The cost of customizability

Consider it a follow-up to my series of articles on customizability in video games.

While I was writing an article about Paladins and Overwatch, I realize that introducing the basics of Paladins’s gameplay is a lot more difficult than Overwatch’s. And the main reason for that is the customization options in Paladins. The Talent system (formerly known as Legendary Cards), the card loadout system, and the item system¬†adds a lot of complexity, and understanding them is vital to progress in the game. Compared to that, Overwatch is much easier to talk about since there is less you need to know up front.

16 cards per champion, pick 5, then assign 1 to 5 points to each card, total points assigned to the cards for each loadout is 15…

Granted, both games have ways to prevent information overload. In Team Fortress 2, weapon drops limit the amount of weapons you get at once by giving you drops at a decently slow pace, so you have some time to test out the new drop before the next one arrives. In Paladins, you get 5 champions unlocked by default, with 4 champions temporarily unlocked on a rotation schedule. Instead of needing to learn 37 champions at once, new players start off at nine and gradually expand their champion pool. Aside from that, you also get the option to import loadouts from top players or your friends, or someone else that you know.


Still, the fact remains that customization is both a blessing and a curse. It adds a lot more depth for players willing to explore and grants them more freedom in how they want to play. However, this can be intimidating to a new player, and it adds a barrier to entry by requiring them to understand the customization system before they can start doing well.

And for games that last years, like TF2, more and more unlocks will inevitably get added. Even after ten long years, Valve somehow still managed to add new weapons into the game. A newcomer is quite likely to be intimidated by the sheer amount of content accumulated from years of updates. Veterans grow and learn along with the game, while newcomers will need to sprint to catch up.

rocket launchers
And these are just the rocket launchers available for one out of nine classes.

Thus, the game designers need to put in more effort to slowly introduce the customization systems in their game. Paladins is doing fairly well in this regard with their loadout import feature. Valve really needs to do something to help ease the new player experience. Introducing the different subcategories of weapons in a tutorial will be rather good for a start, and it’s not even necessary to teach them every single unlock. Letting new players learn about the Scout’s Bonk! Atomic Punch, Soldier’s Buff Banner, Pyro’s Flare Gun, Demoman’s Chargin’ Targe, and Heavy’s Sandvich will do a lot to help new players understand the unlocks in the game, since most other unlocks function in a similar manner to their stock counterparts or the five aforementioned unlocks.

Still, the issue remains. The existence of a customization system will add a barrier to entry. The best developers can do is to add ramps to help new players get over that barrier. However, when they eventually overcome it, they will stay in the game for quite a while as they get to explore the depths that the customization system offers. I for one love the systems available in TF2 and Paladins, as they let me decide how exactly I want to play each character.


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