Apparently, the question of whether or not World of Warcraft will allow for armor color customization has been around for a while. Guild Wars allows for coloring via their dye system. Clothing customization is a large part of Puzzle Pirates, and a significant element of demand that fuels their dual currency microtransaction business strategy. (Though, to be fair, PP doesn’t allow customization after purchase, you determine the look before you buy. GW and WoW clothing is often crafted for stats, or earned from quests or loot drops, so the coloring takes place after the fact.)
I’ve long argued that customization for MMO avatars is vital to a sense of ownership for players. It’s something that lets people get more involved, increasing enjoyment and loyalty. It’s a currency sink that keeps an in-game economy from exploding into hyperinflation. The emotional connection a player has for their avatar can be enhanced by allowing the player to control aspects of their appearance. (Would that it were that easy altering ourselves sometimes…) It’s even possible to monetize an MMO largely through such options, assuming you have sufficiently interesting gameplay to keep people playing, and sufficient customization options to make it important to players.
My company’s A Kingdom for Keflings taps into the new avatar customization that Microsoft installed in the XBox system. Our game is fun on its own, but giving players the option to put their own avatars in the game is another layer that increases the appeal.
WoW is already making some moves in the customization field. Barbershops allow for new hairstyles. Some may see it is frivolous, but then, there are those who see the whole game as frivolous. As it is, I see haircuts as a nice step into giving players choices, which is one of my core design tenets. This is especially important in a largely static game like WoW, where player actions don’t typically have a huge impact on the world. Turning inward and customizing the avatar is one way for players to feel like they have some level of control.
Taking that as a precedent, and looking at the core concept of customization, I’m placing tongue slightly in cheek and suggesting that the next trade/crafting skill for WoW’s inevitable third expansion be Dyemixing. (To be followed in the fourth expansion by player housing and the trade skills Painting and Woodworking.)
Giving players the ability to color their armor would be a considerable step up in the customizability of WoW. Technically, it would be a bit of work, increasing the download size and requiring some art asset rejiggering, but it’s not impossible. I worked on a texture overlay system for A Kingdom for Keflings that allows players to paint their buildings in the game, and while it does effectively double the texture roster for the modifiable objects in question, the options that it provides far outweigh the relatively modest increase in data footprint. For WoW specifically, it is absolutely possible, and I’d suggest ideal. Yes, it would increase the data footprint, but the bloomin’ game is already up in the 3 GB range (or more, I’m not sure how much Wrath adds), so what’s a bit more between friends, aye?
Dyemixing would be yet another profession fueled by Herbology, which may be a concern, but since Inscription’s Glyphs don’t decay, eventually that market will be saturated, and its hunger for herbs will abate considerably. Glyphs aren’t consumable, in other words, like Alchemy’s potions, so at some point, the market will be flooded with cheap glyphs that people made to level up their skill. To be fair, the demand for herbs will still be there for those leveling their Inscription, but the secondary market for Glyphs won’t be anywhere near as healthy as the secondary market for potions. Dyemixing could step into the gap.
Dyes should also use minerals, so Mining would also be a source of raw materials. (Quick aside… do any other professions use both herbs and minerals? I don’t think so… at least not in nearly equal measure as Dyemixing could.) Players could mix basic colors at low levels, and learn to create more interesting colors later on. Some of that distinction would obviously be arbitrary to match the “leveling” of other professions, but there is some rationale for it, as historically, some dyes require more skill to create than others. Blue, for instance, was tricky (and expensive) for much of the historical era that WoW’s lore seems to roughly suggest. Metallic colors, like GW’s silver dye that creates a glowy sheen, would be yet another application of using Mining to feed Dyemixing.
High level dyes could even require Gems, as blue historically used lapis lazuli. Animal blood was even used in some colors (I’ve read of at least one deep red that was made by crushing a certain species of beetles), so there could even be an application for critter hunting and questing.
***Here we see my general dislike of vendor trash. If everything critters dropped was somehow useful in the economy, like Atlantica Online, it would be a much more compelling world. That’s perhaps a tangent too far, and maybe best addressed in a different article on crafting in general.***
Master level Dyemixers could freeform create their own colors. The interface for this could be as simple (and boring) as choosing a desired HSV or RGB value, then having the system determine the requisite ingredients, or it could be even better, and be a matter of throwing ingredients together to see what comes out. Giving players a bit more control over the “craft” of the profession could make for a market where artists create their own recipes, to varying levels of success and therefore demand. (Is it obvious that I’ve studied art history?)
Speaking of RGB, that’s the key to the texture overlay technology. Of course, more than one overlay is required if you want to have more than one color shift within an object (like being able to adjust trim and an insignia rather than just the trim), which does increase the texture footprint again, but it’s possible.
OK, so I’m actually rather serious about this. Yes, it’s half-joking in that each WoW expansion seems to come with a new profession, and in that I don’t think that Blizzard would actually do this, but I really do think that they should. Customization is a great thing for MMOs. Dyemixing could fill a unique niche in the WoW economy. It could also be a way to transition into a microtransaction business model for when WoW inevitably gets shelved for the next big thing.
Sigh. Yeah, that part’s dreaming, despite my belief that’s it’s very possible and even ideal. Ah, well. Dyemixing is still cool.