Third party programs such as Curse Client offer users the ability to modify their World of Warcraft client in various ways (UI changes, data feedback, built in tips, etc.) that will give them advantage in gameplay. In some games this type of modification would be considered hacking, such as Maplestory, an MMORPG which does not allow any modification of its game client whatsoever. But Blizzard made a clear choice in allowing “add-ons” in Warcraft and is that it values its user’s ability to be creative and make their gaming experience easier, more organized, and more personalized. Instead of using user feedback to make slow modifications to its user interface, WoW gives liberties to its users in this aspect, allowing them to almost completely modify the whole thing.
One such aspect that I was having an annoying time with was my Combo Points on my Worgen Rogue. Various Rogue moves build up combo points (allotting either one or two, depending on the skill), which can be spent on other skills. The more Combo Points saved up, the more powerful this “finisher” skills are. Sadly, Blizzard did not include a CP counter in its interface. This was a nuisance that I was sure had already been handled by other users via an Add-on. So I went on Curse Client’s search function and looked for Add-ons specific to Rogues. Sure enough there was a whole slew of different Add-ons for this specific problem. Had Blizzard not allowed Add-ons, this problem might have been just brushed under the rug, it’s not that big a deal—users can count their Combo Points (which only go up to five at a time) on their own. But with the inclusion of Add-ons as an option for users, the users felt that it was important enough and annoying enough to just program and modify themselves.
It goes without saying that Add-ons have to operate within certain parameters (the protocol of the game). There is a distinction between what an Add-on is and what a hack is. Hacks take advantage of exploits in the games coding and provide an unfair advantage. Hacks such as speed hack (which is a hack that seems to pop up in all MMORPGS) which allows a user to modify the game’s attacking/movement speed and therefore deal unfair amounts of damage in a very short period of time, are punishable by ban. While both add-ons and hacks are modifications to the game client, add-ons work in very small ways to make the game just a little bit easier, and don’t dramatically change how the game works.
By giving their users some amount of leeway with the games programming, Blizzard has made a statement that it values the input of its users, and trusts them to use this leeway in ways that they can help themselves and one another. In the digital age, many companies have taken the opposite stance on modifications to their software, such as those of the major cell phone manufacturers, Apple and Android. Without illegally hacking the phone’s operating system entirely (which voids warranties), the iOS interface is entirely static. Users cannot change the icons, notification menu, or any other aspect of the phone’s interface except in ways that Apple has provided for them. This shows that Apple does not want its users to creatively change their interface for their own personal preference.
Blizzard, by allowing add-ons by third party applications have shown that they value their customers input into their software, and that as long as they aren’t cheating, its users can make the game better in way that they did not consider. This allows the company to learn from its mistakes in a hands-on way instead of simply waiting for user feedback, and advances its own technology without having to do anything itself.