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.
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?
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?