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Addon Analysis

By on Jun 10, 2011 at 1:29 pm, in Article, Featured, RIFT  |  Comments: No comments yet

As most readers are probably aware at this point, it would appear that with the 1.3 patch, Trion will be introducing the functionality for addons in Rift.  Ever since the early phases of Rift’s beta, addons have a been a sort of hot topic among the community.  There is a divide among players as to whether the addition of addons will be the best or the worst thing to happen to the game.  To what extent players will be able to change the game via addons has yet to be made entirely clear, but, nonetheless, seeing the addon button added to the login screen on the latest version of the PTS has already had quite a reaction.

Many players argue that addons are what the game needs in order to stay interesting and continue to see playerbase growth.  However, on the opposite side of the spectrum, others argue that addons have the potential to detract from Rift’s overall experience and see nothing but negative effects with this addition to the game.

Quality of Life

Addons have the potential to do great things for the game and for the community.  With the ability to customize UI, reskin certain elements of the UI that may be unattractive, add a necessary functionality to parts of the game that could use improving, and make various other changes to the more trivial aspects of the game, players will be able to customize their Rift experience in the way they works best for them.  Indeed, granting players this ability is something that is ultimately good for the game and encourages players to keep playing.

A great example of an addon with this sort of functionality improvement would be a tool to better organize and utilize Rift’s auction house.  Most anyone who has ever spent time in WoW will recall the addon Auctioneer, which provided to the game some very clever, intuitive tools to make using the in-game auction house much faster and easier.  The addition of something like this into Rift will provide many players with a much wanted tool to improve the quality of their gaming experience without detracting from the overall game design.

As mentioned above, granting players the ability to customize their UI in a way that best suits what they wish to do with the game is a more or less positive effect that addons will have on Rift.  Of course, almost all addons change the UI in one way or another, but this part of the discussion is more oriented toward addons which make purely aesthetic changes.  Tools which allow players to better customize their skill bars or reskin a part of the UI they find unattractive are almost entirely beneficial for the game and, in many players’ eyes, a necessary part of enjoying the game to it’s fullest potential.

A sort of marriage between cosmetic and functional benefits would be addons that make modifications to UI elements such as chat boxes, inventory, character window, etc.  Generally speaking, these and the examples listed above are addons that would be widely considered positive enhancements to the Rift experience.  Most players, even those arguing against addons, likely have some changes, however small or seemingly unnoticeable, they’d like to make to their UI to better enjoy the game in their own way.  These quality of life addons alone would go a long way toward enhancing the game, and the vast majority of arguments against these sort of cosmetic and minor functionality changes are more or less unfounded.

That is not to say, however, that all addons are viewed as being solely beneficial, and as discussion of performance optimizers comes into play, the divide between pro- and anti-addon players really begins to grow.

Middle Ground

The addons that fall into this category of middle ground are those that have the potential for positive effects, but begin to change the game in a way that some players feel goes too far.  Some examples of middle ground addons would be things like ‘boss mods’, damage meters, threat meters, and raid frames.  While a great number of players would love to see these kind of addons exist in Rift, a great number of players feel, conversely, that addons which help a player optimize their performance should have no place in the game.

The first of the examples above, boss mods, is probably what first comes to mind for most players when talking about addons that optimize personal performance.  For anyone unfamiliar with what it is, exactly, that a boss mod addon does, it basically takes information that is already available in the game, in one form or another, and converts it into timers, warnings, and notifications that are more easily accessible, thereby making the mechanics of a raid or dungeon encounter easier to notice.

A whole article could be written about the arguments over boss mod addons alone, so a brief look at the basic arguments for and against will have to suffice.  The main argument for this type of addon is that, just like any other addon, it’s a tool that changes the Rift experience for the better and allows players to simplify the information coming at them during an encounter, allowing them to concentrate on the other things going on around them.

On the other side, players against this type of addon feel that boss mods detract from the amount of skill that is actually required to play.  Further, many feel that if this kind of addon is available, content will either become too easy for those who choose to use the addon, or the content will be made harder to accommodate the existence of a boss mod, thereby effectively making the addon a necessity for competitive raiding guilds.

