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.
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.”
The Mazzlegasm refers to his mod auto-sending a “/yell” in game after completing the setup of MazzleUI which read, “I just had a Mazzlegasm!” It was a cheap throwaway joke, sure, but some humorless people didn’t take it well. The ethics of an addon performing an action on behalf of an unaware user was questioned, as well as inane parental complaints that “Mazzlegasm” sounded a little too close to “orgasm” for their young child’s fragile ears.
After he put so much into the compilation, Mazzlefizz felt betrayed by the community. It wasn’t pleasant having such a small issue be the most discussed portion of MazzleUI. “There’s just so many young, immature kids, so many bloated egos and such a high degree of self-entitlement. Complaining and criticizing are just the status quo,” he said, before adding that not every experience he’s had with users was awful. It’s just “the negative aspects have outweighed the positive aspects lately and have caused me to … question the time and effort I put into developing my add-ons.” To date, MazzleUI hasn’t had any significant updates. MazzleFizz keeps busy collecting bug reports and has gone back to just playing the game.
Not all authors, however, escape without real harm. Gello is the venerable creator of ItemRack, Recap, TinyPad, TrinketMenu and many others. One of the problems of being so prolific is the need to translate mods into other languages. “I had spent a couple very intense months working on the localization of Recap,” Gello said. “It got so I could understand combat logs in German.” He eventually convinced native-language modders to finish the job. “It was just causing way too much stress and time for something I would never see or use.”
Soon after that, two French users demanded that Gello localize WaterBoy, a mod that helped mages summon and distribute water for raids. He refused to spend so much time translating again and asked that they mod it themselves. “Then the flame emails began,” Gello recounted. “When I stood by my position (probably not in the nicest terms), they continued in earnest. I got an email with an attachment I thought was safe and apparently it wasn’t.” The modern computer nightmare had come true for Gello. “I basically abandoned the email address, formatted my pc, ditched the mod and didn’t look back.”
On December 5, 2006, Blizzard released World of Warcraft patch 2.0 which used a new version of LUA (the programming language mods are written in) and introduced many API changes that rendered popular mods obsolete. According to Blizzard, the capabilities of certain mods had exceeded what was good for the game. Blizzard spokesperson Tyren stated in October, “Essentially, we don’t want UI mods to make combat-sensitive decisions for players and as such, we’ve made some changes that block functionality that we feel is counter to the spirit of these philosophies. As such, AddOns and macros can’t make decisions on who to target or what spells to cast.”
The practical upshot was that everyone’s mods were broken. Each author had to review his work and make sure “protected” functions weren’t called. Fortunately, there was an extensive beta period where authors could test their mods with the new API.
After a few months of silence from Lozareth, a new post appeared December 2 on the front page of Discordmods.com which simply read, “DISCORD MODS WILL NOT BE READY ON 12/5.” That was it: a clear, succinct message that Loz had stopped coding. It’s still there today. But the veterans at Discordmods.com wouldn’t let the mods die. Forum denizen Mud dutifully posted band-aided versions of Discord that functioned with WoW 2.0, albeit with limited performance. Still no response from the author; the release of the Burning Crusade passed with nary a peep from Lozareth.
The commandeering of another author’s mods is a common practice in the community. If the original author burns out, it’s likely another will pick up the code and start squashing bugs. For example, there was huge fallout after WoW 2.0. “I have picked up two add-ons that were abandoned by other authors. Specifically, I think it was the 2.0 API changes that really pushed them to the edge,” Shirik, co-author of RDX.cid, said.
Most authors allow and even expect other writers to review their code for memory leaks or inefficiency. The Ace community grew specifically with this purpose in mind. Ace is a common set of libraries a large group of mods share in order to conserve memory resources. Since so many mods rely on it to function, the people working with Ace have become a tight-knit network.
Having such a community has helped burnt out authors get back to coding. Nymbia wrote a very popular mod called, imaginatively, Nymbia’s Perl Unitframes, but the notorious commenters on Curse.com soon overwhelmed him. “The feature requests and bug reports piled up too high when I had too much real life stuff on my hands, I stopped writing publicly-released addons for a solid year,” he said. “Things have been much more easy to handle this time around, in large part thanks to [the Ace] community.”
In the past, Lozareth wouldn’t allow anyone else to modify his code, but recently his thick candy shell has begun to crack. He has become more of a presence on his forums, creating a tiered moderator system and posting joke threads entitled “I suck. Discuss.” He has offered links to .zips of his code on the forum, both for transparency and evidence that he is in fact working on it. He sees others as resources and inspiration instead of as threats.
As of press time, though, Lozareth still hasn’t released his new meta-mod, Discord UI Builder. But it’s possible opening up a bit and getting involved with his community will help Lozareth get interested in modding again, to reinvest himself into making the game he loves more enjoyable for the hundreds of thousands of people who depended on him.
Greg Tito is a playwright and standup comic residing in Brooklyn, NY. He is currently splitting time between World of Warcraft, a new D&D 3rd edition campaign and finishing one of his many uncompleted writing projects. He also blogs semi-regularly at http://onlyzuul.blogspot.com/.