What is Vanilla WoW in Any Case?

The whole World of Warcraft vanilla server remains a divisive issue.

Both sides have armed themselves with arguments containing just enough truth that they feel entitled to shout it to the stars, while the opposing side sees the patent false assumptions that underlie these arguments and brush them aside.  There is no convincing anybody with these arguments, so the line remains drawn between the two groups and never the twain shall meet I suppose.

I side with the legacy server idea.  I believe it will serve a segment of the WoW fan base that is more substantial than people might think and will be unlikely to draw resources from the main bottleneck that slows down expansions, which is the development of content.

You no take catch phrase!

You no take dev resources either!

My beliefs are rooted in what I have seen done with EverQuest and EverQuest II, where such servers have proved popular, along with what I have read about Jagex’s experiences with their own old school RuneScape servers, which Bhagpuss has summed up in a post.

I am also thoroughly convinced that 3rd party pirate servers are not an acceptable substitute as, by their very nature, they will only serve a hardcore subset of the potential market.

So I am heartened by Blizzard finally seeming to soften a bit on subject they have for years rejected.  As I pointed out in my previous post on the topic, Blizzard has been shooting down this idea for so long that the company itself has had to bring things forward from the old forums in their responses.

So we have the Nostalrius team invited to come and talk to Blizzard at some point in June.  They will come armed with their own experiences in running a Vanilla focused server as well as the results of a survey that have been running about what people might want.

And then there is Mark Kern, who is trying to elbow his way into this affair in the hope that if he walks in front of the parade people will think he is leading it, to deliver a printed copy of an online petition.  Not an ally I would choose, as I would put the odds of him making things worse at about 50-50. (Though I wouldn’t be surprised to find that he just made the whole thing up.)

Still, things are happening.

While the thaw on this topic is nice, the fun has only started.  Those against the whole idea won’t cease to carp about it.  It is known.  Blizzard itself may simply hope that this whole thing will die down and be drowned out by the noise of the Warcraft movie and the impending launch of the WoW Legion expansion. But the real looming holy war will come if Blizzard actually agrees to do some sort of vanilla server.

What is a vanilla server really, and how should it operate?

WoW launched on November 23, 2004.

The Cataclysm expansion, which replaced the original 1-60 content with a new version, went live on December 7, 2010.

A day that will live in infamy...

A day that will live in infamy…

That is a six year gap during which a lot of things changed, even if the landscape remained about the same.  If I were Blizzard, any plan I built up around vanilla would involve something a lot closer to 2010 than 2004.  A lot of fixes and upgrades no doubt went into the code during those six years.

And that would be fine with me.  My own goals for such a server are focused on having the old content back, especially the 5 person dungeon content like the original Deadmines and the full version of Sunken Temple.  But that puts classes into the Wrath of the Lich King era.   While that time is a favorite of mine, even I will admit that the classes were hardly vanilla by then and that power creep in the spec trees made most options at least a bit overpowered down in the 1-60 content.  Blizz would need to tinker with that some to get things balanced for the original content.

That, however, will not be a satisfactory answer.  I suspect that a loud subset of those who want a vanilla server will draw the line at January 14, 2007, the last day before The Burning Crusade went live. (Atheren’s has a link to the final vanilla patch if you are interested.)  And among that group, there will likely be divisions as to how close to November 23, 2004 things have to get in order to be able to claim that things are really vanilla or not.  Somebody is going to call out Maraudon as “that new stuff” and somebody else won’t be satisfied unless Captain Placeholder is back in Menethil Harbor.

And while we are all arguing over what time stamp makes for an authentic vanilla server, there is the follow on question as to how Blizzard should operate such a server.

My own bias is that such servers should progress.  That is because, for me, one of the best parts about the SOE/Daybreak nostalgia servers has been everybody starting off at level 1 together in a giant mass.  To me that is far more important than any purity of content.  And once the bulk of the population has risen to the level cap, the fun wears off until another unlock comes along and another great mass rush begins.

Of course, progression runs into a problem just three expansions in for WoW, as then Cataclysm hits and the old world for which we are currently clamoring goes away.  Dammit Blizzard.  Furthermore, progression means that anybody late to the party misses the fun bit unless another such server is launched.  And launching a new server inevitably draw from the population of the older server, reducing its numbers.

