The Daily Grind: How much do aesthetics impact your playstyle choices in an MMO?

How your character looks affects your enjoyment of an MMO. This is almost a tautology; you spent time in the character creator, obviously, so you have some investment. But I think it goes beyond even that. Some of our playstyle choices come down as much to what looks cool and feels neat from a visual standpoint as it does with any other considerations. Give the exact same mechanics to a different set of visuals and people will often feel differently, even if the actual play is the same; witness the number of people in World of Warcraft with strong feelings about which Hunter spec got a gun and which one got a bow, even when the mechanics are functionally identical.

Every game has certain choices that look particularly cool – enormous capital ships in EVE Online, Red Mages in Final Fantasy XIV, several Elite specs in Guild Wars 2. There’s an obvious effort to make these things look cool, first and foremost, often to the point of enticing people who otherwise might not play with these particular options. So what about you, dear readers? How much do aesthetics impact your playstyle choices in an MMO?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!
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42 Comments on "The Daily Grind: How much do aesthetics impact your playstyle choices in an MMO?"

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Zen Dadaist

While it’s not the most important aspect of a game for me, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t care about aesthetics. No – the look and feel of the game has to match how it plays. And I have to be able to stand the look, not to mention be able to discern exactly what I’m looking at…

(This is why I put up with the New Engine related client/server desynchs and hangs in Anarchy Online, and use workarounds ot avoid the areas in which this happens – I really cannot go back to the indistinguishable muddy pixel mess of the old one.)

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jay

Very much influenced by graphic and animation design. I would like to say a deep game system can make up for poor animations or graphics, but my games history days otherwise.

I loved the lore, quests, systems etc in tsw ; but quit the game after a week of play due to boredom worn the combat animations. I returnef for legends, thinking “they must have realized how many of us were driven of by this, and fixed it by now”, but nope. Redid the combat systems, but kept the same craptastc animations.

This is also why I could never play EVE regardless of all the great things I’ve heard about it, and why I also will most likely not play pantheon, unless the graphics get monumentally better

Polyanna
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Polyanna

Imperial Sorcerer was my favorite class in SWTOR because lightning. Fast forward five years to ESO, and my main is . . . Lightning Staff Sorcerer. Go figure. Giant bolts of electricity are the formula for fun in any universe.

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Cypher

That’s the same as asking “How much does writing style affect your enjoyment of a book?”
If thats the way the world you’re being asked to ‘visit is being represented, then it’s pretty much be all and end all. Doesnt have to be flashy, but it must represent the world well and be believable (within the boundaries of genre norms of course).

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David Goodman

It matters as much as any other facet does, pretty equally, because it’s part of the presentation of the overall game to me.

A game can have beautiful graphics but an aesthetic style that’s inconsistent or doesn’t match the art (in an obviously non-deliberate way), it won’t look good to me, and it will impact my view of the game in terms of how I like it overall.

I look at gameplay differently in most cases — unless you have a class called “Gunslinger” and they have a bow skill tree, I’m really not looking at them in the same way. That’s why most reviews have different categories for art and gameplay if they do that kinda thing :)

Steely Bob
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Steely Bob

no impact, no impact whatsoever… all i care about is gameplay.

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Alex Js.

That largely depends on a game, for example if the game has more “cartoony” art style with pretty low amount of details (for characters/objects) and pretty low-res textures then it doesn’t really matter to me how my character or all of the gear/clothes looks like. Same goes if the game uses pretty depressing, desaturated color palette for everything (like ESO). Or if the game is usually played in a way where it’s very hard to notice certain aesthetical improvements – like EVE online, where most of the time is spent on looking at your scanner overlay, Market browser or corp/local chat window and almost nobody ever cares to zoom in to your ship close enough to notice some fancy skin. In games like these I absolutely don’t care how my character (or ship/vehicle) looks like, in some other games I do care.

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Robert Mann

Some. As in, if a game has something that bugs me it can be an issue, but I also look at people who are so hyper-focused on combat animations and the like and just sigh. Because, to be honest, part of the problem with gaming is eyecandy. As in, everything else taking a back seat to trying to put forth stupid graphics levels.

