WoW Design Improvements: Addons

This article is part 6 of 8 in the series WoW Design Improvements
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There is one outstanding feature in the WoW client, which can get me pretty excited, and that’s the ability to modify the client user interface with Addons.

Addons can not only modify the user interface elements already on the screen, but also add completely new functionality. Need help remembering which herbs you picked on what part of the game world? It’s there. Fancy a game of Texas Hold’em while your raid leader blathers away about the tactics to take down the next boss? Why don’t you play one?

Still, not all is good with the Addons to WoW. Here’s my take on what could be improved.

API Stability

My first ever encounter with Addons was a glorious one. I had installed one of the collections of Addons, Cosmos, that you can find on the internet. Cosmos is actually a collection of Addons provided by other people, but repackaged, tweaked and pre-configured to the point where it provides a coherent, new user interface to the client. It had all the things I wanted.

Along came one of Blizzard’s frequent updates to the game1, and everything broke apart. I could log on the the game, but the user interface was so messed up, that I couldn’t log out again anymore – the menu with the appropriate option wouldn’t come up anymore. And disabling the Addons I had installed was no help either, the messed up interface seemed permanent.

In the end, not having had a lot of experience with WoW at that point, I deleted and reinstalled the game. I also reinstalled a newer version of Cosmos2, and was happy again – until the next patch came along.

After a few cycles of this, my wife gave up on Addons altogether, but I was a bit more persistent. By now, things have stabilized to the point where an update to WoW does not usually break many Addons.

Ironically, at around that time I was teaching my coworkers about API and ABI stability, and WoW was presenting a prime example of the problems you get into if you don’t have strict policies in place for handling changes to either.

  1. I should note here that Blizzard updates the game very frequently, fixing bugs and providing minor tweaks to the content. Larger patches are less regular, but usually deliver whole new areas of content. []
  2. Installing the newer version over the old version didn’t help. []