I spent yesterday hiking in Muir Woods where, among the giant redwoods, there is no WiFi service. I didn’t bring my iPad with me in any case, but it was a day away from the internet.
Still, the last story I saw in Feedly before my wife and I headed out stuck with me. As you may have guessed from the title, it was about Blizzard sending its legal team after Nostalrius.
Nostalrius is/was hosting a private/pirate World of Warcraft server that was offering a classic/vanilla WoW experience, along with a classic Burning Crusade focused experience.
That is not a new thing. A simple Google search will turn up some alternatives offering various WoW experiences. Such servers come and go. I spent a bit of time poking about on the now defunct Emerald Dream server. Posts from that interlude can be found by following the right tag.
It has been a while since Blizzard has bothered to go after such a server. The last I recall was the case against Alyson Reeves and Scape Gaming. However, that case was special because the Scape Gaming server was bringing in real money from players, to the tune of 3 million dollars.
That one appeared to be about the money, with Blizzard getting a life-ruining 88.6 million dollar judgement at the end of the trial.
If Nostalrius was in it for the money, then this is probably about that. Running some alternative experience for free is one thing, but making money off of a Blizzard trademark won’t stand.
So let us assume for the moment that money wasn’t the issue, if only because the whole thing isn’t very interesting unless money was not a factor.
Why go after Nostalrius if they are not making money off of Blizzards works?
While it may not be about money, I imagine it is still about numbers. Nostalrius claims to have had over 800,000 registered users and as many as 150,000 active users on its classic experience servers.
150K, if true, is a pretty respectable user count, and doubly so for such a server that must, by necessity, keep a low profile. That is a big enough number to attract attention. I’d bet there are some live MMORPGs out there that wouldn’t mind being able to claim 150K active users.
In that scenario, if it isn’t about the money, is Blizzard flexing its legal muscles just to smack down somebody who has gotten a bit too popular, a bit too brazen? Is this like being the most popular speakeasy in town during prohibition, something that expanded to far to allow the authorities to pretend isn’t there?
Or is this more of a reaction to the discontent many players… or many former players… feel for World of Warcraft these days? Because you cannot deny that there is some level of discontent. Having nearly half your player base unsubscribe… and maybe more than half by now, but we’ll never know because the news was so bad that Blizzard stopped reporting it… is not an endorsement for staying the current course.
And, if it is a reaction, will there be any upside?
Because there is a sliver of hope that this might mean Blizzard has seen the light when it comes to the retro experience. With multiple classic servers having popped up over the years, with 150K users on the one they just effectively shut down, and with the success of retro servers for EverQuest, EverQuest II, and RuneScape, that maybe, just maybe, somewhere down in Anaheim the ball may have started rolling that will eventually give players some sort of official vanilla WoW experience despite past statements that they would never go that route.
Blizzard has the money, they have the staff, and they have a huge number of former players who would resubscribed just to try something like that out, enough that costs would likely be covered very quickly, leading to profits.
I know it isn’t as easy as just pulling some old code out of source control and throwing it out there. To do this right, and Blizzard couldn’t bring themselves to do this in a half-assed way I am sure, it would likely have to be played as a separate game with its own version of the client. No transfers from current WoW, no cash shop, no flying mounts, no WoW Tokens… basically a bunch of the extra-cost addons that Blizzard has attached to the game over the years to boost revenue. So an official WoW classic server done right would not have the same revenue potential as any of the current servers.
However, the cynic in me doesn’t think that even enters into it. That part of me doesn’t believe for a second that Blizzard even sees the distinction between a WoW classic server and the current state of the game. That part of me strongly suspects that somebody down in Anaheim thinks that 150K… or maybe 800K… people were playing WoW for free and that they needed to put a stop to that right now. If people want to play WoW, they can pay the $15 a month like everybody else.
Which is fully within Blizzard’s rights. They can, and one might argue must, step in and defend their intellectual property.
But in that scenario, there is no official WoW classic server, or even an acknowledgement that such a thing could even be. Unfortunately, the cynic in me is right more often than not.
So what is the real reason and the view towards the future with WoW?
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