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.