World of Warcraft was the game that made a name for MMORPG’s and Blizzard, as well as online gameplay in general. It’s actually the most successful video game of all time, having made 10 billion dollars in profit. At the height of its popularity, World of Warcraft had 12 million active subscribers, but over the last six years the numbers have dropped substantially, with less than 5.5 million accounts still active today.
One of the main reasons often cited for the decline in subscribers is that the game has changed drastically over the last 12 years, owing to several expansion packs and constant patches and updates. Most players seem to agree that the game peaked years ago. To put it simply, if you buy World of Warcraft today, you won’t be playing the original version of the game, you’ll be playing something very different.
It should come as no surprise then that over the years fans have set up dozens of websites which host playable versions of the original incarnations of the game. By logging onto one of these fan-run servers, you can play the game as it was when it first launched, which seems to be the fans favourite version of the game. These “Vanilla” servers are run by fans, and are completely free of charge. They’re also illegal.
Vanilla servers have existed for years. But recently, the most popular server – Nostalrius, which had 150,000 active accounts, was shut down by Blizzard. It was the first time that the company had taken action against one of these fan-run “legacy servers.”
The decision caused quite a stir, and thousands of players gathered together in the server’s final moments in order to commemorate the classic version of the game that they love so much.
A lot of folks have voiced their opinion on Blizzard’s decision, and nobody seems to be happy.
Popular YouTube reviewer JonTron, who was actually a member of the Nostalrius server, discussed the server shutdown in a recent video. He pointed out that servers like Nostalrius are literally the only way to play the original version of the game, and most people have no interest in playing the current version of Warcraft, due to its decline in quality over the years.
What’s interesting about JonTron’s video is that at one point he includes a clip from a Q&A with a panel of Blizzard employees, and when a fan asks would they ever consider hosting legacy servers, the response given is “No. You think you want that, but you don’t.” Apparently, a company can lose half their subscriber count, but still remain close-minded.
WoW executive producer J. Allen Brack commented on the whole controversy in a forum post:
“The honest answer is, failure to protect against intellectual property infringement would damage Blizzard’s rights. This applies to anything that uses WoW’s IP, including unofficial servers. And while we’ve looked into the possibility – there is not a clear legal path to protect Blizzard’s IP and grant an operating license to a pirate server.”
“We explored options for developing classic servers and none could be executed without great difficulty. If we could push a button and all of this would be created, we would. However, there are tremendous operational challenges to integrating classic servers, not to mention the ongoing support of multiple live versions for every aspect of WoW.”
“Over the years we have talked about a ‘pristine realm’. In essence that would turn off all leveling acceleration including character transfers, heirloom gear, character boosts, Recruit-A-Friend bonuses, WoW Token, and access to cross realm zones, as well as group finder. We aren’t sure whether this version of a clean slate is something that would appeal to the community and it’s still an open topic of discussion.”
Who knows if anything is actually planning on being done with regards to these legacy servers. But either way, I don’t think the story is ending here. Just recently a petition to resurrect Nostalrius reached 200,000 signatures, and Brack also mentioned in his forum post that they’ve been talking with the folks behind Nostralius, and will be having discussions with them in the weeks to come. So fans of Nostalrius and legacy/vanilla servers may have hope yet.
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