Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Whole Wide World: WoW Classic

"I think the wider WoW community is beginning to coalesce around the phrase "Retail is a better game. Classic is a better world." "

It won't surprise anyone to hear I agree with half of that.

Yesterday I began playing WoW Classic at around half past two in the afternoon. I didn't stop until a quarter past ten. Well, I took a break for tea and I tabbed out a few times to read blogs and comment on them, but in all I think I probably played for about six hours.

This morning I logged in right after breakfast and played for over two hours. When I've finished this post, had lunch and done a bit of housework, chances are I'll clock up another five or six hours before bedtime.

I can't remember the last time I felt as excited to get back to what I'd been doing in a game. For years my sessions have been a lot more laissez-faire, which suits me nicely. This year, I've settled into a very satisfactory pattern of playing an hour here, a couple of hours there, splitting my time unequally between four or five MMORPGs and a couple of single-player titles.

Classic has changed all that. I'm still doing my Guild Wars 2 dailies, which take no more than half an hour most days. I'll find time today to log into EverQuest II and do the latest Yun Zi quest, which will take maybe twenty minutes if I use a guide. I won't begrudge that time but I'll be itching to get back to leveling my Hunter and Warlock, the former farming wool so the latter can get Tailoring up far enough to make eight-slot bags.

When was the last time this happened? Can it really be seven years ago at the launch of GW2? No, it must have been a year later, the start of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. Sadly, my enthusiasm for that game only lasted two or three weeks, then it was back to Guild Wars 2, which held much of my attention until mid-way through the Heart of Thorns era.

It's better to build bridges than walls.
I've played a lot of new, or new to me, MMORPGs since then - Blade and Soul, Black Desert Online, ArcheAge, Bless, Revelation Online, Twin Saga, Riders of Icarus, Star Wars: The Old Republic and quite a few more. I've enjoyed them all to a degree, as the record here on the blog will show, but I don't think any one of them has had me waking up looking forward to spending most of the day playing that one game.

This is how it used to be. EverQuest, Dark Age of Camelot, EQII, Guild Wars, Fallen Earth, Vanguard, Wizard 101, Rift and World of Warcraft itself, when I finally got around to giving it a go, all held my attention for months if not years. For nearly a decade and a half I didn't just hope that each new MMORPG would dominate my thoughts and eat up most of my gaming time - I expected it.

As time moved on and the genre expanded to crowd more and more games under WoW's vast shadow, my time spent in each new iteration shrank. Keen, long an advocate, if not always a practitioner, of playing one MMORPG and sticking with it, coined the term "Three Monther" to reflect the growing tendency of players to game-hop with every new release.

He intended it as a pejorative but I always thought that three months seemed a very reasonable hold. Nowadays, few new MMOs seem capable of keeping an audience for three weeks, let alone three months.

It's far too soon to predict how long my enthusiasm for Classic will last. It certainly has its claws into me more deeply than I imagined it would but how firm that grasp is only time will tell. As for how long the current, exceptionally high, number of enthusaists and curiosity seekers will stick around, ditto. As Wilhelm points out, it's only been a week.

Even so, as I write this at 12.20pm on a weekday, in the EU there are already 25 servers at Medium, eight at High and just two at Low. One is already Full - a Russian PvP server. Those numbers are, I believe, lower than usual because we had Scheduled Maintenance at around 7am and all the dodgy "afk" characters got kicked.

When you're a gnome the whole world is in widescreen.
If yesterday is anything to go by, most of those servers will be High or Full by teatime. By prime time there will be queues and it will be next to impossible to find a living mob in the popular zones, even on the shunned RP sever, Hydraxian Waterlords.

SynCaine, ever the evangelist for Vanilla-era gameplay, suspects the audience for Classic has yet to peak:

 "Vanilla didn’t peak at release. It didn’t peak 6 months after release, or even after the first year. Now, I’m not saying Classic is going to continue growing in the same way Vanilla did, or even close. But I’m also not convinced opening week is the peak of activity either. What Classic has reminded many, and perhaps shown for the first time to some, is that Vanilla was a great game to play, especially as a member of a guild. As the current Classic players continue to enjoy it, they are going to pull others from their social circle into the experience. And as the base leveling game in Classic isn’t short, that time span of enjoyment and recruiting is going to continue for the next few months, at least."

