Bye-bye, Bashiok

A few hours ago, Community Manager Bashiok announced today is his last day, that he is leaving WoW. There is nothing startling or surprising about his departure, he has been with Blizzard for nearly 12 years, a very long time in the world of virtual game design and development.

I suppose I am neither disheartened nor happy about Bashiok’s — aka Micah Whipple — departure. I wish him well wherever he goes from here. He has not been a flamboyant presence in the forums, especially lately, but he has had some notable impact. In particular, it was he who made the ill-fated statement leading people to believe flying would be  reinstated in “the first major patch” in WoD. In retrospect, I think he was the designated “bad news preparer” on the whole flying debacle. He walked point on the subject until the final “no flying” announcement by Hazzikostas. And I believe his statements on the matter up until that announcement reflected a sharp opinion divide within Blizz. It was telling to me that Hazzikostas, not Bashiok, made the no-fly announcement, indicating who was on which side of the internal debate. I will give him the benefit of the doubt and attribute his “major patch” words to wishful thinking on his part, in the face of what he knew was ultimately a losing battle.

At any rate, thanks for doing the best you could, Bashiok, and good luck to you.

Clearly, the end of a major expansion is a good time for people who have worked a project a long time to leave if they intend to do so. It’s a natural break point. And Bashiok’s departure makes me wonder if we are in for another round of key personnel changes at Blizz, especially on the WoW project. If you will recall, that happened at the end of Mists, just as WoD was being announced, and in my opinion it was one of the major reasons WoD turned out so badly. With the WoW franchise becoming less and less important to Activision Blizzard, my hunch is that there will be much more turnover than in the past, that people will want to establish a few good lines on their CV and then move on.

Bashiok may be the last of the “true believers” on the WoW project.

Short post today, I am need of a long weekend! See you on Monday.

Aaaaaaaannndddd — We’re off!

Unless there has been a gaming news blackout on your home planet, you know that the next WoW expansion will be unveiled officially next week at Gamescon. Already the blogosphere and the forum-o-sphere and the Twitterverse have spewed out thousands and thousands of words on the subject, more will be written in the coming days and even more in the coming months.

Speculation of course is rampant. The leading theory is that the new xpac will have the general theme described in a leak from a week or two ago — the one published on MMO-Champion and then hastily unpublished at Blizzard’s request. To my mind, the fact that Blizz was so concerned about it pretty much proves it was an actual and unintended leak. I do not think even Blizz would be so cagey as to engineer a false leak, then feign concern deep enough to have it retracted, all to throw everyone off the track of the “real” xpac theme. But if they did, honestly my hat would be off to them, it would be a brilliant strategic feint.

For those of you who did not get a chance to see the MMO-C item before it was yanked, you can get the main points in this gottabemobile piece published yesterday.

I am not going to speculate further about the various parts of the new content, there will be plenty of time for that in the weeks and months to come, and it really is pointless until we have some official word on it. But I will make a couple of comments:

1.  Lessons from the past. Historical precedent notwithstanding, I fervently hope Blizz has taken lessons from their past mistakes. For example, I hope they are technically prepared for the huge server loads at launch, and that for once we might have a smooth rollout. If they use themes from the past — for example a water world theme — I hope they remember all their mistakes from Vashj’ir. And I hope they have learned their lesson about flying — it is toothpaste that cannot be put back in the tube, they must allow it at a reasonably early time in the new xpac, better yet, build play around it from the beginning.

2.  Player choice. I would like to see a turnaround in philosophy by reinstating more player choice in the game. This would involve things like letting players choose how they want to earn their gear and what that gear will provide in terms of stats — that is, a step away from pure RNG as the sole determining factor. More player choice would also manifest itself by moving away from strict linear play that requires raiding for all players as the only acceptable end game.

3.  Class balance. Class balance seems terminally broken. I would love to see a serious effort to restore not only individual class and spec balance, but also decent meta-balance across classes. Not the band-aid approach we have had in WoD. There should never be vast differences between the highest performing damage dealers and the lowest ones, among skilled players. It’s fine for some classes to perform slightly better on certain types of fights than others, but the huge pendulum swings of WoD are unacceptable. And no player should be forced to play a certain spec because that class’s other specs are not viable. Last, step away from the homogenization of classes and bring back the unique “feel” of each class.

