Massively Overthinking: Do MMOs need ‘adult’ character customization?


A Random MMO Fan recently wrote to us with a fun topic, linking to an article about Cyberpunk 2077’s ESRB rating, which is apparently based in part on the fact that the game’s “customization can include depictions of breasts, buttocks, and genitalia, as well as various sizes and combinations of genitals.” Yep, boob and dong sliders.

“This could be interesting topic for discussion about character customizations in all games, including MMORPGs, and I believe many adult players would also welcome such possibility in MMORPG games they enjoy, especially players who enjoy socializing or RP activities,” A Random MMO Fan writes. “And non-adults can be always restricted from playing games like that and play something like Minecraft instead.”

An opportunity to make our readers blush and our writers uncomfortable is one I always have to seize here in Massively Overthinking. I’ve put the topic to the team: Do MMOs need “adult” character customization like Cyberpunk 2077’s? Are ladyparts and manbits essential content? Or is it a silly and pointless distraction from the meat of a game?

Andy McAdams: The dong schlider is… look, if you are compensating so hard that you feel like you need the option to make Mr. Wiggly into Mr. Wiggly Super-sized, I’m not sure that the slider will do anything to help you. I don’t think it adds to the gameplay or the immersion or character identity, and I’m with Ben in that it makes me less interested in the game. Can you imagine being the design/modeler/engineer on that?

Spouse: “How was your day today, honey?”
Engineer, with a haunted look in their eyes: “I’m… I’m not ready to talk about it. Maybe someday, but not today.

The boob slider I’m less critical of – it’s not a selling point for me. But I can see the value in allowing our Lady Gamer friends to have the choice in that particular aspect of their body. Do I have faith that the game won’t turn into an army of women with oversized beach balls stapled to their chest and hitting themselves in the forehead with every step? No, I don’t. But if that’s the cost of allowing a woman to better play the kind of character she wants, then by all means staple away.

Can I end this with a “2020, you’re drunk, go home”? I never thought I would be providing my opinion on a dong slider, in a world ground to a halt by a pandemic and where something called a “murder hornet” actually exists.

Ben Griggs (@braxwolf): My friend @professorbeej (from the Geek to Geek podcast) captured my feelings with regards to the Cyberpunk 2077 sliders best:

“I don’t know what it says about me, but this makes me less excited for the game. I don’t care that it’s there, but it indicates it might be less of my kind of game than I’d originally thought.”

It’s not that I’m offended, not at all. But if the audience that thinks genital customization is important is the audience they’re targeting, then I might not be in that group. It makes me wonder whether other aspects of the game are similarly outside of my interests.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I have argued before that I wish MMORPGs would take romance and sex a lot more seriously, so please understand I’m arguing from that, ahem, position. But it seems pretty pointless to have customization options to that degree in games where having them doesn’t really matter anyway, either because of the minimal multiplayer or because of the lack of related content. As in Conan Exiles, it seemed more about making the game feel edgy than about utility (which itself is silly; why should this be edgy in the first place? Why is this being marketed this way? Who are the people who think this is edgy and lulzy, and do I want to be playing with them?). I’m also generally in favor of extreme customization, but I would rather see more time put into relevant and deep “mature” content rather than into, well, stuff you’re just going to cover up with clothes and armor anyway. Honestly, hairstyle options matter a whole lot more to me than dong sliders since you’re gonna see hair all the time.

Put another way, hell yeah for the whole holodeck experience, but we’re not there yet, so the faux-edgy customization in the meantime seems more eyeroll-worthy than immersive.

Carlo Lacsina (@UltraMudkipEX): I guess you could say adult customization is the real “meat” of the game, eh? It was bound to happen sooner or later. Considering all the customization options from many games and the availability of nude mods, it was a smart move. The question is “why are they doing this?” Is it for just for giggles or are they using this for the sake of making the player’s RP experience a richer one? I personally hope there’s more reasons than just to make the little 12-year-olds giggle at some big “DPS.”

I’m happy they’re adding more ways for customization, though. You know what else I wish they’d add customization options for? Thighs. I’m a fan of the thigh gap personally, but I know there are a group of players that would love to build a character with a luscious set of thicc thighs. So get to it, MMO industry!

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): “The meat of the game.” I see what you did there, Bree.

Honestly, this ends up being one of those features that is nice to have for immersion’s sake but isn’t a dealbreaker if it’s not included: ESO has a posterior slider for both guys and girls but doesn’t make the game more compelling, while FFXIV’s characters have, arguably, the flattest asses in MMO gaming (unless you’re a Viera or get the bottoms from Copied Factory), yet I don’t love the game any less for it.

Ultimately, more options are always welcome because making a character look how I want, including the size and shape of the squishy bits, does help me get into character just a bit more. I mean, I don’t know about you, but the body confidence a superhero would need to wear the things they do is impressive, and is something fun to play with in RP (“Does this leg armor really need to frame my butt this way?”).

Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): On the one hand, I feel like this is… well, kind of pointless. The sliders and variables needed for this stuff have an overhead and labor cost, and in an MMO in particular I’d really prefer to not meet the guy who spent five minutes on his face and twenty minutes fine-tuning his character’s junk. But at the same time, the same goes for the people who automatically look for the biggest chestline and least skin coverage possible for every single female character; I don’t think it’s really fair to account for the merit of these features solely by the people most likely to misuse them.