He could be right. There was some evidence in General yesterday, while I was playing, that players entirely new to WoW are giving the new hotness a run, choosing it over Retail, where Battle for Azeroth has a less than stellar reputation. Who's to say they won't get hooked? And tell their friends.

Rohan, who's monitoring the reaction to Classic's apparent success among the Retail audience, observes:
"We are beginning to see more and more posts suggesting that--for a lot of players--Blizzard was right when they said "You think you want it, but you don't." I think Classic is actually improving the view of Retail by highlighting the things Retail does better."
If so, it's a big win-win for Blizzard, who get to offset some of the damage done by BfA while keeping both sets of customers happy.

As for the two sentiments expressed in Rohan's quote at the top of the post, well, an awful lot of people, whichever side of the argument they're on, are going to find it difficult to disagree with both. Gameplay is a preference but worldliness is an absolute.

If it does becomes accepted doctrine among Retail players that Azeroth was more convincing back in Vanilla, it could even mean that future development of WoW Retail, or at least its backdrop, shifts towards curating something more like the virtual world that existed until the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. And other developers might even take note and follow suit.

If that should happen, well... it's going to be a win-win for all of us.


  1. That quote should be modified to say "Among current Retail WoW players, they think Retail is the better game, but admit Classic is the better world".

    Outside of current Retail players, who are an ever-diminishing number, I suspect Classic will win out as both the better game and the better world. We will know soon enough, at least to some extend (wish Blizzard showed current players like EVE does).

    1. Yep, it's very much reperesenting the view of the Retail audience. I'm pretty sure Classic players would say the gameplay and the world are better in Classic and I'd agree. Still, given the antipathy, not to say hatred, of Classic by some of the retail audience, even meeting Classic half way is a big step.

      As for numbers, I'd bet bet Blizzard will make a big deal of the increase in overall subs/MAU but decline to break down who's playing what. Very safe for them to do that. We'll know where the money's coming from when we see how much development they put into Classic and its possible future.

  2. So one thing I don't understand. Say Classic stays this popular. What does Blizzard do with it? Just leave it be? Or do they treat it like other MMOs treat retro servers and re-add expansion content? Wouldn't that be self-defeating as they move Classic away from what everyone apparently wants?

    1. I've seen quite a lot of discussion and speculation on that and the consensus seems to be no-one has a clue! If it all fizzles out then Blizzard just had a bit of a windfall and they can move on, but if it doesn't...

      I'd guess if the population holds up better than they expected they will put up a timetable for future development sooner rather than later. They'll want to lock those people in. The issue is indeed whether to stick at Classic after the already-announced upddate roll-out or to move to a "Progression" model.

      If they're smart they'll lock whatever servers they have at that point in permanent Classic mode and ramp up the hype forr new, separate "Burning Crusade" Classic. They would be smart to have some BC servers as pure new starts and some to allow transfer from Classic. Then they can do the same owith WotLK. Whether there would be any demand for later expasnions I'm nt sure but they could service it if there was.

      There are lots of ways they could manage expectations and make the most of the interest. There would seem to be a lot of money to be made if they do it right and Blizzard is not in a position to turn its nose up at a new source of income growth. Some of them might have to hold their noses to do it but if there are hundreds of thousands of extra subs to count I would think they'd manage somehow.

    2. I've given this some thought too.

      I think if this proves successful, we will inevitably see a progression on these servers to TBC.

      Where I'm less sure is the specifics of what happens around this. I think though that we're likely to see a new wave of Classic servers. Possibly with free transfers offered from the existing worlds for those that truly want to remain staticly in Vanilla -- but I also wonder whether they might go the other way and restrict transfer, catering to a more 'Seasonal' feel approach for those that love starting fresh and working from the ground back up again.

