The year is 2016, and World of Warcraft executive producer J. Allen Brack is speaking at the MMORPG developer Blizzard’s annual convention. A fan in the crowd asks the question – ‘have you ever thought about adding servers for previous expansions of the game, as they were then?’ ‘You don’t want that. You think you do, but you don’t,” Brack replies, to hushed laughter, and the panel quickly moves on. For the uninitiated, that exchange might not mean much. However, in 2019 Blizzard did exactly what Brack (and other developers) had repeatedly told fans they wouldn’t do: they released a World of Warcraft Classic, a complete recreation of the original game exactly as it was on launch 15 years ago in 2004.
The relaunch would prove Blizzard totally wrong on their predictions, with WoW Classic (as it’s known to fans) becoming the most streamed title on Twitch from the past two years. That’s a decade old game beating the likes of the much-hyped Fortnite, League of Legends and Overwatch in viewer numbers. In fact, over 47 million hours of Wow Classic viewing time have been logged in the first week since launch.
Nostalgia and Nostalrius
The drive for a classic version of World of Warcraft began in earnest in February 2015, when two hardcore WoW players opened their own private server running the classic version of the game (or vanilla as it was known back then). Appropriately called Nostalrius, by the time the server was shut down by Blizzard in 2016 it had over 800,000 players.
During this time subscriber numbers to the official World of Warcraft were rapidly falling from a peak of about 12 million in October 2010 – to around 7 million in 2015. Many felt that the levelling process, the way in which you rank your character up to become more powerful, had been made too easy and quick over the course of the newer expansions to the game. The general consensus was that this was to cater to casual players in an attempt to drive up subscribers again. The proliferation of flying mounts, such as dragons and winged horses, for almost every character – as well as the dungeon finder which eliminated the need to find your own team of players to take on a boss character – made socialising and exploring in the vast open world feel forced and redundant.
In the classic version of the game, players were encouraged to explore and cooperate with each other. Since levelling and enemies were less forgiving, and strong character weapons and armour harder to come by, players were required to work together much more often – forging meaningful relationships that often transcended the game itself.
Here to Stay?
Of course, many titles come and go on Twitch. One only needs to look back to February’s massive viewer spike for the FPS battle royale game Apex Legends, which quickly fell off again, to see that. However, with Blizzard having to add 20-plus more servers more than they expected, and many popular multi-game streamers such as SodaPoppin, Shroud and Asmongold picking up the game – WoW Classic might just be a very popular title for a while yet.