I’m also not as much a fan of high amounts of stylized work. A light stylized system, or realistic graphics without the hyper-focus… neither bug me at all.

I like customization, but until there’s enough options and a reason to actually get to know people and/or care in games, well. Yeah, I don’t notice it right now with other people. I’d be happy to see games start looking at ways to bring make-up/fashion contests into the game in an interesting way (and not just random selection of people participating, for example.)

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steve

I value aesthetics and I measure aesthetics within a broader context than just the visual, but I’ll admit to being unforgiving of an MMO that isn’t visually appealing to me. In fact, I’m pretty ho-hum about any MMO that isn’t taking advantage of wide landscapes and far horizons. I’m bored with maps designed like rat mazes scaled for third-person view.

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Fervor Bliss

Sometimes a great deal. Have done grinds to see a NPC’s outfit and surroundings.
Youtube has made this much easier.

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Vexia

They do matter to me. I’m willing to sacrifice in the aesthetics department for gameplay purposes… but not forever!

Leveling gear is a perfect example. Even if my gear looks mismatched or otherwise silly, I’m willing to wait until reaching the level cap or otherwise acquiring gear I’ll wear for a more extended period before applying any type of cosmetic skins.

But when it comes to character customization, I want good options like hairstyles, faces, sliders, colors, etc. right from the beginning to connect with the character I’m making.

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TomTurtle

A great deal considering I won’t give certain MMOs a chance at all due to their aesthetic. Oftentimes a character won’t click with me until I get their look down right. I’m very visually-focused when it comes to gaming.

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NeoWolf

100% I’d like to say visuals do not matter to me as much as gameplay as I feel that would likely be a more virtuous statement, but it would also be a lie. How things look matters, if you do not grab me visually first with a game anything else about it is meaningless to me as I cannot get invested…

Especially in a genre where Avatar uninqueness and individuality as a representation of your virtual Id is everything.

Aesthetics are the Carrot..and without the Carrot noone is paying any notice.

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Slaasher

Aesthetics are nice. They add to immersion for me… but they’re not everything

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Byórðæįr

you either have a choice that looks like the image you want to present to the other players or you see it is a generic thing. Some people see some of those choices as something that represents them and some see them as generic in one game and the reverse in another.

I play a number of games that have a different ascetic style but I always want a broad chested male character to be my main so when I talking and I say something stupid it is thought of in the frame of reference of a guy. It does not always work. I am Irish and Icelandic, so I have narrow waist and huge rib cage from my heritage. I have had more than one person mistake me for a woman from the back. My hips are guys hips, I have very little definition to my pectoral muscles. So I look for those features in a toon. People still make mistakes in chat but that is simply the nature of a chat box.

games like desert online use multiple skulls and blend those skulls other games use five to twenty heads with different textures and hair. When the game fails the look of my toon is not enough to save a game but when the game play is fun some things are acceptable to play thoguth random toons. Some things are not. Joining sag years ago means I can not legally have a black toon, so I have to play games that give me an option to avoid that even if have to avoid certain game modes. That case my get over turned at some point but I understand why the jury reached the verdict they did. So I tend to follow the espirtos of the verdict they want someone that looks like them to voice their heroes. Some people don’t care some do. The ones that care have a right to protect their natural image. Once they go down the path of an impersonator, they never had the right to that person’s image or voice so I don’t worry about those people. That leaves me with toons that look like irish or scandavaina toons or something that does not look like a person.

For me that is enough impetuous to only play games that offer those options. The funny thing is both sag and fag lost that case since the jury yelled at both of us. But I find that companies either are trying for a quick dollar and you have limited options or they try to offer something that represents all of their target audience. Some game companies will tell you everyone, and I sigh and say they will figure it out eventually there is not a game everyone one plays and the ones with huge followings like face book games are time wasters people due because they have five minutes to kill. The point is games either offer you a feeling that it represents you or they don’t the ones that are aimed at a different target audience usually are boring because the game play is also aimed at different mind set. So bad targeting absolutely will get me to drop a game without a second thought. arena net shifted from a privately held company to a public corp and decided that had enough money from the people that got the games funded and decided that offending them to pick up as many people by changing the game ascetic and mechanics was a good idea. I told them like many others did that they were pulling an nge. they ignored us, only time will tell if they made the right decision. they made mockery of real culture that made the game fun it had depth now it has a couple employees who could not get work because they were caught lieing to a bunch of developers about bugs.

