Legacy servers — maybe, but…

As promised after the much-publicized takedown of the Nostalrius “Vanilla WoW” servers in April, decision makers from Blizz and Nostalrius sat down together last Friday, in what was reportedly an almost day-long meeting, to outline some basic areas of mutual interest. You can read the full Nostalrius report on the meeting here, or the Icy-Veins summary here, or the one from MassivelyOP here.

Before I start, a disclaimer: I really have no interest in legacy servers or in going back to “The Way We Were” several years ago in WoW. But I can understand people who do have an interest in doing so. There is certainly a loud and clamoring audience for such servers, even if it’s a bit unclear how many of the clamorers would actually play if it cost money, and how many are just indignant because that’s what they do. Blizz seems to recognize this, and in the immediate aftermath of the server takedown they expressed an interest in the concept even though there are some pretty daunting technical issues to be overcome. (I wrote briefly about this at the time and advanced a pretty wacky theory on it later.)

So, just a few of my thoughts on this Friday meeting. First, some pretty high level Blizz execs were involved in it, including CEO Mike Morhaime, Game Director Tom Chilton, Assistant Game Director Ion Hazzikostas, Technical Director Marco Koegler, and PR Manager Vanessa Vanasin. According to Nostalrius, these execs were very engaged, to the point of staying for the entire 5-hour meeting and presentation. This to me speaks volumes about Blizz’s interest in the subject — executives at that level don’t just fritter away 5 hours of their valuable time unless they think the matter is significant.

On a side note, I have to wonder if, absent the huge player outcry after the Nostalrius shutdown, Blizz would have taken the matter so seriously. I suppose it is good that they respond to massive player dissatisfaction, though I am not sure whether they are more swayed by numbers or internet screaming, or by a combination of both. (Nostalrius apparently had a petition that presumably added to the “numbers” argument.) The Blizz response seems similar to the one they had over the great flying-in-Draenor flap. Still, does this mean that the only way we can get Blizz’s attention on matters is to throw hissy fits over everything that just seems wrong for game development? It seems like there should be a place for calm, logical argument without having to resort to histrionics and whipping up the emotions of the easily-whipped-up masses.

The second thing to emerge from the meeting was the very clear Blizz position that they are indeed in favor of legacy servers, and apparently they are not averse to cooperating with Nostalrius to further investigate the possibility. However, it is important to note that the Blizz decision-makers in the room in no way committed to developing legacy servers, they merely signaled their general interest. Also, the notion that Blizz looks favorably on the idea of legacy servers is Nostalrius’s take on the meeting; we have had no official word on it from Blizz. Still, it seems unlikely that Nostalrius completely misinterpreted Blizz’s position.

Third, the technical issues are daunting. During the meeting, Blizz confirmed that they do in fact have the vanilla source code — it is part of their version control system. What they do not have is the very complex build code necessary to actually deploy that vanilla version to a server and subsequently to a player. (The build codes are — or were — not part of their version control system.)

Thus, the technical hurdles to making vanilla servers are huge and involve recreating — from scratch, it seems — the appropriate build code, but tailoring it for today’s hardware realities (networks, server configurations, and player platforms). This is a massive project, and would require a ton of resources in terms of developers, technical coders, testers, time, and so forth.

Fourth, I am impressed by the amount of work Nostalrius went to in order to go into this meeting with facts, petitions, and a highly professional presentation. They, like Blizzard, seem to have taken it very seriously. The meeting could have devolved into a rehash of bad feelings over the actual server shutdown, or of the insult to Blizz over their intellectual property rights, but both sides seemed focused on future actions, not on past ones, and for that I give both sides high marks.

The meeting reminds me of diplomatic summit meetings for things like reduction of nuclear weapon stockpiles. After much back-and-forth for weeks or months, the principals finally agree to meet somewhere to discuss possible future points of discussion. The only thing missing from the Blizz-Nostalrius meeting was a joint press conference afterwards lauding how cordial and productive the talks were. The various reports don’t actually say whether or not talks will continue, but Nostalrius is of the opinion that they will. I would really be interested to see an official announcement of the meeting results from Blizz.

It is too early to tell when or even if we may see legacy WoW servers available as player options, but my gut tells me we will see them in some form eventually. If that is something you are interested in, I think the Friday meeting is cause for optimism.

About Fiannor
I have a day job but escape by playing WoW. I love playing a hunter, and my Lake Wobegonian goal is to become "above average" at it.

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