What If?

Nobody reads my articles.  Oh wait, records show nearly a thousand views this last week while there’s a nearly three week old article last posted.  That means I’m read by 0.014% of the Warcraft population.  That would mean you’re one of the elites, and I thank you for your readership. I don’t write too often because I really only like posting when there’s something to say.  If you’re getting fed my drivel on a daily or even weekly basis, I feel it just becomes like everyone else.  I’m not a journalist or anything in search of a daily story, I’m a gamer in search of himself and his sanity.

Today I’m going to test your moxy – can you read over 10,000 words in one sitting?  I’ve warned my Twitter followers for the past few weeks that this was going to be long, so grab a coffee and prepare to be nostalgia-tized. I’m going to go over what has become of this game and why I’ve chosen to do something else, why there should be legacy content released, and ultimately a host of reasons WHY it can never be released.  Just to whatever headings interest you the most, I know this is a lot of text.

I’ll start by saying right up front…

Warcraft has become a travesty of it’s former self.  And by travesty I mean a game that was in production for about 4 years, released over 10 years ago, and only took 10 years to tear itself up by appealing to a new playerbase that likes Warcraft for the social media functions rather than the original lore and the game it was supposed to be.  They’ve successfully removed the “RPG” in “MMO-RPG”.  You are now playing a game that has very little role playing, not much gaming except for the meta games inside raids and garrisonville, and people can now buy their way to 90 without knowing a damned thing about the game.  There’s no real exploration, the original lore of the game has been removed to the point that nobody knows why we even fight anymore, and the fanboys have taken over the asylum.  It’s more of an altered state, whereby you log in and there’s not much threat of failure, new players are not required to really learn their classes through leveling anymore, and the development is in a direction of more removal of features and more additions of features that are essentially mini-games of other online social media productions.  It’s everything BUT Warcraft.

In the beginning, the artwork was toned down to the iconic “cartoonish” style.  This was for several reported reasons – 1) It insured those with 5 year old machines would be able to play the game and 2) the fanbase that came into the game was from original RTS Warcraft.  I personally bought Guild Wars prior to playing WoW, and after playing through that game and looking at WoW the first time, my reaction was … “What the hell is up with the cartoon graphics?”  I had a new machine with dual graphics cards at the time, which thankfully lasted for 5 years because the graphics requirements eventually did me in.  At least the one thing that’s not changed is the style of the graphics in all that time, because we still get to play cartoonish style in a 10+ year old world, which is almost the game’s homage to the way things were.  To change those to life-like models today would no doubt cause an enormous disturbance in the playerbase, moreso than anything they’ve done to date.

If you know me, and you probably don’t, one of my favorite memories in World of Warcraft history was sometime between the time I joined the game during Classic and when I downed Illidan during The Burning Crusade.  Borelords of Draenor, the latest money grab and non-canon expansion, is already doing a terrific job of plunging subscriptions to below end of Classic numbers.  Like I said, they’ve replaced a game of exploration, social skills, and good gaming with a near Facebook and smartphone app.  And just like George Banks (Steve Martin’s character from “Father of the Bride”), I’ve had enough of it and so I am saying NO.  Throw me in jail.  But hear me out, the latest expansion was fun in the beginning because it put things in place for Burning Crusade, you jumped into Doc Brown’s time machine and got to see a world that could have been.  I had a great time for the first 3 months of the game.  This wore off for me after I figured out that the game was really headed towards “more of the same” after 6.1’s release and development that rivaled even the worst ideas in MMO history.  There’s too much resting on their laurels.  And for distinctive and refined pallets, more of the same equates to McDonalds menus and boredom for all, catering to insure grandma and her 5 year old grandson can both enjoy the same accessibility, as we all get fat and happy as what we liked best gets removed and things become much easier to retain.

Of course, Mythic raiding is insanely challenging, but that’s just one piece of the game that’s also a problem.  The same content for everyone used to be the rule for years, but today our characters are not separated by content but by difficulties of the same content.  Since Wrath there are no more MC, BWL, Naxx, Mag/Gruul, SSC/TK, BT/MH, SWP guilds.  You’re now all the same, the only difference is not in the actual bosses you’ve downed, but only what version of the boss.  Everyone in 6.1 was immediately a BRF guild, and if you started in normal your content was Normal to Heroic to Mythic.  The same game.  While bleeding edge guilds have been gearing alts in Mythic for weeks now, many haven’t finished Blackhand in Heroic.  Super characters for the top 2%, for everyone else you get to repeat the same content in different difficulties.  You know, Diablo 3 on release had this exact same system.  How’d that work out?  You used to invest your time working with your guild outside of raids to insure everyone had their consumables, proper resistance gear and materials to make them, and even running previous tiers to insure you had the best possible gear between lockouts.  Guilds tended to stick together and be a lot more social than today’s “log in for raid” culture.  With the removal of incentives, those days are gone.

After months of sitting around doing CDs, missions, and making sure work orders were always replenished, I realized that they took the Tiller’s model and amplified it by 1000x.  Then they took the “we’d rather be doing something else” model and inserted it everywhere else.  I’m sorry gang, but again I’m voting with my wallet.  I have 3 years of gametime prepaid through tokens, and I’m going to just say screw it and wait out until the final patch, and let’s all pray that there isn’t one and it goes straight into the next expansion along with the announcement of a bunch of people exiting.  I played the PTR, and Patch 6.2 is nothing more than a snooze-fest, and no matter WHAT the people over at ZAM (Wowhead) keep promoting, or the nice fellows at MMOC keep posting on a daily basis, ultimately their jobs depend on your interest in bullshit minutia, dealing with ignored requests, and enhancing the mini-game of garrisons even further.  Bloggers who make revenue off of information are dropping like flies or reaching for content.  This game has dropped 30% of subscribers since release of the expansion, and with the recent botter banwave it’s probably going to drop another million before it’s all said and done by July’s numbers.  (Cool fact, if they hit 6 million they’ll achieve a new low not seen since Classic’s days, and I congratulate them on royally fucking up another franchise like they did with Diablo. If quarterly meetings were live shareholder meetings these guys would be burned at the stake and their heads placed on pikes at the company entrance by the stockholders.)  No matter what they do, per my last post, they won’t get anyone back.  And given Ian Hasikostas’ recent interview (and I’ll predict for his upcoming interview) they don’t care.  It’s a given that you’ll lose interest and that’s fine. They’re perfectly fine with loss of subs mid-expansion.  Hey, they don’t have to try, because all those people will be back at expansion time, right?  Well, it’s time to make it hurt so they’ll listen because businesses don’t fund themselves through apathy.

