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Addon Spotlight Presents: The Case of the AdiBags emails and modding the inventory

Each week, WoW Insider and Mathew McCurley bring you a fresh look at reader-submitted UIs as well as Addon Spotlight, which spotlights the latest user interface addons. Have a screenshot of your own UI that you'd like to submit? Send your screenshots along with info on what mods you're using to readerui@wowinsider.com, and follow Mathew on Twitter.

A strange occurrence has ... well ... occurred. You see, in a very short period of time -- a week, to be exact -- I received more than 15 emails from readers telling me that I should do an Addon Spotlight article on their favorite bag addon, AdiBags. "Wait a minute," I thought to myself. "Didn't I just do an Addon Spotlight on AdiBags, and didn't it already receive glowing approval and praise from my community of misfits? Things are a little different on Addon Spotlight today, folks.

"Where are all of these AdiBags emails coming from? What has spurred so many people to write in to me about the same addon within the same week period? Was there something in the air? Did AdiBags call home the faithful with the trumpets of righteousness? Is AdiBags central to some sort of mating ritual amongst addon nerds? Please, please, please make the last one real."

It occurred to me that it might be a good idea to talk about individual portions of the WoW UI and why people find certain aspects of them and the addons that correct apparent misteps in design or lack of features so compelling. Think about it. Blizzard has given you this playground and the tools to play in it, with the option of bringing your own tools to the table. I can't change the nature of how much sand the shovel can pick up, but now I can change the shape of the shovel, its color, how I hold the shovel, etc. That's sort of a big deal when you think about MMOs that launch in the present without so much as a scaling feature for the default interface elements.

Addons are not a unique feature to World of Warcraft. Yes, many other MMOs have platforms in which players and the community can tinker with the user interface in massive ways. But World of Warcraft is the standard we follow for all eternity, the new vision. Crowned king WoW speaks of user interface customization, and all will honor and obey. But not all did ...

The bag addon

So what makes AdiBags such a great addon? Actually, now that I think about it, that question is too specific. AdiBags did not start as a great addon -- it started as an idea that the inventory system that Blizzard included with World of Warcraft was, for specific intents and purposes, unimpressive and lacking in feature design. Your bags in vanilla World of Warcraft were just that -- bags. You could open them individually or all at once, and each item took up one slot. You could get new bags with more item slots, but for many players, high-end bags were not something easily obtainable, especially in the pre-Naxxramas, 40-man days.

Antiarc sent me an instant message way back in the day showing off his brand new addon called Sanity, a bag mod that turned your inventory into an alphabetical listing of items that was great for crafting searching and other types of organization, if you're in to that sort of thing. Others sang the praises of OneBag and other inventory compilers that could do amazing magic like stack items for you or automatically place items into categories. You could even search through your bank and bags! How amazing and progressive.

Why was the inventory UI such a target for addons?

The best reason that I can come up with for the WoW inventory system's being the target of so many addons -- not to mention complex addons that are almost games unto themselves (ArkInventory, anyone?) -- is how featureless the default bags were. There was quite literally nothing you could do with your inventory besides put stuff in and take stuff out. I hope you remembered what your brand new sword looked like, because you're going to be spending enough downtime during the raid looking for it that ... well ... OK, you had plenty of time because we waited forever back in the day to pull, but whatever.

No features and tons of freedom lets creative people be creative. Bag addons began to emerge that did away with the cumbersome and fragmented separate bag style and introduced the onebag-type inventory, allowing players to see all of their items on one screen rather than in separate entities. It's immersive, sure, but at the end of the day, not the most appreciated aspect of the UI. The WoW bag system was very much a product of its time, however, and we are always wise to remember that.

How has WoW inventory design changed MMO inventory design?

Honestly, I don't think WoW's original inventory system had much going for it at all in terms of features over the other MMOs at the time. I remember hating Dark Age of Camelot's inventory system with a passion for some reason, and anything and everything in the MMO world was a step up from the Ultima Online inventory, which was the best inventory ever made but for far different reasons. What WoW's inventory did in the vanilla days was refine the inventory system to a beautiful polish, working in enough management to be engaging while still keeping the complexity low. Blizzard's putting in its own onebag solution, however, would not be a bad move in the least.

Ironically, the real troubles concerning inventory system design don't come from the bags themselves but rather the items players put into those bags. The best inventory system in the world is worthless without compelling gear to loot, rare items to find, and trinkets to collect. Was the inventory system in WoW designed as just a means to an end, with the intention for players to add on to a system that never really yearned for its chance in the spotlight?

Whatever the case, inventory systems continue to evolve in the genre, and WoW's own bags have seen some small yet landmark changes to the system, incorporating a search feature and (a while back) item colorations and borders. Who knows what changes Mists of Pandaria will bring to WoW's bag system? What would you like to see added to the default bags in order to make them a bit more accessible and alluring to players?

So, yeah, that's what I thought about after getting all of those emails about AdiBags. This category of addon has left such an imprint on people, as well as a lasting satisfaction, that people are willing to take time out of their day to email me about it. I have to say, I'm a little flattered.

Don't forget to give AdiBags or one of the other numerous types of bag mods out there a try.

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 mat@wowinsider.com.

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