Spreadsheets and Paint Jobs
Word is that Patch 1.3 of Eve Online's Rubicon expansion (going live 3/11) will feature a limited trial for ship painting. The pilot program aims to investigate both the degree of customization players are seeking, and the graphical resources involved in rendering these details.
The trial will start with 9 pre-selected ship skins, and expand from there. The skins will be purchase-able with PLEX (tokens which provide additional game time) obtained for cash, or from other players via in-game currency (ISK). It seems that Eve is eyeing a less direct version of the standard cash-shop approach to cosmetic upgrades, with the slight distinction that CCP sanctions Real-Money-Transactions between players, provided they occur via PLEX tokens.
Take a gander at this police-themed Federation Comet above. While these ship skins will be obtained and applied in-game, CCP has indicated that they will look into additional means of delivery with the success of the pilot program (presumably a more traditional cash-shop, or perhaps as quest rewards). For the purposes of the initial rollout, painted ships will be treated as distinct entities from their native versions (IE: The Rifter, Vs. The Rifter - Green Edition).
As space combat goes, you'll see an enemy ship on the scanners long before you get close enough to gawk at the paint job, so processing power and the possibility of obscene images are the only real issues players might face roaming a universe of freshly-skinned ships. It's a wonder that CCP hasn't pursued cosmetic effects before now. My bet's on ship customization taking off in a big way, especially if Corporation-specific emblems and paint jobs are made available.
Your death at the hands of space pirates in hot-pink battlecruisers is all but inevitable.