The Rocket Science that is Cosmetic Features in MMOs

One of the most baffling things to me personally about cosmetic features in MMOs has always been their often mind-bogglingly lacklustre, inconvenient implementation by developers over a longer period of time. You’d think a customization mechanic as most-wanted as this one, deserved full attention from the get-go. But in the case of most popular mainstream MMOs that I have played over the years, it always took ages to get there – as in get it half-way right! When I returned to Draenor long after transmogrification was a thing in WoW, Blizzard had still managed to make the whole process unbelievably complicated and fussy. Void space huh? And don’t get me started on cosmetics 1.0 in Wildstar or GW2! Not even looking at FFXIV for this one.

Sort this out, pretty please?

Sort this out, pretty please?

It seems that whenever players are super anxious to get their hands on cosmetic features, the whole process ends up being highly anti-climatic:

Dev: “Guess what, we are finally introducing a cosmetic feature for your gear next patch!”
Player: OMG YAY I LOVE UUU!!!
Dev: “There is only a few restrictions…”
Player: “Huh??”
Dev: “Oh and also, the following items you really can’t use-“
Player: “But but…”
Dev: “And you can only get more slots via the ingame store.”
Player: *erm*
Dev: “Did we mention the special cooldown?”
Player: /quit

Seriously, can we just get a second, overriding gear tab to equip whatever items/looks we collected already, without consumables or service NPC mumbo jumbo? And maybe without paying extra every time we change something or just to get a decent amount of set options? Why is that so hard? This whole affair is like the coitus interruptus for the fashion-conscious player! RIFT anyone?

Happy weekend everybody! Dress sensibly!

7 comments

  1. DID SOMEONE SAY RIFT?

    No, but seriously, they figured this out way before most current MMOs. We want to wear pretty stuff, so let us. I still can’t transmog my legendary mace in WoW for reasons I don’t understand.

    1. Meh, that one is particularly bad. I passed on the mace in TBC for a friend and was kinda regretting it until we found out that it was useful for about half an expansion and then you couldn’t even transmog it. -.-

  2. I’m in full agreement with you. For all its ugliness, I’m still amazed that EverQuest II introduced a cosmetics system on the way back in 2007 that still stands up as being one of the better/more fair ones to this day. Essentially, you have a second inventory in which equipped items there are only for display and not for stats.

    Done. So simple too!

    1. Yeah right? I’d be totally cool with that, with the extra features of saving different templates and extra storage (even better: “learning” textures the way you can do it in WS now or GW2).

  3. I think the problem is that there are two views of character appearance in MMOs, the City of Heroes school (look the way you want to look, whatever fills that fantasy) vs the Vanilla WoW philosophy (your appearance is an indicator of your class and status. If you’re a raider, everyo9ne can see how big shot a raider from your shoulderpads. If you aren’t a raider, you wear the hobo clown suit of shame). There’s a tension between the two groups, and devs seem to feel obliged to put in some restrictions to avoid alienating the MMO appearance fascists. Plus, of course, PvP intrudes as it does everywhere – there’s a desire to make sure that mages look like mages, warriors like warriors etc. to facilitate target selection in the heat of battle.

    And then there’s the whole monetisation thing – games companies have costs to cover, and if players are THAT bothered about appearance why give them everything for free? Especially since cosmetics are the one thing that the “anti-Pay2Win” crowd will grudgingly concede isn’t really pay to win…

    1. I want to second this, sort of, maybe with slightly less snark. ;)

      The thing is that what people seem to expect from a “good” wardrobe system these days is very much in conflict with some of the roots of the genre, e.g. that gear’s main purpose was to give you better stats and that its looks should reflect its place on the ladder. Also: gear used to have a role as actual items that you gather, use and sell – some of the systems I’ve seen praised the most completely eliminate that, you just “unlock” a look once and then reacquire it through some sort of UI which is completely independent of whether your character even still owns that piece of gear. That may be convenient but feels really weird from a world/gameplay perspective IMO.

    2. Good points both! :) I ofc realize that given cosmetics are such a big draw, developers want to make some cash out of that, especially in f2p MMOs. That’s the thing though – for one, too many sub MMOs have horrible cosmetic features and even if we’re talking f2p, there are better ways to monetize cosmetics imho. I am all for cool exclusive skins being sold in a store as long as the mechanic itself isn’t so bloody fussy and restricted. >_>

      About the two schools: I used to like the WoW approach until gear meant absolutely nothing. If there are multiple (and easy) ways to get the ‘highlevel look’ in MMOs, gear stops carrying a message. Same for when they copy-paste gear models all over the place. So that’s when I vote individual looks > progression looks.

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