I’ve decided to dedicate my playtime to two things.  Number one being Diablo 3, because Diablo is my title with Blizzard.  I’ve been a fan of the franchise for going on 15 years.  But number two, if I’m playing Warcraft, I’m playing it on private servers.  And more specifically, I’m playing the original Classic Warcraft frozen in time at Patch 1.12.1.  That’s right, Naxx was out, the GM/HW grind was in swing, and there wasn’t any damned flying available and nobody asked for it or demanded it.  Trade chat was littered with groups looking for tanks and healers for dungeons instead of raids, people were in love with the game and it wasn’t a toxic atmosphere like today.  We liked the game like it was.  Sure, you can count my sub as subbed, but I’m not playing, and that’ll screw up the forecast for a new expansion.  The private server method of playing has been around for years, and the people PLAYING on private servers aren’t really doing it because they’re cheap and don’t want to pay a sub.

They’re playing on them because they love the game more than ANY fanboy streamer who raises money for Blizzcon on streams you can name.  When you’re talking to a believer or a real fanatic, you do not mess with their religion, their politics, or how they like to play Warcraft.

Regular people buy the current game and accept it and play it for what it is.  They keep subbed because it means they get to play with “friends”.  But a person who is willing to play the game in a previous version of it has selected something they like.  And they also play with friends, those that are more passionate about the game that they play and respect it for what it was.  Almost like a connoisseur of fine wines and art, they’ve said “screw the rest, this is best”.  But you can’t tell that to today’s Blizzard. They know all about private servers, and they’ve chosen do nothing about it (thankfully).  What IS a private server?  It’s a server that’s completely dedicated to playing a game without subscription, with dedicated personnel monitoring it.  People have retained copies of server side software to organize a playing field for those that want to play their way for the various points in time that were most relevant to players.  That means those that liked Classic, TBC, or Wrath can play the game in all it’s glory until there is no more electricity or internet.

J. Allen Brack, your Vice President of World of Warcraft, has officially proclaimed that Blizzard will never support legacy servers at Blizzcon.  Just take a look at how he shot down a fan at Blizzcon in 2013.  Mind you, Blizzard completely skipped 2012 because of “release dates” and this is the first WoW Q&A since 2011.

Go to exactly 30:00 on this video, and you’ll see Mr. Brack give a shit-eating grin while he talks down to some poor fellow who was probably about 10 years old when the game was released that he doesn’t know what he wants.  This is possibly the worst case of brow beating in a video game I’ve ever seen, and I read trade chat.  He could have said, “You don’t want to do that, you’re not a real gamer and you’re used to the easy tools we’ve given you.  If we were to ask you to become a real gamer and be social with others in order to succeed or progress, you’d bring pitchforks and torches to the forums and we’d rather not.”  Christ, the guy should have started that whole tirade (against a fucking customer mind you) with “look into my eyes” like Chili Palmer from Get Shorty.  But you can’t argue with Mr. Brack, the guy is a martial arts master and can probably kick your ass.

All I heard in his statement was, “Fuck you, I’ll tell you what you want, do you know who I am?”  Of course, most people asking questions wouldn’t know who he was, because he’s the hidden barricade behind the scenes.  There’s customer focused, and then there’s sales focused.  Mr. Brack is sales focused, and is akin to the assholes you see when you go shopping for a car or a life insurance policy.  Those people are 100% about themselves, don’t let anyone tell you different, because in real life I’m sales focused in my profession.  And seriously, when you’re title is also Head of God Damned World of Warcraft and Keeping Blizzard Afloat, I’m positive it goes to your head, because I guarantee you I would have a size 10 hat size if I was in charge.  His job is to keep the game relevant and sell 10 million copies every two years, and after that the job is mostly cashing paychecks and buying sports cars for family members and telling the wife they’re going on some exotic vacation.  I know that situation, and I can tell you the worst thing in the world you can do is interrupt it.  So what do we do with salesmen when they take this attitude?  We walk off the lot.  We hang up on them.  We call their boss.  We take them down a notch.  I’ve had to get my boss on a number of occasions, and once it got me actually fired (years ago).

Unfortunately, J. Allen Brack is the Vice President of Warcraft, which means the seat he moistens everyday is nearly at the top when it comes to making decisions within Blizzard.  There’s zero chance of the game coming out in re-release format from the manufacturer with this attitude, unless they send him packing or the brass has a heart to heart about it.  And corporations are cool in this respect, they don’t respect anyone’s tenure.  If you’re stupid opinions stand in the way of the share value, then they come up with a nice severance and a nice group of guys who will pack your shit and courier it to your house.  Ask my friend, he was nearly 20 years with my old company, and his ideas weren’t very good.  Everyone liked him, but they liked their stock options better, so he was sent to the unemployment lines.  Cold truth of life – your value is only as good as the value you are returning for the company.  Lucky for us we have Activision on our side.  Can you believe that’s actually the case?

Mr. Brack came into Warcraft as a producer shortly after the game’s release in 2005.  Prior to this he worked for various other titles, with the most notable producing Star Wars Galaxies.  Given that Blizzard borrowed an assload of content while developing the game for that game, this is a good fit, so just borrow a producer of a game you copied.  Since then, he replaced Mike Morhaime as the Executive Producer of the game.  He wasn’t involved in the original game’s development in the least, but he has been directly involved with the escalation of the games popularity through Warth and cratering of the game’s popularity through today.  The original developers were probably pretty freaking passionate about the game, treating it almost as their child.  Just from watching this character at various Blizzcons, he seems to have an extreme elitist attitude towards the serfs who write his check.  And by serfs, I mean the customer base.  But enough about this celebrity within the Warcraft universe, I just don’t like his attitude because he scares away the innovation.