The next examples from the list, damage and threat meters, have been met with a little less resistance than the boss mod example, but there are still some pretty strong opinions about these two, damage meters in particular.  Players have had access to damage meters for a long time, and players in favor of addons argue that meters are used to gauge their own personal performance more than anything else in order to analyze if they are playing up to par.

But even though functional damage meters already exist and have caused few problems so far, some players seem to feel that making damage meters in a form as accessible as an addon will make it more likely that the addon ends up in the hands of someone who will use the meter as a metric for judging others and deteriorating the Rift experience of someone who may happen to be doing a little bit less damage or healing.

Threat meters seem to be a little less controversial, as there is not really a way to use a threat meter to ruin the game for someone else; however, some regard this as a form of unnecessarily making the game easier.  By alerting players when they are about to pull aggro off of a particular mob or boss, players can often avoid a situation where they may otherwise have taken aggro and perhaps died or wiped the group.  Individuals with strong feelings against performance optimizing addons argue that this is just another way to dumb down the game.

The last of the examples on the middle ground addon list, raid frames, may, at first glance, seem like a cosmetic enhancement more than anything else, but anyone who has used custom raid frames of some sort in the past will likely tell you that well set up raid frames provide utility and functionality that likely trumps all other addons combined.  This is mostly relevant to healers more than anyone else, but is still an important point of discussion.

Custom raid frames seem to be one of the addons most mentioned since the news that addons are coming was announced.  Surprisingly, many of the players opposed to addons do not argue much against raid frames, despite the overwhelming amount of functionality they can potentially provide.  Some opponents, of course, have argued that customizing frames to the point of being able to use mouse clicks to heal goes to far toward changing the way the game is intended to function.  This sentiment, however, has taken more of a backseat to the larger potential threat of boss mods and the like.

The middle ground addons have potential to modify the game in ways that many players feel is worth fighting for, and just as many feel is worth fighting against.  However, when it comes to certain addons and the potentially ruinous effects they could have on Rift, even the most eager member of the pro-addon crowd cringes.

Just Plain Ugly

While there is a lot of room for argument and discussion about the middle ground addons, most players will readily agree that the addons which fall into the category of being just plain ugly would bring only negative consequences to the game.

The addon Gearscore is probably what first comes to mind when thinking of addons that had an overwhelmingly negative effect on a game.  As some readers may recall, Gearscore basically converted a player’s gear into a numerical value, which was then oftentimes used to put outrageous restrictions on PUG raid groups.  Of course, it is understandable for a PUG leader to have some sort of requirement for the raid they are putting together, but with the advent of Gearscore, the level of gear required to go on a particular PUG raid was often at least one tier higher than the content attempting to be cleared.

The creation of such ridiculous standards really injured PUG play and became a very negative force within the game, a result that few players wish to see happen in Rift.  Despite the Gearscore addon being gradually phased out of WoW and replaced with the Blizzard-implemented character ilvl, the addon left lasting wounds on the MMO community, wounds which many Rift players feel may be torn anew if addons find a way to their new home.

Another, perhaps less known, example of these type of dangerous addons is the AVR (Augmented Virtual Reality) addon.  For anyone who may be unfamiliar with AVR, it basically allowed players to draw lines, shapes, and other markings onto the game world itself.  Further, these drawings could be seen by any other player with AVR and then left visible during an encounter.  As any experienced raider would understand, this basically allowed players to make certain parts of an encounter more or less fool proof, as it provided essential information during an encounter that would have not otherwise been available to the player were it not for the addon.

Accordingly, AVR’s functionality was broken by Blizzard so that it could no longer be used to the same extent.  Unfortunately, this addon showed a game’s dumbing down to the fullest potential and, even though it was rendered useless, left another lasting imprint on the community.

What I Think

Having come from a background in MMOs and high end, competitive WoW raiding, I have some fairly strong opinions about addons and their introduction to Rift.  While I know that WoW was by no means the first MMO to have addons, I think it is what the vast majority of players are most familiar with.  It is for this reason that WoW addons have been used as reference throughout this article, as they provide an appropriate platform for comparison and speculation.