    3. I think forcing players satisfied with classic onto BC servers (or turning Classic servers into BC servers) wiuld be a PR disaster and it would be so easy to avoid. I doubt they'll do it but we've seen plenty of worse decisions made in the genre.

  3. There are so many different things in play with WoW Classic, but we've seen that with the EQ retro servers as well. People trying to boil it down to a simple argument over world versus game or whatever are missing the point. I am sure, for example, if Blizz did not do Classic but just rolled out some fresh start servers with no transfers and no tokens, those would see a surge as well. There are a lot of different motivations.

    As for 2004 (or 2006 really) not being that good and the game not peaking until WotLK, that looks like an attempt to shade history. Sure, it didn't peak until then, but the main ramp up was well before TBC ever hit the shelves. The game play we're seeing now, that is what brought people in. It is less refined and less polished than retail is, but that doesn't make it a worse game.

    1. Yep, I think the draw of fresh start servers is, in itself, a huge incentive for lapsed players to come back for another run. I'm surprised more developers don't do it as standard.

      Having played in WotLK and now in Classic I don't really see *that* much difference. When I played I think Hunters had not long revamped but I definitely still had to feed my pet to keep him happy I rememeber the little smiley faces. I think the real watershed moment, when everything changed, was Dungeon Finder and I left a week after it came into the game.

      I'd actually have liked Blizzard to recreate the game as it was at launch rather than pick the sweet spot but I have to say the spot they picked s pretty sweet.

  4. I expect that you are exactly correct. If the new servers stay at least moderately well populated, the next step will be some BC era servers to give players that enjoy that era a reason to stick around.

    My memory of classic is that the endgame was pretty terrible for a solo player, but that the leveling game leading up to it was an absolute joy to play. I can definitely see myself subbing up to go through that again. Retail does not interest me in the slightest. Especially not to the point that I would spring for the three expansions I'm now missing. The WoD pre-patch pretty much set the game I enjoyed on fire.

    1. In my estimation, the end-game of almost every MMORPG is pretty terrible for solo players. The best I know right now is EQII, where the devs have made a huge effort to replicate the same narrative and gameplay for solo and group and raid players. Nothing else I play comes close.

      In Classic all I want to do is level. Endgame is completely irrelevant. When I tire of leveling I'll move on but chances are I'll come back, now and then. It's a great leveling game and I need as many of those in my repertoire as I can get.

  5. Is it so far fetched to think that if Classic retains a better than planned portion of players, that instead of going the BC route, Blizzard might just find themselves in the position of making entirely new content for Classic that doesn't push a player beyond level 60?

    1. That seems to me the best plan. Not sure current Blizzard is up for it, though.

      If it were *my* game (Heaven help us all) I'd be really leery of introducing new mechanics or even new races. The Vanilla mechanics are… not bad. Instead, I'd concentrate on just plain old new content. Add another five zones, don't even raise the level cap: just make three of the new zones challenging for maxed players and one each for mid-level and newer players. Art and modeling are the big costs for a game expansion anyway, so let them carry their weight. Write some quest lines as memorable as the Defias one. Add some nice mountain climbing and cave exploring options. Maybe add some dungeons tuned for 2-3 at-level players instead of 5.

      I feel like the idea that major new mechanics should be added with each release is not necessarily a great one. If nothing else, Classic has shown that familiarity is a valued attribute for an MMO. I quit WoW at Cataclysm for a bunch of reasons, but a big one was that I didn't like the amount of change. It's OK to leave well enough alone.

  6. My thoughts so far are firmly in the middle. The world is charming and open, more inviting of random exploration because nothing is well sign-posted. We have memories yes, but does everyone remember the random vendor NPCs with rarer limited-quantity items dotted about? What about the location of all the crafting recipes that existed as an item to loot? Classic WoW had more in line with Guild Wars 2 or ESO world-building than retail does. I look at the beautiful house interiors in Kul Tiras and nothing is interactable unless it is a quest item. That is a crying shame compared with older WoW where there were sometimes things to be found.

    The questing in Classic though may well kill off my enthusiasm, it's just so dull and grindy...


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