options because people could make items and sell them.

Second Life publishes its clothing templates so people can make them in Photoshop and then sell them freely at their kiosks. You can have ANYTHING YOU WANT clothing-wise in that game, including mesh and animated prim clothing that blows in the wind, dresses that billow as you walk, etc. It is the Platinum Standard for cosmetics and has never been equaled.

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John Mynard

The only games that meet most of the criteria are Warframe, Rift and, to a slightly less degree, Wildstar.

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Benjamin Northrup

maybe its a non-item to you but for me, making sure there are nice free options (or at least, options outside of the cash shop if its a B2P game) for players is a must. BDO has amazing costumes, I love them, but I hate that the game chooses to compel you to buy them by providing, at best boring and at worst hideous free options for players to use. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Minimalistway
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Minimalistway

Great list, if i may add one point, it will be this: allow players to have silly customs, i’m talking to you Blizzard, why oh why players are not allowed to transmog a frying pan? it’s one-hand mace it should be transmogable, they destroyed my dream of making my DK into a chief, with a frying pan in one hand, rolling pin in the other, chief hat + apron, then go look for Saragres himself!

Another point and this one is not silly: i want to have simple looking outfits, why developers think all players want spikes and glowy florescent green light all over the armor? i want minimalistic looking armor.

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Robert Mann

The last part, especially, I liked this for. Enough with the shoulderpads of pisa! Forget the armor of the hedgehog! Give us some nice options that look reasonably comfortable!

pepperzine
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pepperzine

The perfect cosmetic system would allow players to earn absolutely any cosmetic gear in game without the need to use a credit card. This would require a return to the subscription model, and this extremely unlikely to occur in the present market :(

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Sleepy

“A perfect cosmetic system would not only show you what you’ve attained but also list the uncollected pieces and where to find them.

Where’s the fun in that?

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Robert Mann

For some, that would be helpful. For others, it mitigates the exploration aspects.

Personally, I agree that I would like less guides and hand-holding in game directing me to things. That said, in turn games need to embrace things like the old daggerfall system of asking NPCs for directions, where they would note a direction most of the time (or even say they didn’t know) when asked about a location… and rarely would mark it on your map.

Minimalistway
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Minimalistway

WoW do that, at least the uncollected items tells you how to collect them, not in details, a “world drop” is all you get for some of them, others show which zone/quest you should do, others show which boss you should kill.

This is not really different than going to Wowhead.

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Malcolm Swoboda

I greatly prefer to know the general direction of where to find something. Doesn’t ruin anything for me. Maybe if it gets into super specifics.

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TheDonDude

Y’know, you could have saved some time by just writing “copy City of Heroes”.

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Zen Dadaist

1) – 10) Yes.

My ideal would be to take the current Rift wardrobe system as a base. Doesn’t take up physical space in your inventory any more, unlocks for an item the moment it hits your inventory, and the item even tells you in advance before you pick it up whether you have unlocked the appearence.

Then I’d nick Warframe’s 6 colour channels with one being for any glowy/energy/effects that a particular piece might have, instead of just the 2 that Rift gives you.

NO UNDYEABLE PARTS. Deeply frustrating when you’re whipping up some elegant midnight blue and deep silver affair, only to find that stupid bright green patch is fixed and nothing you do will change it.

Next I’d grab one of the TSW addons such as Fashionista or Valet that can remember the full appearence set with all colour channels etc, that allow you to switch at more or less the click of a button. No restriction on the number of saved appearence setups a character can have (well, within your computer’s limits :p )

Then it’d be down to always adding more! A wide variety of styles to cater for all tastes, and acquired through all aspects of gameplay (vendors, achivements, events, drops, etc).

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Nordavind

Most cosmetic systems break the little immersion I have when playing. Heavy armour wearing class with a bikini on? GTFO.

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Robert Mann

Aye, but with the current design there’s no immersion in most of them anyway. I’m holding out for a game that actually makes outfits useful for different things, makes combat less a constant (or even optional,) and produces far more interaction between players and even with the world at large.

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camelotcrusade

I’m with you, but that genie is long out of the bottle. Item design in the cash shop is a slave to profit and sadly the “world-breaker” items always seem to have a paying audience. I cringe for the artists who spent so much time carefully crafting a world when the extra-dumb stuff starts showing up, the breakier-the-better.

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Nordavind

I know. I’m just venting a bit :) It’s no deal breaker for me.

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Legend Of Vinny T

Look, Sister Silicon didn’t plan on tanking Teleiosaurus in a stringy two-piece, but that’s the risk you take when your supergroup has a beach party on Monster Island.

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