4. Early player feedback. By this, I mean Blizz needs to dig deep into player feedback from beta and the PTR, not just apply a quick fix and move on. I don’t really have any good examples for this, but I know that many of the worst problems in WoD were noted by players in beta and on the PTR, and Blizz’s responses — if they did not outright ignore them — often tended to be quick tweaks that never addressed the underlying problem. Which brings me to my last comment,

5.  Time. Blizz needs to take the time necessary to bring us a fully-developed and fully-tested product, not rush it out the door to meet some accountant’s deadline before the next quarterly report. Yes, if the expansion is delayed, players will whine and throw tantrums and such, but better that for a few weeks than having it continue over the life of the expansion. Because once it launches, there will be a swift judgement about it, and if it is perceived to be bad, then there is almost no way to ever change that.

Everyone make sure you are strapped in, we are done with the little kids’ merry-go-round, the roller coaster ride is about to begin!

Shipyard — epic fail

http://www.julienberthier.org/Love-love.html

Courtesy Julien Berthier

Now that we are into the fifth week of 6.2, I feel I can state categorically that I am an epic fail at shipyards. Of course, I would be happy to blame it all on Blizz — and in a minute I will point out their culpability in the matter because that is what I do — but honestly most of the problem is me.

Let’s start with the main factor:  I hate the entire idea of shipyards and naval missions. I find them tedious, annoying, and a burdensome expansion of the whole concept of follower missions. Thus, from the get-go I am handicapped, because you seldom excel at activities you hate.

I was never a big fan of garrison follower missions. I did them, mainly for the gear rewards especially on alts (and of course Blizz could never let us have an actual benefit like that, so they no longer reward alt gear until your alt gets to where it no longer needs it) but I always thought they were a tawdry attempt by Blizz to distract us from the fact that WoD had so little content. However, at least they were pretty mindless — get some followers, gear them up to max, install Master Plan, and thereafter dispense with the day’s missions in a few simple clicks.

See, follower missions really were that elusive thing Blizz disingenuously claims other activities are: optional. If I was not happy doing them, it was no big deal, I could stop and the real only cost to me would be some gold and gear. If I wanted to keep doing them, at least they were simple and quick. My choice.

But in typical Blizz overreaction, they took a nice optional activity, removed all the convenience and fun from it, added frustrating levels of meaningless complexity, and made it mandatory if you were working towards the legendary ring.

So I started my shipyard already hating it and begrudging every minute I had to spend on it.

Now add in the complexity. Every ship has to be specially configured for every mission, or they will fail. So spend several minutes figuring out what equipment each ship must have to reliably succeed at the intended mission, run down to the equipment seller, turn over an unreasonable amount of garrison resources to buy the equipment, then run back to the mission table, install the equipment, and launch the mission. Do that for several missions.

And by the way, you can — and frequently do — fail on any mission with less than 100% success prediction. I have failed on missions listed at 95%, 98%, and 99%, as well as on many missions over 50%.

As an added incentive to take risks, mission failure can mean loss of that ship you spent days upgrading to where it could actually be outfitted with the equipment it needs to succeed. Wow, who wouldn’t think that was fun?

Oh, and did I mention that the missions can take over a day to complete? So you frequently get to wait 18 hours or so to receive news of your failure.

Not to mention it is not just a matter of buying the equipment. Oh no no no no no. You have to go grub for it in T2, either spending days or weeks earning rep to buy it from a faction vendor, or hope the RNG gods smile on you and it drops from a mob.

So let’s see, where does that leave me so far?

  • An optional activity I found unenjoyable before 6.2 is now mandatory.
  • All reasonable rewards have been removed from it.
  • It is sluggish and complex to do.
  • To have any chance of success you must grind various activities for weeks. Unless you are lucky, which of course does not pertain to me.
  • Failure is compounded, since loss of a ship with two equipment slots usually means it will be replaced by a ship with zero or one slots, making success more elusive, resulting in more failure.
  • All this to complete the requirements for a legendary ring with limited use.

Nice.

