Blizzard Responds to Outrage Over Private 'World of Warcraft’ Server Shutdown

Players want to party like it's 2004. But it's not that easy.

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Apr 26 2016, 6:14pm

Players are yearning for the days when this view wasn't possible. Image: Leif Johnson/Blizzard

It's been a couple of weeks since Blizzard Entertainment forced the closure of Nostalrius Begins, a popular private server where players could play World of Warcraft much as the legendary MMORPG was played from 2004 to 2005. As we said at the time, Blizzard refused to comment on the shuttering to either us or Nostalrius' showrunners, and it remained silent during the storm of protest that followed, which included a petition calling for an official "classic" server like Nostalrius that garnered more than 236,000 signatures.

Last night, though, Blizzard finally broke its silence with a post on its own official forums, asserting that its silence shouldn't be taken as as a reflection of its "passion" for the topic. Indeed, J. Allen Brack, the post's author and World of Warcraft's executive producer, points out that he works at Blizzard precisely "because of my love for classic WoW." The post is especially concerned with the question of why Blizzard hasn't made a similar server of their own, as Nostalrius' successful run for almost a year seemed to prove that maintaining something similar would be no big deal.

"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," he says. "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."

The best players have been able to come up with as a compromise is what it called a "pristine server," although Brack notes that Blizzard has struggled with years over the question of whether this kind of thing would appeal to players. The thread thus seems to double as a way of gauging interest in the concept once and for all.

"In essence," he says, "[pristine servers] would turn off all levelling 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."

The response when I asked players in the retail version of World of Warcraft what they thought of Blizzard's reply this morning. Image: Leif Johnson/World of Warcraft

That last point alone is a big deal, as World of Warcraft's group finder has long been accused of being a primary culprit for the perceived inferior social experience of the current incarnation of the game. On the one hand it's a blessing, as it removes the frustration of having to manually hunt down other players to help with a dungeon run by letting players jump into a queue while the game itself automatically finds players from all servers. The problem? You'll probably never see these other players again, which means they're free to act like total assholes during the length of the dungeon without fear of the social ostracization such behavior would have caused when servers were self-contained entities.

But the community generally seems happy Blizzard is entertaining such an idea. In a highly upvoted comment on Blizzard's post, for instance, a mage player named Tenteri calls it a "step in the right direction" while adding that it "may not be enough." Many players, in fact, were specifically interested in reliving the original experience, not altering the existing game. A poster named Xaana points outthat, in the modern version of WoW, the world itself "is not dangerous." A player going by the name of Kjazetti has a similar outlook, as stated in a comment cross-posted on both WoW's forums and on Reddit. The modern game, Kjazetti says, still has too many things that drastically alter the original experience, such as the fact that "Gold is incredibly easy to come by" and you had to travel to specific parts of the world for items for your in-game trade professions.

"Things weren't optimized and that was part of the charm," he says.

Blizzard, for its part, says it couldn't allow Nostalrius or a similar server to run because any "failure to protect against intellectual property infringement would damage Blizzard's rights." As I said in my original coverage, Nostalrius was run in the best way possible despite its technical illegality, but a player named Myal accurately captures the problem with granting an exception for it.

"If Blizzard allow[s] a technically illegal server like Nostalrius to operate," Myal says, "people would begin pushing the envelope of what's allowed further and further - perhaps starting to take credit for Blizzard's work or even charging money, and then Blizzard would have to step in - but the operators could then call bull!@#$ and say 'So why do you allow Nostalrius to continue existing?'"

But the crazy thing about this is that Blizzard is responding at all, which is a common thread in every discussion of the topic. "I foresee exploding heads in the immediate future," said Myal.

And then Blizzard drops this gem:

"[W]e've recently been in contact with some of the folks who operated Nostalrius," Brack said. "They obviously care deeply about the game, and we look forward to more conversations with them in the coming weeks."

I reached out to the Nostalrius team to learn what "being in contact" entails, and they promise me that a response is forthcoming. We will include it here when we receive it.

One thing's for sure, Nostalrius Begins was an excellent name for the project. Whatever else happens, it began a conversation few people ever thought we'd be having.