Character Customization: When Is It Too Much?

in Design

So you’re putting together your game and you want your players to have a lot of customization and interactivity their character. So you have a class system. And a skill system. And an alchemy system, And an augment system. And a…. well you get it.

But when is it just TOO much. At what point do you tend to turn off your players from doing it, rather than giving them something fun and challenging to play with.

But it’s not as simple as “if you have this many systems its too much.” Let’s look at some reasons why a system might feel overburdening to a player.

 Reason 1: It requires constant adjustment.

Sometimes, its not how complicated the decisions are, but how often you have to adjust them. As an example, if a weapon degradation system is making me have to stop every 5 minutes and figure out which weapons to fix and which to let degrade a bit more before fixing, and which aren’t even needed anymore, then it’s going to start to wear thin pretty fast.

It’s not that a weapon degradation system is bad. They can be good in the right context, but if I’m having to engage with a customization or maintenance mechanic that requires me to stop the flow of the game incredibly often, it needs to be toned down some.

Most Job systems are the opposite of this and a good design. You set them in a job, and then you forget it for a while. Checking in every hour or so to see if you need to change it up.

Reason 2: Making choices too broad.

Lots of decisions with few answers are easier to make than one decision with a ton of answers. If you collect skill points and you can spend them to buy any skill in the game, then you can easily create analaysis paralysis for players.

Break up decisions into smaller decisions. This is why most games break up skills in some way. Things like Skill Trees, Skill Grids, or even dividing the skill points themselves into different categories. Maybe you have Sword Skill Points, and Offensive Magic Skill Points, and Healing Skill Points etc.

Anything to reduce the number of answers to each decision down. You can have a lot of decisions to make, if the decisions themselves are not so broad as to be overwhelming.

Reason 3: Making all decisions permanent.

One thing I’ve found is that if a game doesn’t allow respeccing in a game with a lot of character customization, then a lot of players will start hoarding the resources used to spec in fear that they might mess up.

I’m sure a lot of us can identify with the “oh no, I don’t want to use this consumable, what if I NEED it later”. This is basically the same.

You hoard customization points because you feel if you put them in the wrong place you’ll regret it later, and then you don’t even end up engaging with it at all. Respeccing allows a player to just try stuff out, throw around his customization, and if it turns out he made a mistake, he can just reset the points and go again.

Reason 4: Bad balance of number of choices per character, and number of characters.

When designing a system, always keep in mind how many times the player will have to repeat engaging with them. How many characters are they going to have to repeat this for?

If your game has a ton of characters, you need to cut down the amount of decisions for each one. Having to spend 5 minutes customizing your character per hour of other gameplay isn’t a big deal, but if you are having to do it with a dozen characters you are spending as much time customizing as you are playing the rest of the game.

On the other hand, if you have very few characters, or even 1 character, you can afford to have more customization in that character. Look at most modern Diablo-clones for instance. They tend to have super heavy customization, because you are hyperfocusing on just that one character.

What other reasons have you seen where games provide choices that just overwhelm and making it no longer fun to engage with? What solutions do you see?

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