I really, really, really wanted the pretty gear.
I didn't really like the look of the Devout set; I thought it was kind of boring. I didn't really care for most of the green gear while leveling. But the first time I saw a priest running around in full Prophecy, I knew that I wanted that because it was pretty. The first time I saw Benediction, I wanted it more than anything else in the world -- not because of the stats, not because of the set bonuses, not because it would make me super-powerful, but because it would make my character look really neat.
Let's face it -- I am incredibly vain when it comes to the little pixel people I play. I like making my characters look pretty. I like finding neat things for them to wear. I'm not alone in this sentiment; anyone who has ever lamented the lack of character customization in WoW is pretty much the same.
And there's nothing wrong with vanity in gaming. You're playing in a little fantasy world with little fantasy characters -- of course you want them to look nice. And even if you don't want them to look especially nice, you want them to look different.
When tier sets were introduced, they had placeholder models that looked just like other gear you could find while you were questing. It wasn't until after the game had launched that tier sets received a full graphic update to the models we know today. When those tier sets were released, everyone wanted them, not necessarily because of stats or set bonuses but because they looked really, really cool. They were different from anything we'd seen before.
There are two things that most gamers want out of their character. They want it to look neat, and they don't want it to look like anyone else. For some reason, this has been a continual weak spot in World of Warcraft, even with the introduction of raid tier sets. When the character re-customization feature was introduced, it was wildly popular among those who really just wanted to change a facial feature or hair color that was picked in haste the first time that character was created. When the barber shop was introduced, players clamored to change the style of their character's hair.
And with transmogrification, players finally got that taste of individuality that they craved. No, we cannot move a slider to change the shape of our character's nose. But we can mix and match armor from the thousands of pieces that have been created to date to make a look that is unique, individual, and pretty, in our eyes. Raids are no longer composed of identical characters wearing identical outfits; they're a cacophony of color and styles.
But let's go back to raiding for a minute here. One of the reasons I first got into raiding was because I wanted those pretty sets that were available. Each new tier of raiding introduced new sets to pick up and wear. Some of those sets were wildly popular; some were not. When raids were split up into 10- and 25-man versions, they still had the same gear; it was just a difference in the color of the set. And as raiding is being made more accessible, more and more you see people collecting tier sets. Before transmogrification, people ran around in identical gear sets with different color themes.
This has changed, of course, with transmogrification, yet the same rules are being applied for tier sets. With the addition of the raid finder, a third set of gear was introduced with a third color scheme. But regardless of whether you were running 10-man or 25-man raiding, normal and heroic tier sets were colored exactly the same. If you wanted the heroic tier set, you could run either 10s or 25s and walk out with it.
25-man raiding has taken a dive this expansion, whether people acknowledge it or not. It's becoming harder and harder to keep a 25-man raiding guild alive and full of raiders. Part of this is because fights are a little harder to orchestrate in 25-man mode. Getting 25 people to perform raid mechanics simultaneously and flawlessly is more difficult than trying to orchestrate 10 people doing the same thing. Part of it is because it's easier to coordinate 10 schedules together than trying to coordinate the schedules of 25.
And part of it, according to some raiders, is that there's just no incentive to do a raid on 25-man mode anymore. The gear in 10s and 25s is exactly the same. You get less loot in a 10-man raid, but you have less people vying for it. There is no real purpose to raiding with 25 people anymore unless you really enjoy raiding with 25 people -- and there aren't a lot of people who are willing to take the difficult road when the rewards are the same on the road that's easier to schedule.
This isn't really a debate on the difficulties of 10-man vs. 25-man raiding -- it's more of a statement on the state of raiding in general. There are fewer and fewer 25-man guilds out there, and it's because people don't really have a reason to go to that 25-man environment. Unfortunately, there's not much to be done about that. Icecrown Citadel offered varied loot on 10- and 25-man modes, and all it did was glut the system with extra loot. Some best-in-slot items were only available in 25-man raids and some were only available in 10s, and it made raiding a headache for many.
I was thinking about this and wondering about the future of my guild, when I had a thought. What if instead of changing the loot system, instead of changing the rewards in any manner that would affect how a character performs, they were simply changed to affect how a character looks? Would playing on a player's vanity be enough incentive to bring people back into different raiding or even to bring more people overall into raiding?
I'm not talking about changing tier bonuses or stats or anything else. I'm talking about tier sets. What if tier sets weren't the recolored versions of the same sets we see today. What if they were entirely different? Not the stats or the set bonuses, but the models themselves? What if instead of one tier set with three different colors for every raid tier, we had one tier set with three different, visually distinct models to choose from?
The raid finder could have its own model, while 10-man could have another and 25s a third. As for normal vs. heroic modes -- well, that's when you could use a simple recolor if you wanted to highlight the difference between difficulty. The trick, however, is that all three visually distinct styles would have to be something that looks really cool, something that people want to wear. Something that would have people looking at it, as I did way back in vanilla, and saying, "Man, I really want to get that."
Would this take more work? Absolutely. You'd be designing three sets per class per raid tier instead of just one. But it wouldn't require any rebalancing. The stats would be the same. The set bonuses would be the same. The only difference would be in the model -- and if there's one thing gamers like, it's things that look pretty and visually distinct. We discovered this with transmogrification. But there is a limit to how many choices we can make with that feature. It's limited by the amount of gear that is available to choose from and by the amount of gear that is introduced in the future.
And despite transmogrification's introduction, despite its tremendous success, we are still getting homogenized recolors of the same visual set with each tier. New green sets that you get while leveling in Mists are still identical according to model; it's the colors that are different. Is it different enough to appeal? I don't think so, not in the long run.
Transmogrification was a wildly successful feature, and people are still running old dungeons and filling their bags with old pieces of gear. The feature caught on to the nature of human vanity, allowing us to express our individuality in a way that we'd never been able to before in WoW. This is something Blizzard should be looking at and looking at closely, because it's something that players are excited about. And if players are excited about it, it's something that should be embraced and run with, not something that should peter into nothing over the course of an expansion.
More importantly, it's something that should be taken advantage of. Players don't really need ultra-special gear with uber stats to feel good when they're playing the game; they just need something that makes their character look cool. Introducing new models across the different modes of raiding might just bring more raiders to the table and reinvigorate raiding in a way we haven't seen before -- and that keeps players subscribed.
I don't know if we'll ever see anything like this introduced, but it's one of those ideas that just sounds like a cool one. It might work, it might not -- but I know as far as I'm concerned, there's nothing that will get me in a dungeon faster than the possibility of finding another pretty outfit.
Patch 4.3 lets you transmogrify your gear to look like any other gear your class can wear -- but you have to collect it first. Check out our coverage of transmogrification and start running those old dungeons!