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Nostalgia for Vanilla - Will Blizzard Give In?

World of Warcraft Columns - By Suzie Ford on April 11, 2016

Nostalgia for Vanilla - Will Blizzard Give In?

A lot of talk has been swirling around the MMO-niverse over the past week with Blizzard’s legal action against a private World of Warcraft server that has seen many clamoring for “official” vanilla WoW servers by way of online petitions, debates on forums and editorials by games media. Fans of vanilla WoW wish to return to what they believe is the ‘best of’ the game while Blizzard prefers to progress the game in its current state. Neither side can be said to be wrong, but the debate continues as it has for over ten years: Should classic servers be part of Battle.Net?

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Nostalgia

Full Definition of nostalgia

  1. the state of being homesick :  homesickness
  2. a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition

Humans are by nature nostalgic creatures. Oftentimes, we think about days gone by with keen remembrance and sometimes wish for those better days of yore. Our society is also packed with nostalgia: “Just like Mom used to make” and, honestly -- how many movies have been remade in the last twenty years? The short answer is "a lot".

So it is no wonder that many look back fondly on their first, or longest, association with an MMO be it World of Warcraft or Star Wars: Galaxies or any other game that has been around for a significant number of years. No one can blame people for wanting to recapture the past but there is also something to the saying, “you can’t go back again”.

And that is the problem with nostalgia. Neither we nor the things we miss from days gone by are the same. We have grown older, perhaps wiser, and have been shaped and molded by our experiences since that time. Those things we loved may not even exist in their original forms. These factors combine to somehow lessen our experiences.

All of which brings us to the WoW vanilla server discussion that boils down to one of player emotionalism (nostalgia) over corporate rationalism (profit).

Nostalrius & Private Servers

Specifically with regard to MMOs, this nostalgia for what has passed came to a head this week with Blizzard’s cease and desist letter to the administrators and host of a well-known private World of Warcraft server called Nostalrius. This particular server featured a ‘vanilla’ version of WoW up until April 10th when the shutdown occurred.

Unverified statistics published by the administrators claim 800,000 registered accounts with 150,000 ‘active’ accounts along with a peak concurrency of about 15,000 users across three servers. It is interesting to note that about one-sixth of registered accounts continued to play beyond the initial curiosity and /or the nostalgic feeling that trying out vanilla embodies. At face value, those are impressive numbers and show that players are interested in older versions of the game.

Server admins have seemingly been surprised by Blizzard’s actions, yet a cursory reading of both the Battle.Net End User License Agreement, or EULA, reveals that the company is well within its legal rights to take this action, something of which those who run Nostalrius were doubtless aware. It was never a question of “if”, only “when”.

According to the EULA:

You agree that you will not, in whole or in part or under any circumstances, do the following:       

  1. Derivative Works: Copy or reproduce (except as provided in Section 1(B)), translate, reverse, engineer, derive source code from, modify, disassemble, decompile, or create derivative works based on or related to the Battle.net Client, Service, or Games;

Similarly, the World of Warcraft Terms of Use says:

(2) Only Blizzard Entertainment or its licensees have the right to host World of Warcraft! Accordingly, you may not host, provide matchmaking services for, or intercept, emulate or redirect the communication protocols used by Blizzard Entertainment as part of World of Warcraft, regardless of the method used to do so. Such prohibited methods may include, but are not limited to, protocol emulation, reverse engineering, modifying World of Warcraft, adding components to World of Warcraft, or using a utility program to host World of Warcraft.

What comes out of this entire week’s flurry of activity surrounding the discussion of private servers is, however, the larger topic of whether or not Blizzard should host its own and whether or not it is in the company’s best interest to do so. There clearly exists a segment of WoW fans who would like to see classic servers finally come to be and it is a worthy topic of discussion, though seemingly one fraught with disappointment by those hoping for classic realms.

Blizzard

Removing for a moment the topic of private servers and the attendant legal issues surrounding them, the discussion about official vanilla realms has been going on for more than a decade. Each time it comes to the forefront, Blizzard says ‘no’ or it remains silent which is, in effect, the same thing.

The denial of vanilla servers is not to “punish” players who might wish for such, but it is a clear signal that developers want the game to continue to progress. MMOs by their very nature are not meant to remain static entities but are designed to progress and evolve.  In addition, the company doubtless wants to have a single version of World of Warcraft on which to work, and one story to continue to move forward. Like it or not, WoW is a story that is being told. It is a living story that began in vanilla but that has continued to evolve and move forward over time.

As stated on the Blizzard World of Warcraft forums in 2011, and several times before and since:

We realize that some of you feel that World of Warcraft was more fun in the past than it is today, and we also know that some of you would like nothing more than to go back and play the game as it was back then. The developers however prefer to see the game continuously evolve and progress, and as such we have no plans to open classic realms or limited expansion content realms.

Alongside the gentler wish for the story to progress and the whole notion of artistic integrity, there is also the less emotional, more analytic side to which the entire issue boils down: Financial gain. This is largely taken out of the hands of developers who may have a particular fondness for the idea of classic realms and placed into the hands of those who look at other metrics.

It is a fair assumption that Blizzard and its parent company, Activision, have done research into the financial profitability of opening vanilla servers. If Blizzard’s findings indicated that enough money would be made to offset the cost of bringing classic realms online with all the attendant financial commitment that would be required, they would do so. The company has a vested interested in maintaining a certain level of quality that would require a lot of expense and personnel that includes hiring extra personnel to maintain the servers, rewrite the code, provide customer service, provide technical support, to upgrade code to suit modern machines & operating systems, etc. Obviously, the cost of all the aforementioned supersedes the estimated profit (or lack thereof) that classic realms would generate over the long term.

It is possible that there will come a time in the future when World of Warcraft will go into maintenance mode with no further development required and that expansion specific servers may be brought online. That’s when it makes sense: When the furtherance of the currently evolving story ends and development teams have moved on to other projects.

The Bottom Line

Despite all of the heated discussions and impassioned pleas by vocal advocates of classic servers, Blizzard has been very clear, either in writing or in silence, that it wants to invest its money in the most profitable way possible for its shareholders, investors, and for employee profit sharing. Its expanding portfolio of games like Heroes of the Storm, Overwatch and Hearthstone has largely overtaken the venerated WoW, Diablo and Starcraft IPs. It is clear that return on investment is the bottom line.

It is difficult to separate the emotionally charged feelings of players wishing for a figuratively earlier, simpler time in WoW from the seemingly cold decisions of those vested with extracting the maximum profit from the game. Sometimes though, as much as we hate to hear it, the answer is just no.


For a full list of patches and updates applied to World of Warcraft since 2004, visit WoWwiki.

Suzie Ford / Suzie is the Associate Editor and News Manager at MMORPG.com. An avid gamer, Suzie lives in the desert Southwestern US with her own personal minion.