Thursday, September 10, 2009

Return to WoW: First disappointment

WowAce Updater is gone. Bummer. My return to WoW starts on a down note and I haven't even logged in.

When I last played WoW I came to favor the WowAce mods. Unlike monolithic addon bundles such as Cosmos and CTMod, WowAce is a mix and match collection of addons. WowAce doesn't force an entire UI change on a player, instead you choose just the addons you want.

Another advantage of separate addons happens after patch days: a monolithic project often waits to release until all its components are updated, while individual addons allow you to install updates as they are released, so at least you have some functionality.

Back in the day, the WowAce Updater allowed one to pick the addons one wanted and it would install them while checking the dependencies to ensure you had the common libraries needed by the addons. It kept the addons up to date too, downloading new versions when needed. WowAce Updater simplified the whole issue of managing many individual addons down to just a few clicks. It was slick, and free.

And that was the problem. WowAce Updater (WAU) was so easy to use and good at its task that the bandwidth costs grew to exceed what the supporters of WowAce could afford. WowAce is a development community and repository, not a release site. So WAU was disabled and the Curse Client substituted instead.

Not only was WAU the better program, but the free version of Curse Client is both adware and crippleware. To even approach WAU's functionality with Curse Client one must be a Premium member, at a base cost of $4.95/month. When I was actively playing Warhammer Online I used Curse Client for my addons. I went back recently to update them and first had to update Curse Client only to find that it no longer updates all addons with a single click. That feature has been moved behind the pay wall.

Finally I get to the point of this post: companies that leave in the hands of intermediaries aspects of a customer's experience that could easily be brought in-house. While outsourcing functionality often makes sense, the game industry has cases where the goals of game companies and their intermediaries aren't well aligned. Typically the intermediary's goal is to make a customer's experience worse before making it better. is making making the free Curse Client as bad as it can possibly get away with in order to maximize the contrast with the paid client. While this makes sense for Curse, it doesn't make sense for Blizzard. Blizzard would be well served to incorporate addon management functionality into its forthcoming improvements to This would provide support to all Blizzard's games and offer the best experience to customers at the lowest cost.

Game industry intermediaries whose revenue is derived from a two-tier scheme where bad service is free and good service requires a paid subscription have a problem: this isn't a viable long-term business model.

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