The Daily Grind: Should MMOs allow players to alter how other characters appear in their client?


Yesterday, PC Gamer posted a positively scathing article about Mordhau, the online knights-and-castles action ARPG. While the overall article is about the game’s (and studio’s) apparently high tolerance for the worst kind of gaming toxicity, the part that struck me as an MMOer was the game’s future plans for characters. The devs are working on female characters as well as characters with multiple ethnicities for the future, to a high degree of quality and care – with “dedicate[d] artist time to new scalps, new texturing,” that sort of thing. Great!

However, apparently the studio is also contemplating “giving players the option to disable characters that aren’t white and male.” In context, it’s not entirely clear whether the studio means on custom servers or on the official servers, though Kotaku’s piece followup piece seems to indicate it’s the latter.

“They’re planning (though not guaranteeing the ultimate inclusion) on adding a toggle for players to filter out those choices, so that every character in the game is displayed as a white male, regardless of their rival’s actual selection.”

(Update: In a weird twist, after this interview went live, the devs also apparently denied saying they were considering this toggle, in spite of their direct quotes. This is why we keep our recordings, folks. Updating again on July 3rd: Apparently now the studio has blamed a pair of artists for miscommunicating developer plans to PC Gamer, and it will not be carrying out these toggles. Mhm.)

Anyway. Maybe in a hack-and-slash game like this – especially one where toxicity is allowed to flourish – nobody still remaining is going to care about this. But can you imagine it in an MMORPG, a game where people’s individuality and character customizations are kinda the whole point?

Well, actually, I can, because I’ve seen MMO players argue for this sort of thing for years. Some folks don’t want to see your weirdly animated expansion lizard character, your little girl toon, your neon weapons, your nonsensical samurai armor, your hawtpants, or your horrifying skittering bug mount, and they’d gladly replace your visage – in their client, mind you – with a picture of a blinking yellow smiley face just to make you go away. (Granted, blocking your anime hairstyle seems many leagues apart from masking everyone who isn’t a white dude.)

And of course, they could also replace you with something much worse. I’m sure a lot of you are aware of model-swapping nude mods in various MMOs – and it’s pretty damn creepy to think that goofy Pally who’s tanking for your group is running a mod that’s undressed your toon unbeknownst to you. Ew.

What do you think – should MMO players feel entitled to alter other characters’ appearance? Is this something that you want to see online game studios implement?

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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The devs would’ve received alot less flak if they implemented the feature silently then openly announce it.

Isabell Patterson

Maybe you should be able to customize how YOU look client-side but you shouldn’t be allowed (and neither should MMO devs) to be racist by making all characters white and changing black characters skin colors.


GW2 has a decent option – you can turn down the detail level of other characters (especially helpful if playing WvW on a potato) which eventually shows them in a default body model that is fully armored – so there are no details about their race.


I bought this when it first came out and refunded it immediately after once people started race and gender bashing in a match I was in, and then I looked on the Steam forums and it was full of racist and misogynist threads about how people don’t want women and blacks in the game. They tried to quote “historical accuracy” even though the developers said it wasn’t meant to be historically accurate. I was like, yeah no bye. I guess that hasn’t changed. Game had a vitriol community from the start. Too much hype and a ton of negligent and (now) lying developers.


Apart from avatars designed to be offensive — which would be better dealt through moderation or even bans — I don’t think being able to change how other players’ characters are rendered is a good idea, apart from a few very specific situations where it can improve performance or gameplay. The classic example is toning down visual (or even aural) effects from the other characters’ gear, mount, or pets.


Don’t forget the classic cheat for pvp. Altering other player models to include huge red spikes that stick out through objects, allowing you to locate players who would otherwise be hidden.

Chris Ochs

To me what would work well is basically the equivalent of putting someone on ignore in chat. An option to just render you with basic clothing. Being able to customize your character to any extent I don’t think is a good idea. I can’t imagine that ending well.

I’m all for being able to ignore self expressions by other players in most forms where it’s practical to do so.


Why hasn’t anyone just implemented these obviously silly mounts, hairstyles, weapons or whathaveyou, as skins for actual pieces of equipment, and then just give everyone a no skin button? Seems simple enough to me.


That’s basically what GW2 does. Based on your settings you can control the number of players that get rendered – the others are all default placeholders, which are fully armored (with exception to charr, I think). Same for mounts.

They also allow you to control particle effects, but some players have asked to be able to disable legendary weapons and other sparkly items (like infusions) without reducing rendering.

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As our GM once said after we had to kick someone for repeatedly talking about (and posting screenshots on the forum), a mod that could view other characters in other (skimpy) gear, “You don’t get to choose what I’m wearing.”