“Holy crap, how on Earth could the Grouchy Gnome rant about Custom User Interfaces? They are God’s gift to gamers!” Yes, I did just quote exactly what was in your head when you read that title. I am a seer. Also, I love customizable interfaces. They are awesome. What isn’t awesome? Requiring a custom UI for base functionality I expect in every MMO ever.
I’m going to refrain from too many direct examples, at least in reference to specific games, because I don’t like making other developers angry when I rant. I’d rather embarrass them when they recognize that I’m talking about them without outright mentioning who they are.
My biggest complaint. Ever? Let me move my effing interface elements! Holy. Crap. Yes, this is a double “holy crap” post. You cannot predict where I want the elements of my interface. You are not a seer like me. Let me move the location of my damn health, and radar, and experience bar, and hotbar, and bags, and everything else that shows up on my interface. Wait, I have to download a UI mod to do it? You are a stupid game developer.
I understand the need for simplicity. I understand that you don’t want to overwhelm new players with options, and you don’t want them to be able to screw themselves over by moving things to places they shouldn’t move them. But I am not a newbie. I am an advanced user. Expose the ability for me to screw myself over, because I won’t. Let me put things in locations that seem illogical to you, because I want to put them there.
You can’t save the user from himself all the time. If the user wants to be able to screw himself, let him. Protect the newbies, and give the advanced users the power to ruin themselves. Don’t make them download a mod, no matter how powerful the mods can be.
Have you ever, my friendly developer, taken a gander at the UI mod site(s) for your game? If so, which ones are really popular? Which ones make the game more useable and less sucky? Identify them, and use them. The mod community won’t hate you for it. In fact, give the person credit who created the original version and they will love you for it.
Have you noticed that tons of your players have downloaded a mod that consolidates bag space into a single, convenient window instead of many? Integrate that into your UI.
Have you noticed that tons of your players have downloaded a mod that allows users to break apart and move individual pieces of your UI? Integrate it into your UI.
Have you noticed that tons of your players have downloaded a mod that allows players to see a map of an instance (that you already have a map for but only expose via the mini-map)? Integrate it into your UI.
This is not rocket science. Identifying popular UI modifications is as easy as going to a popular UI site and looking at how many people have downloaded a mod. Then you can look at how it was implemented and outright copy/paste it if you want. Amazing, isn’t it?
You should never, ever, require a UI mod for common convenience functionality in your interface. If you do, you are dumb.