World of Warcraft’s BlizzCon Q&A panel is a good way to wrap up loose ends from the show’s big announcements and twists, but one answer has ignited a firestorm of controversy among the game’s fans. It wasn’t about an upcoming raid, a statistical imbalance, or the design of any of the classes — instead, the answer was about character customization.
The patch between the end of Battle for Azeroth and the official start of Shadowlands was full of new customization options, like scars, eye colors, haircuts and colors, skin tones, jewelry, eyebrows, tattoos, and ear options for elves. This was a big undertaking for Blizzard, one that was made easier by the fact that Shadowlands doesn’t have a new player class like the Demon Hunter or Death Knight, both of whom have special cosmetic effects and armor sets. Blizzard has also stated the designers intend to keep expanding character customization as the game continues.
That extra customization won’t happen during the current expansion. During the Q&A, when a fan asked if more options would be released during Shadowlands, art director Ely Cannon said, “We’re not going to add more character customizations to Shadowlands.” He added, “There are a few [player races] we didn’t get as many customizations options in for, and those are the kind of things that we’ll be looking forward to in the future. [...] We tried to be really thoughtful about this, this type of thing, and these types of features tend to be fairly big projects.”
He also noted that Blizzard’s goal is to release new character customization options in parallel with big gameplay content updates, like raids, dungeons, campaigns, and other forms of content.
A character model is, at once, one of the least important parts of day-to-day gameplay in World of Warcraft … but also one of the most important parts. Your character model is the one thing that’s on screen all the time. It’s the vehicle for your adventures, and after sixteen years, many people are attached to the elaborate stories and headcanons they’ve spun for their avatar.
One player, Tim O’Connor, expressed his frustration to Polygon via Twitter. “No more customization for the rest of Shadowlands. Meaning now, it’ll be roughly 18-24 months until we get more, assuming the next expansion has them at all. All I’ve seen from the WoW community for most of the last year is the desire for more character customization.”
He added, “We’re not asking them to part the Red Sea here! I just want allied races to share the options of the races they’re based on! I want to put an undead hairstyle on a human! I want beards on trolls!”
Another player, Valarynn, shared their frustration with Polygon over Twitter messages as well, despite being a fan of the original set of cosmetic changes. “I was convinced this was just the start, and we’d definitely see further additions as the expansion rolled on. Maybe not in 9.1. But 9.2? 9.2.5? To hear they have no plans. None. Zip. To hear it NOW, months into the expansion, months after beta ended and they left us hanging, told us to dream up and come up with potential ideas … It’s nothing short of a betrayal.”
Players have a laundry list of changes they want to see to their characters, especially those who play relatively underserved races like the Nightborne, Worgen, Pandaren, or Draenei. Dozens of players wrote into Polygon, many of whom mentioned that their character’s race had a handful of hair or face options, while human characters have a surplus of eyebrow choices to choose from. It doesn’t feel good, especially for players who like the fantasy of playing a certain kind of fantasy archetype.
As one player put it on Twitter, “Where is my black hair? I am a Void Elf. I am the emo race. It’s literally in the game files. Why?”
Some players’ frustration comes from the fact that they might have to wait until the next expansion’s pre-patch, which could be a year or two out from now. They also don’t understand why there’s a barrier for certain cosmetics that seem simple to implement. For instance, if Blood Elves had white or gray skin and red eyes, players could make a Dark Ranger Hunter or Rogue, and fulfill a long-standing fan request. For now, the only way to achieve that is Photoshop or artwork outside of the game. The combination of World of Warcraft’s slow, methodical update schedule, combined with the perceived ease of players’ asks, has led to a powder keg of anger.
In a statement to Polygon, game director Ion Hazzikostas wrote the following:
We recognize the importance of customization options that allow players to better express themselves, and saying we have no plans to add additional options (like hair styles, etc.) in Shadowlands content updates doesn’t undermine our commitment. Visual fidelity of all aspects of our game, and especially player characters, whether it’s the appearance of player models, animations or visual effects is an ongoing project and we’re constantly working to raise that bar. We have a ton of unique outfits and other cosmetic rewards coming in Chains of Domination and beyond, but do not plan to add additional baseline customization options during Shadowlands.
Chains of Domination is set to add new zones, a raid, and tons of story development. For a certain group of players, all of these things are nice to have, but it isn’t high on their wishlist. Even simple accessories like a pair of glasses — which NPCs around Azeroth wear, but players can’t — would allow these players to feel more involved in the World of Warcraft. It remains to be seen what armor sets and cosmetics are on the way, but for many fans, the perceived lack of communication from Blizzard over seemingly small asks like tails, red eyes, and glasses are enough to get them to log out.