So, for me, the most enticing part of such a server is transitory at best.  (It also explains why I am down with even Blizzard’s half-assed special rules server idea.  That would at least give me something, if not everything, I want.)

But no progression, just a static vanilla forever server, would quickly lose that new world feel as players capped out, did their nostalgia raiding, made an alt or two, and moved on.  A community will develop and remain.  Somebody will always stick around as we saw with EverQuest: Macintosh Edition, which sat with the same content for 9 years.  But a special server with most of the population lingering at level cap starts to feel more like a museum than a game.  But, if you were looking for that vanilla experience on demand, without the new server feel, at least it would be there.

So there we stand.  The only sure thing in all of this is that no matter what Blizzard does, somebody will be pissed off.  I have seen it in the flames.

18 thoughts on “What is Vanilla WoW in Any Case?

  1. bhagpuss

    There is no reason, other than not wanting to, why they couldn’t do all of the above. With a potential customer base the size of Blizzard’s and with Blizzard’s resources, why should they not launch a static never-gets-another-update Classic server, a DBG-style vote-for-Progression server, a Race-to-the-Top competitive server and any number of other special rulesets?

    There’s no practical barrier to doing any kind of server. They may not have the old code but it was written once, it could be written again. What’s more, they could just start a new server, period. Not retro, just current content but a blank slate. I very much agree with you that a huge part of the fun is everyone starting at once.

    It looks at the moment as though they may end up doing something but probably with the worst of grace. If they had a different corporate attitude they might well embrace the idea and run with it the way DBG and Jagex have. They don’t see things that way, that’s apparent. I favor the conspiracy theory that suspects what the Blizzard decision-makers are planning is to launch something that they expect no-one to be happy with so they can say “we told you it wouldn’t work” and thereby close the door on the issue for another few years.

    That won’t work either.


  2. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Bhagpuss – You’d think with their staff and budget that they could get out expansions more quickly, or at least not go for so many months without a content update as well. I have to fall back again on corporate culture likely being the biggest hindrance to Blizz doing things.

    Being small… or at least much smaller… like DB or Jagex sometimes means more flexibility. Of course, sometimes it just means you have to hustle harder to pay the bills too.


  3. Isey

    This is why I liked the progression servers at EQ better than the p1999 ones. It was original EQ with many modern conveniences. The perfect solution to reliving your past with a more present lens. =)


  4. Chaosrook

    I do not see it as being a really hard thing for Blizzard to do. If you think about how well some of the small time free severs do at bringing about the content and tweaks to a close to wow vanilla experience. If a small operation can do so, then Blizzard has no excuse. If they wanted to be lazy about it they could even take procession of the free severs codes to start with to speed the process up. Emerald Dream for example has a very good server albeit generally quite.

    Now onto how well it would do. I agree that after a year or so playing on a classic server a person could and mostly would burn out. However take into consideration that you have multi-millions in number of players that would be cycling through it would be more the case that you would have to have multiple classic services to take on the load at first. They could even do a few progression servers once they got good and experienced at doing the whole thing.

    Stagnation only comes in if there is both no new content in a server or no new influx of players. This is the issue with Ultima Online for example. There is no new player base, they resist the free to play model that would produce a influx of players. While there is a nostalgia element to going back to a game… most want to go back to that which they remember or at least recognize.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Fenjay

    If I were them, I might consider doing something like the following:
    – Start off a new vanilla-only server, possibly with later classes like DK and Monk included, but tweaked as you mentioned to be balanced with the vanilla dungeons.
    – After a certain time, maybe a year, move it to BC. Start a new vanilla server like in the first point.
    – The next year, progress both servers and create a third.
    – At some arbitrary point, probably determined by player enthusiasm, but maybe when you’ve caught up to current expansion – 1, offer to transfer any characters off the farthest-advanced classic server to the normal servers to continue playing per normal. After a period of time, bring down this server and reset it as a plain vanilla server, starting the process over again.

    This would allow people to hop on board a fresh server about once a year and yet still do progression on a regular basis. The “endgame” would be to either let your classic characters be deleted, or mainstream them if you have become attached to them. Add some Feat of Strength achievements to sweeten the deal and I bet you get a good deal of interest.


