Pirate Communities

Another aspect of the Nostalrius news that caught my interest was the non-stop mentioning of the tight-knit community. “I made so many friends in the span of a month than i did in retail over 2 years” I have no doubt that this was a true experience for this random internet denizen, but perhaps not for the reasons he/she thinks.

If you played on Nostalrius, you automatically had a whole lot in common with everyone you happened to encounter. One, you’re all filthy pirates. Two, you’re capable and willing to download cracked versions of MMOs and play them. Three, you are extremely invested in the vanilla WoW experience. And fourth, you are a member of a self-perceived persecuted group: one that Blizzard doesn’t cater to any longer.

There was a brief, dumb period of my life where I was a smoker. I’m an unabashed introvert, but there was literally nowhere I could go and not have a pleasant smoke-break conversation with whomever was outside the back door of whatever establishment I was visiting. “Do you have a light?” “How about that weather, eh?” “Hear about that new anti-smoking bill?” There was an instant connection due to shared circumstances with someone I would likely have nothing else in common with. It wasn’t much, but it was a start.

Two random people playing WoW have one thing in common: they play WoW. That’s not much more to go on than encountering a random stranger walking around your city of residence. Private servers though? You are practically co-conspirators just for logging in. There is an instant sense of camaraderie which facilitates connections.

A lot of the “community” discussion focuses on all the missteps that Blizzard took in destroying said communities. Cross-server BGs. LFD. Phasing. And so on. Well… okay, fine. But my question to you would be this: do you think an MMO with nearly 100 times more players than Nostalrius would have had the same community feeling in 2016 as it was back in pre-Facebook 2005, minus the subterfuge?

I suppose my point here is that while the “Nostalrius effect” is real, it is not as particularly a damning indictment of current WoW as it is being trotted out. WoW has significant problems for sure, but just wait a while. The more people unsubscribe, the more of a community will develop amongst the remainder. Because population is the antithesis to community.

Posted on April 13, 2016, in Commentary, WoW and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. Who are you and where did this kind of you go? :) https://inanage.com/2015/06/12/all-the-world-a-dungeon/

    Sadly I have nothing to add more than just saying that almost every single of your preconceptions about vanilla WoW private servers are dead wrong.
    I know, since I had the same,

    Now I know, vanilla WoW would have just as good community feeling and be just as good if it was released today. Its true, no matter how hard it is for you to believe.
    I just really really hope blizzard learns something from all this.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I suspect that if WoW launched an official vanilla server tomorrow, all the people who were so keen on it would get a very rude shock when they discovered it was full of.. the 2016 WoW community.


    • The 2016 WoW community would log out in disgust after realising that it takes 4 hours of fairly hard gameplay to reach level 10. At level 7, if you pull a level 6-7 named mob (non-elite, but with the silver dragon on the portrait) you mostly died a horrible death. Pulling two equal level mobs at the same time would most likely get you killed, or very near death.

      They wouldn’t last past level 4.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Exactly this. It’s why the community in FFXIV is so different (better), despite that game also having a massive population, or why EVE has the community it has while other MMOs with 400kish players don’t even come close.

        The size of the population is a factor, sure, but when it comes to themeparks, size is capped at however big a single server is (10k or so I believe). Whether you run 5 servers or 500, that scale doesn’t matter to someone playing on one server with 10k others. How the game is designed does. Vanilla WoW had far better social tools/hooks, which is why it did a far better job of retaining players compared to WoW after WotLK.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. “Private servers though? You are practically co-conspirators just for logging in. There is an instant sense of camaraderie which facilitates connections.”

    No, not really. People playing in private servers don’t consider themselves ‘conspirators’ or ‘criminal masterminds’ that are ‘sticking it to the man’. The only signal among people is ‘I like this version of WoW best’. Not surprisingly, the social connections are made because the game made them mandatory.