Everquest, when it reached 10 years, released legacy content for the playerbase.  This gave everyone the chance to go back and experience the game as it was at release, regardless of all the content patches.  I wouldn’t say it was a precedent so much as a way to increase market share.  When you have an aged intellectual property (IP) like Blizzard has on their hands, you pretty much want to exploit all avenues in order to keep people both interested and shoveling cash your way.  And Blizzard has a real situation on their hands.

Blizzard today has THREE properties in production today.  They own Diablo, Starcraft, and Warcraft.  That’s it.  And in the past few years, you’ve seen spin-offs of these franchises more-so than you’ve seen any new IPs.  World of Warcraft was a spin-off for crying out loud, but it was also the game that really put the company on the map as not only a creative studio, but a gold tier publisher.  Overwatch may be coming, but that’s essentially Team Fortress, and for fucks sake they really reached on that one in the panels in 2014 explaining that they didn’t rip anything off.  Of course they did.  With the cancellation of Titan, they’ve reached the bottom of the exploitation hole and they can’t dig further.  All that creative talent (Chris Metzen, who was in charge of that shit at one point) cannot come up with anything better than a reboot of Team Fortress, being produced by one of the former lead developers of the original Warcraft, Jeff Kaplan.  Seriously, you can’t make this up.  Kaplan was awesome at designing Warcraft, he got his real notoriety in the gaming universe leading a world ranked guild in Everquest.  The guy got his job by actually being a hardcore MMORPG gamer, knowing what hardcore MMORPG gamers want, and designing like a hardcore MMORPG gamer.

Passion for gaming and love for their genre is what built the different IPs.  The Diablo franchise was masterfully fucked up with a 7 year development cycle and caused near Armageddon level hatred towards the developers.  The game’s predecessor, was able to proclaim 7 million copies sold 2 years after release, and this was at a time when computer gaming was not exactly a big deal.  This was a game that was originally released by a subsidiary of Blizzard (known as Blizzard North) who all self terminated by 2004 because they didn’t like the direction of Blizzard back then.  So what this should tell you is simple – Blizzard never developed the franchise originally, they were just the publisher.  That worked well and resulted in memes and a black mark for Blizzard.  Today the current inception of the game is liked by thousands of players around the world who told Blizzard in the beginning that they released the biggest piece of shit since ever and to change their ways.  Hey, the game was only in development for seven years.  They patched the hell out of the game over the next year just to turn it more into Diablo 2, even though they hemmed and hawed for seven flipping years developing it.  Today, Blizzard loyalists pray Jay Wilson doesn’t come within a cubicle conversation of anything they’ll be playing.  The fact he’s still there and even remotely close to any of the IPs makes fans wince today.  I don’t fault Mr. Wilson for much however, he overpromised and underdelivered.  In the lead up to the game’s release, we started to see that there were probably going to be issues.

Starcraft is probably the most steady of their IPs, with the Asian market dominating the circuit, and nobody in the US or EU really pays attention except a marginal group of fans, yet it becomes a prime topic during Blizzcons for some reason as we see the top teams only from one region of the world dominating. Of course it would make sense, these parts of the world also have MMOs with 3-4 times the subscribers that Warcraft has ever had.  Economies of population scale.  If you want to dominate in gaming, make something the Chinese love, because they are 1/5 of the world’s population afterall.

I mentioned Overwatch.  Since Blizzard’s loyalist fanbase of several million would probably eat a pile of cowshit on command if it meant they could get a new legendary item, there’s no telling if this will be a hot IP for the company.  Diablo 3 had the same problem…  if Blizzard had shipped a jewel case with a real, honest to goodness turd enclosed, some Diablo fans probably would have bought it and rated it 5 stars.  It’s no joke, there is a real cottage industry developed around Blizzard fandom and appealing to them.  Social media marketing and merchandising is a really hot paradigm, so the future is to insure you get THEIR message to your friends, and keep buying new titles, expansions, plushies, and mircotransactions so you won’t be left out.  Social media is nothing more than appealing to the herd and steering it in a direction so everyone in the herd follows suit.  Think for yourself, and if you like something, stand up for it.

So Which Direction For WoW?

This leaves the IP of World of Warcraft, or sub IP as I mentioned earlier.  This is Blizzard’s biggest cash cow to date and the reason Morhaime lives in a big house rather than just a regular house.  No doubt, he’s worked hard for it, taken the risks, and deserves all your pennies.  The idea behind ANY IP is to maximize the profitability of it, regardless of personal bias.  If there’s a market for people to buy it and you can produce it at a profit, you owe it to your stockholders and to the customers to exploit it to the absolute fullest.  Take for example the following titles:

  • Diablo: Single player game, still probably played by people who hated Diablo 2
  • Diablo 2: Still supported by Blizzard, playable online through Battle.net
  • Diablo 2: Lord of Destruction – Still supported by Blizzard, playable online through Battle.net
  • Warcraft 3: Reign of Chaos – Still playable online via Battle.net.  You can buy the game today.
  • Warcraft 3: The Frozen Throne – Still playable online via Battle.net.  You can buy the game today.
  • Starcraft – The original is still supported on Battle.net.
  • Starcraft 2 – Obviously playable today.
  • World of Warcraft – No longer playable.  Replaced by The Burning Crusade.
  • World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade – No longer playable. Replaced by Wrath of the Lich King.
  • World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King – No longer playable. Replaced by Cataclysm.
  • World of Warcraft: Cataclysm – No longer playable.  Replaced by Mists of Pandaria.
  • World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria – No longer playable.  Replaced by Warlords of Draenor.
  • World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor – Awaiting replacement

The whole World of Warcraft issue is troubling.  Basically, every two years the company tells us that they’re pulling the plug on the content, and if you don’t like it, that’s fine.  You can deal with the game changes with the next expansion, or don’t buy the expansion and be left behind.  “We’re telling a story” is the common excuse for not allowing others to remain behind under the previous rules, but that’s pretty weak.  The stories they release is valid for about a week after they launch a new expansion or a patch.

