Would Legacy Servers Really Detract from Warcraft’s Current Game?

UPDATE [8:32AM PST 27 April 2016]: The petition, currently at 241K signatures, was delivered by former World of Warcraft developer Mike Kern directly to Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime via email on April 26. Additionally, Blizzard issued a formal response on the Warcraft forums by J. Allen Brack via Community Manager Nethaera.

Greetings!

First, apologies on the radio silence. Who would have thought working full time and attending grad school full time would have meant I had little time for anything else.

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Well, as you can see the latter is now behind me. I have finished and am all the wiser. Now I have more time to do things like entertain you fine readers.

A lot of things I like to write about in here surround gaming and tech that interests me, chief among them eSports, community as a marketing tool, and Blizzard games. So it should come as no surprise that a recent development in the Blizzard gaming world would prompt my return to expressing my thoughts through the written word.

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Oh, Nostalrius. If you haven’t heard of this by now, then you’re in the minority. Essentially the short skinny of this is:

Once upon a midnight dreary
Gamers logged into their World of Warcraft garrisons weak and weary
Pondered life with such a query, and said,
“Fuck this.”

About a year ago, Nostalrius launched with servers based in France to the chagrin of Blizzard who threatened legal action if they were not shut down. Nostalrius, of course, complied and formally shut down this week.

Blizzard shutting down private servers is nothing new and happens all the time. So what made this one different? I think the fact that it had grown so large is probably the main reason. Nostalrius’ volunteer developers claimed more than 800K registered accounts and more 150K active users. If we were to presume based off the last known subscriber numbers released by Blizzard (before they decided to no longer report such metrics) and couple that with the rate of falling subscribers, that would put its own active subscriber base around 4 million, thus, putting Nostalrius at roughly 3.75 percent of what Blizzard currently sees across all its global servers on a single server. Clearly, nothing to balk at.

In the wake of Nostalrius’ closure, a myriad of tribute videos have popped up that were recorded in the server’s final moments:

Horde side:

Alliance side:

…all of which resulted in a flood of media coverage from the BBC to popular YouTubers, like JonTron:

The final development being a petition addressed to Blizzard Entertainment co-founder and CEO Mike Morhaime, which at the time of this writing was at 111K signatures (and still climbing), calling for the development of official legacy servers to offer old world content.

That’s where we are in this situation. Blizzard has yet to formally address anything involving Nostalrius, but they have spoken to the topic of legacy content. The only thing I could drum up was from an old EU forum post by Community Manager Vaneras in 2011 who copy-and-pasted an older response from a previous post and adding:

We regularly see requests for us to open classic pre-TBC realms, or vanilla realms if you prefer, and lately we have also seen requests for pre-WotLK realms and even pre-Cataclysm realms. We have answered requests like these before saying that we have no plans to open such realms, and this is very much still the case today.

We realize that some of you feel that World of Warcraft was more fun in the past than it is today, and we also know that some of you would like nothing more than to go back and play the game as it was back then. The developers however prefer to see the game continuously evolve and progress, and as such we have no plans to open classic realms or limited expansion content realms.

As a player who jumped on board the Warcraft train halfway through the Burning Crusade stop on its journey, I only got a small taste for what the game was like as remnants of those alleged “glory days” were still in effect:

  • Leveling took FOREVER.
  • Mount training and mount costs were ASTRONOMICAL considering the amount of currency you earned.
  • Level 40 was the first time you could even think about a mount and if you played durid like I did, you had that god-awful quest to get your swim form that had you walking from one ass end of Azeroth to the other ON FOOT.
  • Elites were no joke and there were few people who could solo a level-appropriate elite.
  • Talent trees were a clusterfuck even if you took a cookie-cutter build

Despite all that, there was something magical in Azeroth. I remember my first foray into the game world and thinking “damn, this game is HUGE.” And that wasn’t even the half of it. The true magic came, well, from the people. The players.

The community.

I made my first gaming friends while leveling, introduced to me by a real life friend who had encouraged me to play the game to begin with. And you know what…

EIGHT YEARS LATER WE ARE STILL FRIENDS.

We ventured into other games together, playing Star Wars: The Old Republic, Diablo 3, and Destiny, among others.

Along the way I’ve made and met new friends in game and at various meet-ups, including BlizzCon and other nerd gatherings like ComicCon and E3.

