After the panel, one of the viewers came up to me and shook my hand, thanked me for my panel, and asked if I had ever heard of a game called S4 League. I told him I hadn't, but he urged me to look it up as it might be something I would be interested in. Well here I am, playing Stylish eSper Shooting Sports (S4, get it?), and I'm actually enjoying the experience. But, S4 triggered a bit of a realization in me. It's something I've touched on before, but I've never really engaged.
Why do we all look completely stupid at level one? Is it because of the "journey?" Or is it more of an incentive mechanic these days? And why the heck do developers force us to look like we woke up on the wrong side of the bed when adventuring?
All warriors know that to fight well, one requires strength, stamina...
So, ok, S4 does not do everything regarding style right. Rabid readers will undoubtedly point out that most of the good fashion in S4 is hidden behind the "give us money" doors of the item shop, but the point is that the clothing is there and available. Even the newbie stuff, as common as it is, makes you look like you actually have enough sense to not put your socks on backwards.
"Why wear the armor that actually looks good on you, when you can wear the armor that gives you bonuses to your weapon damage?"
But this is only scratching the surface of the whole problem. Many games already include decently designed items that usually attract attention. Items that when put together appropriately can result in very beautiful characters that fit perfectly in their surroundings. Items that can be acquired at low levels that look pretty neat when put on your character.
It's not the items themselves that's the heart of the problem. It's what we assign to them that is the problem.
... and the purple pants, green chain mail, and bright yellow shoulder pads that buff those stats.
In all of our games, progression is ranked externally as well as internally. Sure, your character may learn that awesome new fireball at level 5, but they can also wear that rare item with the powerful stats then too! Why wear the armor that actually looks good on you, when you can wear the armor that gives you bonuses to your weapon damage?
This is where "character customization" breaks down in almost every MMO across the board -- the player has little to no control over what they want to wear or how they want to present themselves. Choose to wear something nice, something that matches with your outfit, and you'll find yourself looking at statistical penalties in combat. Wear items that buff your statistics, and you end up looking like a rabid clown roaming the wilderness.