For the most part there are games I play that are fun where I don’t have to think about it, and games where someone tried to make their mark on games by screaming left wing right wing every thirty seconds. I play games to have fun and hang out with friends, bad aestics to me are more about is the game fun does the story make sense does the game play feel like I am doing what is expected. when it does not I play another game and check it out after they patch the game.

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Pandalulz

Quite a bit I think. If it’s drab and brown I probably won’t play it. If it’s old and plasticy looking because it tried to flirt with photo-realism, I probably won’t play it. If the characters run funny, I might not play it. I thank goodness that in Destiny I can just leave my character’s helmet on permanently so I don’t have to see their terrible face. It’s not all about graphics though. I like WoW’s aesthetic, and the revamped character models look great, even though they’re still lower poly than some other competing games.

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mistressbrazen

Aesthetics matter except when they don’t. I do care about how my avatar looks. I want to be able to create a virtual someone who is a character I can relate to, and I don’t want her to look like a clown! How the environment looks is also important but, I don’t need the most up to date graphics to enjoy a game that is intriguing. I played AO for many years and just didn’t care that the art style was dated. But, by the same token, I cannot abide by Minecraft. That voxelated look is an attack on my eyes, as was the way too vividly colored environment of Wildstar. There’s a sweet spot in there somewhere, even if I can’t articulate what it is.

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Annoyed badger

well, wildstar put me off with its aesthetics, and its gameplay did not help at all…..

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Raidervc

My brother and best friend, my MMO companions since the launch of EQOA, won’t touch Final Fantasy XIV because of the art direction (eastern inspired? Idk) despite how much I praised my time with the game.

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connor_jones

Loved the aesthetics and dark ambiance of EVE. I would be in to that game big time had they not completely abandoned ‘space legs’.

Star Trek Online and Secret World are showing their age a bit, but they can still be aesthetically very pleasing at times. They are what I consider ‘good enough’ in the aesthetics department.

A big reason I dislike Neverwinter and Elder Scrolls Online is because I don’t find the player avatars aesthetically pleasing, like at all.

GW2 is an interesting case. Although I love the art style (and it’s gotten better with Paths of Fire), there are only maybe 10-15% of the huge number of armor and weapons skins that I like. On a related note, I really dislike when people wear wings on the ground. They take up way too much space and to me look kind of silly. As they say on Reddit, down vote away! ;-)

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Schmidt.Capela

For me it’s not entirely straightforward.

I will never let aesthetics get in the way of gameplay. I will never settle for lesser gear just because I like its appearance better, I won’t go for a cooler looking spec if I prefer a different one’s gameplay, I won’t even have cosmetic-only items if they take storage space, etc. If the aesthetics of whatever is the better gameplay choice for me are so bad they push me away, I won’t go for an alternative; I will leave the game instead.

I do care about aesthetics when it doesn’t conflict with gameplay, though. This includes putting in the effort to earn extra cosmetic choices, even ones I’m not sure I will ever want to use, as long as having them doesn’t negatively impact my gameplay (which usually translates as those choices not taking any inventory space).

In WoW, for example, back when mounts and pets took inventory space, I had just one mount (the spell one for classes that had it) and no cosmetic pet at all; I would never waste inventory space just to be able to change how my mount looked or to display a cosmetic-only pet. As soon as mounts and pets were changed to not require storage anymore, though, I started collecting them all, rotating among mounts and pets based on my current character and mood.

Another example, some of the first things I got when LotRO’s wardrobe system went online was the full complement of appearance tabs and wardrobe slots; being able to look whichever way I want without sacrificing stats is something I really love. But I never actually purchased cosmetic gear from LotRO’s cash store, because cosmetic gear would waste wardrobe slots, reducing how many pieces of in-game gear I can store there, and I won’t settle for that.

