According to Blizzard's current thinking, you will be able to go to the local barbershop and have your hairstyle changed -- probably facial hair and earrings too. You will be able to go to the local dance studio -- yes that's right, a Dance Studio in the World of Warcraft -- and learn new dances. But the devs believe that plastic surgeons just haven't caught on in Azeroth or Outland yet. "Plastic surgeons?" You cry out, "Who said anything about plastic surgeons? I just want to be able to change my facial expression! What's the big deal?" And yes, of course you are right, but your facial expression is tied to eyecolor, nose shape, and everything else about your face. Those things shouldn't be changeable ... or should they?
Is Blizzard right or wrong on this issue? Now that we've got name changes and we're getting hairstyle changes, it's got me wondering, where do you draw the line? Redoing your hair, or turning that frown upside down is one thing, but going from dark skin and brown eyes to pale skin and blue eyes (with lots of wrinkles) makes your character look like someone else altogether. Is infinite customizability something we really want? Does a certain degree of consistency offer any other advantages?
Second Life is a game with no such permanent choices that I am aware of. The last time I tried it out, there was no character creation screen -- You just got a standard character template when you entered the game for the first time, and as you wandered around the introductory area, you could read signs telling you how to change any facet of your appearance: Hair, eyes, cheek size, and even your sex.
I played around with the customization interface for what seems like hours in my memory, although I'm sure it wasn't that long. I was just frustrated that I could never get my avatar to look good. It was always too skinny or too fat, and the hair would sometimes just disappear to expose parts of the bald head underneath.
I looked around Second Life's appearance modification giveaway stores, selling things like hairstyles, clothing, and so on, to find out how I could make my character look good. I found that it was so complex that you had to either hire someone to do it for you, or else pay real money for some pre-made feature, such as eyes or mouth or any part of your avatar's body. That was the last straw for me, and I gave up.
Now of course just because Linden Labs made an unwieldy customization system doesn't mean Blizzard would. But seriously, imagine the depth of the complexity involved in making each and every aspect of character appearance customizable as Linden tried to do, versus basically mix-n-matching a few different pre-designed variables as we have in World of Warcraft. It seems obvious that with the fewer variables, the designers can make sure that these different variables usually look good together, but with more variables it would be extremely difficult to make them all fit together nicely.
Take the seemingly simple example of armor dyes. Some other games have had this option to apply different colors to players' armor, but Blizzard has opted not to take this path, because it would be too hard to implement well. The art of the game is mostly geared around letting players mix-and-match from numerous predetermined sets, and it works well that way. To suddenly alter it into a system where any piece of armor's color can be changed with some dye would result in numerous ugly applications -- armor pieces that look alright as they are today, but absolutely hideous when shifted to a different set of hues. The game's artists would be limited in their creativity, and the end result would probably be worse (imagine players hopping about in hot-pink neon versions of Tier 6 raiding gear.)
Suffice it to say that Blizzard has done the right thing in not going overboard with the customization. With things the way they are in the software I've seen, the more customization options you give people, the fewer appearances actually look good. Also, the more you can just replace your character's appearance on a whim, the less that appearance actually means. Blizzard representatives have said that they "love giving players choices and the ability to customize," but I, for one, am glad they want to restrain the customization to more surface-level choices, to make it real but not excessive. Some things need to be changeable, it's true, but some things need to be consistent too.