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.
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.
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.