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Impressions: BlizzCon Day 1

Well, now. I didn’t really see this coming.

The biggest news of the day, based on Reddit traffic, was clearly Blizzard’s teasing of WoW Classic. As in, they are actually making a vanilla server. Everything is still in development, so it’s technically possible that it won’t actually happen, but that would be pretty embarrassing given that they spent time on stage and even created a video about it. Important details such as cost and which patch stage they will be basing it on are still unknown – based on “server” language though, it’s possible it will just be, well, a server option in your normal WoW subscription.

Some people will undoubtedly be overjoyed. None will probably play a paladin.

In other news, the next expansion in WoW Prime will be… err…

WoW_BFA

Uhh…

Now, I’m sure there be a lot of people excited for WarCraft to get back to “roots” as a Red vs Blue RTS trope, but this is literally the most generic title and expansion theme they could have done. Sequel Escalation can be difficult to manage when there is no formal end planned – there are only a few more tricks Blizzard can pull once the Burning Legion itself is extinguished – but… this? “Battle for Azeroth” is something you write on a whiteboard with an underline, to denote that a series of actual title ideas will follow. Is this what people felt like almost exactly six years ago when Mists of Pandaria was revealed?

Looking at the MMO-Champ coverage, about the most interesting set of bullet points were:

World PVP

  • The PvP vs PvE server division is going away, replaced by an individual toggle. You can choose if you want to opt in to PvP or not when you are in town. Players that feel trapped on PvP servers have a way out. This opens up the game to changing and improving the world PvP ruleset.
  • New content like bounty hunting or assassination quests will become an option.
  • There will be bonuses to experience, reputation and other things when you are questing with PvP mode enabled to offset the inefficiency.

This is almost a complete game-changer for me. And probably anyone else trapped on an imbalanced PvP server. My primary server at this point is actually heavily skewed to the Alliance, but that just makes the Horde I do encounter especially surly while leveling. Or, you know, when faceless Cross-Realm hit-squads phase into your area. Now that problem is permanently solved.

It also, rather cleverly, creates world PvP hotzones with the carrot of increased Reputation (etc) gains. You could argue that these Reputation-farming zones would already be hot in a normal, always-on PvP server, and you would be correct. But now everyone there would be consensually engaging in (or preparing for) PvP, likely putting up more of a sport of it. And since the change in flagging requires one to be inside a town, you avoid opportunistic ganking, and presumably accidental flagging in the same design. Win-win.

There will be more to talk about in the coming days, I’m sure, but those are my first impressions.

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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.

Goose and Gander

In a surprisingly hot-topic twist, the internet was awash in reactions last week to Blizzard shutting down a vanilla private server. While the bloggers had the right idea, various random commenters had a much different reaction. The mental gymnastics are on point:

I don’t think you quite understand how this works. nothing is being stolen, absolutely nothing. Vanilla WoW cannot be purchased or played anymore.

here’s another scenario for you. lets say for instance you want to play one of the old Battlefield games like 1942 or Battlefield 2. you can’t though. you know why you can’t? the Gamespy servers got shut down. so if you wanted to play one of those games online how would you do it? well you could organize a LAN party but you’d need atleast 16 people with 16 gaming PCs all in the same place but good luck trying to make that happen.

the other way to do it would be to find a dedicated group of fans that are modders. they reverse engineer the code, they write new code that allows anybody to host servers for the game in question. put that code out on the internet as a mod. then people start hosting servers for this 14 year old game. EA loses nothing in this process because they aren’t supporting the game anyway.

this is what this group was doing with WoW. Activision wasn’t losing anything by these people playing Vanilla WoW.

I mean, let’s be real here. Blizzard/EA/whoever owns the IP, and gets final legal say with how it is utilized. That’s what copyright means. If they want to sit on an unsupported franchise and let it rot, that is their right. You can make some sort of moral “abandonware” or “historical preservation” argument, but again, the law is pretty clear here. Whether or not Blizzard is losing anything by letting others pirate their material is besides the point.

Now, if you’re fine with being a pirate, that’s all right with me.

The owners/employees of Nostalrius had an AMA on Reddit earlier, and they described the costs involved with running the server: $500-$1000/month for server/bandwidth costs. For ~150,000 active accounts (defined by at least one log-in event in the last 10 days). Which really confirms how and why there are so many zombie MMOs still shambling about, i.e. it’s apparently super cheap to run. You know, minus the employee wages, of which none were paid in this scenario, even though they apparently committed 20-30 hours a week on top of their day jobs.

It is debatable how much money Blizzard is “leaving on the table” in this scenario though. 150,000 active users on a private WoW server is larger than most actual MMOs on the market currently. Crucially, however, these were all F2P users – how many would convert to $15/month customers is a matter of debate. If 10% converted, that’d still be roughly a quarter million a month. That’s enough to pay 44 people’s $60k salaries per year with some left over. Assuming that they even needed 44 full-time people to shepherd over legacy code.

The problem is opportunity cost. And marketing/messaging. Blizzard could probably make money off of legacy servers… but would it be more money than they could by spending that human capital elsewhere? As someone with less than zero interest in vanilla WoW, I know that I would prefer those 44 full-time people doing something more useful, like staunching the +150k subscriber bleeding every quarter from WoW Prime. When was the last time new content was released again?

Releasing and maintaining legacy servers would be the equivalent of Blizzard rooting around in the couch for spare change while the house burns down around them. Which it is.