  6. C. T. Murphy

    Blizzard’s idea of a RP server is to name it a RP server and be done with it. They have never once embraced special rule servers even though special rule servers are not quite ancient.

    I agree and think they should get with the times. If UO could give us Siege Perilous and EQ could give us Firionia Vie, then WoW can give us SOMETHING/ANYTHING!


  7. Jim

    It all comes down to what the nostalrius team is pleased with (they are NOT releasing their code because they rely on it being a negotiating piece, just imagine blizzard left with an exceeding amount of POLISHED private servers popping up in case they are not pleased and go through with the code release).
    I personally would embrace the idea of @Fenjay or make some seasoned servers that would auto-reset every 12 or 18 months (or even better make it gated on content being cleared aka 6 months after 1st sunwell clear). After some point there would be absolutely no new players coming in those servers apart from when content drought exists in the retail game (which atm is extremely more than what is needed), thus there would be a need to start anew from time to time.

    Most people in every single poll in existence seem to prefer TBC as the sweet spot in wow history as wrath came with some controversial changes (Achievements (and their requirement to enter raids),Class Homogenization (Hybrids no longer in support role) and general class changes, Completely removed the NEED for cc/threat,Dungeon Finder (this being cross server was the main issue afaik), levelling was made even easier giving access to abilities sooner (lvl 20/40 mount, water shield @lvl20 for shamans, Ghost wolf at 16 and a myriad of other changes) in addition to classes became completely OverPowered etc.). To be honest the only change i welcome from wrath was dual spec lol. The biggest change in wrath was the fact that classes became complete. Prior to wrath every class had pros and cons that you would need to weigh. Wrath made every class completely fun removing drawbacks from many classes that in the long run was not exactly that good of an idea. I believe that you SHOULD NEED other players in an MMO.

    Anyway since i got outside the point. Many people just feel that they did not exhaust their time in their favorite time for wow (mine was definitely tbc, others may be some other time period), and would gladly take their time in that expansion to progress the classes they wanted to progress to the extent they wanted to.

    My main in tbc was a feral druid tank and i cleared all T5 content, but i would actually prefer to check out all the hybrid classes as they were back then, especially enhancement shaman which was my main in wrath, and take my time and check out T6 and sunwell if i can make it.

    Other people may be interested in wrath or vanilla or even cataclysm. Some like how pvp worked in certain expansions as opposed to now or some other expansion. I am more of a leveller and altoholic myself and get in raids whenever i can but only casually.


  8. gruffertus

    @Bhagpuss There’s one reason why you might not want them to do, and it’s the one you identify later – this will almost certainly be their one shot at it. The numbers aren’t great (150,000 free subscribers at Nostalrius is probably at most 15k who will pay, plus maybe that again from other private servers?) – if they split them up into different servers trying to recoup the costs of different developments (the reason they have all the resources is that they’re not fond of pouring them down the sink, after all) then the plug will be pulled all the earlier.

    Also “it was written once, it could be written again.” – this is true, but it took them four years the first time, WoW wasn’t fully profitable until some time in TBC if I recall correctly. Talarian over at Gamer by Design had a great investigation of how tricky it would be, from a game-maker point of view.


    I do like the idea of a clean slate server – another tip taken from Diablo.

    @Chaosrook: “multi-millions in number of players that would be cycling through it” stopped me in my tracks, I admit. Do you really think there’s than many, when under a million signed up, ever, for the most popular free server?

    @Fenjay – how would they tweak the Monk and DK to be balanced with the Vanilla dungeons, when the original classes weren’t balanced with the Vanilla dungeons? Would they reduce them to one viable spec so the others wouldn’t feel left out? :) I remember hearing that the devs were overjoyed when developing TBC, as they could balance raids around the idea that you’d probably have a Paladin or a Shaman, when previously that would lock out one faction or the other.

    I like the idea of the last server transitioning to the live servers – as above it reminds me a bit of Diablo Seasons. A year sounds very short for Vanilla though – that’s a patch per month?


  9. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @gruffertus – You have some pretty dubious arguments there. Not fully profitable until TBC? That seems like an outright falsehood. Links to proof on that or I am calling BS. EverQuest is still profitable after 17 years, and was profitable almost immediately while never exceeding 550K subscribers. WoW had 5 million in less than a year, all who bought the box as well, and you’re going to tell me that WoW wasn’t profitable for another year and a half? Think before you comment.