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Hirku

Role-playing is a vital part of gaming for me, so appearances definitely count. If an outfit or a weapon doesn’t fit my character concept then it doesn’t get used no matter how cool it looks. Thankfully cosmetic gear options are common enough now that I no longer have to choose between fashion and function. It always annoyed me how the most powerful armor in Elder Scrolls would require my noble knight to look like a blood-drenched demon.

shadanwolf
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shadanwolf

I won’t try a game that has WOW like cartoon graphics. The more detail the better …for me. Another element of significant but lesser importance is combat animation.Carrying a gigantic sword and having explosions of light and color…..NEVER.Gender locked….never.

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Witches

It’s the first thing i see in a game, so it’s very important.

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Bryan Correll

Of course aesthetics are important. If I can’t make a character with pink pigtails, I……wait….that’s someone else. But if I don’t like the way a character looks it’s going to make it hard to immerse myself in the game.
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Utakata

“If I can’t make a character with pink pigtails, I……wait….that’s someone else.”

You betcha! (And thanks for answering the DG question for me!) <3

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BDJ

I really don’t care what my character looks like. I just do random during character creation.

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Carebear

Aesthetics are crucial to me.. To simple put it, if I dont like my character model/animations (moving and fighting) I cannot play the game, even if it has the best gameplay.

Then I proceed to the following:

1) If my character is just good / likeable and the gameplay of the game is good, I will play the game. If the gameplay is not good, I will not play probably. except if (move to 2)

2) My character is awesome but gameplay is very mediocre. I will endure the mediocre gameplay, at least for sometime and will wait for the game to improve on that part… Eventually bad gameplay will make me quit, but I will leave some money first.

3) My character is awesome and the gameplay is fantastic! (Still waiting for that dream MMO… )

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thirtymil

I fly Imperial in Elite because even though the specs are worse, I like my dashboard shiny.

My death knight in WoW is still in their original outfit because I think there’s nothing more stylish.

And I walk into parties like I’m walking on to a yacht.

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Bryan

Just a a counter point to most of the comments so far I don’t get particularly hung up on my characters look, I do like some armor/outfits better than others but can take it or leave it. However one of the reasons I have stopped playing LOTRO in the past is that it is too dark/real looking and it gets depressing, I find that Wow with it’s style is something I really like I feel comfortable when playing it more than most other MMO’s I have to stop playing Wow every so often but it’s never because of the look/feel of the art and game, it’s always because I’m burned out by the grind. It’s weird though I quit my job of 14 years last year and I have been a lot happier in general since and I have come back to Lotro and the realness/darkness is really not bothering me nearly as much so maybe it all just has to do with my own mood:)

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Danny Smith

Fashionsouls everytime in some fashion. RDM dashing in and slashing with a rapier, Death Knights with the frosty glowing runeblade, Nightstalker Hunters with a shadowshot bow and so on.
Fun gameplay makes the game but [A E S T H E T I C] makes the class to some degree.

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Loopy

A lot! I’ve refused to wear upgrade pieces of armor if they made my character look ghetto. I’ve refused to select objectively stronger classes/characters/ships if i didn’t find them cool looking.

In EVE, i’ve resorted to researching a completely obscure line of skills just so i can fly a specific ship that i thought was designed well. In STO i’ve gimped myself by using outdated ships purely out of aesthetics. In ESO i’m still using obsolete shields and maces because i refuse to “upgrade” to an axe that simply doesn’t fit my character “fantasy”.

Visuals are a big deal for me. I immerse myself immensely in my games, and i want them to look good and in line with my “vision”.

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mistressbrazen

I get this totally. I don’t use (or I didn’t use) one of the best rifle skills in TSW because the animation looked bad! And there’s a beginner’s hat in Wizard 101 that I just love, so when I level up, I pay to have the stats transferred to the beginner’s hat. Don’t car what other people think of it…it looks fabulous on me.

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connor_jones

I hear ya man. My Fed Sci Officer in STO has still not upgraded to a T6 because I really like my T5 Mirror ship.

deekay_plus
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deekay_plus

i suppose that aesthetics are a factor for me wether it’s dual pistols or bows as my weapons of choice. in swtor at launch i rolled a sith warrior for that iconic single saber force user look for example.

CapnLan
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CapnLan

Fashion is almost everything for me. If I don’t like how it looks, I won’t play it. Simple as that. From STO “Space Barbie” to Warframe “FashionFrame” it’s all about the looks.

