Are customizable characters really important?
by ZackC on June 26, 2013 at 02:00 PM EST


It is always a big deal being able to customize a character in a game, but does it add anything to the game? In some games you don’t get to see much of your character. Other games have customization that is so minimal that it almost doesn’t matter. But in sports games the ability to create a character can add immense value, as you are able to add in almost anyone, ranging from complete caricatures of people, or even the player themselves. However the gaming industry has gotten to the point in storytelling where the customization of characters is no longer necessary to draw players into the story. Customization can make a difference in the games values, but it all depends on how it is included in the game.

Character creation and customization has not always been included in video games. For a long time, the player simply took on the role that the game developer wanted the player to take on. This allowed the game developers to create rich back-stories and awesome cinematic (look at any of the Final Fantasy games). Including character creation and customization allowed game developers to immerse players into a story by making it seem as if they are actually a part of the story. We have gotten to the point where game storytelling is so good that developers no longer need a device to draw the player in.

The idea of character customization is that the player can create anyone they want, thus allowing the game to immerse the player. In Saints Row the Third for example, the player is able to create virtually anyone they want, from actors, to the player themselves. There is a downside to being able to create anyone though, and that is that players can create caricatures, thus ruining the immersion that the customization is supposed to enhance.

Games that are enhanced by character creation are sports games and role-playing games (RPG’s) with minimal customization. Sports games allow for the player to put themselves into the professional ranks, allowing for greater enjoyment of the game. While RPG’s that don’t have super extensive customization are also enhanced. RPG’s are very story-driven and they need to have the player drawn into the story. If the customization is too extensive, such as being able to control the exact dimensions of the face and body, then the player can no longer believe what is taking place in the story.

Some games don’t need to have the customization to the extent that it is. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has extensive character creation capabilities; however for a large portion of that game, you never look at yourself. Mass Effect is a little better at allowing the player to look at their character, but to get the full bonus from the armor, the player isn’t allowed to see the characters head. First Person Shooter (FPS) games have struck a nice balance currently. They allow the player to customize the look of weapons and their character, but the customization only goes so far.

Character creation and customization is something that can immerse the player in the story, but if the player has too much control, then that immersion is broken. Sports games can benefit greatly from character customization, but almost every genre of gaming needs its customization to be minimal. RPG’s need that story immersion for the game to be great. FPS’ don’t need super extensive customization.  Customization has come a long way from being not included at all to being super detailed, now game developers need to integrate it into their games so that the game is enhanced by the customization.

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