    Meanwhile, comparing the population of a pirate server with what an official Blizzard run server might get is complete BS as well. You are literally turning reality on its head with that. The reality is that a pirate server, that has to run under the radar lest it get shut down, managed to get 800,000 people to sign up is amazing and an indication that many more would play if it such a server were actually officially sanctioned.

    Besides which, how many players do you think a official WoW server actually holds? WoW census used to peg the number at 30K tops, with maybe 3-4K on at any given time. Even if we allowed for your dubious comparison with a pirate server running with ads or official sanction, that still sounds like 5 servers of subscribers. Call it $1,800,000 a month in revenue using $12 a month as the lowball to cover multi-month subscription discounts, and this quickly turns into more money than some other MMOs survive on as a whole.


  10. Lunds

    I can’t for the life of me understand why someone would want vanilla wow again. Maybe it’s because I quit during the middle of tbc, but I remember how things were before the class balance patches.

    You know when a Druid had to leave bear form 3 times to heal in order to kill a white level 53 mob in felwood. I say bear form because cat form dealt less damage than bear form and would have been two shot by the same white mob.

    It was a game without battlegrounds. It was a game with very limited end game pve, and the only reason we loved it was because its timing was right.

    The timing isn’t right anymore. TBC servers I could understand, but vanilla? Fuck no.


  11. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Lunds – In a world where the Kardashians have a popular TV show and make headlines for essentially nothing, I have to think a wish to play vanilla WoW is pretty reasonable.

    On the flip side, the WoW devs clearly agree with you and I still doubt that Blizzard will ever do anything like a vanilla server.


  12. Fenjay

    @gruffertus – the tweaking of classes strikes me as the hardest part. Outside of that, there is some design work to do in order to make vanilla/TBC/etc content work with current code, but the technical implementation would be comparatively simple, I would think.

    And there is no need to patch it – I wouldn’t want them to re-run history, bug for bug; it could just take patches if problems were found specifically with the vanilla/modern hybrid it would be. A year sounds good to me for getting from level 1 to endgame raids, but it could be extended (or shortened) depending on progression and player sentiment.


  13. jim

    @wilhelm Regarding server population, vanilla and tbc server cap (concurrent users) was 2500. I have absolutely no idea if the cap was raised at some point though after that. I do know however that Nostalrius made improvements through clustering and allowed them to have 14k concurrent users on their pvp realm and 5300 on the pve realm (those are max/peak values).

    Given the fact that there were many people that logged out alts on dreamfoil spawn locations it was proven that one realm cannot hold more than 3k at once, unless they implement a dynamic spawn system like nostalrius did but even that has it’s limit.


  14. Matt

    They should definitely not just release the old version as was. WoW has had a number of graphical improvements over the years, and even current WoW with those improvements looks like it was made a generation ago.

    Progression is probably necessary. There are no new WoW players, so what you want is for the same people to keep starting over repeatedly, ala D3. One server for each expansion would be a good start. Maybe it isn’t necessary to go any further than Wotlk, as my impression is that nostalgia drops off rapidly after that.


  15. Shintar

    I think the existing private servers present a good base model: use patch 1.12 for the mechanical side of things, and then add content patches over time, so people have time to clear Molten Core before Blackwing Lair becomes a thing, the AQ event can be held and so on.

    If they then added BC servers later, that would be cool, but I think transferring should be voluntary, without forced progression. One thing I’ve become oddly appreciative of while playing on Kronos is a certain predictability and staticness. When I stopped raiding on retail, part of it was that the gear treadmill was running too fast for my liking, and content was constantly being invalidated. I like the idea of legacy servers offering an alternative to that, where you can choose whether you want to move on or prefer to remain powerful in your current “bracket”.