Now to add insult to injury, here is the kicker: to get to a level 3 shipyard, you must complete 25 missions of a very particular kind. Not just 25 missions, 25 reward missions. You must have the level 3 shipyard to have any chance of completing the mission sequence to fulfill the ring requirement. How many of these reward missions are presented each day? Well, that depends. See, even if there are, say, 5 such missions available, RNG keeps popping up “blockades” you must launch a mission to clear before you can get to the reward missions. Blockade missions for me have never been “green” or 100%, so I do the best I can with them and hope they succeed so I can have a chance at a reward mission which also can fail. Often I lose ships on blockade missions, meaning I have to rebuild ships which are inevitably green with no equipment slots, meaning I have less chance to break the blockades, etc. Even if my blockade mission succeeds, I can only get maybe one reward mission (which may or may not be successful) in before the blockade pops up again.

WHO THE HELL THINKS THIS IS FUN???? Only people deep into schadenfreude think this is fun. Only Blizz’s Screw With the Players Department could have come up with this.

I have tried several approaches to shipyard missions and ship building. I have tried the “just keep building them and sending them out no matter what the odds” approach. All this did was waste my oil and garrison resources, with very little advancement. I have tried the “get epics and only send them on 100% missions” approach. All this did was bring my progress to a halt, because there are never any 100% reward missions for me. I tried abandoning missions for several days to grub for equipment blueprints in T2, with zero results if it required a loot drop. Nothing works for me.

I am still 8 missions from my level 3 shipyard. At my current rate, that means I might possibly get the level 3 in about two weeks. Not even close on the legendary mission line. Epic fail. Both me and Blizz.

 

 

 

Back to communication lockdown

After the Big Emotional Flying Flap, I — foolishly — thought that Blizz had learned a lesson about how lack of meaningful communication can spiral out of control. In response, not only did they do the “Q& A” but there was even a decent follow-up a week or two later. Though both these events left something to be desired, I was encouraged because they showed a willingness to discuss reasons behind some game design decisions, in a way that was not flippant or snarky or dismissive of legitimate player concerns. (Hazzikostas remarks about demo locks and disc priests notwithstanding.)

At the time, I expressed my hope for these kind of sessions to continue regularly, and — gullible as I am — I really thought there was a chance that might happen. But no, it turns out they were only “events” designed to shut everyone up and buy Blizz more time before the player base disappeared at an even greater rate than it had in the first quarter of the year.

(Also, if Blizz hopes to get a huge bump from next summer’s movie, they need to be able to hype the bump as an increase in subscriptions, not as recouping their massive losses from the WoD disaster of 2015.)

It was, it seems, all about the second quarter bottom line. We will get the Q2 report on August 4, so we will see then, but I have no doubts that it will be a rosy picture for Activision Blizzard, and that there will be no unpleasant footnote about significant WoW subscription losses that Michael Morhaime will have to shoo away as “normal cyclical patterns.”  Because promising flying worked as a tourniquet.

As I have said before, the lesson that Blizz “learns” every time they make big mistakes is that if they APPEAR to be contrite and if they seem serious and humble enough, it will all blow over and they can go back to business as usual.

In this case, the almost total absence of meaningful communication for months, the subterfuge about “maybe”, followed by an imperial edict that there would be no more flying ever, became a public relations disaster. The fact that it subsided after a flying promise and a couple of in-depth pseudo interviews showed how hungry the player base was for some meaningful communication and respect for legitimate game play concerns. Most well-run companies would learn from this and implement regular communication of the sort that their customers demanded.

But not Blizz. Having averted disaster, they are back to their normal communication lockdown. Except for a few Blue Posts AFTER major decisions, they are back to @WarcraftDevs tweets as the main communication vehicle. I don’t know who decided this was the best way to communicate with customers, but whoever it was has zero grasp of the concept of customer relations. There is a place for fast short communications, but to use that medium as the major route to interact with customer concerns is just plain dumb.