    Group Quest to kill Elites? Check.
    Roaming Elites that could only be tackled with small groups? Entire sections of zones filled with hard mobs? Check.
    Long and wipe-tastic dungeons? Check.
    Having a reputation as a good healer/tank mattered? Check.
    Tons more open world PvP? Check.

    Was is a buggy and unstable mess? Yup. Is today’s WoW more feature-rich? Yes. Was Vanilla the overall better experience? In my opinion, very much so. I too used to think that my nostalgia for Vanilla was just that; pure nostalgia. After giving it a try however I instantly remembered why I liked the game back in 2004-2005 so much.

    “do you think an MMO with nearly 100 times more players than Nostalrius would have had the same community feeling in 2016 as it was back in pre-Facebook 2005, minus the subterfuge?”

    Game =/= server

    A game can be built around making server communities meaningful, The original Vanilla WoW had literally milions more people playing it than Nost, and the community of each server was robust. I actually knew that Hunter A from guild X was a beast in PvP, or that Alliance guild Y was probably camping Crossroads. There was recruitment competition of skilled players from the major guilds, people were famous or infamous etc. etc.

    The current version of WoW could drop to 50,000 subs and with the same gameplay mechanics that are in effect today, there would still be no community.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The only signal among people is ‘I like this version of WoW best’.

      “I like this version of WoW the best, and I’m going to jump through a lot of hoops to play it with a bunch of people who also feel the same way and are willing to filter themselves through the effort of loading up this private server.” That’s a huge signal that 100% of the players share on those servers.

      Not surprisingly, the social connections are made because the game made them mandatory.

      No social connections were “mandatory” to level up unless you felt a burning need to complete dungeon quests. All of the things you mentioned were optional, including the PvP depending on server type. WoW’s whole shtick was it’s solo-friendliness in an EQ world.

      As for meaningful community… I dunno. It was likely more meaningful than it is today, sure. But unless something drastically changed from vanilla to TBC, my own community experience on even a low-pop server was that nobody much cared about ninja looters and the top guilds shit-posted each other in Trade chat. Not much different from what I saw the last few times I went back. I used my Friends list to get groups, but that was just because the alternative was 40+ minutes of idling and spamming. Other than that, you made your friends, stuck with just them, and ignored everyone else.

      The current version of WoW could drop to 50,000 subs and with the same gameplay mechanics that are in effect today, there would still be no community.

      I’m not even sure I’m going to cede this point anymore. Because there are communities of various sorts all over the place. It’s just the content they do has changed, and they are masked by a layer of solo players actually able to meaningfully progress their characters.


      • Joining a classic WoW server is trivial – even easier than installing the official version. Try it: http://vanillagaming.org/



      • I’ll try and tackle your points one by one.

        1. People don’t fly through any hoops to join a private server. You essentially download and unpack the standard client (no install needed), edit the WTF file to point to a specific realm list (copy and past 1 line) and create an account. It’s even easier than joining BNet.

        2. You mention solo friendliness, and that’s true. But Vanilla was by no means what one would consider solo-friendly by today’s standards. Finding another person in an area doing quests was a major boon because of all the points I mentioned above. Today people are competition over spawns.

        And btw, you mention dungeon quests but there were a lot of Elite Quests in the open world as well. If you wanted to cap a storyline, you generally had to do several of them in every area. And besides, some quests not even marked as ‘Elite’ would be marked ‘Impossible’ in today’s standards. Had you tried doing the Hive quests in the old Silithus, at level? Holy shit I still remember the pain even today.

        3. TBC from my own point of view had even more mandatory social interaction. Doing Heroics in a full PUG was so painful, that you essentially depended on your friendlist to find decent party members. Actually, my guild formed because of those friendlists, the founders were people that played together so frequently on Heroics, that they decided to form an actual guild and start doing Timed Runs for Bear Mounts.


  4. Invested in the experience is the big one. People often underestimate or disregard selection effects in matters like this. There is a huge difference between a server full of people dedicated to making the experience worthwhile vs. a server full of people just killing time until the next game comes along.


