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This post was inspired by a question posed by Mark Yetter, the director of Riot Games’ developing Runeterra MMO, and on the face of it the question sounds a little silly. In the tweet, Yetter ponders “what can be done to encourage players to try new things and differentiate their looks,” eliciting a bunch of people referencing systems already done by various other games as well as some concern that Yetter has never seen the inside of an MMORPG. That said, I’m not sure that’s what he’s asking for here. I think what was intended is ways to incentivize and reward creativity. So that’s what I’m going to try and focus on in this post.

First off, I agree that there needs to be a lot of tools to allow players plenty of avenues towards self-expression. And I mean a lot of tools. Sliders, transmog, weapons and armor pieces that aren’t linked to classes, as well as a huge swath of choices immediately from the moment of character creation. To that last point, while earning something new and unique from playing the game is nice, it should be in addition to a wealth of initial options, making finding that new shiny an enhancement of previous character design decisions, not a requirement.

Designing unique options in terms of races and body/facial cosmetic choices will help here, too. Having a dearth of racial choices, each with even more creative and distinct looks, will draw people in without having to install some incentives. WildStar did this the best, in my opinion, with each race immediately having distinctive visual flairs, backstories, and aesthetics that spoke to a wide assortment of interests.

On the subject of incentive, I feel like making player characters draw reactions from NPCs would go a long way in making players feel rewarded for their creativity. Simple things like reactions to character outfits or hairstyles would be nice, but I’m also referencing some minor boosts to rewards for doing quests if your character has a style or a weapon or an overall aesthetic that speaks to an NPC faction or sub-faction. Think of it like PvP flagging but for outfits instead of open murder.

Another thing that I think might be neat is if reward drops followed an overall aesthetic that player characters already have, making rewards feel that much more exciting. Maybe have some sort of internal tag system for pieces of gear that then lets dropped items pull from a loot table with those same tags.

Finally, I’m going to crib off of City of Heroes’ bag here and suggest that there be costume contests or fashion shows run in-game. Whether this sort of thing is operated by in-game GMs, regular in-game events, or facilitated by tools that players can use, offering up rewards and celebrating player style through special events would help players feel distinct and special.

And, ultimately, that’s the point of robust character customization tools: Making players feel distinct and special. Whatever Riot’s MMO does with their character creation and customization systems, that should ultimately be the guiding principle. Let players be as creative as they can, open up lots of choices, and reward them for the choices that they make. I appreciate that a lot of my suggestions are probably hard or damn-near impossible to actually implement — these are the opinions of someone who has no game dev experience whatsoever — but I also just had to share my thoughts. Partially because I was slapped by my muse, partially because I love armchair designing/dreaming, and partially because I think a lot of folks missed Yetter’s point.

Or he could just look at the past ten or so years’ worth of MMORPG history and draw inspiration from that. There’s a lot of sources to tap into, yanno.