Example: Everyone who plays the game knows that queue times — unless you are a tank or healer — are unacceptably long. Worse, they are quixotic, so that your guildmate who queues 5 minutes before you do can get into a group in 2-3 minutes, yet you might wait 2 hours or more. Or the other way around. This is a very significant problem, affecting many aspects of play, causing some players to abandon LFR completely even if they otherwise like it. For weeks now, Blizz has given no indication they are aware of or care about this problem. It is a situation that cries out for some discussion, some explanation of why it happens, some reassurance that devs know how frustrating it is and are working on a fix, some estimate of how long that fix might take to implement. But what do we get? This:

@WarcraftDevs

Improve by how much? Surely you must have a working estimate. What’s with the whole “class diversity” thing? There was not a huge queue time problem prior to 6.2, so when and how and why did you change what appeared to be a working algorithm for what seems to be a terrible one? What made you believe “class diversity” was necessary for LFR groups? Did you not test it before you implemented it? Did no one think it might have a terrible effect on classes — especially DPS — with high populations? Does this mean the current raid tier demands certain classes in order to down bosses? Have you abandoned the concept of “bring the player, not the class”?

LFR queue times are a big deal for many, many players, and a response like the one above generates more questions than it purports to answer — it is something that needs some communication beyond a couple of cryptic tweets.

It is sad but telling that we still learn far more about WoW game design decisions from a former employee than we do from the current ones. MMO champion, as you may know, has for some time been publishing WoW-related tweets from Greg “Ghostcrawler” Street. While I was never one of his big fans, I do think when he worked for Blizz that he always showed respect for players and he always took player concerns — even when they were clearly just whining — seriously. And even now he manages to use short tweets to good advantage, providing decent thoughtful answers and comments. Here is a recent example (GC tweets in bold):

Can’t make content last longer, but you sure can make it last much shorter.
I think you can make content longer *if* you add rewards. I think there is a magical time to reward ratio. (OccupyGStreet)

So here’s a question – how do you distinguish content as reward from drawing things out?
I think there is almost an internal clock of being ready for a reward / something new. (OccupyGStreet)
Which is why you can’t just add time without also adding rewards, extrinsic or intrinsic. (OccupyGStreet)

@WarcraftDevs could take a lesson.

A few days ago, MMO-C published some longer responses from GC, beyond what he felt he could convey in tweets. I am not going to quote them here, although I found them interesting, but take a look at them if you have a few minutes. The point is not so much what he had to say, but that he felt it would be useful to provide better comments than the Twitter vehicle allowed.

Why can’t Ion Hazzikostas and some of the other decision-makers currently at Blizz do the same thing? What would be wrong with a weekly extended-comments sort of communication, where they gave some decent insights into things players have asked about or pointed out as problems? It does not have to be a time-consuming studio “Q&A” “event.” Just some honest, thoughtful communication on a regular basis.

Communication lockdown just never ends well, a lesson Blizz has yet to learn.

Wait, what?

Today’s post concerns another example of Blizz’s slapdash approach to this entire expansion.

Since the launch of WoD, there has been a steadily growing tendency by Blizz to make nearly every reward in the game dependent on RNG. Everything. Even profession recipes, for crying out loud.

The corollary to this tendency is that player effort counts for less and less. No matter how good you are at raiding, tier gear — as well as any other decent gear — is a function solely of blind luck. You can run every wing of LFR every week to get tome drops for the legendary, patiently waiting hours and hours for queues to pop, but this kind of commitment to the game means nothing in the end, because tome drops are just a matter of luck. You can spend hours in Tanaan and get dozens of pieces of Apexis-upgradable Baleful gear, but the chance of them having performance-enhancing secondary stats useful to you are completely luck-dependent.

You can work your butt off figuring out how to configure your ridiculously complex ships to finish just one more reward mission for that stupid level 3 shipyard requirement, which you have to have in order to have any hope of completing yet another legendary ring requirement, but in the end even if you get a 99% success probability, your mission can fail and you can lose the epic ships you worked for two weeks to level. Oh, and that’s assuming you don’t get blockade after blockade, forcing you to take a day to break the blockade just to get another shot at a reward mission. And of course success at breaking blockades is  a matter of chance also. As are the chances of completing the legendary missions even after you get your level 3 shipyard.

You can run old raids every night on multiple alts month after month after month and not get that mount drop you covet. Or your guildmate can run it once out of boredom and get the mount. Because it has nothing whatsoever to do with the amount of effort expended, only sheer luck.

Player involvement and player expertise are no longer rewarded. Player luck is. The game is becoming nothing more than a lottery, with ever-diminishing odds.

