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Will Blizzard ever put up a WoW classic server?

Vanilla WoW was the best. No, TBC! No, WotLK! Who cares? Just bring old WoW back.

I really want to play World of Warcraft again, but like many others, I just can't get into modern WoW. I tried early last year with Mists of Pandaria and I couldn't stomach it past a point. I just can't do it, it wasn't for me. And judging by the amount of populated private servers for vanilla and The Burning Crusade, I'm not alone on this boat.

This discussion has come up time and time again - not only among the World of Warcraft community, but among the MMORPG community as a whole. How could it not? Millions of people started playing the game during vanilla through TBC that either stuck with the game until now or moved onto other MMOs to scratch their itch. Not to mention how often older players bring that period up as the game's golden years.

I'm not going to argue whether vanilla WoW or an expansion embodied the game's golden years. Everyone has different tastes, and that's okay. People's collective tastes change through the years as well, so it's not like what I want is indicative of the masses. But it's clear there's a sizable demographic that wants to see WoW classic servers happen.

Technical issues

Some huffy vanilla/TBC fanboys may just toss up the lack of classic servers to Blizzard's own ego -- which is entirely possible -- but it's more likely that they either don't have the code for the old clients or they're not entirely sure going through all that trouble would be worth it.

Bringing an older version of World of Warcraft back isn't as easy as just pulling up our good friend the 1.12.1 client, making it live, and giving it a spot on the realm list file. Right? The dozens of vanilla private servers might make you think this is the case, but there's still coding to be done to make the game seem as true to the original experience as possible. And no private server can ever get it just right.

Blizzard might be able to get it just right. If they have the original code on hand, which they might not. This very reason is why Runescape had to go back to 2007 with their classic server instead of prior: they simply didn't have the code for the game prior to 2007. This, again, is something that's been brought up in this discussion time and time again.

Even past the old code issue is the fact the game would have to be updated to some degree to be compatible with modern operating systems. This part of the anti-classic server argument falls a bit flat, as private servers run just fine on modern operating systems. It's not like 2004 was the stone age - just look at the cinematic in the header.

It's hard to imagine that Blizzard could not figure out a way to bring back old versions of WoW, not only because they're such a big company; but also because they're not stupid. They know their fanbase (and ex-fans) are fickle and that there has always been a demand for the return of the vanilla and TBC eras.

Community

Another hurdle lies in whether a classic server's population numbers will be worth the investment for Blizzard. That's a pretty valid concern, because the gaming community is all about writing verbal checks it can't cash.

The above said, it's difficult to imagine a scenario where an official vanilla server wouldn't do well. Not only because of the community demand, but because of the difficulty and the sense of accomplishment that came from small milestones. It felt really good. Really good.

Everyone who played in vanilla remembers the day they got their first mount and how they got it. Most remember the first time they ran a dungeon, their best PvP experiences, and (for those who actually did endgame) when they got attuned for Molten Core and finally got to run it the first time. These are all irreplaceable memories, and it's hard to dispute the magic of diving into what was a fairly challenging MMO and feeling that pride over your accomplishments.

I had a friend who played retail during Wrath of the Lich King and enjoyed it moderately. He'd never played the expansions before it and quit after about a month. It just wasn't his cup of tea.

A few years later, he decided to give a private vanilla server a try. He had a lot of fun despite the bugs and the smaller-than-retail community. Every few days he'd message me, beaming with pride over his accomplishments - and finally he got his 40 mount. He was absolutely exploding with excitement, in part because he worked so hard to get the gold for it (though had to borrow some from a guildie, as I did in 2005 in retail).

As someone who played retail back then, it was surprising to see a relatively normal guy turn their back on WotLK after a month, then go play vanilla on a private server for a pretty long time. That really opened my eyes that, you know, maybe I wasn't crazy for wanting this back.

The grouping issue

This is something modern WoW players point at as being a big detriment to a classic server's potential popularity: there was no LFG and group quests were abundant.

Now let's step back a second.

Is it really so bad that you would have to communicate with other players?

I admit that sitting around waiting for groups was a bit of a bore. But you talked with your guild while you waited, played games via addons (I did this especially), or even dueled. It wasn't exciting, but it was a lot better than pretending other players didn't exist and just playing the game like it was singleplayer with stupid AI companions in dungeons.

People tend to forget the 'MM' part of 'MMORPG'. It is massive and it is multiplayer. You go on adventures, you meet new people, you have fun, and you feel awesome. That's the point.

This is one aspect in which I feel a bit bad for modern World of Warcraft players, because most don't know how it feels to be waiting to find a group to do an "open world dungeon" (I think that was the term) for an hour. And finally another player comes up, you both chit chat a bit while you're knocking it out and narrowly avoiding death a dozen times. It feels good, and you may have just found a new friend. Then again, not everyone has time for that type of stuff.

The future (past) of WoW

With player numbers at their lowest, Blizzard needs to figure something out to recoup players who have gone astray. And I don't think another expansion is going to bring them back for a prolonged period, since the game's player numbers have seen big drops just a few months after every expansion since Cataclysm. It's hard to feel that it won't happen again with the next.

I don't want to say that bringing up a classic server is what they should do, because I wouldn't know. I'm not packed with industry secrets -- but I am confident a lot of people would come back for an extended period of time, myself included.

Vanilla WoW would certainly not be for the larger part of the gaming demographic of today, but to say there's not a very real demand for that style of MMO gaming today is naive. Even EverQuest has opened up progression servers for the old players, and EverQuest 2 is about to open their own.

It doesn't matter whether they release it as-is and leave it, add brand new content to go with the old style of the game, or make it progression-based to work up to The Burning Crusade and so on. But bringing back old World of Warcraft would bring back so many old players it's ridiculous - even if only for a few months. Why isn't this going to happen?

Editor's note: Testing a new feature. Please ignore this note.

Published Jun. 22nd 2015
  • Jay Ricciardi
    Contributor
    Vanilla WoW holds a lot of nostalgia for an awful lot of people... but it kinda sucked, in retrospect ;-; Even just the downtime of having to eat/drink/bandage after every fight is enough to prevent me from going back to Vanilla.

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