Oh no, what will happen to Thrall?  What about the love child between Proudmoore and Wrynn?  Did it happen?  They killed yet another major lore figure and it ruins the entire game!  With WOD we’re going back in time, so everything you see from the point Gul’dan got pimp slapped no longer applies.  Who gives a fuck?  This is about killing people online and sending them to the graveyard.  Or whatever you make it to be for yourself because THIS is entertainment.  It’s not reality.  What matters is the game and the decision you made to become invested in it.

The World You Don’t Remember or Never Played

I’m not trying to get anyone in trouble with my statements here today, but I am going to ask that before you develop an opinion on anything that you at least look at the alternatives.  With that being said, let me expose you to the other side of Warcraft.

What IS most important to gamers is the way their game is played.  The original Warcraft was extremely well thought out for a rough draft of four years in the making.  This was the Warcraft that I, your humble writer, discovered after much prodding from friends.  It was unforgiving, it required you to spend insane amounts of time leveling by today’s standards, it was unclear as to how to get from A to B, and most important it was fun because it appealed to actual gamers who wanted to solve the puzzle.  In other words it was Role Playing Game.  Today’s Warcraft would drive yesteryear’s Warcraft players to quitting immediately, which it has in droves, and they don’t care.  Just look for someone running around with actual GM/HW transmogs, the person who opened AQ on your server, or someone who isn’t 22 today telling you they lead their guild to MC/BWL/AQ40/Naxx glory.  I have 1-2 friends on my friends list today from back then still playing, down from about 80.

And that’s not a bad thing, it’s good that Warcraft evolved to meet a new generation of players, even if they are merely players and not gamers.  Watch Twitch, the people playing are, for the most part, players and not gamers.  Very few of them are gamers.  Gamers think things through, they make decisions, are highly competitive and you can put them in a situation and they work it out.  They execute critical thinking, whereas the majority of people playing today require flashing ore nodes, highlighted NPCs, or definitive “!” marks to let them know where quests are available.  They demand this type of play.  Curiosity is no longer a part of Warcraft.  Warcraft was built on the carrot and the stick model, which is definitely missing today.  The carrot is now in the raid level gear, as opposed to completing that next quest, solving that long and drawn out chain nobody else wanted to do, and having a sense of real personal accomplishment.

How to find out what the differences are for yourself:  Go to www.wow-one.com (you may need a proxy to access this website in the United States, but this one has far fewer bugs) or www.vanillagaming.com and download Classic Warcraft, install it, and play it.  A standard 1-60 leveling trek should take you about 14 days played if you’re doing it correctly.  That’s 336 hours of gameplay.  Unless you opt for the turbo cheats, and then you can call yourself just a player.  My first 60 in Warcraft was started in a late July, and I finished 60 by early October with time to level between my evenings home from work and weekends.  My second took less than two months, and my third took me just over a month because TBC hit (of course, I had the free time at that point and I was also on a hunter).  Now if you’re a person who stopped at 1 day played, you’re not a gamer.  You’re a hamster.  You like getting rewards quickly and you don’t care about the journey or the fun along the way.  This is what original Warcraft offered – a journey that allowed you the time to meet new friends, join several guilds, and meet others on your server that would possibly lead to lasting relationships in the game.  In some cases – it led to marriages and kids.  I know, I had a former GM that happened to PUG his future wife.  You learned how to play the game through leveling and you identified what your class was about and how to play it properly.

If you didn’t play the original, you’re a person who would have missed out on 3 hour Sunken Temple or Maraudon runs.  You missed out on braving your way through other faction zones just to run Deadmines, Wailing Caverns, Scarlet Monastery, or Shadowfang Keep without summons or queues.  You missed out on having to designate crowd control responsibilities, personal responsibilities, and even communicate in game so you could succeed.  You see, when you spend 3 hours with people in runs like that, you tend to bond even if the run went to hell.  You make new friends and others can see you are a gamer that wants to go places or just another player for the ignore list.  That’s the social aspect of the game that was taken away with the introduction of Icecrown Citadel and the “button” that Mr. Brack alluded to in his response above.  Back in the wayback years, we used to have to find others to party with and possibly make in-game friends.  We couldn’t succeed unless we could count on friends we had made.  And that’s something J. Allen Brack is against for whatever reason.  This is now a game about getting loot, gold, and other prizes quickly and who cares who gets offended and turned off along the way!  I’m not into instant gratification, or phony recognition, I’m a Gen-Xer which means my father probably walked downhill in the snow but still didn’t have shoes on.

As a proud member of the Gen-X generation (1960s to early 1980s) my generation tends to be nostalgic.  We grew up in a time where video games were just being introduced, and we were taught a punishing lesson – 3 lives is all you get, otherwise you get to insert more quarters and start over again.  My generation’s movies were things like Revenge of the Nerds, Back to the Future, Rambo, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (along with most everything else written by John Hughes).  With me being more in the middle of that generation, I was exposed to computers at an early time, and I was part of the original geek culture when it was just labeled “geek”.  Computer club, math and science being my favorite subjects, and D&D/Bard’s Tale/Ultima in my free time.  I was also a jock, but that also meant I got made fun of for being smart, into computers and hanging out with kids who wore horizontal stripes on a daily basis.  Still, we got yelled at about homework, participation trophies weren’t handed out, and our parents didn’t follow us along for job interviews or final exams.  But, like I said, we’re nostalgic.  We put away our childish things as adults, but we all have memories, boxes, scrapbooks or closets that hold things very dear to us, because we have a hard time letting anything go.

Today the game is almost a single player paradise, almost driven that direction by greed for subscriptions and shut-in wants and needs.  Blizzard has gone through (based on previous interviews) over 30 million subscribers to the game over the years.  That’s horrific, considering only about 7 million today still bother to subscribe.  In the sales world we call than churning and burning.  Find new customers, take as much money as you can, and replace them as soon as possible.  Pretty soon you run out of prospects.  Today you don’t need friends to succeed, you need the LFR and LFD button to just be satisfied.  You won’t make friends that way when half the group can’t speak your language, are shut-ins anyhow, and are just there for quick runs and loot.  At one point guilds used to recruit for raid positions looking for a 5th dungeon slot in chat (they would bring you hoping you were at least capable), while today replying to trade chat spam is the norm.  Absolutely, the game is too old.