So it was with some astonishment that I read a Blue Post from July 24, outlining some pretty significant hotfixes being made to PvP gear. (Emphasis mine in the partial quote below.)

[Initial changes]

… We feel that this change will allow there to still be a benefit to earning the Champion’s Strongboxes over the course of the season, but due to the fact that you’ll still want to complete your set bonuses, that benefit will be a little extra flexibility in gearing choices instead of simply having Versatility items another player may not have won. This also greatly increases the chances of earning a desirable item from your Strongbox (at least, until you have everything you want from them) by reducing the overall number of possible items you could get.

Thanks again for all of the feedback on this topic. We’re hopeful that this change will greatly improve the gearing experience in Warlords Season 2, and are taking all of your feedback to heart as we plan for future seasons.

 [Additional changes]

… First, we’re going to make the remaining non-set armor pieces available on the Conquest vendors. They’ll still be available through the Champion’s Strongboxes, but if you’d rather not leave earning them up to random chance, you’ll be able to purchase them for Conquest points instead. With this change, the only items that will only be available through the Champion’s Strongboxes are the random-stat Accolade trinkets (which cannot be put on the vendors due to some technical hurdles). We’re aiming to make this change with this upcoming weekly reset.

Note that, as a result of this change taking place, we no longer plan to make the Champion’s Strongboxes purchasable with Conquest points for players who have earned the Wild Conquest achievement. Since nearly all of the items in the Strongboxes will be directly purchasable with Conquest points themselves, we feel that this would just add unnecessary frustration or confusion if players were to spend their Conquest on a Strongbox instead of just buying the item they wanted.

Now, I don’t do PvP, so I can’t speak to any of the gear problems that were being addressed by this hotfix. In fact, I usually don’t even read any of the Blue Posts about PvP. But this one caught my eye because it is a repudiation of the concept of RNG-based rewards for PvP play. 

Excuse me? The rest of us live with RNG dictating every aspect of our game experience, but PvP players can’t possibly be expected to endure the horror of “random chance” for their gear?????  Blizz jumps through their collective butt to “greatly improve the gearing experience” for them? Are they so delicate that Blizz has to protect them from the nightmare of “unnecessary frustration or confusion” if they are not allowed to just buy the item they want? Would they just wilt and collapse from the sheer trauma of not being appropriately rewarded for their success?

Now, before the hate mail gets started, let me say that I have no enmity for those players who prefer PvP to PvE. It is a play style choice I can respect. I personally am neither good at it nor interested in it, but that doesn’t mean I have it in for those who are. And I understand that Blizz has not done well by them in this expansion, they have been misled, forced to deal with major PvP-specific class imbalances, and left unable to play because of horrible queue times.

Well, join the club! PvP is not a special snowflake. If I have to suck it up with frustration, confusion, random chance and a terrible gearing experience, then PvP players can too. Their expertise in the game should count for no more than mine does, and if it is unacceptable for their rewards to be left to blind luck, then it is unacceptable for mine also.

It is not fair to tag all PvP players as prima donnas, but Blizz certainly seems to cater to their every little desire, whereas legitimate — and similar — PvE concerns are routinely ignored. This gearing change is one example. Another is the way Blizz has gone to great lengths to alleviate the long Ashran queues — even going so far as to allow players to queue as the other faction if the wait is too long, a creative and unprecedented solution. The rest of us? We deal with 2-3 hour LFR queues and Blizz does not even deign to admit there is a problem, much less go to any effort to fix it.

Hey Blizz! Pretend I am a PvP player and fix my gearing experience and my queue times, too!

Annoyances — petty and otherwise

You know how when you live with someone for a long time, all those little quirks you once thought were cute end up driving you batshit? That is how I feel about WoW. Overall, I still love the game, divorce is not on the horizon, but many of its little quirks lately just make me want to scream. And drink. Which is why it is a good thing it is the weekend.

