Where Does WoW Classic End?

Just last week we launched into The Burning Crusade in Blizzard’s WoW Classic experiment.  We will likely spend close to two years playing that.  Maybe less.  The thing about doing a retro server is that everybody who doesn’t already know the dance steps can find them online, so a lot of people move at a much quicker pace.  I’ve already gone from “Hey, that’s the first level 70 I’ve seen!” to seeing them all over.

Still only level 60 still as I head to Hellfire Peninsula

After Outland I fully expect that we will move into Wrath of the Lich King Classic, just to finish off what I will call The Classic Trilogy.  That probably gets us out into 2024.

But then what?

I would argue that “classic” ends with WotLK and that Cataclysm, though it is more than a decade in the past at this point, marks the “modern” era of World of Warcraft.  And while there are descisions to be made about WotLK… it was during that era we got Dungeon Finder and achievements, both of which remain of debated value… Cataclysm really represents a leap.

Which isn’t to necessarily say that Blizzard couldn’t or shouldn’t roll the classic train on into Cataclysm, but it does represent some issues.

First off, unlike EverQuest, which is ever the model for these sorts of plans, and all the more so since Holly Longdale is driving the WoW Classic team at Blizz, Cataclysm went back and changed old content.  This differs from the EverQuest model where they just piled on new content by adding zones and maybe adding an NPC here or a teleporter there to the past world.  Cataclysm represents the destruction of vanilla WoW yet again and a lot of the push behind the whole WoW Classic experience was from people, myself included, who were somewhere between annoyed and filled with white hot rage that Blizz did this.

Does Blizzard want to re-ignite those memories of betrayal?  And, probably more importantly, is there demand for a fresh start for Cataclysm?  If there is enough money on the table, I have no doubt that Blizzard will try to claim it.

And I have softened a bit on Cataclysm over the years.  Some of the content was good.  The instances were all interesting.  But none of that has changed over the years and when Blizz already has the post-level squish, fully scaling, parallel paths experience available, do they bother rolling to Cata?

The Shadowlands level squish parallel experience

I suspect there would be demand for a fresh start for any expansion with a rush of people all together and all the content to re-explore.  But the hitch for Blizz is that it isn’t as easy as it is for EverQuest.  Over at Daybreak these sorts of things are done on one or maybe two servers at a time.  It is easy to handle and contain.  WoW Classic went live with more than 150 servers.  And then they had to add some more when Burning Crusade Classic hit and they had to split out the people who wanted to stay in the land of vanilla.

So it isn’t a trivial exercise moving forward.  And they have to make the decision about whether or not to move everybody forward.  I suspect that there is a faction at Blizz that believes you progress or you die off, that this classic ride ends with a whole bunch of people at whatever post-Shadowlands expansion they’re at  when and if they catch up.

I expect, however, there will be a loud group in the community that won’t want to go past WotLK.  Will Blizz off another era split?  Will they offer one for Burning Crusade Classic as well?  Will the classic experiment require Blizz to create a whole pantheon of expansion locked, never to progress, special snowflake servers?

I know that seems ideal to some, but I suspect that it won’t be as nice as it sounds, that some expansions will be more favored than others, that the overhead will be large and confusing, and that Blizz will need to make transfer/clone forward options available all the way along at a price lower than even $15. (Also, how many versions of WoWHead and Icy Veins will we need?  One for each expansion?)

But the flip side of all of that is what do they do if they just stop at WotLK, that “classic” really is just the first three seasons of the game and everything after Cataclysm is ignored?  I suspect that Blizz just re-rolls WoW Classic again and launches into that hype again.  It will have been at least five years since the first rush to old Azeroth, and the EverQuest team has demonstrated that nostalgia is an evergreen source of money.

Will it be another 150+ server event that has a big impact on the company financials?  I don’t know.  I suspect that it won’t be that popular, but the draw of WoW is not to be discounted.  And what happens with the previous classic servers if this hits?

Those are a few options and I am sure I could come up with more.  Blizzard has time to think about this.  As I noted above, I expect that WotLK Classic is a given and that we’re at least 18 months away from that being a thing.  But at some point they’re going to have to make a call on direction and plans.  I am already curious as to where they will go.

Where do you think the classic experience is heading?

11 thoughts on “Where Does WoW Classic End?

  1. 360fov

    I see a much longer period of time spent in TBC before moving onto WoTLK. It all feels fragmented, my Classic Experience is heading over to FFXIV to see if I can get into it with the same enthusiasm as the likes of Bellular. Tried and failed 4 or 5 times since the original FFXIV for PS3 – maybe it’s a futile effort – either way my Classic passion evaporated. The first year, particularly the first 6 months (including Asmongold’s antics) were far better than I could have expected though, and it didn’t cost anything extra.