There are literally thousands of players today who used to play Warcraft in previous incarnations.  No doubt, many have moved on into new lives, made families, or have discovered new diversions.  I get that, prior to D2 and Warcraft, I was a really good golfer.  Think “Person you want in your foursome when money is on the line” level.  But being a Gen-Xer, it’s really hard to surrender your past.  Gaming for me became my chief escape, and I found I liked using my mind to entertain myself rather than my body years ago.  And this is where I propose Blizzard finds their solution in their past as well.

With millions of former players, the answer is not to replace the current playerbase, but to appeal to those that came before and left.  You’ve had your time in the sun, your average player today is a Millennial, who is more in touch with social media and short attention spans than they are in solving anything important.  When the game was released, Gen-Xers were the playerbase, who also happen to be the majority of the Blizzard development team even today.  My old guilds were filled with people my age, and I imagine at Blizz the offices with doors are filled with receding hairlines and guys wearing earrings with gray hair.  Even Mike Morhaime is a Gen-Xer.  It’s surprising to me that nobody has slapped their forehead and said, “We really need to appeal to those that have played the game before and would enjoy coming back for another hurrah.”

You won’t do it with new storyline.  Gen-Xers are now at an age where change sucks.  We’ve dealt with it all our life, and humans have that one characteristic that requires new generations to kill; new change.  As you get older, a fantastic thing happens.  You reach a comfort zone, you get used to doing things, and you develop a routine.  In our daily lives at work we are asked to make changes all the time because the world is ever evolving.  It’s considered a weakness to be resistant to change.  Warcraft has asked it’s playerbase to deal with it every 2 years for 8 years now.  Some kept up with it, others not so much.  If you want to appeal to a new customer base, appeal to your former customer base.  Nothing says warm and inviting like a familiar place, which is why Warcrafters historically have always been able to say they will never be able to go home again – the freaking place changes far too often.

Classic and Burning Crusade offered a spectacular thing you don’t see today.  You were a part of a community just by joining a server.  You had some say over your dominion, the people you ran dungeons and raids with, the types of people who infested your server’s trade chat.  Do you know at one point GMs could ban people for bad behavior (cursing, berating others)?  Along the way the game became super popular thanks to millions of dollars in advertising, but that was short lived.  But prior to this, the advertising went like this:  My friends need to play, I’ll tell them.  I have kids that want to play, time to buy 6 copies, with one for the wife!  I’ve moved on from that old game, you should really try Warcraft.

You could hold Blizzcons every month of the year, with live streams and Twitter feeds, but there is no more powerful an interaction that leads to continued streams of revenues as a trusted friend telling another – this is the golden ticket, you should join, too.  All of that marketing has already been bought and paid for, there is a giant market of players aching to play their favorite and possibly last game again with one another.  I would dare say that if it ever happens the first day of a Blizzard sponsored legacy server’s trade chat would be filled with people trying to reconnect with one another.  People seeking out that which they once knew as home, and building on that.

But Blizzard destroyed all of that goodwill.  The game we knew and loved was replaced every two years while we were left with shrinking friends lists, only to be cast aside to be told we had to find new friends. If you’re lucky enough to have been in a guild for the past decade, then count yourself one of the few.  For the vast majority of people, they’ve found themselves in an ever changing universe that required them to constantly look for new people to play with.  The features that they proclaimed would strengthen us only caused people to flee.

Change is good, when taken in moderation.  With each new expansion since Wrath, the game has thrown the puzzle into the air and told the players – figure it out.  When people don’t want to figure it out, they simply say, “I’m done”.

Today, as with expansion that have gone past expiration dates in the past, there’s a lot of talk about “Vanilla Servers!?”  This happens every so often to coincide with the content becoming consumed.  If you are one of the curious, I would encourage you to seek them out, and the two links I’ve provided will give you a safe environment with which to play, just don’t give them anything personal about yourself.  By far Feenix is my favorite, since I can either take a sight seeing tour or level to 60 almost like the old days.  They aren’t perfect, but they are definitely close.  You’ll encounter lots of bugs, many of which existed even with the retail version of the game.  The worst bugs I’ve encountered are quest issues, whereby questgivers have been either removed or completing a quest is not possible.  But like any true gamer following their passion, I work around the problem, I don’t spend my time complaining.  I’m happiest just being back in the world I knew before it went and got itself blown up!

I’ll close this argument like any geek would, I’ll go into Star Wars.  Almost 40 years ago, the original Star Wars was released.  I, like many kids my age, remember buying empty cardboard boxes in place of Star Wars figures because the marketing was ahead of production – we had to mail away for our figures.  I had a C-3PO, which some jerk kid stole from me because I was dumb enough to take it to Kindergarten with me for show and tell.  I got it back though, thanks to a teacher’s aid.  Anyhow, these movies were awesome, and became a real part of the culture.  Until George Lucas re-released them in 1997 with all the revisions and computer graphics.  And then released 3 more stinkers after that that most people of my generation wished they had never seen.  Mr. Lucas has refused to release the original movies (New Hope through Jedi) in their original format, finding every reason under the sun not to do it.  So because the new releases before the release of DVD players, I have to own a VCR today just to be able to watch them.  I can jump up and down, but I don’t like seeing Greedo firing first or that old clip between Han and Jabba, that’s not how I remembered it.  Mr. Lucas is an artist telling a story, and he’s telling you the story his way, and the only way to see the story the way you remembered it 30+ years ago is to retain copies of those old video tapes, or go online and get it through other methods (they do exist).

Do we see any similarities here?  Since J. Allen Brack is a massive Star Wars fan himself, I doubt we’ll ever see Classic Warcraft being actually re-released.  But alternatively, Classic is New Hope, Wrath was Jedi, Cataclysm was Phantom Menace, and you can see where we’re going from there.  Hopefully JJ Abrams does a solid job rebooting it, but change of authority is often needed to get what the fans want.

