To addon, or not to addon?

Last week saw some very heated arguments around the WoW blogs on the subject of addons.

Codi presented her ‘no healing addon experiment’ and explained why it had become permanent, as well as her philosophy on addons. Tam was one of many to respond.  As was Miss Medicina with a thoughtful overview  (Sorry for bringing the subject up again, guys, but those are all excellent posts.)

At the same time, there has been a wave of discussion among LOTRO players who are now facing the prospect of addons being introduced into their game for the first time. Hawley explains why he’s worried about what this means for LOTRO.

I’m quite sure that one of the main reasons LOTRO players are wary is because they want to avoid the sorts of arguments about “addons make you a worse player”/”good players use addons” which have been raging in WoW ever since they were introduced.

Once the addons are in, the arguments will inevitably follow.

All True Healers use/don’t use addons

I think part of the reason the healers get so wound up is because this so easily turns into the No True Scotsman fallacy. If it is possible to have a favourite logical fallacy, this one is mine. It goes like this:

Scotsman1: No Scotsman wears pants under his kilt.

Scotsman 2: I’m Scottish and I wear pants under my kilt.

Scotsman1: Well, no TRUE Scotsman would do that.

So if you make a generalisation and find a data point that doesn’t fit, you tell the naughty data point that it doesn’t exist or doesn’t count.

In this case, the implication that using addons makes you a worse healer (no good healer uses addons) – even though that’s not what the poster said – was enough to raise the rafters with people arguing the exact opposite (all good healers use addons! Only bad healers don’t.).

From a tanking point of view, I don’t really care what the healer is doing with their UI as long as the heals keep coming. However, it is absolutely true that it is harder to heal with no addons. Addons give a big advantage to users, and also make the game more fun and less stressful. This, after all, is why people made them in the first place.

Not only that but healing is the raid role which can most benefit from addons. Healing via raid frames is clunky at the best of times (in my ideal world, I’d want to be able to do it just from looking at the actual raid, not at a grid on the screen.)

It is also likely that players with well optimised addons will top the healing meters. Meters measure things like reaction speed, which is helped massively by a well laid out UI. Meters do not necessarily measure who is a good healer, but people who take the time and effort to optimise their addons will probably also take the time and effort to be good healers.

So one reason not to use them is because you’re deliberately doing it for practice. (Who knows, maybe you’ll be asked to heal a raid just after a patch broke all the addons. Or maybe you’ll get to play on a PC which has no addons installed sometime.) Or maybe you want to flex your healing muscles and decided to build your UI again from the ground up, adding in elements as you need them. Or maybe you want to experience the game as it was back in ye olde days.

My only conclusion is that if you’re really keen to be a good player, at least make sure you know what all your addons actually do. Practicing without any of them might be a part of that.

How addons change the game

There is no doubt that having addons in WoW has absolutely changed the game. If only because Blizzard occasionally nick ideas from the popular ones and include them in the base client. This has happened since beta, when cosmos inspired the in game auction house – yes, beta WoW was going to ship with just a trade channel.

Raid designs in WoW are now built around the assumption that players will be using addons. This is very obvious when comparing WoW raids to LOTRO raids. The latter feature far simpler mechanics, they’re still fun and can also be very difficult but the complexity doesn’t compare. I am quite sure that this is because WoW raiders lean very heavily on addons to tell them when various boss abilities are due, when to get out of the fire, and so on.

LOTRO raiders need to be able to estimate timers and distances in game – that’s a big skill of being a raider. You also have to keep your eyes peeled for animations and effects  if you are on interrupt duties since there are no mob cast bars. Finally, although there are often poison/ fire effects to move away from, they aren’t signalled quite as obviously as in WoW.

Not only that but buff and debuff icons are quite small in the LOTRO base UI. Again, raiders have to become good at spotting these things. So paying attention to the surroundings is a huge raider skill in LOTRO. Beating the damage meter? Not so much. Although there are ways to record damage and good dps players work very hard at maximising their damage output.

In WoW, by comparison, the addons help with that in many ways. Your important buffs and debuffs will probably be highlighted in huge text at eye level (or wherever you choose) on your screen. You will have accurate timers showing when any of your dots or debuffs are about to run out. If you play a class with a complex dps rotation then you probably have an addon telling you when to press which button. None of these things make raiding easier in practice. Blizzard just make other aspects of the raid more demanding to maintain the challenge level.

Change is Scary

I don’t have a conclusion to the addons vs no addons argument.

I think that on balance, addons have made WoW a much better and more fun game. I think that they will have the same effect on LOTRO – there are aspects of the base UI which I hate, and look forwards to seeing modded.

I also think that damage meters in particular do make the game more stressful and more focussed on metrics.

But once the addons are there, they are a part of the game. There will be an expectation that good players will want to modify their UIs to suit their specific needs. You can choose to ignore them and will probably learn more about your class/role by doing so – or maybe you’ll just get a squint and a headache. Sometimes base UI elements are not the pure game design utopia of ‘how things were meant to be’ but actually shoddy pieces of design that never should have gone into the game like that in the first place.

For all that, I do admire anyone who can heal raids in WoW using just the base UI. You may be mad, but I salute you :)