Playing Without Addons

The other day The Grumpy Elf mused on whether he's become too dependent on his World of Warcraft addons, and the subject of addons has generally come up a fair bit as of late with the two latest major MMO releases, ESO and Wildstar, both allowing and supporting addons. It's made me think about how I feel about the fact that SWTOR doesn't allow them, and the answer is: I'm actually quite happy about it.

Don't get me wrong: addons can do many good things for a game, such as allowing people to modify their UI juuust right, or offering support for people with disabilities that isn't included by default. However, there is a dark side to them as well that people don't always consider.

1. They add a considerable amount of annoying busywork.

It's bad enough when I have to reconfigure the default gameplay options from scratch to match my preferences again (for example after rolling a character on a new server), but addons add a whole new layer of complexity to that. They also need updating and often reconfiguring after every major patch - if you can get an update at all that is, and if it doesn't suddenly clash with one of your other addons... basically just getting them set up and keeping them running can be a major pain in the butt. Back when I played nothing but WoW, it wasn't unusual for someone to spend their first hour (or more!) after a major patch just sorting out their addons instead of actually playing.

2. There is no quality control, and some addons genuinely make the game worse for people.

Unlike in a single player game, where your choice of whether to modify the game or not only affects you, in an MMO, other people's addons affect you even if you don't use them yourself. Obviously every addon developer thinks that they are providing a valuable new tool, but the reality isn't nearly as rosy. People create tools to judge, spam and harass other players - which may very well be good for them, but simultaneously ruin the game for a lot of others. During the late Wrath of the Lich King expansion, you could find a lot of players claiming that the GearScore addon completely ruined WoW for them. Hyperbole aside, it clearly detracted from the game for a lot of people to have random strangers judge them and exclude them from their groups purely based on an addon-generated number. Or how about addons that spam unguilded people with guild invites every five minutes until they either join a random guild or block all guild invites? If you follow the link to that WoW Insider article, it's full of comments from people talking about how awful that is and how it can really affect the new player experience in a bad way.

3. Even genuinely helpful addons can have bad side effects.

I'm sure the person who wrote the first damage meter addon for WoW had perfectly good intentions, wanting to find out how much damage they and their friends were doing and how to do more. For some people it serves that exact purpose... but at the same time it's created players who can't stare at anything but their dps bar at the expense of all else, as well as players who'll arbitrarily kick others from their random groups because they don't like their numbers, even if the group is beating the content just fine.

Blizzard has also gone on record as saying that their allowing of raid addons has created a neverending arms race of addons trivialising fights and the devs having to make things even harder to maintain some level of challenge, effectively making those addons mandatory past a certain point if you want to be able to beat the content at all.

I like that in SWTOR (or Neverwinter for that matter), I can log in after a major patch and just play, without having to worry about my UI looking funny or some major functionality that I've grown used to suddenly not working. And while there are annoying people and jerks in the game - like in every MMO - at least they can't create tools to make their spamming and bullying more efficient.

Looking at some of the boss fights in SWTOR, I can't help but think that they would be trivially easy with addon support - if you had an automated timer warning you about every major boss ability, would fights like the Dread Council be nearly as much of a big deal? No, but as it is, actually having to deal with every mechanic yourself is part of the fun. You have to watch those castbars and communicate with your group. At the same time, not being able to "out-source" any of the work to addons keeps a sensible cap on how difficult Bioware can make most encounters, making for a more balanced game for everyone.

Like I said at the beginning, addons can have their uses, and I'd lie if I said that I've never wished that I could modify the (fairly flexible) UI even further to make my job as a healer a bit easier. But after having seen and experienced both ways of running an MMO, with addon support and without, I have to say that not having to worry about them is definitely much more to my liking.


  1. I totally agree that SWTOR is better without addons. The reason I left WoW basically boils down to addons. I am also a healer by choice and love the challege, the last 1.5 years I was in WoW I was in a casual progression raid group. At least that's how they termed themselves. Turns out, they weren't so casual, because according to the heal meter I wasn't keeping up with the other healers and the RL decided to kick me and find someone who would better reach their target of healing output. Didn't seem to matter that I was keeping all my assignments alive through out the raids. Absolutely blind sided me. Luckily SWTOR came out a couple months after that and me and a few of the others from the same raid group went over. Some of the others backed me up and where not happy that I was kicked, the Main Tank, and 2 of the top DPS. Anyway I really like that there are not any addons in SWTOR and after just recently playing ESO I found myself having to do exactly what you talked about which is managing my addons. Found I didn't like committing time to dealing with it. So addon free is fine by me.

  2. I agree with the sentiment that no addons make SWTOR more fun to play.It's nice to just be able to play the game instead of having my addons tell me how to play the game. One of the things I don't miss about doing heroic raids at current content in WoW is having to deal with addons.

    It also amuses me to see Wildstar tout itself as being for the hardcore, yet still allowing addons. Addons exist to make a game easier - there are already addons to make leveling trivial - so how can you be hardcore when it will become mandatory to have addons to trivialize boss encounters? ^_^ I'm not saying Wildstar is a bad game, but addons will always be the enemy of hardcore.

  3. The only addons that I really miss are the ones that gave me complete control over the look of my UI. I am glad for the customization that BioWare has put into the basic SWTOR UI, but there are still some things I'd like to be able to adjust that I can't. Specifically the player/target windows and castbars, and the raid UI. I just can't seem to get them the way I'd like them.