Valid Reasons NOT to Do It

Source: MMO-Champion put together a nice compilation on this issue

Let’s address this one, shall we?  Because it is the 800 pound gorilla in the room and we have to give rational thought to all sides of the issue.  Blizzard, as I’ve always preached, is a company.  While we would like to believe it’s a magic funhouse where people are sprinkled with fairy dust on the way in to work and the Oompa Loompas handle most everything, they are like all companies, they have the following:

1) A budget that has to be watched over and allocated annually and each department is responsible for keeping their costs under it.  Putting this together is one of the hardest parts of running a company of any size because you have limited means (or resources as Blizz likes to say).  That brings up a funny point – when they say “we haven’t the resources”, that’s a nice way of saying “it’s not in the budget right now”.

2) Someone in charge of PR that has the job of not telling you a damned thing about what their intentions are.  We call these community managers with gaming.  In many companies, those in R&D aren’t allowed to so much as speak to the press much less go on Facebook and Twitter and say anything about their current roles, responsibilities, and opinions.  This is where Blizzard ultimately gets it’s tit in a wringer, the Devs say something or misspeak, and pretty soon it’s an expected patch note or feature.  See The Current Flying in Azeroth Snafu.

3) A finite amount of desk space, computers, and software licenses.  I’m talking about employees here.  Hiring personnel has amazing hidden costs, and Blizzard is subject to them just like anyone else.  You have training and ramp-up, benefits, unemployment insurance, matching governmental taxes, etc.  A person that is paid $50,000 a year can easily be a $75,000 expense and more.  This is your most important investment as a business, and it’s easily the trickiest.

4) A better direction for their cash.  We all believe when we buy something the company goes right back and reinvests those costs and profits back into the product.  That’s not the case in the least.  Most of the time you’re wondering what new product you’re going to produce, when it will be delivered, and what kind of overruns you’re going to run into along the way.  Titan’s failure had to be devastating and I wonder who actually pulled the plug on that alligator.

5) Crusty old managers that are fine with the status quo.  These are the people there to mind the store, and in Blizzard’s case they answer to titles like Vice President.  Come to them with a million dollar idea, they’ll focus group it to death and kill it if they aren’t on board with adding more chores to their daily punch list.  Usually these guys can be found in meetings, planning meetings to schedule future meetings.  Bad thing?  Sometimes, they can strangle innovation.

5) Everything else and every other headache that you have to deal with on a daily basis.  Avoiding those speed bumps is very difficult when operating a business, so the less crap you can throw on the fan, the better.

While Lore confirms that it’s talked about internally, we know who’s in charge up there.  J. Allen Brack, as I mentioned.  And if you watched his answer in the video – the answer was clearly “NO” when it came to people discussing legacy content on his team.  So Lore’s contradicted his boss.  Obviously the guys at Warcraft would love to see it, but Lore and his people are missing the paygrade to make the decisions.  And if there’s one thing I know about big companies, when you settle in and get used to the 1st and the 15th, you get a mortgage, a house payment, and 2 kids with one on the way, your job specialty becomes “Don’t Rock The Boat”.

Would Classic (I hate the word Vanilla) Warcraft have a market?  Would there be the desire to actually play it?  Would it just be a server of 100,000 level 5 alts running around the world just to see the old content and have no desire to log in after?  This is impossible to know.

Starting a retail server that has to be maintained, programmed, and repaired is an expensive proposition.  And remember that Blizzard maintains multiple server locations, they aren’t just housed in Irvine.  If it was as easy as wiring a server up, loading the software, and resetting it every week, I assure you that the servers would be in service immediately.  But you can’t simply do this.  You have to hire the employees who would service this stuff, and the last time I checked IT personnel were some of the highest paying middle income jobs in the USA.  You’re looking at several hundred thousand dollars in annual maintenance just in people who have a job to maintain the game’s operation.  This is a specialized ask, not a bulk effort like maintaining the current server farms all working on the exact same content.

Customer Support would have to be very specialized.  Back then, if you made a looting mistake in a raid, you had to file a ticket.  Workarounds for CS workers today are not the same as they were back then, so you would need either specialized people dedicated to answering tickets, or people that were dual trained.  Look, CS GMs are just entry level workers at Blizzard trying to get a toehold in the gaming industry.  They aren’t exactly people engineering the next level of space exploration, they have stresses in their lives as well and for the most part get no respect from players.  Given you would need many of them to handle the issues, then you’re looking at a rather sizable investment.

The code for each patch is probably sitting around on some thumb drive in accounts payable, but it’s going to have to be fixed.  There were bugs, exploits, and other devious issues that were fixed in Patch 2.0 and later, so many of those things will have to be reworked.  Does anyone from back then still work on the programming of the game?  Were copious notes maintained so they don’t have to reinvent the wheel?  Could you imagine an undertaking like that? You’re probably looking at one to two years of recoding at the very least.

The playerbase will make even more demands on Blizzard.  Remember the days when you couldn’t transfer from PvE to PvP servers?  How about 90 day cooldowns between server transfer transactions?  This would add a whole new level of microtransactions as people would retain various pieces (Full GM/HW gear, Full Tier 3) and start demanding transfers from Classic to Live Retail so they can do transmogs.  While full GM/HW gear would definitely piss off a small minority, it’s a reality that would be asked for.  Since we now have the ability to do most of these things in-game and don’t have to go to the website to do them anymore, they would have to rebuild the infrastructure to allow these things because we all know Blizzard loves microtransactions.  So go ahead and add website development and possible game recoding to the mix.

So in order for something like this to even make dollar one, they would need to have a server population that probably rivals today’s high population servers.  People think money grows on trees and you can just throw something together and ship it, but this is Blizzard maintaining their own game, not a private server that’s run more as a hobby. Private servers fix bugs to the best of their ability, but they aren’t 100% and never will be.  They specialize in giving you an experience, not THE experience.

