MMO Rant #11: Custom User Interfaces

“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.

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17 Responses to "MMO Rant #11: Custom User Interfaces"

  1. If you hold your true feelings in like that, it’s bad for your health. ;)

  2. I don’t blame a game company for having just a few dozen (probably less) developers working on the UI, who cannot anticipate every single need their multi-million customer base could have. Or having enough man-hours available to implement them all. The current system may suck, but it’s the least sucky one out there.

  3. That was riveting! *applause*

    Identifying popular UI modifications is as easy as going to a popular UI site and looking at how many people have downloaded a mod.

    Isn’t that part of the community manager’s responsibility to “identify influencers and trends”? How many community managers do you think actually go that far and think beyond online forums?

    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.

    For some reason, those two statements made me think of how products sold at F Street could be innovated, Web 2.0-ized, and essentially sized to fit the users on-demand…

  4. Most game companies tend to have a couple-few UI developers, not a few dozen. I’m actually not entirely asking companies to anticipate every need of their playerbase, either. Instead, I’m asking them to: 1) Implement everything that is expected of any normal UI in their genre at launch. 2) Integrate existing UI mods into the UI everyone gets after launch. It’s really not a stretch.

    Morgan: Yeah, it’s part of the community manager’s responsibility, and part of the producer’s, and part of the UI dev’s, and part of the lead designer’s, and probably more people. I do know that a decent number of CMs go that extra mile, it’s more a question of whether they are heard by the dev team (that they should be part of, but sometimes aren’t).

  5. Yutznut

    /applaud…. I would add….

    Developer arrogance…….

    Developers should not presume that simply because they are paid by the company behind the MMO, that there are not others in the community able to create better _________ that aren’t tied to the company.

    There isn’t an MMO out there that doesn’t suffer from this to some degree. Every single one I’ve played has better other than default UI’s available, or features that have been given an interface that required the player to dig some arcane command up to use.

    If you’re adding a feature folks are clamoring for, don’t just drop in a command and think “ok, see there it is… all better… ” it’s not all better, it’s shite if you don’t give that desired command an interface or menu option somehow.

  6. ninjadwarf

    I have played one particular MMO that won’t even save the positions of windows when you move them.

    I know exactly what you mean.. there is some basic funtionality that should be in ALL games.

  7. Fan-freakin-tastic post. No, seriously. Right on the money.

    I hate the fact that I’m required to use a custom UI just to have basic functionality that doesn’t exist within the current UI.

    Why do I have to download a UI just to get rid of tabs and dead space from the clunky UI that came with the game?

    Why do I need a new UI just to fit all my bags on my window – not everyone’s playing on a 30″ widescreen.

    Why do I require an add on just to include basic maps that may or may not be accurate because the basic game doesn’t give me ANY POSSIBLE WAY to ever get those maps otherwise?

    Why do I have to spend 2-3 hours of my time every few months just fixing the code in my UI because I dared to use a custom UI which may or may not be supported any longer because the player who was building the code stopped playing the game? Is that 2-3 hours of quality time with the game…or 2-3 hours spent working on code for the game’s interface?

  8. Yet another reason why I like EQ2. Theres only one mod (that I feel is) needed (MAP Interface), and the devs fully support it, going as far as to make sure any UI updates don’t screw up the compatibility. That, and when people copy the EQ2 UI for other games (*cough*Vanguard*cough*) you know theres at least /something/ right about it.

  9. Good show! Hiding conveniences from the players, or waiting for someone else to do it is the wrong answer.

  10. Redrik

    The WoW interface is the best default interface minus your obvious complaints. I agree that it’s incomprehensibly stupid to not have things like movable windows in the UI by default. There are also things that are pretty much hidden like being able to loot all of a mob’s gear immediately that should be exposed by a button.

  11. Yeebo

    One thing that impressed me about the early days of WoW was how they stole elements from popular UI mods and stuck right them into the default UI as options. For example, the game didn’t ship with multiple hot bars. Not sure why Blizzard stopped doing that, or why other developers don’t do that.

    When you get right down to it, no single design element of your game is probably as important as the UI. That’s the link between the user and your game. Why is it the the tendency seems to be for developers to get default UI to “good enough” and then ignore it?

  12. Actually.. Blizzard is still doing that. Enemy cast bars, raid frames, target markers, focus, scrolling combat text, target of target, ready checks, reputation tracking, autoloot, damage/healing meters, AH sorting, multi-item mails, BoP warnings, cast sequences, #shoptooltip, conditional casts, LFG interface.. All of those have been borrowed from user-made UI mods. According to initial reports, threat meters will be next and are scheduled to be integrated into WotLK.

  13. Bhagpuss

    “ ‘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’. ”

    Not exactly. I’ve never used a custom interface and never intend to. Far from being God’s gift, they’re an annoying, gimmicky nuisance.

    I use the default interface and if that’s not comfortable to use I don’t play that game. I preferred it when I at least had a reasonable expectation that the information I was seeing on my screen was there or thereabouts the same as what each member of my group was seeing.

    Custom interfaces and the accompanying haemmhorage of stats and “essential” info have been instrumental in moving me away from group play and into solo/duo play, where at least I can have a conversation on strategy based around only what my character can be imagined to see.

    As for moving the windows around, I massively preferred it back in the old days when that simply wasn’t an option.

    Design the default interface properly and there should be be no need to drag bits of it about.

  14. Praise the Lord for those clever independant programmers who rally together to solve our UI woes. Hip Hip Hooray! My hats off to all you folks who know what you are doing. I don’t know how you do it…but it makes my MMO life a hell of a lot easier..no thanks to the actual in house UI developers usually!

  15. The only way you could have improved on this rant is through the gratuitous use of profanity.

  16. I apologize, brent. It’s too easy for me not to use profanity when typing as compared to thinking or speaking. There was a lot of profanity in my head though, if that helps.

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