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  2. Kaylriene

    I’m of two minds about this.

    On the one hand, fan sentiment about Cataclysm is likely part of the driving force behind Classic – because of all the reasons you mentioned.

    On the other hand, I think there’s value from a historical preservation angle to maintaining a Classic for every version. Of course, if there aren’t enough paying users, there’s not much point in figuring it out if you’re Blizzard, and at a certain point, if there are only like 12 people who want BfA Classic, is it even worth maintaining? Probably not.

    For me, Cataclysm is actually probably my most invested expansion – first time leveling every class, started raid leading in Cata, the talent system felt like the best compromise of modern and classic, reforging started, they added more dungeons than any other point in the game (although two were redos of older raids, but hey), and the game overall felt like it was hitting a stride. The story and worldbuilding wasn’t as good as the RTS-heavy stuff from Wrath and not as varied as the multi-faceted worldbuilding of vanilla, but overall I think it still has a place.

    Of course, I might be the only person with a net positive view of Cataclysm. At the same time, though…I believe Mists Classic would actually be popular and it would be weird to barrel past Cata to get there, so who even knows?

    If I had to bet, I would expect that after Wrath classic, they could do fresh progression servers or event servers of some sort, just to keep that passion going (and prior to rolling into more contentious content grounds). TBC Classic has been popular, but the buzz around it isn’t nearly as high from my view as vanilla classic got and I think it would be in Blizzard’s business interests to attempt to recapture that.

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  3. bhagpuss

    I thought about this a bit in the run up to Burning Crusade Classic. I think you’re on the money with the re-roll for Classic when the nostalgia reservoir refills and I would say five years is more than long enough for that. Except… they still have Classic servers. I know they aren’t brand-new Classic and there’s that huge new server all in it together buzz to think of, but even so, the permanent availablity of a Classic experience might undercut the nostalgia somewhat.

    One thing EQ does that helps their progression/TLE train to keep on rolling is to tweak the rulesets. I’ve lost track of how many prog servers they’ve done but it’s a lot now and not many of them are exactley the same. They manage to keep the same bunch of people interested with a combination of fresh starts and slightly different rulesets but I don’t see Blizzard messing about with the rules like that. They’re kind of stuck with treating the past as some kind of holy writ, partly because of the way the players want it but also because of the huge fuss they made about getting everything as close as possible to the original. I think they could make a boatload of money knocking out lots of special ruleset Event servers pretty much as fast as they could make them but I don’t think they will.

    I would love to see a Cata Classic server announcement just for the popcorn fun. I also suspect Kaylriene is right about Mists of Pandaria. I think that might well have enough nostalgia pent up to make it work. Cartaclysm is right in the way, though, that’s the problem. I don’t really see why they couldn’t just skip Cata and go straight from WotLK to MoP but again I suspect Blizzard is too rigid in its thinking to do that.

    Then again, we are talking about three to five years from now. With the direction of travel we’ve been seeing I wonder where the center of gravity will be by then? What if Retail WoW is in real trouble and the Classic operation is ahead of it? That’s not impossible. Then you might see all kinds of moves we might not expect. I suppose whatever happens Blizzard is in it for the long haul now. It seems hard to see how they can withdraw from the Classic process from here, even if they might find it a lot harder to maintain that they’re comfortable with.

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  4. anypo8

    @bhagpuss I tried getting back into Retail WoW a year or so ago via a Panda Monk. (I’d bought for Classic, but thought why not give Retail another chance since it’s free? I didn’t last long.)

    One of the thoughts I had about Pandaria was that I think that it, like the movie it was “based on”, is a bit… problematic today. The “R” word is too strong, but I don’t think “culturally insensitive” necessarily is. Drawing from the “Chinese / Generic Asian Fantasy” genre is a little different from drawing on “Classic Fantasy”, since Asian Fantasy in Western hands (and boy do those hands seem Western in WoW) tends to echo cliched IRL stereotypes of Asian culture. I was a little uncomfortable playing, to be honest.

    I think Pandaria and Kung Fu Panda are kind of coasting on being grandfathered in today, but if I were Blizzard I wouldn’t be pushing any content in that setting. I don’t expect another Kung Fu Panda sequel anytime soon.

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  5. potshot

    I do think Cataclysm, love it or hate is, was the Rubicon. So I think that is the most clear boundary between what we think of as a Classic experience from something more akin to the modern era.

    If I’m honest, there were parts of Wrath that were harbingers of things to come that I found particularly troubling, specifically the introduction of phasing and the increasing emphasis on a single player journey/experience versus a shared world experience multiplayer one. Phasing as a tool for “story telling” certainly permits a character’s iteration and direct participation in story lines but it was the start of creating walls between players and the isolation of the player experience.

