Extra Life

Extra Life
The Burnt-out Crusade

Greg Tito | 1 May 2007 08:02
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In the winter of 2005, a World of Warcraft player with the handle Lozareth released a UI add-on for the game, which he called Discord Action Buttons. The add-on let the user replace Blizzard's default action bar with one infinitely more customizable, and thousands of users downloaded the mod. Lozareth soon wrote Discord Unit Frames, Discord Frame Modifier and finally Discord Art. With these tools, informally called the Discord Suite, World of Warcraft players were able to sculpt their user interface into any shape imaginable. A vibrant community grew at Discordmods.com, where users could share and rate others' interfaces. Loz dutifully updated his mods for each patch and continually added new features. That is, until the fall of 2006.

Lozareth disappeared.

No explanation. No news post. No whisper on his forums. Just gone.

I call it mod burnout. The job becomes too big; the responsibilities too ginormous. With thousands of people depending on one individual, some mod authors just cease. They evaporate into the interweb vapor, never heard from again.

Think about it in terms of scale. The early days of WoW were marred by its own success. Blizzard didn't have sufficient servers or bandwidth to support the huge number of players jumping through Azeroth. But the company, flush with new money hats, was able to hire more workers and buy new hardware to compensate. Within a few months, most of the problems were ironed out. WoW's backside looked presentable again, if not starchy stiff.

Now imagine that scenario occurring with each mod. A product is released, it's buggy, and the creator must correct the problem. In an organization as big as Blizzard, that's not insurmountable. But what if the organization is one dude sitting in his basement, wearing tighty-whities, drinking Dr. Pepper and coding until 4:00 in the morning? No one mod is used by every WoW player, but, if download statistics are a measure, the more popular ones have hundreds of thousands of users. While authors depend on their users for bug reports, not every dude on the internet is a great QC tester. Some commenters make impossible demands at best, while a vocal minority can slander or insult the author. If something doesn't work, it's the author's fault. That stress can break him.

The WoW UI add-on author is a rare human being. Usually coders of some kind as their day job, they find something in game that bothers them, and they fix it. What can start as a side project, though, can quickly eat up gobs of time. "Over the last 15 months, I have literally spent thousands of hours working on UI development," says Mazzlefizz, author of a complete mod package called MazzleUI.

He goes on to postulate why someone would devote so much time to modding, the hobby within a hobby. "Part of it is letting down users and part of it is 'protecting' the time [already] spent on it. It's like WoW itself," he said. "You invest so much that you could have spent on other things, you don't want to just quit and make all that effort seem like a waste of time."

Mazz released his package in February of 2007. Response was mixed. While most people liked it, there was a vocal minority who criticized MazzleUI relentlessly. "I've had lots of really negative experiences with users on the forums," Mazz said. "People posted with criticisms of everything under the sun including, believe it or not, whether I thanked people fast enough after they made a donation. Post-release, I've had some very negative experiences as well. A lot of it is the normal variety, but some of it was a bit odd, like the whole Mazzlegasm fixation and all the unfair accusations that went along with it."

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