The first and last categories mentioned above really do not require much argument.  I’d bet that a majority of players would welcome the basic visual and functional enhancements of the quality of life addons just as much as they would hate to see another Gearscore or AVR.  The middle ground, however, is where there becomes some room for argument.

I will state plainly that I am in favor of addons, as they add that extra element to the game that really lets a player play the game the way they wish to play it, which will bring new players to the game and keep old players playing.  My arguments and reasoning for my stance could easily fill an entire article, so for the sake of brevity I will talk solely about the boss mod argument, since that seems to be the most talked about of potential addons.

Many proponents of addons will tell you that if you don’t like boss mod addons, don’t use them.  Simple, right?  I will concede, however, that an effective and useful boss mod will become the standard for any sort of serious raiding guild.  The amount of information and control this type of addon gives to the player is too beneficial to be ignored.  That is not to say that content will become impossible without such an addon, as I can say from my own personal experience that as long as you pay attention and understand an encounter, there is no reason you cannot be on the high end of the meters and perform well without the use of a boss mod.

A boss mod would also go a long way toward making raid content more accessible for a less experienced or PUG player.  I am not talking about the content being dumbed down to the point of being walk-over easy, but, rather, giving a less experienced player the tools they need in order to more easily understand a boss encounter.  Without a convenient way to display timers and warnings, less experienced players are at a tremendous disadvantage compared to players who have seen a fight several times.

While experience should count, indeed, that does not mean a less experienced player should have to go through encounters blind while others in their group may have a flawless understanding of what is going on.  This point will become more and more relevant as Rift ages and new players continue to step foot into raids in the company of veterans.

Now, don’t misunderstand, I am in no way in favor of ‘dumbing the game down’, and boss mods do not necessarily do that.  All a boss mod does is take information that is already available and make easier to see.  It does not tell you what to do.  It does not tell you where to go.  It does not play the game for you.  Players who cannot pay attention without the use of an addon will still not be able to pay attention with the use of an addon.  In short, bad players will still be bad and attentive players will still be rewarded; anyone who has spent any amount of time raiding in an environment with a boss mod should readily attest to that.

If addons truly made raid encounters trivial, there would be no such thing as bleeding edge raiding guilds in WoW, as every guild, regardless of skill or experience, would simply one shot every encounter.  There is a reason that Paragon killed WoW’s Heroic Lich King two weeks before every other guild in the world, and it wasn’t because of some secret boss mod that no other players had.

The argument has been made that if Trion allows boss mod style addons to function in Rift, future raids will need to be designed in a different way to counteract the effects addons.  This may be true, indeed, but is that really such a bad thing for the game?  In all honesty, players who want the game to be oriented around skill should be greatly in favor of boss mods existing and encounters being tailored to a new environment, as the skill cap would actually increase rather than decrease.  Which is more indicative of skill (or lack thereof): dying to a fight mechanic because you didn’t know it existed or how it functioned, or dying to a fight mechanic that you understood and knew was about to happen, but to which you failed to react quickly and intelligently?

Lastly, as any experienced raider would likely attest, once an encounter is successfully completed a number of times, the fight mechanics become internalized.  What I mean by this is that the fight has become learned and understood by the raiders and there is no longer the same need for the timers and warnings of a boss mod.  Knowing the fight in and out and fully understanding everything that occurs in that 5-10 minute time frame is what really allows a player to reach their highest potential of play, and this will happen with or without the existence of a boss mod.

Addons and the Future

As Trion goes forward with this implementation, we will begin to see what is truly in store for the players and what can be expected in the game’s future.  Nothing can be stated with any certainty exactly how much addons will shape our beloved Rift world, all we can do is hope that Trion learns from the mistakes of its predecessors and takes careful baby steps forward.  It is likely that when addons first begin to become available, we will start seeing UI and functionality improvements first, followed by in-game meters and raid frames, and eventually effective and useful boss mods.  Addons are a necessary part of Rift’s continued growth, as they create a new dimension to the game to further allow players to enjoy the game in their own way.  Even in light of the potentially detrimental addons, and despite what even the strongest opposition may say, addons are ultimately good for Rift.