I am a still recovering World of Warcraft addict. Some of my best memories of the MMORPG come from during the game’s launch. I remember questing with friends, joining a guild and going on raids. I remember getting “ganked” until I could take no more in Stranglethorn Vale. They were the best of times, they were the worst of times.
Burning Crusade then followed and I was hooked even more. Creating a new character based on the Draenei race, I officially joined the Horde soon afterwards as more of my friends defected from the Alliance. But the realisation that I was becoming addicted to the game was becoming more apparent. I weened myself off the game around the time of Wrath of the Lich King’s release and, until a couple of weeks ago, I never looked back.
The last few weeks have changed all of that, though. There has been a huge discussion on the internet surrounding the very nature of preserving MMOs for posterity, which began when news of a World of Warcraft server, running a “vanilla” version, or a version based on the original World of Warcraft game before any of the expansions were released, was shut down by Blizzard.
Their reasons for doing so were that they had to in order to protect their intellectual property, explaining that what the moderators for this vanilla server were doing was technically piracy. Trademark laws are very complicated things in and of themselves and I’m not about to go into the specifics, mostly because I’m nowhere near qualified to talk about trademark law! Needless to say, the internet went ballistic, calling for Blizzard to meet with the moderators of the vanilla version of World of Warcraft. Eventually they caved in to public pressure and are now reportedly meeting with the moderators as requested.
Plenty of pundits have given their opinions on this and while I would normally not have anything to add, given all of the evidence with regards to the people involved and the increasing public demand, I can only draw one, potentially quite unpopular conclusion. Should Blizzard listen to this subset of their fanbase, we could see a sanctioned vanilla World of Warcraft, but we’re going to have to pay for the pleasure.
Now before you grab your pitchforks and demand that I retract that statement, I definitely understand that these guys were operating outside of Blizzard’s reach and that they weren’t making money out of this endeavour. My point isn’t even to make it so that Blizzard make a profit out of a legacy game, even though they’re well within their rights to do so.
No, in order for Blizzard and their owners Activision to see this as worth their while, even if they take on these moderators as part of their team, these servers would have to live up to Blizzard’s standards when it comes to QA Testing and support. Diablo III may be the current posterchild for login issues for the company, but back in its vanilla heyday, World of Warcraft also suffered access issues and server strain. Hours were wasted trying to log into a game whose servers simply weren’t coping with demand.
So naturally, they’re a bit cautious about putting their name to a product that may not work as well as intended. While we of course know that there would be a bunch of dedicated people on the other end who are doing this because they want to, others may not and would therefore expect to be speaking to a Blizzard representative when talking to the person on the other end, should Blizzard officially endorse it.
But then there is the other question, where does it all stop? Say Blizzard cave in and allow these guys to run the server. What’s stopping the group of people who liked the Burning Crusade expansion, but none of the others? Those nostalgic for the Wrath of the Lich King expansion? Cataclysm? Perhaps Mists of Pandaria?
Blizzard have probably considered this and it probably came up during the number of meetings they’ve had internally over the past week. It’s a bit of a doozy, potentially opening a can of worms far too juicy for the masses not to go for. Some probably decided it was easier to just leave it unopened.
With the amount of moderators required for potential interest in numerous servers running different versions of the game, the costs could easily spiral, not least because Blizzard would need to have moderators ensuring the performance of each server was maintained. This takes time out of their days and given the global reach of World of Warcraft, it would be unwise to not have the servers run 24 hours a day.
So where is the money going to come from? Not from the profits of World of Warcraft itself, as its player base dwindles a couple of months after the launch of each expansion and they still have that particular player base to maintain. Neither Activision nor Blizzard will want to invest too much in a legacy project that will cut into their bottom line, instead of putting that toward the development of other games.
Therefore, if people are truly interested in kicking off the vanilla World of Warcraft revival, we need to speak with our wallets. This is not because Activision or Blizzard should make a profit out of it, but more to reimburse those prepared to dedicate their time and patience to maintaining the servers. After all, since the internet is demanding it, someone should be paid to deliver it.