Among the first things that come to mind when you think RPG or MMORPG is the ability to customize or create your own character. Being able to create your own character and molding them into whatever you want in this new world you’re about to enter is an enticing aspect of such games. However, there’s more to customization than just immersion. And most MMO game makers realise the importance of being able to customize and alter your character or avatar’s appearance in the game world.
The power of motivation
When creating any game, motivation is extremely important. Why? Because it directly affects player loyalty. The game’s ability to retain players is what makes or breaks it. Loyal gamers mean a stable source of revenue for game creators.
This is where aspects like customization come in. In an MMORPG, players are able to move about and interact with other players over the internet. Of course, in this world they’re represented by their in-game avatars, the ones they’ve (in most cases) made themselves.
Investing yourself in an MMORPG is no small feat, ask anyone who has spent hundreds if not thousands of hours playing them. Some may be into all of the aspects on offer, or some might only want to focus on a select few, be it socializing, min-maxing your characters attributes, or even just role-playing with friends. And that’s just scratching the surface.
Ultimately, people spend a lot of time in these virtual worlds – longer than in any other kind of game. Have you ever wondered why?
Turns out, customization plays a very important role in retaining players. And it’s not just character customization, but customization on a much grander scale. Allowing players to have more control over not only how they look, but control over how they can approach a situation, and have their actions have visible impact on the game’s world. When players feel like they’re having an actual impact on the game’s world, they’re motivated to continue playing. The simple act of giving players more autonomy is crucial to player retention when it comes to MMORPGs.
We can state the above thanks to the various cognitive studies that have been conducted on motivational theories. One such theory, called the Self Determination Theory or SDT in short, portrays the framework of human motivation and personality within various social contexts. A vast virtual world with several hundred (or even thousands) people playing and interacting with each other easily meets the criteria of a social context. The theory states that there are three basic psychological needs that when satisfied, enhance a person’s motivation. Those three needs are autonomy, relatedness, and competence.
Types of customization
Autonomy is derived from the players ability to customize their experience. In a broad sense of speaking, in relation to primarily MMO games, customization can be divided into three major categories.
Functional customization: This kind of customization affects game mechanics directly. A very simple example here would be class selection in a fantasy MMORPG. A mage’s play style would be distinctly different from that of a warrior or rogue, and can be made even more unique with skill selection and more.
Cosmetic customization: Purely visual avatar customization in RPGs, cosmetic skins for characters etc all fall into this category. It is still extremely vital to a game’s success.
Usability: This type affects player performance without changing game mechanics directly. This could be anything from being to modify the UI, or scale the hud as players see fit to improve their overall experience.
A quick look at any successful MMO will show you that they have all of the above types of customization in some form or the other. They give players a host of different choices in how they can approach and play the game. You’ve got choices within choices, be it in the form of aesthetics, story progression, or even leveling up your skills and such. This effectively lets players customize their experience, even though the entire player base as a whole is doing the same actions to succeed at the game.
And it doesn’t stop at just online or MMO games, customization also effects the replayability of a game. So it doesn’t just apply to retention. Simply being able to play the game again as a different character, make different choices and have a different experience is greatly valued by gamers.
So, as we can see, autonomy surely works towards a game’s success. What also works is the sense of competence that comes with leveling and progression that is found in MMORPGs in plenty. Combined, they result in player motivation and ultimately, a successful game.
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Manish "Trigger-Happy" Rajesh
If he's not gaming, he's... no wait he's always gaming.