Community-extended interface in AO
There are a few MMO games that expose an API (application programming interface) to allow for various add-ons to be built to the game client; the most recent to announce such an interface is Rift. In a way Anarchy Online also have a way to include add-ons, but in a different manner and probably unintentional originally.
Not too far after the initial release of the game Funcom released something that was and has been fairly unique among MMOs – an external chat client to the in-game chat. Using a Java applet one would use it to chat with people in-game (or others using the same chat client), without the need to log in into the game.
That was a quite neat feature and it did not take long until other players had figured out how the chat interface worked and started to write their own chat clients. And after that came the idea to introduce “bots”, external software that logged in as a user and throught he chat interface provided various types of services to players – i.e. ask a question and get an answer back. One of the early bots of this kind was Helpbot. Helpbot is the name of the character that one sends tells to, which is run by a pice of software outside of the game.
This mechanic has been extended with many new features over the years; nowadays the bot software is modular, so they run with a common core functionality which can be extended by adding additional modules to it. Information about variout bot software can be found at AODevs wiki, which also have pages for some specific instances of bots on Atlantean and Rimor. Many organisations (a.k.a. guilds in some other MMOs) seem to have a bot of their own to provide various added functionality to its members. A partial list of modules available from one of the bots is shown below (that is maybe half of the whole list).
With many added features to the in-game functionality through the chat interface this is a different approach to the APIs exposed by some other MMOs, with different advantages and disadvantages:
- This mechanic only extends things that can be operated through the chat interface; it has to work within the confines of the existing interface if things are shown in the game (but some modules open up external web pages). The API approach can be a bit more flexible here, depending on what the game developers choose to expose.
- There is no requirement that each and every player install something extra – this is an advantage compared to add-ons that are installed locally; it is really nothing to mess around with for the user to install, update or remove.
- The performance and utilization of these features may affect game chat servers and be more dependent on outside running software than the local computer. That is a trade-off to not have to install anything locally.
- Setting up a bot requires more effort to set up, but on the other hand this is an effort that only a few people are doing.