There has been a lot of chatter on the internet lately about legacy servers. This is a topic that is always there lurking under the surface but pokes its head up from time to time. Over the past few weeks it has reached a boiling point with Activision taking action against Nostalrius Begins an emulated Vanilla WoW server. The questions are should Activision open legacy or time lock servers? If not should the public be allowed to do it for them?
Neither of the answers are cut and dry. Though the second is the easier of the two to provide a definitive answer for. Should the public be allowed to take it upon themselves and create a legacy emulated server? No. You can try and justify why you want to be the Robin Hood of the Internet all you want but at the end of the day it is still stealing. Do I believe that intellectual property should one day reach the public domain and be fair use for all? Absolutely. But not while a company is still actively working on that IP. Warcraft has a movie due out in June, an expansion for World of Warcraft in August and one can only hope that a new RTS game is in preproduction (at the least). This is very much an active property and no one outside of Activision has the right to use it unless they acquire the proper licenses from Activision. And yes, that means everyone that “bought” the game, every expansion, and subscribed to the game since November 13th, 2004. You purchased a license. You did not buy rights to the game.
The difficult part about whether Activision should open up legacy servers is that it's not just about whether or not it will make money. It is also about how much money it will make. Activision is currently worth just short of 26 billion USD. Even so they have a limited pool of resources from which they can draw. They have to figure out which projects will give them the best rate of return on that money. This pool of money comes from retained earnings that they have not paid out as dividends or Activision can choose to finance through taking on debt, which isn’t always a bad thing. Keep in mind that this is a publicly traded company so they are obligated to get the best rate of return on their money they can for their investors. While the board would probably let Bobby Kotick get away with a few passion projects who says this is one of them? If I were him I would rather try and figure out what would be the next Skylanders or Destiny before I started sinking money into World of Warcraft on a whim.
You could also be facing a situation like we saw when NC Soft shut down City of Heroes. By all accounts CoH was still a profitable part of the company but the rate of return was just deemed too low. So while a WoW legacy server could make money for Activision, it may have been determined that it just might not make enough. These companies have huge analytic departments that are crunching the numbers way more in depth than I'm going to do right now but I can tell you that they will leave money on the table if they don’t think it is enough. This could be an entirely different proposition for companies such as Daybreak that is nowhere near the size of Activision and they want all the revenue they can generate. Also keep in mind demand for these legacy servers may be nowhere near as great as everyone thinks. If nothing else the lunatic fringe is one thing, and that is vocal.
At the end of the day I hope that Activision does decide to open up a legacy or progression server. I can’t say that I would commit long term but I would be willing to go back for nostalgia’s sake for at least a month. But again, is that worth it to Activision? At this point I’d have to say probably not. But if you are interested in becoming part of the debate check out the Change.org petition that is going on right now to have Activision open a legacy server. You can find it at the following link. Until then I’d suggest you don’t try and create your own emulated servers. It’s still illegal.