Massively Overthinking: What are your MMO character customization dealbreakers?


Back in February, when BlizzConline was at its height, part of the World of Warcraft community lost its mind over the revelation that Blizzard won’t be adding new customization options between now and… whatever the next expansion turns out to be a year and a half from now. It was particularly galling for players of allied races and some of the “beast” races (like Worgen and Pandaren), since they assumed they’d be getting customization akin to what the other races have gotten, especially since some of the bits and pieces are already in the game files.

“There are a few [playable races] we didn’t get as many customizations options in for, and those are the kind of things that we’ll be looking forward to in the future,” Blizzard’s Ely Cannon said during the Q&A. “We tried to be really thoughtful about [this] type of thing, and these types of features tend to be fairly big projects.”

Clearly, Blizzard thinks that slighting these players won’t impact its bottom line, but I have to wonder about it myself. I certainly have some lines in the sand when it comes to MMO character customization, and I could see myself walking away if the developers of one of the biggest games ever did something like this. But other people will happily put on hobo armor, and for them, their appearance means nothing.

For this week’s Massively Overthinking, I want to mull that over. Do you have any MMO character customization dealbreakers and must-haves – options that you absolutely require to play an MMO? Are there any lines in the sand with respect to customization that you’ve drawn when it comes to your MMO play? And have you ever dumped a character or MMO because you couldn’t look the way you wanted with the tools on offer?

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): I think for MMOs, the only “must-have” I have is basic customization: name, gender, skin color, hair color. I’m not one of those people who want to play gender locked characters or some prebuilt MOBA-esque character that is “mine” somehow. I do prefer to have more options, especially in body shapes and heights for when my face gets covered, but that’s it. I, uh, don’t really need “package” sliders, as I tend to look at that kind of like hair: keep it short so there’s less of me to spot when I’m hiding in bushes. Still, my PvE server characters sometimes will have a gut for RP purposes. I’ve never dumped a game because of the character customization options, but I do celebrate the ones that do it better.

Andy McAdams: It boggles my mind that one of the most anticipated and celebrated aspects of Shadowlands is getting the “meh, whatever, we don’t feel like adding any new customization options, no matter how much you want them, you can’t tell me what to do, you aren’t my real dad,” sentiment from Blizzard. Really in the grand scheme, Blizzard being tone deaf about yet another thing should be about as sensational as “water is water,” but here we are.

I’m sure to get some flack over this, but customization options are one of the only things that really sets games apart from each other. Every game has combat, some trading, some crafting – all miniscule variations on the same formula. Character look and feel is one of the only things that really sets games apart. Gender locking is a customization restriction that’s an automatic pass for me. It’s one of the main reasons I never got into Black Desert, and was a contributing factor to me putting FFXIV on the back burner. Being forced into overly sexualized customizations bothers me too. I walked away from TERA because it was literally making me uncomfortable, as much as I enjoyed the game itself.

But Black Desert Online was the single biggest character customization letdown for me. The game was touted for how customizable the characters were. Except for the gender-locking. And the actual character customization very much had the feeling of “You can have any color you want as long as it’s black.” You could futz with the character creator all you wanted and only every come up with a character that looked marginally different than every other character of the same, gender-locked class. It also skirted the over-sexualized customizations. Overall, while I have enough problems with that game to fill a book, the character customization is the piece that ensures that I never make it very far if I decide to give it another chance.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I don’t think there’s any one single customization thing I would say is do-or-die for me. In spite of how much I dislike it, gender-locking isn’t a total deal-breaker, as my love for Marvel Heroes shows – at least as long as I can play a combo I’d like to play, although I definitely play longer and get far more invested in games with really great customization. Maybe I should rephrase that, since visual appeal is also important. Elder Scrolls Online, for example, has decent customization but poor character visual appeal, so that hurts it for me. (And this is why I mod the heck out of my solo TES installs.)

That said, if a game doesn’t have a decent range of skintones and bodytypes and it’s not some indie game or an old-school game that has an excuse (for example: Ultima Online), I have a harder time giving it a pass or falling in love. And if a company like Blizzard pulled this on my character after talking it up for the last year or two, yeah, I can see walking. But then I already walked, so easy for me to say.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): More options for WoW are always welcome, although I feel like these players just got a huge bounty of new customization options and immediately turned around to whine that it wasn’t enough. It’s still way, way more than we got back at launch (*puts on old man glasses*). I’m not inclined to be as harsh to the studio over this.

I love me some good character customization options, but I can’t think of any options — perhaps outside of strict age or gender-locking restrictions — that would repel me from playing a game. I’ll work with what the game gives me, and if it does give me a whole bunch, I’ll pour out some praise on that title for a job well done.

Sam Kash (@thesamkash): Customization is really huge for me. I just want to be pretty! Thinking back about Warhammer Online there were two big problems, well there were plenty of problems, but two that always annoyed me were the balance between factions and the terrible customization options that the Order faction had compared to the other one. Now I get that they were somewhat limited by the IP, but geez I would get annoyed to no end when Mythic released new end game gear and my elf gear looked like a recolor of low-level drops versus the enemy faction. They were getting chains and spikes and all kinds of cool stuff. Meanwhile I think my hat got a little bit taller. So lame.

Eventually I just let the game go. It wasn’t worth it if I couldn’t look awesome.

Tyler Edwards (blog): This is a case where I kind of see both sides. On the one hand, I love visual customization. The more and deeper the better. I bought Black Desert Online (on sale for $5) just to play with the character creator. I support any effort to add more options, and I will grump if the options are too limited.

On the other hand, I’ve never refused to play a game based on poor customization, and I doubt I ever would. Gender locks get some serious side-eye, but even that can be overlooked if the rest of the game is good enough.

At the end of the day, visual character customization doesn’t actually affect your experience of the game that much, and I understand why developers don’t always prioritize it. No one really “needs” it except for hardcore role-players, and arguably not even then — those of us who play tabletop RP just fine with nothing but a 2-D token representing our characters, after all. In a perfect world, every game would be overflowing with options, but in a world where developer resources are limited, it’s not so surprising that visual customization often winds up on the chopping block. I wish it wasn’t that way, but I get it.

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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