This is important to discuss because this is the first thing you notice in those videos I linked above from Nostalrius’ closing night. It’s evident that this wasn’t just a private server with a few hundred people playing an illegally created version of the game; this was an entire community that quickly amassed itself over the last year. Very few instances in this game lately result in such numbers of people coming on at the same time to celebrate an event. And while this makes what Nostalrius’ did no less illegal, you have to admit there was something inspiring about seeing that many people gathered in game for…something (anything at this point).

I mean, currently in game, what do people gather for outside of the occasional world boss that hasn’t been spammed in g-chat for an hour and posted to the cross-realm group finder to fill because it’s not a Tuesday?

The sense of community has withered over the years and that’s really what’s missing from Warcraft in game. Consider this, we had a big fight as players over the ability to fly in Draenor, which caused the developers to reconsider their initial decision to keep it out. Their reasoning behind it was to force people to explore the beauty and dangers of the land. But really, did that truly exist? People had a flightmaster in their garrison that could take them to practically any point in the current expansion, if not damn near close to it. Much like the previous expansions, people gravitate toward the hubs (in this case the garrisons) and do little else. Being on land, or flying, had nothing to do with the exploration of the land because once leveling was over people weren’t really interested in exploring it on foot. To me, Wrath of the Lich King was the peak of community-driven gameplay because you had a mix of old world and new world game theories that incorporated dungeon finder with the need to still do things locally on the server (Wintergrasp, weekly raid kill quests, etc). Such things just don’t exist in the current game.

The game itself is fun, keeps me entertained and looks BEAUTIFUL, but alas I find myself in a once active progression raiding guild where I am the only person online most of the time and the thought of shopping for another guild is rather depressing considering I’ll likely have to leave my server for the lack of them that would take me in on my server.

Ok, so this is the problem, but was what Nostalrius did the answer? Ethically, I say no and Blizzard was well within its right to shut it down. But the fact that it existed at all to such a large degree is indicative that Blizzard needs to do more than Timewalking dungeons and cross-realm zoning. The idea of legacy servers is not without merit. Will it detract from people’s enjoyment of the game in its current state? That is a great question that would need to be tested. For myself, I can say no. I would definitely play (and pay for such access) on a legacy server, but in my off time from the current content.

I look at it like this:

I was in the Navy for ten years, and while most ships the Navy are decommissioned (the first one I was assigned to, USS Ford FFG 54 was decommissioned a year before I exited the Navy), gutted and sold to other countries to add to their fleet. The Navy does save a few of them to become public museums, like the USS Midway in San Diego. Its existence means nothing to the current fleet, and so I believe a living (or digital) museum of Warcraft’s previous state would be a fun idea. The game can still move forward while having a place where people can look back and appreciate the journey the game has taken. Video game enthusiasts play current consoles and still hop on in their previous generation and even old school systems to play older games just for shits and giggles. The existence of emulators for older games for those unable to play on a legacy consoles does not detract from people’s enjoyment of current games.

In fact, there’s quite a huge marketing potential for Blizzard in the “Let’s Play” crowd. Developers have said rebuilding and offering a legacy server would siphon resources away that build newer content. But if Nostalrius’ account numbers are to be believed, then a good portion of the players would either not care if new content takes awhile to come out (so as long as it’s good) or, they’re too new to the game that older content would itself be considered new to them. And there’s a ton of online broadcasting that I know would be done to support people’s enjoyment of playing old school content, especially as people finish current content awaiting the new expansions.

Part of me is tickled with the idea of fooling around on an official legacy server if only so I can appreciate the current design. I mean…Tauren druids, remember when you looked like this hot mess running around with your mouths open like derpy window-licking kitties:

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Enough said. Ha!

In the end, I do not think it would be so bad to have legacy content servers if only for them to serve as living museums of what things were to appreciate better how things are now. Who knows, it might actually get people to enjoy the current content more, which I fully admit is a rather lofty assumption. But an assumption, nevertheless, supported by the hundreds of thousands of people that supported Nostalrius.

It is, however, Blizzard’s call. You can either fall in line by supporting the company in continuing to play the games, or discontinue by not playing them because that’s your call. For those of you that choose to stick around, I’ll see you in game.

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