The game was made for a generation that was familiar with difficulties in gaming, not today’s crowd which demands outright perfection.  We used workarounds to get things to work back then, and I assure you the minute people found the first bugs the forums would be littered with trash screaming about their experience being ruined, slaps in the face, all that.  A virtual PR nightmare in the waiting.  Today’s WoW gaming crowd is pissed off about flying not being available and lack of content.  While I agree flying should have been introduced at some point (given they sold how many store mounts that fly?) but it shouldn’t be the reason you cancel a sub.  But to each their own.

Over the years, gamers have morphed from a beat-the-game mentality to a content whore mentality.  Classic had several distinct content releases during the 2+ years it was active.  Molten Core was released shortly after going live, BWL and Onyxia, the AQ40 opening event along with all of the 20 man catchup raids, and finally the Scourge invasion.  How the hell would you stay true to the game?  One private server (Feenix) has reconstructed those events over the years, but they aren’t held every day.  Further, between all of this content they fixed massive bugs – one most notable being the Hakkar plague which shut down entire servers because gamers being the gamers they are ran around infecting everyone.  You got to see a version of it at the close of TBC, and the results ranged from insanely funny to truly sad, with people outright in love with the idea to people unsubbing from the game because they didn’t have a sense of humor or love for the game’s design.  I digress, but the point is people would land into the world, and either all of the content would have to be open or they would have to spend a ton of money to roll the various events out.  Could you imagine the former and hearing the reaction from the public when they hear the AQ event would never happen because of lack of resources?  Talk about slaps in the face, Blizzard would destroy everyone’s experience!  This is actually a real consideration, and goes right at the heart of the costs.

While they could institute a one-sub-for-all-content model, what effect would having a Classic server parked right in the middle of your current content have on the overall playerbase?  Given that Classic made demands on progression raiders that by today’s standards would be considered criminal, should people opt to actually play on Classic servers they would be making a commitment and a choice.  Gold didn’t magically rain from the sky in the form of dailies, and players were expected to farm up their own mats for flasks and guilds would make multiple runs to Scholo for a 60 minute grind to the Alchemy lab next to Raz.  This was coordination by guilds on a totally different level by today’s standards.  If you couldn’t handle the moose mount, what chance do you think you would have being tied up farming materials in between a 5-6 night raid schedule.  Remember, you cleared Molten Core AND Blackwing Lair in the same week because you were gearing 40 raiders and people needed those sets, reps, and trinkets just to progress.  You collected materials specifically for crafting resistance pieces so you could down just ONE raid boss.  You didn’t just wait on the vendors to offer you items at a discount, there were no crafts to replace set bonuses, you got your gear the old fashioned way through DKP.

This would also have a drastic effect on PvP.  In the final patch prior to The Burning Crusade, the Grand Marshal/High Warlord grinds were STILL in effect.  If you wanted Rank 14, you played everyday, 14-18 hours a day, with teams of others and shared the title week to week so everyone could get the prestige and their weapon.  People quit their jobs, people abandoned their lives, all to run around for a week sporting the title you can now pick up with a few hours of running Rated Battlegrounds.  Given that it would probably end up being one or two servers per region, you would have immense competition.  I knew people that scored GM/HW titles purely because they were on small servers, but what if you had 10,000 people crammed into a server all vying for the same thing?  Like I said, people gave up on life to get that title and Blizzard scored some really piss-poor press over the results of it.  If you offered Classic, you would have to offer this again or else the release would be sub-par.  Private servers today offer this grind and for many people it’s the only reason they play private.

For many people, playing would definitely only be a trip down nostalgia lane.  If you’re my age, you remember the world as it was, so flying over parts of it you weep for what was.  They’d create characters just to run through the world and take a sight seeing tour, aggroing everything within 60 yards away because they made some nice changes to that issue in later expansions.  After that, the server would be littered with characters that never got played again.  I can see a workaround for that one, instituting a 6 month requirement that if the account isn’t logged into that the names become forfeit.  But the question stands – who would actually play this way?  Well, I would, I’m doing it right now as I take a break from the WoD grind.  I know that many others would return to the game for it, since you have over 10 years of accounts and tens of millions of players that have played the game over the years and left on their own due to whatever circumstances, but I’m positive a strong dislike for the content was a leading reason.

We’re into the unknown here with this reason.  Add a marketing study to the mix, to determine if the project is even worth doing.  Would the server have a population that stays and plays or would the server have a population of selfie spammers?  Have you seen the average player today?  WoD was a nod to the TBC fans and they came back in droves, if only for a few months.  Blizzard’s researched the project for certain and I will say that unless the lights were about to go out on World of Warcraft and they were shutting the doors and turning off the lights, we’ll never see Classic servers.  That is, unless there’s something else on the horizon.  What if they were to call it concluded on this path of World of Warcraft, and the future holds a sequel and not an expansion?  Guild Wars did it, and people love that title.  Diablo 2 became Diablo 3, and people STILL play Diablo 2 like fiends 15 years later and Blizzard still supports it.  What if World of Warcraft II was the hold-up?  It’s plausible, I know when Diablo 3 was announced back in 2008 it was a banner day for me and completely unexpected.  If this was the case, you would have all the infrastructure almost immediately in place, just fill in the seats.  Yes, we can dream, it’s what we do.

One really interesting fact about the game that people forget, and this isn’t for or against the issue but just an aside.  Blizzard developed World of Warcraft over several years not knowing what the market demand would be.  They expected to hit about a million subscribers and call it a success.  They hit that within the first few weeks of the release and skyrocketed to 8 million accounts over the next 24 months.  This is why certain original servers (my server being one of them) were hammered to the point that they were nearly unplayable and resulted in Blizzard having to put new infrastructure in place and begin splitting servers.  This is why you have over 250 servers in the US, up from less than 10 originally.  So whenever they talk about not being able to tell what the demand would be, they don’t have the best in forecasting ability.

