They call it “fluff”. Items and features in an online combat-oriented MMORPG that have little to nothing to do with combat, yet give flavor and fun to the world. My theory is that most all players LOVE fluff, whether it be a new tuxedo outfit, the ability to shoot off fireworks, or emotes. My personal favorite fluff, however, are non-combat pets, i.e. “Vanity Pets”.
Vanity Pets are as good a name as any for them — a small traveling companion that moves alongside of you and does little else than look interesting. To say they don’t do anything is erroneous; they may not contribute to combat whatsoever, but Vanity Pets DO quite a bit:
1. They’re status symbols. I’ve been farming forEVER for my Firefly pet in World of Warcraft — it looks awesome, has great flavor text, and is one of the more rare drops in the world. For me to run around sporting one of these things that most others don’t have is a teeny tiny boost to my own status. Hey, I’m not being egotistical, just honest.
2. They provide companionship. That’s what pets do, right? Online worlds tend to be large, and you’re not always running around with a group. Virtual companionship is better than no companionship, I suppose, and seeing a jumping, hopping, walking, dancing critter trail after me helps combat that alone feeling.
3. They entertain others. I often carry around a wide assortment of pets on my characters, and pull different ones out depending on the group I’m in and what mood I’m feeling. I get a kick out of WoW’s Eggbert running around like crazy, or Hellgate’s Zombot suddenly breaking into Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” dance routine. Being in groups is just plain more fun when everyone’s got a little pet out to join the fight.
4. For the mad collector, Vanity Pets can provide an amusing self-imposed side quest reminiscent of Pokémon: collect ‘em all! Pets come from quests, drops, collector’s edition boxes, promotions, crafting, vendors, character generation… the possibilities are endless.
5. If you’re one of those socially twisted “roleplayers”, then I guess Vanity Pets might help you, I dunno, give you another tool in your off-kilter one man play. “Well blimey, black cat! Fancy seeing you around here again! Let us go and forsooth and conquer and get you a saucer of milk!”
6. Finally, sometimes they provide buffs (or debuffs, in the case of WoW’s Disgusting Oozeling). I love the notion of making Vanity Pets as tiny buff bots — it makes collecting them more important than ever, and there’s even a slight strategy about which pet you want to bring out.
I thought I’d go around to the current big bad boys of the MMO world and examine how each of them add Vanity Pet fluff to their game:
EVERQUEST II: EQ 2, surprisingly enough, is a leader in the Vanity Pet field of research. Although I don’t play it, I find their devotion to these critters admirable. You can shop from a wide variety of pets to decorate your in-game house (want a duck? why not?). Also — and I could be wrong on this, so sorry if I am — I read somewhere that most of the Vanity Pets provide buffs of varying levels to the player.
STAR WARS GALAXIES: SWG isn’t as huge with Vanity Pets, although they do make some attempts. If you were insane enough to stick with SWG for FOUR YEARS, you get a new familiar pet that actually buffs you in different ways. They also have Mynocks, Gackle Bats, and Mouse Droids as familiar buff VPs.
WORLD OF WARCRAFT: WoW’s Vanity Pet bestiary is absolutely enormous, and allows for a wide variety of acquisitions. You can blow a few silver on one of the standard city vendor pets, do seasonal quests for unique pets, or farm for SIX SOLID WEEKS TO GET THAT STUPID FIREFLY WHYOHWHY WON’T YOU DROP ARGGHHHH! When I first started WoW, I thought the absolute coolest quest was the secret one to get a pet chicken: you had to /chicken emote at a chicken on and on and on until a little ! popped up over his head. Then you fed him some special feed, and he pooped you an egg. Actually, that would be a “she”, I’m sure.
HELLGATE LONDON: I grabbed two pets in Hellgate before giving up on the game. One was a Coco Moko (demon coconut monkey) as a PC Gamer promotion, and the other one was an extended effort to assemble pieces and the blueprint to make my very own zombot. The zombot acquisition was one of the cooler ways I’ve seen to get Vanity Pets in any game.
LORD OF THE RINGS ONLINE: With Book 11, they implimented a handful of Vanity Pets, although they are fairly boring and cannot be out if you have a combat pet out at the same time. The one thing I like about their Vanity Pet system is the ability to name the pets — more games should do this!
TABULA RASA: The only pets I saw in-game were either collector’s editions pets or pre-order specials. And they were freakin’ HUGE. Because when you think “intergalactic military combat”, your next thought is “alongside of a huge purple ape”.
CITY OF HEROES/VILLAINS: Vanity Pets are also called “Sidekicks”, come in a wide variety and provide semi-useful buffs and attack powers.
VANGUARD: Some of the players regard the cardboard box it came in as a pet that they take out and stroke slowly, mumbling to themselves “What could have been”.