Last month, Blizzard’s legal team shut down one of the largest third-party servers dedicated to classic World of Warcraft. That decision drew considerable fire from World of Warcraft subscribers, so much so that the company issued a formal statement explaining why it shuttered the Nostalrius server and pledging to continue discussions around the issue.
Last week, former lead World of Warcraft designer Mark Kern challenged part of Blizzard’s response — specifically, the statements the company made regarding the legality of third-party servers and the challenges of creating a framework that allowed such servers to exist while simultaneously protecting Blizzard’s IP.
“I also helped draft Blizzard’s TOS and EULA, so I know quite a bit about this stuff,” Kern told the Escapist. “[Beck’s] just…wrong. I don’t know where he’s getting his advice from, but from a legal perspective he’s dead wrong. Let’s say ‘He thinks he knows license agreements, but he doesn’t.”
Kern has also published an open video addressing the situation, highlighting the fact that petitions calling for legacy classic servers have gained more than 230,000 signatures, with Twitch streamers pledging support for the concept as well. Blizzard has since responded to the open video and petition with an offer to meet with the Nostalrius team and discuss the classic server question.
While a meeting is no guarantee of any particular outcome, it looks like Blizzard is going to take another look at this concept.
One thing everyone agrees on is that there are genuine technical hurdles that would need to be solved before the classic server idea could become a reality. The classic WoW of late 2006 may still exist in archived form, but the modern game runs on different software and hardware than it did back then. It’s not just a question of dusting off the old code and dropping it on a new server. Blizzard would either have to update the old code to include modern security patches, exploit fixes, and support for the current Battle.net client, or implement classic content in the modern game engine. Both approaches have pros and cons and only Blizzard knows which is more feasible.
There is, however, a larger problem with the classic server question. MMORPGs are designed to be content treadmills. Developers spend months working on new dungeons, quests, and areas to explore, then release these updates to players, who spend days or weeks playing through the new content. Every 1-2 years, Blizzard releases an expansion pack with a huge amount of additional content and significant gameplay changes.
Static classic servers would fundamentally alter this equation. One of the biggest problems with classic WoW was the gap between the early raid dungeons, which required 10 people, and the later dungeons, which required 40. Blizzard addressed this somewhat with the release of two 20-man dungeons, but this was only a partial solution. If your guild couldn’t reliably field 40 players to challenge Molten Core, Blackwing Layer, Ahn’Quiraj, or Naxxramas, you were left with two choices: Find another guild to ally with to make mutual progress, or accept that there were significant parts of the game you’d never see.
Here’s why that’s relevant to this discussion: Blizzard made it clear that The Burning Crusade would add more 10-man content months before the expansion actually launched. Players in guilds that couldn’t put 40-man raids together knew that a solution was coming down the pipe. On a classic server, no such solution exists. There’s no new content, no adjustment to mechanics to allow for more flexible builds, and presumably only limited options to transfer a character. Blizzard may be concerned about investing significant resources building out a classic server platform, only to find that people quickly become bored and quit once they realize they’ll have to commit to old-school raiding schedules to progress in the endgame. Hardcore raiders, meanwhile, will eventually finish all of the dungeons in the game and quit. Will players still stick around and subscribe if they know there’s no new content coming? That’s a genuine question.
I would like to propose a potential solution to this issue, though I freely admit it’s an off-the-cuff concept. One way Blizzard could deal with this problem is by offering a classic server for each expansion of the game. Allow players to transfer from one classic server to the next at any given time, but only in one direction: You can take a lvl 60 character from the Vanilla server to the TBC server, but there’d be no way to copy a character from TBC back to the vanilla game.
Whether or not this is workable depends a great deal on the base difficulty of porting the game code. But it would offer gamers something no other MMO has ever implemented: The opportunity to see the world as it originally existed, almost a decade after that world went offline — and then to experience how it evolved over time.
There are good reasons why Blizzard might never go this route, but as a six-year player of WoW, I kind of hope it does. I wouldn’t want to be locked into a classic server, but I sure wouldn’t mind paying one a visit.