Daily Archives: May 2, 2009

Character develops itself in the stream of life.

I was deliberating and cogitating over whether to change my character’s appearance in WAR the other day. Aesthetically pleasing character appearance is one of the many tributaries that feed into the main river of my altitus, made all the more painful by the fact that I can never seem to get it right the first time, despite having all the time in the world to play around with the character creation options. For example, it’s what I spend most of my time investigating in any MMO beta that I participate in: trying all the character options, seeing which hairstyles work, which ones make you look like Shaft on a bad hair day, and which ones clip so badly that it makes it seem as though the natural order of your character’s skull has been reversed such that the hair grows on the inside, making its way into the daylight by way of incredibly overactive neck follicles. If I’m in your beta, you will have the most rigourously tested hairstyle options in the MMO industry.

There is no paid character customisation in WAR, which comes as a complete surprise to me because it’s not as though Mythic have anything else to be getting on with. I can only imagine that they’re all sat on a tropical beach somewhere, drinking their lolitas and watching all the young margaritas walk by with their sun umbrellas and a slice of lime on… their… shoulder. Ahm.

Anyway, a lack of paid character customisation meant that I would be paying with TIME: Currency of the Universe [TM], via the complex technique of deleting said character and re-rolling it with face option 3b instead of 3a, and a hairstyle that didn’t poke through the top of every hat I wore, as though it had turned traitor to my cause and was desperately trying to flag down an enemy player, notifying them of my whereabouts.

This re-rolling is often not a huge problem at the low levels when I usually decide that the lavender eye colour would go better with the nostril hair style that I’d picked; I like playing the lower levels of MMOs because it’s where the game is actually fun, where the designers hadn’t thought “Oh bugger this, let’s… just…”scribble scribble scribble“There. That’ll do. Well, it’s Skinner Box enough to keep them paying a subscription for another couple of months at least. C’mon Nigel, let’s go back to the flat, I’ve got some lolitas chilling in the fridge”. What any MMO developer should really do is create the first twenty levels of their game, then stop. Then create an entirely new game, based around the same premise, and when they’ve done the first twenty levels of that, stop, and tack those twenty levels on to the end of the first game. Continue like this until you’ve got a game that is continuously fun, rather than following the Escaped Balloon development strategy, which mimics a balloon that has been accidentally released whilst being inflated: it shoots off with a load of noise and energy, flying all over the place with phenomenally farted enthusiasm, but very quickly runs out of air with a last gasping high-pitched toot, and then arcs across the room and hits the floor with a disappointingly limp flollop. And then all the children in the room burst into tears and are inconsolable at the failure of the balloon to perform at their party. Psychologically scarred by the events of that day, they grow up to follow a life of crime either as prostitute or politician, and when the police eventually catch up with them and raid their flats they find nothing but a barren room, the bare light bulb swaying gently from the force of their entry, ancient peeling wallpaper hidden beneath the nailed-up decaying remains of a thousand balloon animals.

Or, y’know, not.

It then followed that I was curious as to whether the majority of people actually ever cared that much about how their character looked, or whether most people just pick something that looks good at the time and then forget about it forevermore. This, in turn, lead me on to wondering how, without projects like Daedalus, we would know the answer to such things.

Well clearly Blizzard will have a good idea as to the answer. They will be able to see how many people use the barber on a regular basis; they will have figures on the initial rush after it was released; how often the barber is used in general; what level characters use it most. Not only that, but they also have all the data relating to their paid character customisation: how great the uptake was and which things people changed (I’m guessing the character’s sex, with male to female being the greatest migration, for fifty bonus “well, duh” points). The interesting thing is, I think it’s safe to say, the majority of people probably weren’t desperately clamouring for this sort of customisation content, indeed I think the greatest desire was for something frivolous and pointless, such as additional end-game content.

Therefore I finally came to wonder: is Blizzard adding this sort of feature for research purposes more than anything else? Are they gathering data on things such as ‘interest in character customisation’ for their next MMO? It will certainly save them a whole lot of development effort if they can determine that the uptake of the barber in WoW, say, was very limited and that clearly people aren’t all that bothered about tweaking a character’s features. Are they testing the RMT waters by seeing just what sort of ‘fluff’ players are willing to pay for and for how much with their paid character customisation and name changes? Or is it in fact the case that character customisation is high on the wish list of the average MMO player? Perhaps there’s a happy middle ground, and Blizzard are trying to find where that lies.

I decided not to re-roll my character in the end. After all, one goblin looks pretty much like another when being trampled under the feet of two opposing armies on the field of battle.