  16. Chaosrook

    Speaking on multi-millions; WoW has had a total number of Subs at peak around 12.5 Million. That does not count the number of previous players from the start of the game in 2004 until today; in all that is a very large number. If the classic server was an interest of just 1% of that unsubscribed population…then how many would come back to play? How many subs have they lost sense peak – maybe half? Lets say 1% of 6 Million gets you 60,000. Lets also say that there are in fact some 25 million (just a made up number) whom have played wow that are no longer subscribed…that number jumps to 250,000. While these numbers are all fiction…wow knows the real numbers.
    What I really think this boils down to in reality is a risk assessment by their organization which is weighing factors. For WoW they still are making millions and millions with the a 5-6 million or so current players. They are producing content that makes those numbers rise each expansion. Also the increase in profits from new expansions…al a cart +-$60 bucks a pop. So take for the moment the effort for them to work on old content that they cant sell boxes on and only get subscribers back at a unknown percentage…it makes them nervous to the point of inaction. At their current point I think they are still to profitable to want to risk putting a large scale effort on it. That of course means that if anything is being done in this area it will be a small team and a long effort ….not to be seen soon.


  17. gruffertus

    @Wilhelm – I admit freely that the factoid about not being profitable until TBC may well be false – I meant to be more tentative about the claim, but I see that I wasn’t. It shouldn’t take away from the main thrust of my point there – “they can just write the code again” hides a considerable sunken cost.

    I don’t know that Nostalrius is some hidden secret, it was the #1 hit for “private wow server” and “vanilla wow server” is anyone went Googling for that. Any article about the practice would make it clear that there’s no actual danger to the players by trying it, so I don’t think it’s that people were waiting for Blizzard’s approval.

    I agree that if it re-appeared tomorrow in exactly the same state with ‘Blizzard-approved!’ and say a link from the Blizzard news page, the numbers would jump. But that’s not going to happen, for lots of reasons. And the number of people who would be prepared to pay for it would remain (in my opinion) cripplingly small.

    I’m not sure I follow your sums though – you say they’re accounting for my figures, but they seem to be for 150,000 subscribers, I’m saying there’s only going to by 30,000?

    @Chaosrook – none of those add up to multi-millions, though. Like, more than two millions.


  18. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @gruffertus – People can be surprisingly moral, even gamers. The prime issue I had in getting people to come and try Emerald Dream back in the day wasn’t worry that they would get in trouble, it was that it felt like stealing. Tobold, pompous though he was in tone, was correct when he belabored that point. At its core, it is stealing and I doubt you will find anything besides half-assed rationalizations behind any claim that it is not stealing. My own conscious soothing device was that I was subscribed to WoW while playing on Emerald Dream, so I could at least say that, technically, Blizz wasn’t losing any money.

    Add in the fact that you don’t know who is really running a pirate server, fears about malicious code on the internet, and the fact that such servers go away after a while, even when Blizz doesn’t send them threatening letters, so all your progress is lost, and the average played won’t bother with them. People who play on such servers are those hard core in search of the vanilla experience.

    So saying it was the #1 private WoW server is like saying somebody it the #1 fence in your area; something that is only likely to appeal to a certain, specific clientele and not an option everybody in search of discount consumer electronics is going to seek out.

    On code, having worked in development for nearly 30 years now, I know it isn’t as easy as checking the old tag out of source and building with the current compiler. I would bet that 3rd party libraries alone are going to be a pain to deal with. But this also isn’t a project that would take the whole WoW team to look into. There isn’t any new content to be created, which is always the gating item for expansions, just the client wrapper and the old content server. Blizz could pick a dozen people… a couple old hands who remember how they got there and some juniors to do the heavy lifting… set them on this and they would have a nearly ready core prototype in 6-12 months. Then Blizz has to decide on the final integration, which is some more work and takes more people. But unless Blizz has destroyed all pre-Cataclysm source code, this is a doable project by a relatively small team. And, it would be a prime item to be able to launch during the gap between expansions, when the content people are still lagging behind.

    As for your “cripplingly small” opinion, it is just that, an opinion, and one that reflects your desires in the world. That such servers have been very popular for EQ, EQII, and RuneScape… not to mention how popular they have been for pirate servers which, as noted, suffer from a range of reasons that keep people away… seems unlikely to sway you because vanilla simply doesn’t interest you. But you cannot be satisfied with it not being for you, you have to shit all over it so nobody else can have it.

    There are arguments against the whole idea, and I said in a comment above that I don’t think Blizz will actually ever do this. But the BS arguments about a pirate server being enough or representing the maximum number of people interested or built-on-speculation statements about it being too hard just don’t cut it.


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