A few weeks ago, Blizzard Entertainment unleashed the lawyers on the all-volunteer army that operated the Nostalrius private server that was running an emulation of version 1.12 of Blizzard’s World of Warcraft game. Well, Nostalrius called it a private server. Blizzard’s word for it was a PIRATE server. Slight difference, there.
Regardless, the effect was the same. Almost 200,000 players were signed up to experience the classic, or “vanilla,” version of WoW. When Nostalrius was shut down, an online petition gathered more than 200,000 signatures asking Blizzard to create their own official classic WoW servers, for players who want to experience the game as it once was.
I have been playing World of Warcraft since it started in November of 2004. I remember the classic game because I PLAYED the classic game. From where I stand, I don’t recall it very fondly. The classic game was hard and unforgiving. To get anything–a mount, a good weapon, some elite armor, or a high end enchantment on your gear–you had to work really hard. Nothing was fast and nothing came easily. The game today is packed with conveniences that make it faster and easier to level your character right to the end game.
However, this has created an interesting dynamic with WoW fans. Some of them don’t seem to like the easy game very much. Reasons range from not having enough to do when you reach max level on your character to not having any way to stand out from your peers. If EVERYONE gets a trophy, then the trophy doesn’t mean much to show it off. I’m trying to imagine in what world having to spend three days of game play farming materials to make alchemist flasks for that week’s raid could be considered fun, but maybe I’m missing the point.
Players hold death march on the private server.
Blizzard, for their part, has finally released a statement on classic WoW servers and on the Nostalrius project and staff. Being married to an attorney who happens to be a partner at the world’s largest intellectual property law firm, I’ve probably been in a few more conversations on this topic than most people, and I was fully expecting Blizzard’s first point. If we don’t protect our intellectual property, we lose control of it. That’s absolutely true. If Blizzard is aware of a private emulation server running some of their code and they don’t take action to shut it down, then the next instance of it must be permitted because they allowed the last one to continue. Fight for it or lose it, when it comes to intellectual property. So a company or other intellectual property rights holder must sometimes behave like a jerk, even when they claim they don’t want to.
Blizzard did say they had reached out to the Nostalrius team and were engaged in talks with them. They didn’t say what those talks were about, but I can guarantee you it wasn’t Hearthstone or Overwatch (those are two more Blizzard games, in case you don’t have your Into Gaming dictionary close at hand).
Blizzard’s second point addressed the question of them providing their own classic WoW servers. They stuck to their guns in saying it would be extremely difficult to do. They referenced having to go back and provide patches and updates to old versions of the code, as well as discussing the difficulties in managing multiple versions of the game. Let me call horsefeathers on that one. Would it take them more than an afternoon? Sure. Would it be harder than they could easily handle? Not a chance.
How do I know? First, other companies are doing old school versions of classic games. Both EverQuest and EverQuest II have progression servers where you play older, original versions of the game, complete with all their fondly remembered quirks. And, for crying out loud, Nostalrius DID IT. On their own, with a handful of programmers, none of which could really work on it full time. How is it even conceivable that the world’s biggest and most successful game company couldn’t do it?
Blizzard said they were considering something they called a pristine server. They would remove all the leveling enhancements and modern conveniences like the automatic group finder for dungeons, but leave the code of the game unchanged. I can’t see that this will be successful. Because the other things wouldn’t be changed. It would still be a game where everyone was riding around on their participation trophies and no one could show off their elite skills by flashing some hard to get item in the streets of Stormwind.
There is a demand for this. 200,000 petitioners shows that. And they don’t want a harder version of the same game, they want to return to the unrelentingly brutal and unforgiving game of their youth. I used to think that people would play on a classic server for about a week before giving up in disgust, but Nostalrius maintained a sizable user base. Of course, Nostalrius was also free, charging no subscription to play the game. Perhaps, in the end, that’s what people want. They don’t want HARD WoW, they want a FREE World of Warcraft.
And even though WoW has plummeted to about five million monthly subscribers, they still have five MILLION monthly subscribers. Blizzard is not about to put free servers online. We will see where this winds up. I would love to see Blizzard offer classic servers. Whether I chose to play on them or not, I can’t say. I would sure give it a try, if for no other reason than old times’ sake.
And that’s Into Gaming, I’m Mark Lautenschlager.