A week ago, my lil’ bro wrote an article here on Link-Cable titled ‘Why I’m Cautiously Optimistic for WoW Classic‘ and while I’m happy that he’s looking forward to revisiting the early days of World of Warcraft, I’m much more pessimistic about the whole thing. And I mean really, who do they think is going to want to go back to the version that launched in 2004? The game has changed considerably since then, mostly for the better, and I doubt that offering ‘classic’ WoW will bring new players to the MMO behemoth. So for my take on this whole ‘WoW Classic’ thing, let me point out why I don’t think anyone will be happy with what Blizzard has to offer in its return to version 1.0 of Azeroth.
World of Warcraft has managed to stay the (practically) undisputed king of the MMORPG genre since its release all the way back in 2004. In that time the game has seen the release of six main expansions (number 7 is on the way) and many content patches as well as countless tweaks and improvements to the base gameplay. These changes, while streamlining the experience for new players and to make it a more comfortable experience for those already playing seems to have irked a small subset of the game’s population who enjoyed the way the game played when it was originally released. These players eventually took to unofficial servers running the game to get their fix for ‘old WoW’ something which Blizzard aims to curb with the release of official servers in the near future.
Wanting to play a game that has changed so dramatically in the 13 years since its release is understandable and I would totally be on-board to revisiting the game’s content as it existed on November 23rd 2004… for about a month. MMO’s by their very nature need to grow and expand as players will soon exhaust all of the available content and become bored with the game and move onto more dynamic pastures. This is a story that has been told countless times as MMO’s that failed to grow and expand rapidly enough fell victim to game’s (like World of Warcraft) that were able to pump out new content at a rapid clip. Releasing a stripped-down “vanilla” version of WoW undermines this entire process and would actually be much more of a novelty than something that can be supported and sustained for any length of time.
Then there’s the fact that (most of) the changes that Blizzard has implemented into World of Warcraft since it launched have made WoW a better and more accommodating game. Waiting hours to raid, limited fast travel options and complex crafting threes have been done away, replaced with streamlined mechanics that are not only simpler to grasp for new players but require less of a time commitment to play through. While there was definitely a part in my life that I enjoyed putting 4-5 hours a day into an MMO there’s simply too many other viable options out there vying for your precious game time to make a return to the ‘old days’ of WoW something that would interest many players. Add to that an ageing player base that now has less free time and more responsibilities and your left wondering how big the potential audience for a classic WoW really is.
However, like anything exceedingly popular and with a large player base, there will definitely be a subset of the player population that wants to play WoW as it once was. The problem however is that it would practically be impossible for Blizzard to release a perfect recreation of version 1.0. In the years since its release a lot of changes have come to the game, some of which are fundamental to the game being an enjoyable experience. These purists however would likely not want any changes made to the base code – cosmetic or otherwise which would severely hamper Blizzard’s ability to make WoW Classic an appealing product for the merely curious players and push those who want the base experience back to their private servers running vanilla WoW.
When you boil it all down though, the reason people want to return to the original version of World of Warcraft is for the sense of nostalgia that prospect brings. For a lot of players, heading home from school/work, logging into the game and raiding for hours with your guild holds strong memories and may even be among some player’s favorite gaming memories. Over the last 13 years however, not only as the game itself changed but the way people play games, especially MMORPG’s has dramatically changed. Nearly all of the big players in the genre are now catered towards smaller, more bit sized gameplay to suite their player’s evolving lives and taking WoW back to the way it sued to be in 2004 would not only be an archaic way to play the game but also fail to reach any sort of sizable audience.
So will a classic, vanilla version of World of Warcraft get enough of a sizable following to stay relevant? I highly doubt it. The MMORPG genre has just so much over the past 13 years that going back to the way things where would seem archaic and intimidating to new players. And if Blizzard wanted to deliver original content but modernize the experience they will only end up alienating those they want to appeal to with WoW Classic and those players are likely to go back to their private servers and play the game the way they want to play it. So sorry Jacob, I’m not optimistic at all for this project and don’t really see it being more than a temporary distraction before WoW players go back to playing it the way they currently are.