In theory, it’s an idea that I like. I’m on board for exploring more themes and more ideas with characters and character creation, and don’t consider this territory that is inherently off-limits or even should be. It’s more a simple question of how likely it is to pay off when you weigh the development time vs. how much actual relevance it has. Fine detail is worse than useless if it doesn’t do anything, and while I can think of several people (roleplayers) who’d be happy to just have the option, I don’t think that there’s really a big net benefit to ensure that your character’s pants are a little bit tighter to account for the fact that your character has an itty-bitty weenus.

Yet it also does have an effect in terms of being inclusive, and so I ultimately wind up coming down in support of it on balance. I like the idea, I like the idea of making this an option, but I also recognize that realistically there’s no way to really incorporate this sort of thing without opening up a mountain of issues for no real net benefit. Still, Cyberpunk is really a good test case for it.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): Honestly? It’s silly and distracting. I was rolling my eyes so hard at all of the article discussion on Cyberpunk 2077 because we see this any time an RPG or MMO allows for this. It’s silly because you’re going to be dressed anyway, and for those who really care about it, most will just crank the sliders up to “massive” because they’re mature, responsible people. There are games and places for people who specifically want this sort of thing, but for shared online worlds, it only opens the doors to griefing and and all sorts of uncomfortable situations.

Mia DeSanzo (@neschria): We already know what happens when people have free rein with the boob sliders: A certain minority burden their characters with a bad case of watermelon breasts. It would be reasonable to assume that, given the chance, some players would probably go with the biggest “eggplant” allowed by the sliders. And if the opportunity is there, some of those people will mix and match their fruits and vegetables.

How do I feel about that? I surely wouldn’t want my 5-year-old to even get that far into character creation in such a game. Older teens and some young adults would probably think they are being hilarious by abusing those choices to an extreme. I am uncomfortable with the idea of explicitly different combinations of parts because I have trans family and friends, and they are not the punchline to some stupid, immature joke. It is bad enough when chat turns into idiotic banter about “traps.” I would rather leave what’s in the pants an unknown.

There have been some adult-only online games, but most of those seem to focus on adult (i.e., sexually explicit) content and never really get mainstream traction. I can’t speak for other people, but that’s definitely not what I am looking for when I sit down for an MMO session. Too much dong, not enough ding.

MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): I chuckle/shake my head at the use of the term “adult” here. Is there any place where labeling something adult doesn’t elicit images of porn or related paraphernalia? All those billboards and buildings that can’t say what’s actually inside, so they just say “adult”: adult stores, adult movies, adult games. Adult as an adjective is not just the opposite of child. And it most certainly doesn’t mean mature, as much as we wish it would. As for the topic, if only adding adult content to a game would be handled by players with maturity, all could be well. Alas, as we have seen time and time again, it is not. If there was a way to filter out the immature, wouldn’t that be great? Sadly, there isn’t even a successful way to keep minors from explicit content, so how badly would we fail at keeping out the immature?

As for customization options, do I care if others want to have these sliders in game? No. I have always been a proponent of more customization. I like controlling how my in-game body looks, and my tastes definitely appear to run counter what devs think I want (as shown by having to reduce breast size in every single case). It does seriously turn me off of games to have a character bouncing around getting concussions as her chest punches her in the head with every step. And let’s be fair, why should only women’s bodies have sliders and not men’s?

But do I want to see the results on others as I play? Also no. I feel that Conan Exiles navigated this best: Not only can servers decide what level of nudity they want allowed — not really something a single-shard MMO could do — but individual players get to also set the level of nudity they want in their play clientside. My server is set for full nudity for those who want it, but for streaming my personal client is set to none. It’s there for those who want, and not in the face of those who don’t. There is also the partial nudity level in between. Options are good! Don’t leave the customization option just at character creation — also give folks who don’t want to see a sea of naked immature players dancing about the choice to turn it off. Perhaps even have an off button for that customization option if players choose so it isn’t in their face during creation. And for the love of everything, keep sliders proportional for everything! We don’t need the over-exaggerated appendages at all, even if they are buried under armor.

Samon Kashani (@thesamkash): I don’t think we need these”adult” options. I don’t have any problem with a game having these sliders but it is just a distraction. We joke all the time about how we spend hours in the character customization options and then completely cover ourselves in layer upon layer of shiny and distracting armor. Here we’re talking about body parts that are almost exclusively covered.

Plus, I don’t need to feel any more adult than I already am. I’m old enough. I want to be a kid again. Instead I’m just slower, rounder, and lazier. Day in, day out. That sinking feeling that I’m inching ever closer to the end of my days with less and less time than I had the day before. Thinking that tomorrow will be the day I turn this around. Tomorrow will be the day I am productive and actually accomplish something. Only tomorrow comes around and it’s the same as the days past. Another wasted chance.

Tyler Edwards: “Adult” content like this in multiplayer games is one of those things that would be a good idea if you could trust people to handle it in a mature and responsible way, but alas, such is not the world we live in.

Every week, join the Massively OP staff for Massively Overthinking column, a multi-writer roundtable in which we discuss the MMO industry topics du jour – and then invite you to join the fray in the comments. Overthinking it is literally the whole point. Your turn!
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