Character costuming in MMOs can be a bit hit and miss. Some games have a very strong visual look which applies to costumes as much as to everything else. I rather enjoy this, it makes you feel as though your character belongs in the world. Warhammer is a very strong example of this style of costume. You’re going to look like the minis on which the game is based. Know it, love it. You’re still going to look like them when you are level 40, but with some extra embellishments.
As another bonus, you get to see high level NPCs wandering around and demonstrating what your character may potentially look like in a few levels time.
Warcraft has a few groundrules for costume design but then things tend to go haywire. The actual sets of armour will match, although they’re not guaranteed to look badass (see paladin tier 5 for where it all went horribly wrong — pink glowy armour wasn’t really what people wanted). Unmatched pieces may or may not. They like shoulders to be huge and extremely cool, and silhouettes to be recognisable. Some classes have themes to their gear. Paladins instead get a strange variety which includes some of the best and worst looking sets in the game.
And then there is LOTRO where the art design involves “give them the stupidest hats you can imagine”. I never did understand where that came from, but it does seem to be deliberate. I may have missed the chapter in Lord of the Rings where Tolkien mentions that everyone in Middle Earth wears silly hats. And joking aside, pulling odd costume stunts like that is not great for immersion. Yes, you can hide the odd costumes with cosmetic costuming (a nice touch) but that doesn’t negate the fact that they’re there in the first place.
And Korean/Anime type MMOs have a strong anime stylistic influence, unsurprisingly.
But what about involving actual fashion or costume designers?
There’s no reason why regular artists can’t produce good looking costume designs, but I’m increasingly curious about what we might get if companies brought in artists who had specifically trained in costuming. It’s not just about getting away from the Boris Vallejo stylings (they’re gorgeous but they’re not going to fit every game) or the crazy LOTRO hats. It’s about getting another angle on the problem. Why shouldn’t our in game fashions be fashion forward and follow seasonal trends for styles and colours, without ruining the fantasy setting?
In fact, why not just treat it as fashion rather than as fantasy costuming? The people who aren’t interested won’t even notice, but for the people who are, it could be a huge draw. I know it’s implausible but I’d love to see what sort of gear a name designer might invent for paladin tier 12 :)