Blizzard found itself in a bit of a bad PR storm earlier this year when it forced fan-run World of Warcraft legacy server Nostralius to shut down. As always, there were two sides to the argument, and while the runners were technically running pirated software, Blizzard pushed them in the move by not supporting a classic "legacy" World of Warcraft server and leaving no outlets for those wanting that experience.
Finger pointing happened. Reasoning leaked out to little avail. Blizzard expressed sympathy, but followed it up with the cold hard facts on why it was impossible. But if a handful of fans could do it in their free time, why can't a multi-billion dollar company do it? A DDOS attack on Blizzard was also thought to be motivated by the shut down.
You get the idea. It was like running in circles. Eventually, Blizzard sat down with the runners of Nostralius to see if they could work something out, an agreement to take some of the heat off. And we're talking bigwigs at the company, too. CEO Mike Morhaime, Executive Producer J. Allen Brack, Director Tom Chilton. The list goes on.
Five members of Nostralius met with these people and reported that the meeting went well, but they left with no promises.
When Blizzard initially proposed this discussion several weeks ago, we were anxious that it would be a simple PR / damage mitigation move. It is now clear to us that this wasn't the case.
First of all, people at key positions inside Blizzard attended the meeting. They were also all very interested, curious, attentive, and asked a lot of questions about all of the topics we mentioned: the presentation was meant to last less than 2 hours, and we finished after more than 5 hours! Finally, we were very surprised about the deep respect and admiration they all had for what we had accomplished and what the community has built around legacy WoW servers.
The team would go on to describe how everyone at Blizzard had gone through the same loss of their "vanilla" game as well, just like the community.
A second surprise for us was the amount of dedication these guys have. All of them started playing WoW during Vanilla, they went through the same experience as you and us, did the same mistakes and killed the same bosses. In the last part of the meeting, as we presented in detail the remaining class/raid bugs, they knew exactly about the spells/talents we were mentioning, every quest we spoke about, raid bosses abilities and even remembered vanilla item changes through patches!
In a sense, they are also Vanilla World of Warcraft fans and one of the game developers said at a point that WoW belongs to gaming history and agreed that it should be playable again, at least for the sake of game preservation, and he would definitely enjoy playing again.
However, they explain that Blizzard couldn't dedicate resources to a new Vanilla server just yet.
However, in order to generate the server (and the client), a complex build system is being used. It is not just about generating the "WoW.exe" and "Server.exe" files. The build process takes data, models, maps, etc. created by Blizzard and also generates client and server specific files. The client only has the information it needs and the server only has the information that it needs.
This means that before re-launching vanilla realms, all of the data needed for the build processes has to be gathered in one place with the code. Not all of this information was under a version control system. In the end, whichever of these parts were lost at any point, they will have to be recreated: this is likely to take a lot of resources through a long development process.
In addition to the technical aspects of releasing a legacy server Blizzard also needs to provide a very polished game that will be available to their millions of players, something existing unofficial legacy servers cannot provide.
That's Nostralius' report on the meeting, one which happened after so many angry subscribers raised petitions and fury over the loss of their server.
It seems to me that Blizzard is a company full of dedicated gamers who feel the same way that many of its players do. The problem is that Blizzard itself, the company and not the people, has changed somewhat into a colder, more corporate image over the last few years. Maybe it's the affiliation with Activision, another company with the same image problem, maybe not, but the idea of shutting down a fan server dedicated to keeping a game alive is such a "corporate" move, one which seemed below Blizzard.
I believe those in the company who say they want to do it, and it's just a shame that such cold business practices would be getting in the way of preserving an important part of gaming history and denying so many people of a game they used to love.
We use the phrase "gaming community" when it's time to be lovey-dovey with publishers, developers, and gamers alike. We use the term "gaming industry" when it's time to get down and serious about the reality of it. This situation definitely fits the latter of these two tags.
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