Modding a game like World of Warcraft can earn you widespread acclaim, but it doesn’t exactly pay the bills. For all the accolades developer Adam Williams received for Deadly Boss Mods, a raid tool considered indispensable by WoW’s community, he still found himself burnt-out on raiding and too poor to pay for badly-needed dental surgery earlier this month. Then the game’s community came to his rescue.
Deadly Boss Mods has been around since the days of vanilla WoW. It’s an interface mod that gives you alerts and helps you coordinate strategies with party members, a godsend against the game’s ever-shifting rogue’s gallery of arch-nemeses. Williams is its sole developer. Over the years, it’s pretty much become his life.
“I don’t just work on DBM full time,” he said in a post about how he was stepping down from WoW’s elite Mythic raiding scene.
“It’s all I do period. I have no life, no friends, no time to really do anything else at all. It’s not just coding mods here or getting to play the game for money. It’s not as peaches as it sounds. It’s committing to every PTR/beta even when I have a raid character to maintain on live and raids to go to later that night. It’s grinding dungeons, artifact power, world quests, gathering mats, levelling blacksmithing so I can craft even more raid gear, etc. Many hours, EVERY DAY.”
Stress and money have become serious issues, Williams wrote. Every day, he was splitting his time between the mod and running errands for his 70-year-old mother, who he said is disabled and has had two heart attack scares in recent times—which makes the prospect of working away from home worrisome. On top of that, he said his own health had also begun to fail, and he couldn’t afford to get help.
“I have health issues because I can’t afford medical insurance or to have dental surgery I need,” he said. “I take fish antibiotics to manage an abscess tooth I’ve had since [the] Legion pre-expansion event. Unfortunately, as my body has gotten more resistant to antibiotics, the infection has spread to two other teeth and even begun to spread to parts of my jaw now, and if I don’t have it treated soon, it could escalate into a blood infection.”
He insisted that he wasn’t pleading for money and said he figured that he’d use his newfound scraps of free time to do odd jobs and make a little extra cash. But no more Mythic-level raiding meant no more hands-on testing of Mythic-level Deadly Boss Mods features, so he requested the community’s aid in running tests.
He ended by saying that his love for Deadly Boss Mods “hasn’t changed,” but he needed to “focus on my health for a minute and try to recharge my sanity and lower my stress.”
Then his post blew up on social media. It didn’t take long for messages of support to start flowing in. People said they didn’t realise how hard Williams had been working, or how rough things had gotten for him.
“Man, I have been around since Vanilla and have ALWAYS used DBM,” wrote one player on Reddit. “I figured it had to be done by a team of people. I mean, the updates are so constant, and I can’t think of many times where I went, ‘Man, DBM failed me.’”
Donations to Williams’ Patreon went through the roof, reaching his personally-set maximum tier. He could finally afford to take care of himself. “I can’t wait until mother gets home from church, and I can finally tell her I have to shave my beard off,” he wrote on Patreon.
“She hates it, I love it, but if I’m going to get surgery in mouth/jaw, then it has to go.”
Then, yesterday, Blizzard’s World of Warcraft team, with the help of computer hardware company MSI, pitched in as well, gifting Williams a new high-end PC to replace his old one, which he said was bottoming-out during big boss fights.
“We hope that this small token of our appreciation takes a little stress off your shoulders,” the WoW team wrote in a note that accompanied the PC.
“I cannot thank the community or Blizzard or MSI enough for all the new support I’ve received, other than [by] focusing on health, family, and continuing to make DBM best mod I can for [the] WoW community until the end of WoW’s days,” Williams wrote in response to the gesture.
It’s all nice and heartwarming, but it’s also hard to look at this situation and feel altogether good about it. It might not be on companies to take care of all modders or offer them jobs or what have you, but DBM is a WoW fixture—a key element of the game for countless players. It might have started as nothing more than a small-time passion project, but it’s much, much more than that now.
With games’ lifespans stretching on for decade-plus spans of time, these ecosystems — rife with voluntary, uncompensated labour, even when it’s partially supported by Patreon — start to look more and more questionable. If somebody who’s made an essential part of a game since day one can’t support themselves, what does that say about the company and game in question?
What does it mean when a company like Blizzard is benefiting from an add-on like Deadly Boss Monsters arguably more than its creator, all while doing none of the labour to make it? It might be the way the gaming industry’s done things for a while now, but it doesn’t mean it’s the right way to keep doing them.