Just how do they keep track of all of their toons, and more importantly, what abilities their toons have?
I logged into Neve for the first time in what felt like ages, and tried zapping a few assorted beasties in Icecrown.
Tried being the operative word.
After I finally stopped hitting keys for abilities that hadn't procced yet, I finally started spamming Frostbolt, because at least I remembered where that was. I froze myself in ice at least twice before I successfully killed my first mob, and yes, it really did take me that long.
I stared at my empty glass by the computer, and sighed. "I'm going to need another beer if this keeps up," I mumbled and switched to Quintalan. Surely I couldn't have forgotten how to play Ret, not after years of play beforehand. But a short glimpse of the main bar later, I decided to just switch back to my Rogue and queue for a battleground.
Surely, I thought, it must be better on The Old Republic, where I'd gotten used to playing different classes on a regular basis.
After spending the end of Chapter One on my Sith Inquisitor, I switched back to my Commando and quickly found myself in a 4-man Heroic on Alderaan. On the first pull the Shadow cc-ed an elite and I readied a Concussion Shot on another. I hit the button and...
"Dammit, Ki! What are you doing?"
Oops. I'd hit Explosive Round by mistake, which had the side effect of undazing that elite.
We managed to DPS down everything, and I apologized to the group. While they were accepted, I still smarted from my screw up. This was something that I prided myself on not doing.
Clearly, a better method than "I think I remember where everything is" was needed.
Way back in her Pugging Pally days, Vidyala of Manalicious posted a chart she used to keep track of all of her Draenei alts' hair style and design. While it served her purpose, I've begun working on my own version of her chart to keep track of keystrokes on differing alts.
Since I play more alts on TOR, I figured I'd start there first.
Ironically enough, one of the things that people complain about with TOR --the similarity between different classes on knockbacks and whatnot-- is perfect for my work. Setting up my alts so that similar abilities are always on the same keystrokes will make it easier to slip into gear in each class. Knowing that a toon's main attack is on button #2, the incapacitated attack (if any) is on button #4, and the knockback is on button #5 makes my life a lot easier. While the details on the lesser abilities are different from toon to toon, the main rotation can be reduced to a level I can easily use to slip into and out of while playing. Keeping certain abilities grouped together, like the Commando's various grenades or the various heals of a particular toon, make for good common sense. It also makes for good common sense to keep them out of easy finger range, so that in the heat of battle you don't accidentally hit the wrong button and cause a wipe.
But for a game like WoW, where the abilities and rotations are so different from class to class, the challenge is much greater. Throw in the transition from PvE to PvP, and the organization becomes much harder.
The way I attempted to organize my Cata-era Affliction Warlock --attacks on one row, DoTs on another, and interrupts on a third-- don't necessarily work for a Pally or Mage which are DoT-less. Also, you have to remember the more obscure abilities in your class, because what isn't important in PvE suddenly becomes critical in PvP. How many times have you had a Lock just get going on DoTs in a fight, only to have the mob and/or boss die on you? Well, that inability to use DoTs effectively in an instance suddenly doesn't matter in PvP, because laying down DoTs is one of the primary ways a Lock can kill you. A Rogue doesn't try to out tough a Warrior, it tries to surprise, stun and slash. Doing that in a boss fight is suicide, because the last thing a Rogue needs is aggro when a boss is bringing the hammer down.
Therefore, I've kind of thrown in the towel a bit on WoW alts, and have been reduced to generalities. I don't know what might be most important at a particular time, but I can guess. It's just like switching poisons around; if you've got the time and you're closing in on a caster, get the one that zaps their spellcasting speed. Otherwise, go for the slow poison which works on everyone. The spellcasting poison is a specialist ability, so it goes behind the more general slow poison. Ordering up the finishing strokes is important too; you want ones that will give you the best bang for the buck to be the ones easiest to reach for, while others that work better on extended raid boss fights should be placed farther away. But hey, if the Warrior you're sneaking up behind is focusing on another team member, use the DoT finishing stroke and then Vanish to reset yourself for another strike.
One drawback to reorganizing everything is that it takes time.
Yes, I know there will be the reward of getting everything set up is that I can more easily transition between toons, but when you're looking at the tinkering involved that's not much comfort. And when you throw in customization options, you could easily spend days of game time merely fooling around with your UI.
At times like this, WoW's customization becomes more a curse than a blessing.
If you've ever heard of the theory that with more options the more unable you are to make a decision, then you've got the idea of what I'm getting at. With so many third party add-ons and scripts to choose from, a player can become paralyzed trying to decide how to set up their keys and/or macros.* When all you really want to do is make it easier on yourself to play, it seems counterintuitive to spend all of your time tweaking your key bindings and setting up macros.
However, if you're expecting me to say that The Old Republic has it better, well.... Maybe, maybe not.
No, there aren't any third party UI tools available. Yes, if you subscribe, you have full UI customization access --the same as every other subscriber-- so everyone (theoretically) has the same starting point.
But you still have to configure the UI to your liking. And that takes time, and tinkering. Lots of tinkering.
And each time you train, you may gain access to a new favorite ability, causing you to curse under your breath and try to figure out where to shoehorn that new! cool! awesome! ability into your bars.
Layers, Shrek once said. Ogres have layers. But he could have also been talking about tweaking the UI and keybindings in an MMO.
And I still don't know how a true altoholic can do all of this, keep it all straight, and be able to play well.
*Which is why Elitist Jerks and other sites are so popular; they take the difficult part of the decision process away.