Conclusion

Private servers run the content really freaking well so there’s no real compelling reason for Blizzard to compete.  While Blizzard definitely frowns on them, they’ve picked up the ball and done the job for free and given the real diehard fans of the game a place to play the game they love their way and for no fee.  I have absolutely no idea how they get the server side content to run these things, I can only guess reverse engineering or having a source inside at one of the various farms/distributors.  Either way, they are your time machine if you want to play on a legacy server.  There are thousands of others doing it right now, and if you have the mentality, then these servers are definitely for you.  But rest assured, if they ever re-release the original, I’d gladly fork over the money to play the game I originally fell in love with and not what it’s become.  Into the shadows for us.

Thanks for stopping in!

 

BONUS

I spent some time brainstorming prior to writing the “Not to do it” portion, here’s my list.  Just for some humor.

Reasons not to do it:

1) Players will want not one but 3 server types – One for PvP, One for PvE, and one for RPing in Goldshire.  Get bent RPers.

2) Endless whining about QOL  things.  Like lack of dailies.  No flying in Azeroth.  And talent trees are too complex, no glyphs, no gems, flight points, lack of AOE looting, hell nothing you know today.  And Blizzard will be within their rights to tell players to get stuffed.

3) J. Allen Brack was right, there are bugs.  And players simply can’t resist complaining about them.  But this guy is also in charge of producing the game, so he doesn’t want the extra headache.  And looking bad.  Well, worse than he does already.

4) Owning a full Naxx character will become the new metric of being good at the game.  With no LFR, this gear will be out of reach for most players today.

5) Sun, Mon, Thurs, Fri, Sat are now Legacy raid days.  Tues, Wed current content raids.

6) Recruiting for a 40 man raid will prove difficult because most of the guild has never played under a DKP system.

7) Curse will have to sponsor addons for EVERY flipping version, and people might run out of disk space.

8) The whole “$60 90” is lost on people wanting to level to 60/70/80/85

9) A Cataclysm and Mists server will probably suck.  Yeah, I said it.  Gamekiller servers.

10) There is no TSM, there is only Auctioneer.  And we all know people can’t live without TSM.  And Auctioneer back then was no click-a-button-get-rich system.

11) Before you know it, people will demand the ability to transfer to current content with their characters, faction changes, and transfers from PvP to PvE servers.  More revenue streams for Blizzard in bleaker times would be a bad thing, just fire people.

12) There’s a story being told here, people!  One that holds people’s interest for 7 days every 2 years, but a story none the less!  Certain people have worked hard here, and you will abide and stroke their egos when told!

13) Given the graphic engine changes over 10 years, and people’s required upgrades, they might get to see Classic in max settings and realize how much their computers sucked back then.

14) 22 year olds today who tell you they were leading raids in Molten Core will have to possibly prove they aren’t full of shit.

15) There’s no transmog.  And given the original Naxx set was probably one of the most awesome looking sets for every class and would be available again, we just can’t have that.  Not to mention the guild drama when people hit 8 piece and ask for transfers to current content.

16) Asking today’s gamer to endure 2 weeks of played time to hit max level in a high quality-well developed game environment would be too much to ask.

17) People will immediately see that the quality of the game has regressed and put more pressure on today’s B-Team developers.  They already get enough crap on Twitter.

18) Showing Millennials how Gen-Xers liked to play their games would only prove we’re headed towards an idiocracy.  For the good of mankind, this cannot happen.

19) Blizzard copied every single successful MMO to make the original World of Warcraft.  Everything since has been mostly their own design.  Do you want people to get fired?

20) World of Roguecraft-like videos would resurface because world PvP would be noticed again and naked undead rogues would be everywhere.  Do you want that?  Well, do you?

21) Blizzcons would have to dedicate an extra day to panels discussing no changes to legacy servers and people asking for Quality of Life improvements to things like Classic, TBC, and Wrath.  Of course we could shoot everyone asking for them, but that would get people in trouble and be bad press.

22) If they did release legacy content that people had to pay the same sub as everyone else for, then you would see demands for more content when there was no more content.  Hey, fanboys, they can be demanding.

23) Knowing Blizzard, they couldn’t just release it as a “moment in time” or “appealing to the nostalgia of the game”, they would have to “fuck it all up” with improvements and finishing touches.  Blizzard – just can’t keep well enough alone.

24) A re-release of Classic’s GM/HW grind would probably end up on the front pages as 2-3 Asians die at their computers per week and someone gets stalked and killed in real life because of a Dishonorable Kill while partied in Crossroads.

25) Once people realize that it takes about 20-25 hours played to hit level 20 with no mount waiting for them, they’ll probably hold naked gnome protests in Ironforge crashing the servers.

26) Without guild banks, people won’t understand that you really do have to mail mats to that guy named “Guildbank”.

27) All hope of a legacy vanilla server was destroyed during the remake of Level 100 Molten Core, as mages/priests/shamans/druids couldn’t perform the simple act of decursing/cleansing raid members.

28) While private servers have successfully executed the Opening of the Gates at AQ without massive server crashes and lag, a full reset of this event would cause too much drama as people would open the gates in the middle of the night and Blizz would have to deal with thousands of irate customers demanding a reset.

29) No microtransactions were available at that time.

If you have a reason, humorous or otherwise, please feel free to add below.

Thanks again for stopping in!

4 responses to “What If?

  1. Thank you, sir. Well worth the wait. Once I hit 16) I started giggling and by 24) my husband gave the eyebrows-raised-what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-you-sideways-glance.

    Well done.

    My suggestions

    30) The population explosion on legacy servers would make their populations larger than ‘normal’ servers which would cause unbearable embarrassment to the company

    31) The number of new complainy-pants threads on the forum from Millenials who tried to play a Classic server but couldn’t figure out where the quest objective was or couldn’t deal with reduced drop rates/smaller quest rewards/lack of flightmasters/fewer graveyards/mobs that really you work for it, etc. would cause the forums to collapse DDOS style.

    Like

  2. An absolute cracking read that mirrors a lot of my own thoughts.
    As for reasons, hmm..

    32) Cities would become deserted again, apart from Orgrimmar and Ironforge as that’s where the Auction Houses are.

    33) There’s always that one naked Male Human or Female Nelf dancing on the mail box in previously stated cities.

    Like

  3. Pingback: Gamers vs. Players and Pendulums | Rested XP

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