    Still, I thought Wrath did a better job of creating a cohesive mostly world centric experience. Northrend is very much a place in my mind as much as Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms are. Outland maybe not so much, so Wrath felt more like what I hoped TBC would have been in terms of continuing the worldly experience.

    That all changed literally and figuratively with Cataclysm, so it makes for a clean place to draw the line.

    I’m torn though with re-launching the nostalgia train. On the one hand, I’d love to have a pick-your-era classic server available whenever I want to re-roll and start anew. I could see myself re-rolling on a vanilla classic, then moving to a TBC classic server at 58-60 and then again moving to a Wrath classic server and wanting to do that whenever I and my friends feel like it.

    Of course, a big part of that classic experience and excitement is having a fresh server with a launch day population running through the lowbie zones, etc., so hard to balance the buzz with a new and shiny server experience with an always-and-forever-vanilla classic server ticking away in the background…

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  6. Vigogrimborne

    There is the radical option of trying to ride the nostalgia train off the tracks by making new content branching off from where Cataclysm would have been. Keep the style of the game from the olden days, veer away from the stuff that in retrospect didn’t work, and forge some new alternate-history expansions from scratch. Unlikely in the extreme, given it would be a risk compared to just spinning off more of the old stuff, but still.

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  7. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Kaylriene – There is no WoW expansion that I cannot find some good things in. And, as I brought up in a past post, I think that sometimes a decent expansion suffers somewhat from having to follow a better one. Add in promising features that fall flat, and an expansion gets a reputation. Cata followed what was arguably the “classic” era and redid the old world, WoD was built in the image of TBC and promised housing but gave us impersonal garrisons that made trade skills meaningless and took people out of the shared world (which was what key Blizz people said housing would do, so a self-fulfilling prophecy there), and BfA, following the well regarded Legion expansion, tried to make PvP a thing on all servers and made all servers PvE instead. The overland contents, dungeons, and raids were all good, but Blizz hung its content hat on things that just didn’t fly. And I bet that leads to some risk aversion from Blizz going forward, to the point that I think they might just feel satisfied leaving us with the Shadowlands content compromise and keeping classic to the first three eras.

    @Vigogrimborne – That’s been brought up a few times and it is an interesting idea. Certainly another path through time wouldn’t be a new thing for the game. We’ve had a time travel, up to the point of pretty much re-running TBC over again with WoD and Legion.

    The problem there for me, leaving aside the natural small “c” conservative nature of Blizz, is whether or not there is somebody at Blizz that could come up with an interesting new path forward. Because, even with Metzen, who was arguably the story muse of the company, we ended up with time travel up to the point of pretty much re-running TBC over again with WoD and Legion. It isn’t promising.

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  8. Archey

    I fear that the joy of hitting the first zone of a new expansion with tons of people and hype that we are experiencing now will only happen one more time, in Wrath Classic. I know I for one will respectfully decline to move forward to Cata, and I really can’t imagine how they can recapture the experience for all the reasons previously mentioned.

    That said, a lot of cash is riding on someone coming up with a way to reignite it a few years from now, so I’m not completely counting it out.

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  9. Pallais

    I have a feeling that Wrath will be the stopping point for the existing Classic servers. While there is some nostalgia for Cataclysm and later expansions, I don’t think it is big enough to entice Blizzard to put in the effort to making the effort to create and support those rule sets. Especially since you can just lock exp gains and replay this expansions right now. I also think there would be too much resistance from the Retail Wow team about post-Wrath Classic servers. That starts to create the image that the best part of Wow is in the past and the Retail team is all about ‘the new is the best’.

    What I suspect will happen is that Blizzard offers the option to move or clone your existing Classic Era and BC Classic characters to the Retail world. (This would be a big deal since some of those titles and transmog are not currently available.) Wrath could continue to run, as is, for a few years and then have the same move / clone option.

    Then I bet Blizzard will restart the Classic Era servers as fresh servers with maybe a few changes similar to EQ’s model. This would get the nostalgia train started back up on the tracks. Hmm. Perhaps they would keep one of each type running, with expansions being retired / restarted in rotation (Classic / BC / Wrath). That would give everyone a chance to play their favorite, though I could see them retiring an expansion so that a bit of nostalgia could build up.

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  10. Halum

    It seems like it should be possible to get a rough approximation of demand by looking at the private server scene. I have no idea how to pull actual data on this, but anecdotally it has always seemed the large majority of private servers were Vanilla Wow (at least those were the ones that grew large enough for Blizz to shut down) with maybe equal representation for TBC and WotLK and not much after that. I’m sure there is some poor soul out there running a cata or WoD private server and I just haven’t heard of those.

    For me the “classic” train ends with WotLK. I like leveling characters and the speed of leveling in TBC and Wrath is pretty close to Goldilocks.

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