Here is my current list:

  • Foofoo pets. Way too many of them have annoying noises or disgusting habits. Looking at you, Perky Pug. The first time I saw it scooting its butt along the ground then smelling it, I laughed. Now it just disgusts me, makes me not even want to eat my raid food. I hate its yappy little bark, the same way I hate that stupid LA-LA-LA daisy song or Li’l XT’s tantrum or any core hound roar. And buying costumes for pets — whether that nasty pug or Pepe — not only do I not do it, but I actively avoid anyone who insists on showing off their outfits.
  • In-your-face toys. I hate all those things people can throw at you and they land in your bag. I never throw them back or do anything with them except throw them out immediately. And while I am at it, what the hell was Blizz thinking when they instituted that stupid group train noise chant? Without a doubt, THE single most annoying “fun” mechanic in the history of the game.
  • In-your-face appearance changes. No, I do not wish to have a pumpkin head. No, I do not wish to have my lovely tall elegant night elf transformed into an ugly squat dwarf. No, I do not wish to look like a bunny. I do not wish to be made tiny or gigantic. Leave me alone, for crying out loud!
  • Birchus. It’s like living in a loft apartment with a Great Dane.
  • NPCs with the attention span of a gnat. I swear, if that stupid dwarf in my bunker says “Nice ta meet ya!” to me one more time….
  • Shipyards. Everything about them is annoying. Everything.
  • Weeds that attack you while you are being blissfully “immersed” riding through an area. Come on, Blizz, admit it, you did this solely to screw with us, right?
  • The bug that takes away your Trap Launcher every time you change a glyph. You cannot imagine how often I have forgotten about this and ignominiously dropped a trap at my own stupid feet when I was supposed to cc something for the raid.
  • Queue popping interrupts your meal. Any number of times I have waited in long LFR queues, then thinking I was getting close, started to eat a 125-stat meal in prep, and the queue pops before I get the buff, wasting a pretty expensive meal.
  • Nat Pagle. If that drunk tells me one more time that he would throw my fish back if it were him …..
  • Elevators. Inevitably they leave some of the raid behind and generally just waste time waiting for them.
  • Long runs back after wipes. There is just no reason for this. One word, Blizz: phased portals. Okay, that is two words, but you get the idea.
  • Uncontrollable bodyguards. These guys are downright dangerous if you are a specially squishy type. They run amuck where there are lots of mobs, aggroing everything in sight, killing themselves and probably you as a result.
  • Not being able to get all three dailies at the same time from that dude inT2. It’s just stupid to have to do one bonus objective by itself, then go all the way back to get the next dailies afterwards. Why not offer all three at once?
  • Tanks who start pull countdowns, then pull before it is finished. This totally messes up people’s cooldown timing and potion usage.
  • Tanks who do pull countdowns then don’t pull when it is finished. Meanwhile, DKs have popped Army, hunters have popped Stampede and Misdirection, etc.
  • People recruiting group players when they are ready to pull in less than a minute. Happens a lot with world bosses.
  • Still getting PvP-flagged for joining a group on a PvP server. I thought Blizz was going to fix this, but it happened to me a few days ago, and the flag stuck with me after I zoned back to my own PvE server.

Short post today, but it is Friday. Everyone have a good weekend.

My favorite addons

I am a gadget person. I am fascinated by gizmos and whirligigs and electronic devices. I am mesmerized by any new technology that comes out, and even if I don’t think I would ever have any use for it, I always admire the innovation and creativity that went into the idea. So I suppose it is natural that I am a big fan of addons in WoW.

Before I go further, two disclaimers. First, I am in no way connected with any of the addons I am going to mention by name, have no creative or monetary stake in them, and receive no remuneration for them. Second, for all you purists out there, I get that no addons are “required” to play this game, just as there is no “requirement” to own an automobile or a phone IRL, but they sure do make life easier and more fun even if they do complicate things a bit.

I currently have something like 112 addons installed. Before you start with your tsk-tsking, let me point out that many of these are “descendant” type addons such as 6 modules for Deadly Boss Mods, 11 modules for Atlas, 14 modules for Trade Skill Master 2, etc. Also, I don’t use all addons for all characters, each has its own subset configured just for that class and set of specs. Still, it’s a lot.

The addons I feel like I could not function without, for all my characters, are:

ArkInventory has always been — and still is, in my opinion — head and shoulders above the standard Blizz inventory management system. (Bagnon is similar in function, but I have never tried it so can’t comment on it.) I am sort of a tidy freak when it comes to my storage space, and ArkInventory allows me to categorize everything however I want, and tuck it into its own little place, in my bank, bags, wherever. You can even organize your guild bank as you see fit, without imposing your structure on everyone else, because only you see the organizational rules you have established. The only thing I wish this addon had is the ability to do bulk categories — sometimes it gets tedious to individually categorize new items, it would be easier to multi-select similar ones and define the group.

