MMO UI’s and Addons – Thoughts and Perspectives

From the perspective of someone who’s first MMORPG was Star Wars The Old Republic, it has been interesting playing other MMO’s to see how they do things. One major thing that has stood out to me when trying other MMO’s is the general lack of built-in UI features (compared to SWTOR). However, in other MMO’s, the lack of in-game built UI elements is made up for with a decent selection of player made Addons to choose from. SWTOR, as everyone knows, does not allow for the use of Addons. Whether this is a good or bad thing, however, depends on your perspective.

Generally, I feel MMO’s should come with almost all the UI elements you need built-in. I honestly prefer to not have to deal with Addons at all. I do find it a little annoying to have to use another program to then download and use Addons in a game just so I can play it. But I can see the value of allowing players to make Addons to enhance their gaming experience and I’ve certainly come across some great Addons in other MMO’s that have enhanced my gameplay experience. But ultimately, for me, it depends on if the MMO I’m playing has the basic UI elements needed to get you by until you get to endgame or not.

WildStar’s UI, for example, is decent enough to get you started. All the UI elements you need to play the game are there and you can customise some elements to some degree. All that’s needed are a few extra Addons that are more for ‘quality of life’ and endgame oriented and you’re set. It is great to start a game and not have to worry about Addons straight away. My experience with Addons in WS has been the best of the MMO’s I’ve played.

World of Warcraft’s UI is also okay, but very basic. In my brief stint in WoW, the UI was really the least of my concerns so I never got far enough into the game to really need more UI elements. I did look into Addons for WoW nonetheless and from what I saw, the possibilities were endless.

Elder Scrolls Online, on the other hand, has a severely lacking UI. This is probably due to the game also being made for consoles and perhaps an oversight (deliberate or not) because the franchise was previously more single player RPG focused. Yet, this was no excuse for SWTOR. SWTOR was built off the back of the Knights of the Old Republic franchise yet had most of the UI elements needed for an MMO at launch. ESO is honestly a better example of a single player game being turned into an MMO than SWTOR will ever be. But this discussion is warranted for another post given SWTOR’s extensive content focus changes over the years.

Is it so bad that ESO is basically a console MMO? No, it isn’t. But there’s no denying that the experienced PC MMO Gamer will find their initial ESO experience to be very jarring. I feel that if you market your game as an MMO and it’s on PC then it should come with the majority of UI features reminiscent of other well-known MMO’s. ESO does have Addons to make up for the lack of its UI features. But in all honesty, players shouldn’t have to make Addons just to make a game playable. At least the lack of UI elements doesn’t completely detract from being able to enjoy the game at the start (if your focus is the story/single player anyway).

To be fair, SWTOR’s UI hasn’t always been as good as it is now. In vanilla, you couldn’t really customise your UI but almost all the essential elements were there. But over the years the Developers have continued to build upon and evolve the UI to the point where it now very highly customisable. You can move all UI elements on the screen to wherever you choose, you can hide (or show) almost all UI elements and you can change the size/scale of all UI elements. It really is a fantastic and undervalued feature of SWTOR.

Again, a poor UI doesn’t always detract from a game’s playability, initially. But as you progress through a game you kind of expect to be provided with all the information on the screen needed to get through the content. I can’t comment on if other MMO’s have changed their UI’s over time as I simply don’t have enough experience with them to know. But playing other MMO’s has made me appreciate and miss SWTOR’s UI. It is also nice to not have to worry about Addons. Not that SWTOR shouldn’t have Addons. I believe that there are a few types Addons that could be useful for SWTOR but really, they’re not exactly a priority right now. What’s important is that you can play the game (well, grind what’s left of it) and have all the information right there on the screen.

