We're doing things just a tad differently today on Addon Spotlight. I received an email last week that really got me thinking and that I thought answering in the column would provoke some great discussion and commentary. Anyway, before we begin, do not fret, readers -- I'm recommending a couple of quickie addons as usual. Let's jump right in.
Before I begin the meat of the discussion for this week's Spotlight, let me serve up some appetizers for you. Two quick addon recommendations -- go!
If you're raiding in Cataclysm, you will eventually come face to face with the blind dragon Atramedes, one of my favorite fights in Blackwing Descent. The fight features a new UI element called the Sound Bar, a radial graphic that denotes how much "sound" you've built up over the course of the encounter. When you hit 100% sound, Atramedes "sees" you and instantly kills you. It's like that T. rex in Jurassic Park with the lawyer on the toilet -- except with sound instead of movement, so it's really nothing like that at all.
Appropriately named addon Atramedes will track the sound levels for your raid. In order to effectively complete the encounter, you're going to need to keep your sound low -- otherwise, you have to activate one of the precious gongs around the room to reset your sound levels. Sometimes, players are too focused on other aspects of the fight to keep tabs on their sound level, or the graphic is not as precise as people want for pinpointing the exact amount of sound you have built up. Atramedes helps raid leaders and gong-bangers alike by providing concrete numbers that can help choose when to reset everyone's sound during the encounter without relying on the nebulous little graphic. Sounds (ha ha) good to me.
Download Atramedes at [Curse].
Skill Helper is an addon written by the author of the email I received that I will talk about just below. For now, check out one of his addons. Skill Helper is a simple addon that performs a very crucial task: the addon tracks your skills and lets you know when you should train up the next level of profession. As someone who maxed out my archaeology and then accidentally made six extra items, wondering why my skill wasn't going up, I would have benefited greatly from something like this.
Future editions and builds of Skill Helper promise to let you open skill windows from the addon itself, making it a capable professions opener as opposed to keeping all of your professions on an action bar or other dock. For now, I think simple is best. It's a great little addon to keep around while you're leveling up.
Download Skill Helper at [Curse].
Adding up addons
Here's where I take a little turn in the ol' structure to discuss a really interesting concept and issue that I had previously not really given too much thought about. Addon author JerichoHM sent me an email all about getting into Addon Spotlight -- but more importantly, what makes an addon worthy of donations.
I'm not submitting a suggested addon for the spotlight or anything, but I wanted advice. I am the author of Skill Helper, which just released what I'm calling the 2.x core. 2.0 has gotten very little negative feedback, and what I have gotten is mostly requests to revert closer to the 1.x look of the addon. I have decided to push the design to the 2.x core around to make it resemble more closely to the 1.x look, while incorporating all of the new artwork and features that 2.x is going to carry with it. I opened the acceptance of donations in the 1.4b release about a month ago and 2.0 released 4 or 5 days ago. 1.4b had over 1,000 downloads and 2.0 is already over 800 downloads. I haven't received any donations, and while that isn't why I do it (I honestly wrote the addon for myself and my friends), it would be nice.
My question isn't really "how to get a donation" but what do the users deem worthy of a donation. Addon development may not be full application development but is very time consuming, and well, gamers are demanding and perpetually dissatisfied customers in every aspect of their lives. I've had mostly positive feedback, but the negative is where I aim the most. I allow the users to join a Facebook group so that they can follow the development and chat with me when I'm available. Curseforge and Curse are great for distribution and basic project management, but Facebook has been a wonderful tool for meeting my users and hearing first hand what they like and dislike in a real time basis.
I guess while I would love to go into the Addon Spotlight with Skill Helper, I know that it could never happen. It resides in the 1,000 user range not the 3,000,000 user range. I can say, however, my users are loyal and admire that I check my Curse mail and comments and sit with my Facebook group chat active every day. I'm constantly updating them on my plans and status. And they all seem to understand that I have a family and full time job ... enough that one of them fixed the addon (partially) for 4.x release in WoW and began porting it to Ace3 thinking I had possibly stopped development. That user is now a contributor and has stopped his Ace3 port because he liked where I was going with the 2.x release and knows I will do what is needed to make them all happy.
Could you possibly cover a 10 points of what makes an addon a spotlight addon? As a dev, I'm always looking for this info to try to better my stuff.
The core issue that seems to be present is what makes a good addon great enough to garner a following, and further, what makes an addon garner a user base that is compelled to donate towards the addon. Each question needs to be taken separately.
Garner the following
The best addons gain their popularity in three distinct ways. First, the most popular addons perform a function that people feel is necessary or incredibly useful. Second, an addon needs to do its prescribed function well and, if the particular addon is breaking into an already established category, better than the other guy. Third, the best addons usually have the best interface and customization options, easily navigated by users but still coming fairly ready to go out of the box. Great addons have all of the customization you could ever want but don't necessarily need, because it is a complete package ready to roll.
The classic example of an addon that hits all three points is Omen. The reigning big daddy threat meter of the day was KLHThreatMeter, which worked for what it was. Back in the day, we never really had a threat meter -- no one really thought to have one. The (always) warrior tank would just say "wait for three sunders" and the DPS would unload. It was not until Vaelastrasz that a threat meter was thrust into the spotlight.
Omen did threat better than KLH. Omen looked better and was more accurate, provided a then-necessary function of threat calculation, and did the job better than KLH. As such, the addon eventually overtook the reigning champion and became the threat staple.
The trick is that Omen or its author Antiarc didn't actively pursue the addon fame. Instead, the work spoke for itself. A better and more useful product eventually rises to the top, especially with addons that travel most effectively by word of mouth.
Donating to addons
Addon development is not necessarily about getting donations or making money off of addons. Sure, there have been cases like Tourguide that sold distribution rights or addons that advertised for premium versions, but for the most part, people create addons because they can. The donations are a product of the complexity of the design and creation process mixed with the apparent complexity of the addon itself. And then, if that wasn't enough, the author's personal connection to the user base creates an incentive for people to care.
You're doing your audience a kindness by being vocal about your addons as well as creating many places for your audience to find you. These are good things. The donations come when the complexity of the addon reaches a level where development of the addon is impaired by the lack of funds. If you write addons in your spare time and they are mostly small utilities, I wouldn't expect donations. If you're going all out and creating something comprehensive like the Atlas team has done with AtlasLoot or a raid warning system like DBM, the development time of your product is probably closer to donation status. Again, it's not about noteriety but about complexity.
The first thing to do is get your addon noticed and get people using it. Once you get feedback and ideas and begin to incorporate those ideas to create new, more plentiful, and better products, people take notice. The best get rewarded.
As for getting on Addon Spotlight, most of the addons I choose are addons that I find personally. There has been the occasional addon that I try out because of an email, but that is rare only because the addons people send me to spotlight are usually ones I've already talked about. I don't care how many people have downloaded an addon when I choose it for the column -- I just want something that does its job well.
What do you guys think? What makes you drawn to an addon, a particular developer, or even want to donate to see a project continue? Sound off in the comments, and thank you for letting me have a little space to talk about this interesting email.
Addons are what we do on Addon Spotlight. If you're new to mods, Addons 101 will walk you through the basics; see what other players are doing at Reader UI of the Week. If there's a mod you think Addon Spotlight should take a look at, email email@example.com.