Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

Why Addons Are A Good Thing

Gordon, over at WeFlySpitfires posted recently about his hatred of add-ons and macros in World of Warcraft. While he has some good points and add-ons surely shouldn’t be able to play the game for you like the Decursive or HealBot of old, I’m going to argue that WoW’s scripting interface has been integral to its success. And not only that, it has also improved many other games that came out since WoW launched.

The WoW default UI. Terrible, but a lot less so than five years ago.

Let’s have a look at the immediate effects of add-ons on players. Add-ons provide a level of user interface customization that I have yet to see in other games, allowing each user to season their game exactly to taste. Not only can you move any element of the user interface and design it to be more usable, you can also modify how the game is controlled. If you need more space for abilities on your hotbars, you can go and get a mod. (No, the additional hotbars were not available in WoW at launch.)  If you, like me, find the positioning of the player health and mana bars absolutely impractical for actual play, why not get a mod to move them and maybe even remove all the fluff around them to make them more visible?

But of course mods don’t stop at modifying game supported functions, they can also add their own. Many of the features that are in modern day WoW stem from mods in their origins. Draggable raid frames, floating combat text, the in-game calendar, even the looking-for-group tool, have all been there in the form of mods before they were fully implemented into the game. This shows that mods don’t just allow individuals to play the game the way they want to, but they also improve the game overall by showing the game’s designers how their UI can be improved. Many of the features that were once introduced to WoW through mods are now standard in other MMOs, though inexplicably not all. Warhammer Online had no raid frame functionality when it came out (I have no idea if it does now) which is a terrible blunder, of course. Luckily for healers, Warhammer also had a lua scripting interface so that mods were quickly produced.

Not all mods are healthy. (image: Dark Legacy Comics)

As a game developer, providing a scripting language gives you free developers with a finger at the pulse of the community. Sure they will create a lot of garbage, but the community usually does a good job of filtering that garbage out so that you can then implement the best ideas into your core game if you so desire. Obviously I would love if Blizzard gave more credit to add-on developers whose ideas they steal, but what can you do.

The big problem with add-ons arises when they are able to do too much and play the game for you. The Blizzard developers shut down most functionality like that back in the 2.0 patch for World of Warcraft, but reports indicate that some add-ons get close to playing the game for you once again. Clearly, that shouldn’t happen and needs to be looked at by the game’s developers – but isn’t a game that can efficiently be played by a script quite a bad game anyway? Surely, if decisions required intelligent input from the play, a script couldn’t play the game. Yes boss mods make raid fights a lot easier, but that’s because the challenge is in realizing what’s going on fast enough and not in deciding what to do about a new situation. Scripts can do the former very well, but should never be able to do the latter in a well-designed game.

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