Perhaps another time, I will explore this subject further. I’m particularly interested in Developer perspectives about UI’s and Addons and how they feel they add or detract from the gameplay experience. I do believe an essential part of game design is having a good UI (what defines a good UI though is a different subject entirely). But when it comes to most MMO’s, UI’s don’t seem to get that much attention. I guess part of the reason the SWTOR developers put time into SWTOR’s UI is because they don’t allow for Addons. So they felt they needed to add to and make the UI very customisable to appease the player base which certainly worked.

While I feel SWTOR has by far the best UI of all the MMO’s I’ve played, other MMO’s greatly benefit from having player made Addons despite their lacking UI’s. Five years into an MMO’s life is probably a little too late to be allowing Addons, especially without the content to back it up.

How do you feel about Addons in MMO’s? What’s your favourite MMO Addon? Do you like SWTOR’s UI? Do you wish SWTOR had Addons?


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  • SavingPrincess

    Addons should be allowed for all games. I’ve wanted addons for SWTOR for years. Final Fantasy XIV has ACT, which would be great for SWTOR.


    ACT has the ability to play an audio file once an ability is off-cooldown, or a buff/debuff expires on a player or enemy.

    This made me SUCH a better team-player in FFXIV, and the lack of addons is one of the main reasons I never touched group content in SWTOR. The hotbar bloat and timers to manage doesn’t work for me when the information is purely visual/icon based.

    ACT could use your PC’s TTS engine, combined with some basic REGEX scripting to say specifically what buff/debuff expired on which player/enemy. I would have paid good money for this in SWTOR.

    So much of MMO information is visual by nature, and in SWTOR’s case, it’s all tucked away in hotbars and icons. Some players like watching hotbars and icons, I’d rather have a pleasant TTS voice tell me when I need to reapply something or a boss is channeling an ability that’s about to melt my face.

    The argument always comes up: “Well that creates a competitive imbalance in PVP!” well sure… but so does a good video card, or an MMO mouse. As far as I’m concerned, if it’s available to everyone, it’s not an “imbalance.”

    If I’m DPS’ing in a group, I WANT to know if I’m lagging behind where I should be; if I’m tanking, I WANT to know when specific boss/room mechanics are being activated. I want to be a better player for my team, and Addons let me do that.

    • I agree with your sentiments for sure. Addons don’t cause imbalance at all. I mean I may find the process of finding and installing Addons to be annoying at times but they do enable players to tailor they’re gaming experience to their needs/wants and that’s important so they can enjoy the game and in turn keep playing it. Giving players more choice in how they play is always beneficial. Also, that ACT Addon sounds amazing.

      • SavingPrincess

        It really is. It made me such a better player. I don’t know why audio cues haven’t been used in MMO’s for CD’s/(de)buff timers/etc. yet. It allows the player to focus their eyes solely on the action vs. their hotbar/icons/healthbars. ACT can tell you when boss mechanics are happening, phases are done, call out enemy HP% at key points, etc. It’s awesome. It all relies on the robustness of the network-based combat log which it parses in real time from active memory.

  • I’m much happier without addons. I started in WoW back in 2006, and coming to SWTOR I actually found it very refreshing to never have to worry about updating addons after a patch or losing a certain functionality because another addon stopped being supported by the creator. I’m much more critical of MMO UIs now and when something doesn’t work right out of the box, I’d rather stop playing that particular type of content than start fiddling around with downloading addons (assuming the issue is sufficiently bothersome).

    In WoW at least, addons also created a weird sort of arms race in raiding. As people (understandably) created addons to make certain fights easier, the devs had to constantly cram more and more complex mechanics into each fight to keep things challenging. I watched a video of a current generation WoW raid boss the other day and it was absolutely bursting with timers and debuffs and what not that all needed to be tracked by addons. I like that in SWTOR I’ll never have to worry about an ops fight with too much information for a regular human brain to process.

  • DrakeDoesn’tWrite

    No addons or Macros is why I can’t fully commit to Star Wars. The UI is always going to be trash when you’ve been making your own for a decade:). What I will say is FFXIV has a great stock UI. They also allow Macros.