MMO Project1999 World of Warcraft WoW Classic

The ultimate fate of classic MMORPG servers

August 16, 2019

The excitement around World of Warcraft (WoW) Classic is certainly growing, though I am personally likely to resist it. However with the current focus on ‘classic servers’ – as opposed to progression servers – I thought I’d write something on their ultimate fate.

Blizzard has reportedly stated that it has no plans to take the WoW Classic servers to The Burning Crusade era and beyond. The game would progress through the pre-2.0 patches and that’s where it would end. Senior producers have said they may cosnider other ‘legacy’ servers that include other expansions, but the details are vague.

Of course, many wonder what the viability of this model will be one or two years on, when the original ‘Classic WoW timeline’ will have been far exceeded. So what is the ultimate fate of classic servers once their timeline are exceeded?

Not just about WoW

This kind of discussion has been going on for months over at the Project1999 forums, in the wake of the ‘announcement’ of Project1999 Green, a classic EverQuest server a decade in the making. The key question is: ok, so we trace the classic timeline, and then what? The ‘beta’ Project1999 server, so-called ‘Blue’, has been live since 2009. It has existed in a stretched timeline, given the emulator’s original era only lasted two and a half years.

If Project1999 Green truly follows the original classic timeline, then what happens two and a half years in? What happens when the ‘classic era’ ends and the Shadows of Luclin expansion – a milestone which for many marked the long slow death of EQ – would have been released?

As with the entire Project1999 Green announcement, details are scarce. Some assume the characters from Green will be unceremoniously dumped onto Blue. This would flood an already flooded server with more pre-nerf items and max level characters. Some think Green will go on forever, much like Blue. Others argue Green will be joined by a new fresh start companion server every two and a half years, until Project1999 has a stable of ‘colour’ servers, all frozen in time on 3 December 2001.

Ultimately no one knows what the developers are planning. Frankly, the fact that there will be a fresh server at all is an assumption that only a few offhand remarks from Project1999 staff have semi-confirmed. As a clever poster recently said, ‘[the co-Senior Admin] is just taking us all camping?’. Maybe he is.

But it’s also about WoW

All of these issues and possibilities could be true of WoW Classic too. There was a little less than two and a half years between the release of WoW and the release of The Burning Crusade expansion pack.

Blizzard has released its content phasing plan. While the company has decided not to go into the minutiae of every patch, it will group content changes into six phases. WoWHead has a good summary. Blizzard has not as yet discussed any timeframes for these content releases. It may decide to draw these out over two years. It may decide to compress them into 6-12 months. No-one knows.

The investment in reverse engineering the current WoW to make a quasi-classic experience will need to be paid off. There has been much hype made about the ‘not bugs’ included – essentially quirks of the early WoW game which have been purposefully reintroduced. This kind of work costs time and therefore money, and Blizzard will want to recoup this investment.

But players are not as patient as they once were. And in this sense Blizzard has a very different challenge on its hands than the Project1999 team. Project1999 exists to recreate 1999-2001 era EverQuest. It has a captive audience and has no need to – and realistically cannot legally – make money from the project.

Blizzard must make money from Classic WoW, and it also has a live version of WoW running alongside its classic servers. The live versions needs updates, and must be designed to cater to an audience that is beginning to split.

What happens six months down the track when players complain about WoW Classic content releases being too slow or because the phasing is finished? What happens when those players quit because they have no interest in WoW Live? What happens when WoW Live players complain that their version is being neglected in favour of classic WoW? What happens if/when Blizzard’s investors make decisions on the relative importance of Live vs Classic and dictate decision on developmet priorities? Is it cheaper to retain Classic subs by re-tooling an old expansion pack than developing an entirely new one?

As much as debates are ongoing in Project1999-land, it is clear that Blizzard has a much more difficult job on its hands with the release of WoW Classic. Project1999 staff have worked hard for ten years to re-engineer a classic EverQuest expeience and Project1999 Green represents the success of their mission. For Blizzard, WoW Classic’s launch on 27 August is just the beginning of theirs.

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  1. God I hope if Classic is successful they do an about face and start shifting this around to a progressive style setup. I have very limited interest in Classic for any length of time. I’ll be giving it a go — but I already know, KNOW, that it’s not for me beyond a bit of a nostalgia trip.

    A server with a relatively snappy pace of expansion/content releases though… Hoo boy I could be convinced to play that a good bit.

    What to do with the servers even in such a setup is interesting though. There will be some vocal proponents of just leaving everywhere it is, no doubt. If there is enough of them to financially warrant keeping something for them, who knows.

    1. I probably won’t play either way, but I agree they will need to do something to keep in interesting. The group of people who could play WoW vanilla forever must be ever so small.

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