When Blizzard shut down the Nostalrius third-party World of Warcraft server, it triggered a wave of protest from thousands of players who had signed on to play the classic version of WoW, before any expansions had arrived to change the experience. In the wake of the fan outcry, Blizzard promised to meet with the Nostalrius developers and discuss the situation. According to the lead developer of Nostalrius, Viper, their meeting with Blizzard about the prospect of building classic servers for the game was productive and treated seriously by Blizzard itself. The list of people attending the meeting included:
The discussion itself ran to more than five hours and touched on a variety of topics, including the history of WoW emulation, whether or not a volunteer team could continue to handle Nostalrius (or a Classic project of similar scope), and a technical report on the achievements and bugs of the Nostalrius project in particular. Here are the major highlights from that meeting.
First, Blizzard does have the original Vanilla WoW source code and can retrieve the code from any previous date or patch at will. Unfortunately, there are still significant barriers to launching a vanilla version of WoW. Viper writes:
[I]n order to generate the server (and the client), a complex build system is being used. It is not just about generating the “WoW.exe” and “Server.exe” files. The build process takes data, models, maps, etc. created by Blizzard and also generates client and server specific files. The client only has the information it needs and the server only has the information that it needs.
This means that before re-launching vanilla realms, all of the data needed for the build processes has to be gathered in one place with the code. Not all of this information was under a version control system. In the end, whichever of these parts were lost at any point, they will have to be recreated: This is likely to take a lot of resources through a long development process.
In addition to the technical aspects of releasing a legacy server Blizzard also needs to provide a very polished game that will be available to their millions of players, something existing unofficial legacy servers cannot provide.
The meeting ended without Blizzard expressing any firm decision as far as the future of classic servers, but the Nostalrius team reports that Blizzard is actively interested in the idea, and that many of the people they met at the meeting were longtime WoW players, from vanilla to the present day. It’s not clear if we’ll see any future classic servers from Blizzard, but the company is clearly willing to engage on the idea. I maintain that the best way for the company to engage with its entire playerbase is to offer some sort of progression advancement through the original game, especially for those who aren’t thrilled that their classes weren’t well balanced prior to The Burning Crusade (Paladins, Shaman, and Druids were basically locked into healing roles in end-game content in vanilla WoW). Such a step is probably an order of magnitude more difficult than getting the company to build even a single classic server or set of servers, so it probably wouldn’t be implemented when / if the first classic servers deploy, if it’s considered at all.
It’s worth noting that certain aspects of vanilla WoW might not be enjoyed by anyone. As someone who participated in the original WoW PvP grind, I can testify that while it was, in certain ways, a lot of fun, it was also stressful and required an insane amount of time, week after week after week. It was easy to hit the early ranks, but if you wanted to push past Rank 11, the amount of time you had to sink into PvP started to rise exponentially. You had to be a member of the server farm team, and you had to play virtually every waking minute — some players shared their account information with other people simply because it was impossible for them to dedicate 8-10 hours to PvP seven days a week for the 3-4 weeks it took to move from Rank 13 to Rank 14.