Appearance in MMOs

A character’s appearance in a MMO usually dictates two things: what they are and how powerful they are.

Originally, older MMOs didn’t really have a lot of variety in clothing and, if you look at Everquest, it only served to define what type of character you were. Obviously armour and clothing could grant a vast array of stats, bonuses and abilities but there wasn’t much of a way to tell a level 50 character apart from a level 40 one. EQ eventually started to buck that trend though by introducing more and more elaborate looking weapons, visually rewarding the player as well as statistically.

Now, flash forward to today, and MMOs use appearance for more than defining what class you are, they use it as a milestone for character development and achievement. Compare a level 1 Priest in World of Warcraft to a level 80 one and you’ll see a huge difference. The low level character will be wearing bland, uninteresting clothing whilst the level 80 will have far more interesting garb. And of course raiding and PvP plays a part… the more you play your character and the more you take part in activities, the more you are rewarded with an aesthetically pleasing appearance. A player who raids in WoW will likely be wearing huge, glittering and glowing shoulder pads the size of small cars whilst a non-raider will look decidedly more bland. Appearance is more than just a collection of items with useful stats, it’s a status symbol.

No doubt MMORPG developers are keen to show off new graphic engines with complex and attractive visuals but they’ve also discovered that appearance is another carrot they can dangle in front of players. It’s become a tool to reward people and indulge their egos – “the more you play, the cooler you’ll look!”. I don’t have a problem with the principle of that but sometimes it gets frustrating.

Age of Conan is a perfect example of badly done appearance scaling (note: I haven’t played in 6 months so it have changed). I remember wearing the same tunic from level 14 until 50 just because it looked so much cooler. Also, trying to get a full set of decent looking gear was a grind at best – I must have done the Sanctum of the Burning Souls several dozen times with my Assassin just to get some decent looking, matching gear. It wasn’t fun and, upon reflection, not remotely worth it because I out-leveled the armour soon after.

I guess my feelings towards appearance is that I don’t mind the raiders and the PvPers having the best looking gear and I quite like the idea of appearance actually ’scaling’ as I level but ultimately I still want to look half decent and reasonably cool without having to sell my virtual soul to the Gods of Hardcore. Plus, not only do I want to look good when I hit the max level, I also want to look good as I level. Call me vain but appearance matters. It’s how you get with the ladies.

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  1. Hammerfaust says:

    As I read in your text wow also has a reward system for pvp like in eq2. When I remember some good pvp players in eq2 they quite had good looking gear/weapons.
    So my question: does wow have some great looking gear for pvp players as a reward, and is it way different looking than the raiding gear one could get?

  2. Gordon says:

    Yeah, WoW has PvP rewards. It’s actually a pretty good system – you take part in cross server battle grounds and collect honour points to buy items with.

    Compared to EQ2, WoW has a huge amount of armour appearance variety which is nice. You can check some of the high level stuff out here:

    I think the Draenei Priest stuff looks cool :)

  3. Droogie says:

    A lot of mmo’s are very odd when it comes to armor and it’s looks.

    In WoW, although a ton of the lower level stuff looked pretty shitty, there was a ton of low level items that looks completely unique.

    What seems to happen a lot is that devs want to make a bit of flash in the beginning, or the fact that they haven’t gotten around to adding enough content yet, so they put a bit of extra time into gear at a midish level, to hold players over.

    And then when something comes out like an expansion, you see screenshots of these amazing armor sets.

    But in the meantime, they aren’t bothering with adding any other decent looking armor for those levels between.

    On a side note, some games do benefit from bland armor design, as you would want to “trick” your enemy. Looking at recent screens of Darkfall, and most of the armor is very bleh, but then again, if you are some person with a ton of glowy gizmos, in a purple tunic, and fireworks going off, you bet your ass I’m killing you in pvp first :P

    Cool blog btw.

  4. Capn John says:

    That’s one of the things I love about Wizard101. When I get a new piece of armor which doesn’t match my current outfit, I can pay an NPC to Dye it for me; color coordinated outfits are just a few gold pieces away (okay, sometimes more than a few, because some color schemes cost more than others).

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