Earlier this year, we covered the story of the fan-created legacy World of Warcraft server, Nostalrius. Nostalrius was a so-called “classic” server that emulates World of Warcraft before its first expansion, The Burning Crusade, ever launched. These efforts have often been shut down by Blizzard when they gained enough momentum to be considered significant, and Nostalrius was no exception.
What was surprising was the initial engagement Blizzard offered. The Nostalrius team was invited to Blizzard HQ and had the opportunity to sit down with Mike Morhaime and the other WoW developers to talk about the Nostalrius project, the difficulty of creating legacy servers (these are servers dedicated to a previous iteration of the game), and whether or not there was any path forward for the project from there.
Now, the Nostalrius team has announced that they intend to reactivate the project — but not with Blizzard’s approval. In fact, according to Viper, a Nostalrius developer, they haven’t heard from Blizzard in months.
After the meeting with Blizzard, we continued to reach out regarding the issues they raised in order to help them as much as possible and to speed up the process of an official release. Trust us, we were ready to work like hell on that, even more than before in order to help WoW team. But we never received any response to these questions, even after 4 months. Then, we tried to show our motivation to solve the issues from a different angle by working on mature proposals (studies, cost analysis, schedules, milestones, etc.), including a complete transfer of technology of our existing work, fixing the few remaining issues we had, official Battle.Net integration on Legacy to enhance community driven strategy and other more complex IT topics, all of this on a volunteer basis. Why? Our only goal was to nullify as much as possible the impact of Legacy on the WoW team so that everyone could be pleased with the result. We knew that having even a single person from the current WoW Team working on Legacy might not be seen in a positive light by the Legion community, something we understand. Sadly, we never received any answers to these proposals either.
Blizzard apparently took the topic of legacy servers off the table at BlizzCon, which led the Nostalrius team to make another push at handling the job themselves. In Viper’s words: “So, it’s time for us to release our source code and additional tools to the community in the hope that it will maintain the Legacy community as much as possible until Blizzard announces an official Legacy plan – should they decide to do that.”
The Nostalrius team is giving the code base for their server to a different project, Elysium. Starting now, Elysium has suspended work on its own server iterations and promised instead to implement the Nostalrius source code, including a restoration of old player characters. Sixteen Nostalrius team members have joined the Elysium project already, and the Nostalrius team has promised that one Elysium has successfully integrated their own code base, the source code and additional tools Nostalrius created to build their own server project will be made publicly and freely available.
Characters from Nostalrius will be ported to Elysium servers, but the response from the legacy community to this announcement hasn’t been very positive. Many voices in the legacy community don’t want to see the server source code publicized, fearing an avalanche of terrible, for-pay servers. Others are adamant that they wanted their characters back, not just moved to a server they may not want to support. Some, meanwhile, wanted one Nostalrius server, not a hundred different servers based on different tweaked source code.
But again — Blizzard hasn’t bought into or condoned any of this. There’s little reason to think it will.
I don’t work at Blizzard, so I won’t pretend to know what the WoW developers or Blizzard’s C-suite think of the idea of legacy servers. We do, however, know that Blizzard has historically taken a very dim view of other people mucking with their code or releasing their own legacy server projects. From Blizzard’s point of view, the invitation extended to Nostalrius to travel to HQ and engage directly with the dev team was a significant olive branch to the legacy community — a community they were under no legal obligation to engage with at all. If Blizzard decides to play nasty, they absolutely can. There’s no law protecting any right to emulate World of Warcraft’s server backend, and there’s nothing stopping Blizzard from filing lawsuits seeking injunctions that would forbid the public release of source code, or killing the Elysium project altogether. In fact, that’s probably exactly what’ll happen. Individual devs may or may not support that decision, but devs don’t make these kinds of decisions.
Frankly, it would behoove Blizzard to pay attention to requests for legacy servers. While World of Warcraft: Legion offers some opportunities to revisit previous dungeons and content via a new game mode called Timewalking (you visit old dungeons, but your gear and character stats are scaled down to the equivalent level for that dungeon), these instances aren’t the same as what we played when they were cutting-edge content. The current WoW character classes are vastly different than they were five years ago, and the Timewalking dungeons tend to be easier than their original counterparts. I’m sympathic to the idea of legacy servers — but this probably isn’t the way to get them. If Blizzard decides to really step up enforcement, it could kill the other legacy projects with relatively little effort.