Should MMOs employ fashion designers?

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 :)

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9 thoughts on “Should MMOs employ fashion designers?

  1. I think it would be a sound idea. I think it also depends on your game and setting.

    As we talked about before CCP are hiring fashion designers for World of Darkness which is particularly relevant to a goth vampire game (presumably) intended to attract women players.

    Eve on the other hand, 99% male audience and you only see your character as an icon – not needed. (But ship designers would be great although to be fair some of the ships are great).

    WoW seems to get away with a certain quaint dorkiness. In terms of fashion it looks like a game for geeks, designed by geeks which kind of works. Every fashion design challenge is met by the simple solution of bigger and brighter. If they hired a fashion designer now I think the poor person would have a nervous breakdown.

    Games like EQ where fashion seems to be largely derived from textbooks on mediaeval armour are problematic. They seem to be striving for a realism effect but it does make the armour very boring. You don’t need a fashion designer if every suit is from some page of Jane’s Fourteenth Century Armour Manual Volume XIX.

  2. I think you’re right about WoW being designed by dorks for dorks :)

    But I could really see this sort of thing working in microtransaction type of games (and WoD is a given, Matrix Online probably would have been also). I’d pay a fiver to have my character wear a Dior original — heck, why not?

  3. I don’t see it being worth the extra money. Maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps better-looking tier sets combined with increased ‘useless’ fashion items such as tabards and appearance sets would help to hold on to some new customers who might not go for the killing, but virtual dolls perhaps.

  4. I’m pretty vain and I love looking good in MMOs. I honestly spend time checking out the high level armour sets on the offical WoW site when deciding on an alt. I want to look “cool” and thus I’m completely on board with your idea of bringing in fashion designers :)

    Something that always bugged me is how in most MMOs you have grind or aid in order to look at all decent. Like in WoW you basically look like a dork unless you can do the top tier raids. And, lets not forget about all of the cool armour which is now never worn because it’s too ‘weak’.

    Really fashion and power should be seperated. I should be able to upgrade my stats but still look like whatever I want to look like. Something like EQ2’s alternate appearance slots would be nice in WoW.

  5. Guild Wars has a pretty good art direction. They mix manga style with western themes, which ensures it is not too extreme asian for western tastes but still has a nice exotic and exciting touch. Medieval, Roman, Mediterranean, Asian influences – this is what makes GW so pretty.

    The implementation of “armor art” is usually the problem, the concept art often gets transported very well, but they often do not polish the ingame appearance, so often you see cracks and slits in the armor when moving, it often only works when standing still. :(

    I guess I also know why some GW female chars are hotter than hell: Some of their artists are women. Kristen Perry for example developed the so-called “Slutspear” (originally: Sunspear) armor which is basically a belly dancer dress. ;) Actually, she is not going too far – like some male artists often do.

    http://www.merekatcreations.com/

    Guild Wars Art Director Daniel Dociu also wins very often prices at art contests.

    What they need is no FASHION designer, but a WEAPONS designer! Some Swords in Guild Wars are just too extreme, you often cannot even tell they are swords anymore. They somehow seem content to have greated a nice claymore style sword with the Tyrian Longsword or the Runic Blade, and then suddenly decided to create absurd designs: http://wiki.guildwars.com/wiki/Sword

    • Interesting. I do remember being very impressed by the Nightfall art. The game itself somehow never grabbed me but I totally loved the character design. Amusingly, one niggle I’ve often had with anime inspired character art is that they love skirts that bell right out from the hips so your hips often look huge (I was thinking that about my mage in the Aion beta — gorgeous art but huuuuuge hips), I think that must be a cultural bias.

  6. LotRO hats look strange because the hat art replaces the hair art on your character; in other words, your hair is another type of hat and gets replaced when you wear a hat. Not that that the hairstyles are all that great to look at, mind you. :P But, it limits what they can do with the hats.

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