  4. I kind of agree. But on the other hand, I really, really miss buff/debuff filters. SWTOR is really bad at dealing with buff/debuff filters.

    Actually, I think I've commented on this before, but a lot of default UIs are really bad for a healer. Things like no mouseover, hard to identify buffs/debuffs, even things like not putting companions in the regular player group panes.

  5. The thing about addons is that they make you dependent on them to survive in the world, particularly the threat meters if you're DPS. With those threat meters going, you don't develop the same touch for handling threat as DPS, because instead of focusing on the fight (and seeing how quickly the tank is using abilities) you're watching the meters instead.

    My original max level toon in WoW leveled all the way to L80 with only the quest helper as an add-on. When I ran instances, I learned fights just by developing the feel for them, like that mid boss in Drak'Theron. I knew when to run up the stairs, when to come down, and when to give and extra boost to the healer.

    I get that same feeling with SWTOR, but sadly I no longer get that same feel in WoW. I've become a slave to DBM instead.

  6. I missed addons in SWTOR until reading this. You have some good points I hadn't thought of. I used some addons in WoW that didn't really affect gameplay. One add on let me say a random taunt whenever I got a killing blow. Another let me keep track of player kills, and kept stats on classes, location, etc. I miss these types of addons. I hated DBM. Wish there was an easy way to separate them for implementation.

  7. Apologies in advance for the wall of text. It's something I never considered when playing tor, but after moving to wow as my main game, end game instances are all about balancing an optimum rotation (for dps) while managing an attempt by the developers to overload you with information. DBM takes away a lot of that info mgmt, whereas tor makes you watch debuff bars like a hawk because debuffs and buffs are handled so poorly. That's not to say that both games' raids aren't engaging. They are, but bioware makes you fight the interface a little more imo.

    Along the op topic, I often feel the need to trim my addon bloat, but when I look through my curse client, it's hard to pick out things that don't add substantial value to my time in game unless it has to do with a class I've stopped playing. With wildstar I've been good so far with potatoui (which I'm considering dropping) and whisperalert (or something) to increase the volume on whisper alerts. It's a relief in tor that I don't have to manage anything. I don't even use a parser since 1) I don't raid that much and I'm quite confident that I'm one of the higher performers in my guild's raids and 2) my guildies don't use them, which removes the thing I like best about parsers.

    My main like about wow's addons is being able to review after a wipe and have a private side conversation with a guildie if I see irregularities with their spell priority. There have been a few times where this resulted in a guildie and I moving to a different channel post raid night and discussing the class in question, good sources of info, and easy ways to evaluate one's own gearing and performance. These 5 minute convos usually end up going for 30-45 minutes because both of us are engaged in the topic, not because I'm rl and they have to listen or because there is any threat of benching them, there isn't. End result, improved play by the other player, improved enjoyment from seeing the positive results (joy for both us), and fewer skin of our teeth boss fights. In tor I've had experiences with a fellow raider clearly demonstrating verbally that they didn't understand how to play their class in a manner that approaches correctly, where correct = understanding ability priorities. This after having been through whichever dread weekly is easier and the older content on a weekly basis for months (gear wasn't the issue). You'll find people who make it to end game without understanding their class in any game, wow with addons just provides an easier way to identify it.

    I guess what I'm saying is I want to have my cake and eat it too.

    1. Well, the thing with WoW raids is, they didn't used to be "attempts by the developers to overload you with information"; they used to have just a handful of mechanics like TOR's. But then more and more people started using raid addons, making the "pay attention to when this mechanic happens" parts trivial, so the developers had to keep piling on more items per fight to keep people busy somehow.

      And the review process you describe at the end isn't really addon dependent. We do and have done the same in my guild in TOR. When it matters, such as in raids, you can always turn on the combat log.

    2. True on both parts, but from what I hear, wow's initial raids were about fighting the interface more so than even tor has ever been. Getting 40 people and getting the required number of support classes who will spam x ability all night long (insert x support class and y ability here). Since then, wow's "progression raiders" have improved a lot. In other words, saying you raided MC doesn't imply anything about skill imo. But anyways, players have gotten better and are able to handle more. Addon's accelerated that to some degree, but it would have happened regardless. As you said, addons are now a given in wow and so a certain base # of mechanics will be present merely to add to the amount the player and the addon have to handle.

      As to the second bit, I tried to recognize that the issue can be resolved in both games and while it's an issue independent of addons, the best way to solve it involves addons. In either game you are using addons (in the game or separate processes run along side the game) and/or 3rd party sites (unless tor has some in game way to evaluate another player's logs while in game that I'm unaware of). The thing is, with wow, I don't need everyone to turn on logging and then use a 3rd party site to evaluate performance at the level I'm talking about, though I recognize many people use world of logs and warcraftlogs for that. With addons that are in game and provide the info in game, I can evaluate my performance or anothers regardless of whether anyone else is using a damage meter. In tor, you can have player clinics but there's no way to evaluate progress without outside help when some people are overgearing to carry those who need improvement.

      Regardless, I love and hate addons. It'd be great if we never needed an addon because the game gave us the information we needed. Tor does a decent job, besides debuff monitoring and even that isn't as horrible as I probably described above.

      I don't mean to sound like a wow fanboy and don't mean to imply that one is better than the other. I enjoy both games for what they offer (especially tor's story), but I choose to pursue my end game in wow due to factors that aren't game related.

  8. I like this article. it says things i agree with. add ons.. just say no.


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