How Important Are Addons to MMORPGs?

The splitting of HP and shield is a nice feature.
The splitting of HP and shield is a nice feature.

I received an email blast from the PR firm directing WildStar’s marketing earlier this week. It’s not entirely relevant as a news post or anything, but it did get me thinking about addons and how crucial they have been for MMORPGs. That’s past tense for a reason. My real spark was how much it’s changed, how little they’re generally needed these days and how many games work perfectly well without implementing them or never having them catch on.

This brings up numerous other head-scratching conundrums: Are community-made addons still relevant? Have they remained as popular and as necessary as they did half a decade ago? And thus, give sites like Curse their continued reason for existence? Have developers of these products mined the community for ideas and included the most popular addons as part of the default user interface options? Was the fear of addons in WildStar not catching on the cause of the email blast by Carbine? Finally, were addons and their popularity a product of developer innovation or lazy development?

The answers to some of these questions are obvious. For instance, Curse will exist forever barring poor management choices. The site itself has long created its own technology to service the add-on hungry community and has grown beyond that. In a title like World of Warcraft, which like a lot of other features Blizzard included, effectively made addons a thing in the genre, addons have quite literally changed the game. Some times to the extreme, causing Blizzard to shut down the addons through code changes. Other cases are irrefutable evidence to Blizzard mining the community for ideas and innovation.

And yet, seeing Carbine Studios blast an email about over 350 addons (Curse compiles over 450) makes me wonder about the continued need or opening for additional innovation. Bijiplates, the add-on highlighted in the communication, looks to allow players to see nameplates when they, by design, are obstructed by walls and the like. Borderline cheating in my opinion, but it’s been downloaded over 825,000 times since March 2014. That’s far and away the most popular addon. To me that’s a weak frontrunner.

And for the love of god, why is it that so many F2P games feature better inventory management stock, while numerous AAA MMORPGs require addons to organize, deal with vendor trash and save time? Until that’s nipped in the bud the answer to that first question is an emphatic ‘Yes!’ addons are relevant. This is due to the simple fact that the finite resources of a developer can be trumped by a innovative, large community given the proper tools.

Perhaps WildStar will offer the next such community in short order.