BT4 makes the Blizz action bars usable. Granted, it does not really do anything you can’t do using just the native interface, but it makes the whole process vastly easier and more accessible. I have come to rely on it so much that I am at a huge disadvantage when it is disabled in the PTR, because I have to completely set up my native action bars from scratch, switch between them, etc.

DBM — no comment, most everyone relies on either it or BigWigs for important raid and boss warnings.

WA2 is my biggest cheater addon. I have it set up for every class and spec I play, displaying cooldown timers, spell availability, emergency health warnings, available focus/mana/embers/chi/whatever, and almost anything else you can imagine. I display most of these items in a small circle around my character to be able to see them immediately. I even have a gigantic pulsing red paw that tells me if I have Aspect of the Pack on in raids, and a similar item that warns me if I have Growl enabled in a group. I have configured some of the things myself and have shamelessly copied good ideas from others. Many people offer their WA2 configs for anyone to copy, using PasteBin. (Sorry, before you ask, I don’t, not because I am stingy but because I got tired of catering to individual “I can’t get this to work for me” or “Could you tweak this to also show X” comments and requests. Also, many of my groups contain auras I copied from others, and I do not feel at liberty to share them as if they were mine.)

I am not going to discuss my other addons other than to mention some of my “nice-to-have” ones. I could live without them, but they save me a lot of time and effort:

  • Altoholic — see at a glance what inventory, profession recipes, gear, etc. you have on all your characters without having to log in to them.
  • Master Plan — saves a ton of time on garrison missions, although it could do better on the shipyard ones.
  • AskMrRobot — instantly transfer your current gear config to the site, including what non-equipped gear you have in your bags and bank, so as to take advantage of the site’s Best in Bag, Upgrades, and other services without having to log out first.
  • GTFO — both annoying and handy to have for those times when you may not be paying attention to where you are standing. Cuts down on the ass-chewings from your Raid Leader.
  • HealBot Continued — a must for healers, and as I learned from the Grumpy Elf, for other specs as well. I have gone back and forth between HB and VuhDo on my healers. I find VuhDo to be more flexible, but it has a history of not getting updated for major patches. I think it is being kept up now, but I am sticking with HB just for its reliability.
  • Skada — a lightweight meter similar to Recount. I don’t use it that much, but it is useful once in a while when I am trying out new rotations and/or specs.
  • Titan Panel — lots of useful plugins you can park up there to keep track of info in a handy yet unobtrusive way.
  • TradeSkillMaster 2 — I think there is a version 3 in the works. Lots of handy auction house, selling, buying, profession crafting, etc. shortcuts. It takes some effort to set up, but once it is done it is very efficient. There are lots of helpful tutorials for it also.
  • Tidy Plates
  • Shadowed Unit Frames — a much better unit frame interface than the native one, in my opinion. However, if you use HealBot or another frame-based addon, SUF is redundant. Also, it is not updated that frequently and honestly I am thinking of abandoning it. I have tried Grid but just cannot make myself like it, so if I have to replace SUF it will be with something other than Grid.

That’s pretty much it. Most of my other addons duplicate specific functions of the ones I listed, but maybe in a more efficient manner. Or they are purely social/communication ones. I also like trying new addons, so I usually have a few that I am auditioning, most of which I end up deleting.

One I am currently quite taken with, though, is SpartanUI. I am giving it a try on my Brewmaster monk, since he does not yet have a lot going on that I cannot easily reconfigure. What I like about it so far is that it really cleans up your UI, plus it works well with (in fact, requires) BT4.  A few months ago I tried ElvUI, but I found it was annoying to install, set up, and update, so I went back to my hodgepodge UI. SpartanUI is still in development, but it looks to be shaping up to compete favorably with ElvUI.

I would be interested to hear what addons you can’t live without. I expect I will add some tanking ones if I decide to stick with my Brewmaster much longer, so if you have any of those to recommend, that would be welcome.