That’s why I could never get into Age of Conan as much as I wanted as I went most of the game wearing a brown or gray potato sack. That might be a hold over from years playing FFXI and looking like a clown because all the gear that had good stats didn’t really mix together at all. Hello Assault Jerkin, DRG AF gauntlets/boots, Barone pants and an Optical Hat.

I probably spend more time on my characters appearance than actually playing the game in some cases now. I’ll even find myself chasing a piece of gear not because it’s strong, but because it looks cool. After all, there’s no point in saving the world if I don’t look good while I’m doing it.

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Sleepy

Fashion over function every time! I’ll happily dual wield pistols in a trenchcoat wherever possible. Who cares if I spend most of my time face down in a dungeon :D

And when I think about it, I’ve spent an awful lot of in-game money in GW2 trying to make my mesmer look like something other than an explosion in a curtain factory.

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Knox Harrington

Aesthetics affect everything in the MMO experience for me. I won’t even look twice at a game if it doesn’t pass my first look. I’ve written off everything coming out of Asia. I don’t care how good the game is; I simply don’t find the Eastern art style palatable. For the games that do pass my first look, I’ll spend hours at the character creation screen before I even enter the actual game. Everything about my character’s look has to fit the archetype I’m building, and if it doesn’t, there has to be some quirky reason why it doesn’t that amuses me.

Everything about my character’s abilities has to be on point as well. In my opinion, a warrior should not be putting on a laser light show, which is yet another reason why Eastern MMO’s don’t agree with me. Flamboyant hair, androgynous poses, fancy shiny armor, etc have no place on my monitor, let alone my character. I prefer it dark, gritty, and a bit more realistic. For me, the ultimate goal of an MMO is immersion and I only want to immerse myself in a world that is either a reflection of our past or of our future. Eastern MMO’s are a reflection of some manga I’ll never read.

But to be fair, I run into the same issue with some Western MMO’s as well. WoW looks too much like a cartoon and errs on the side of silly tongue-in-cheek malarkey. When they do darken the tone, it’s for a particular theme centered around an expansion that they just beat to death like a horse that hasn’t suffered enough. For example, all the green in Legion. They even introduced a new class that spews nothing but more green crap. I find it so obnoxious to the point that I don’t even want Demon Hunters in my group, let alone actually ever play one.

I guess this is bordering on a rant/blog post so I’ll wrap it up. Aesthetics are everything to me because my ultimate reason for playing these games is immersion so if a certain aesthetic clashes with my personal tastes, it breaks my immersion and makes me question why I’m a grown adult playing video games. But when the aesthetics are on point and I’m fully immersed in the experience, I start feeling like a kid again and then I’m reminded why I’m a grown adult playing video games.

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Vexia

I only want to immerse myself in a world that is either a reflection of our past or of our future.

I’d like for you to elaborate a bit more here. Are you meaning it in like an Eastern culture vs. Western culture sort of thing? Because as far as “reflections of our past,” (or at least somebody’s past) I would posit Blade & Soul as a game that draws on a rich tradition of Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, Korean & Chinese folk religions, and more. No cultural product, no matter how seemingly mundane, unimportant, or divorced from reality it may be, is created in a vacuum. So I guess that just leaves the question of who the “our” you’re mentioning is. Oh, and as for reflections of our future… nothing is written in stone for that, is it? I will say those manga you’ll never read are showing an incredible capability to pass through cultural boundaries with each passing generation. :)

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Sleepy

Spot on, exactly how I like to play a game. I had to stop playing Aion when I realised the female character model had built in high-heels. No matter what you put them in, it would include heels. Even the heavy platemail.

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thalendor

I’m not saying I’ll never spend any time to improve the looks of my character, but for me I never forgo functionality for fashion.

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Jack Pipsam

Never used too, I just put on whatever was best. But I feel myself getting more and more vain with time, wanting things to be pretty and all match up.

Even in single player games, like i’ve been playing the recent Zelda game and I am refusing to wear any kind of head-gear because I like looking at Link’s hair and head, so the earrings is all I am willing to do. It’s stupid and I know it is, but eh.

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