  5. Hi, longtime lurker here who played on Nost in the last months. :)

    I tend to agree with tithian and Zalamander. I played on Nost longer than I did WoD. I don’t care about the money (I work and could pay the WoW subscription without a problem), for me it’s about playing with other people. I enjoy taking the time to reach 60 and get to know people during quests or dungeons. And 150.000 active players did too.

    And it’s not even nostalgia, since I only started playing WoW towards the end of BC/start of wotlk. For me, Vanilla WoW is subjectively more fun than current wow or other current MMOs.

    Sure, the community is probably different to 10 years ago, but it doesn’t mean you cannot find nice people to hang out and do quests with.

    And you can see all of this in the fact that people haven’t stoppled playing, but migrated to other Vanilla or BC servers, most notably Kronos, which increased from 1.5K players peak to 6K+ player peak.


  6. That’s one of the points why a 2004 WoW cannot happen again.

    Back then Internet access was expensive. A gaming computer was still a little bit special. A monthly fee was unheard of for your average gamer. People who signed up for WoW in 2004 were committed to it. They paid money for it, because they wanted to be there. That reduced the people who play WoW to a group of people wo “want to be in that virtual world”.

    Today you have F2P MMOs, Internet is something everybody just has and playing an MMO doesn’t add an additional hourly fee. Today, not only do people play an MMO that really want to play it. You also have people who log in because they lack the change to do what they really want to do.


  7. Hmm ouch, you really seem to dislike people who play on private servers :-( those first lines were rough. “Filthy” and “self-perceived persecuted” aren’t exactly nice descriptors. I had to recheck which blog i was on :-)

    I understand that some people may be to pushy in their “vanilla is awesome” attitude. But in some regards, it IS a very different experience to what you can get now.

    I am genuinely curious though, is it actually illegal to play on a private server? (Against the blizz ToS i presume, but is it illegal?).



    • Ah, those were really more meant as terms of endearment and light-hearted jabs at the same time, rather than any sort of serious criticism.

      But it is piracy, same as if you torrented Fallout 4 or whatever. There always seems to be this air of mystique and nobility with vanilla servers, e.g. tight-knit community, and I find the contrast amusing. And, in this case, arguably self-reinforcing.


      • I don’t feel its being illigal since Im paying for an active wow account and own original copies not only of vanilla but all expansions.

        Yet in that situation it was easy to pick between Vanilla or WoD.

        Interestingly, is it even legal for blizzard to deny me playing vanilla? I bought WoW vanilla and have an account for it.


      • You bought a subscription to a service, and you received it. The service changed over time. Doesn’t mean Blizzard loses control over the IP/copyright, which these groups reverse-engineer and make available for free.

        I’m not a super fan of the way copyright/etc works in the US, but there really isn’t a legal argument to make. Maybe in Europe, I dunno.


  8. Hmm correct me if I am wrong (and i might very well be). But torrenting fallout 4 as in your example would be accessing the game itself illegally (and therefore piracy), whereas playing on a vanilla wow private client is more akin to playing a game that is illegally based on another game.
    If i downloaded and played a game called “sugar crush saga” which was a carbon copy of a certain popular mobile game, would *my* action be illegal, or would it only be the provider that broke any laws.
    The code for private servers is similarily built (more or less i guess) from the ground up, the problem is that the product is a breach of intellectual property rights, not that it is the same “game” (as in code). I dont know whether this legally makes a difference, but it sounds like it might.

    My point: I don’t believe that playing the game “sugar crush saga” from my example would be illegal (or at least not in denmark), and it seems that playing a private server is comparable to this.

    Note: this is not an attempt to “defend” playing on private servers, or to argue that it “ought” to be legal, or anything like that. This is merely me wondering whether the act of downloading/playing private servers is in fact illegal as many seem to claim. Or if it is only the provider that is breaking any laws


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