World Of Warcraft Players Are Migrating From Fan Servers To WoW Classic

“I couldn’t help it,” said Ash, one of the dedicated World of Warcraft fans who’d helped manage illicit fan servers for years, of his decision to play Blizzard’s official World of Warcraft Classic. “I just wanted to stop working on privately owned projects and focus on myself for once. And that’s what I did… For years, I focused purely on the best experience for the players. Now it’s my own turn.”

World of Warcraft, Blizzard’s mega-popular online role-playing game, has changed drastically in the 15 years since it first came out. Visual upgrades and story overhauls have transformed World of Warcraft into a very different game, and the version you can play in 2019 is wholly changed from its 2004 origins, much to the dismay of players like Ash, who craved an older version they had no official way to play.

In the past, players who wanted to stick with old-school World of Warcraft have had no choice but to painstakingly recreate the game on private servers, risking that Blizzard might shut them down, as it did to Nostalrius, which had over 150,000 active accounts when it was shuttered in 2016. Today, there are over two dozen of these servers, some with thousands of active players grinding out levels in a more streamlined yet challenging version of the 15-year-old game.

Now, however, many of those players have another option: World of Warcraft Classic, an officially sanctioned vanilla version of the online game that came out last month. Kotaku spoke to nine people who design, code, and play on communities for private WoW servers, and they say that as expected, there has been an exodus from the illegitimate servers to the legitimate ones. One of the larger fan servers, Light’s Hope, recently shuttered, citing Blizzard’s promise to bring WoW fans home. One person who ran it declared the shutdown a “relief” in DMs with Kotaku.

Player counts on the fan-run servers Kronos and Elysium have dropped significantly, with Elysium’s population going down by 25 per cent. “We were expecting close to 50 or 60,” said a player with the handle Rain, who works closely with Elysium. The members lists for legacy servers’ Discord groups are full of people marked as “Playing WoW Classic,” although many of these groups still contain thousands of users. WoW Classic appears to be satisfying legacy server’s players’ desire for a slower, less overwhelming version of the game, one with the feeling of community that many World of Warcraft players say is lacking in the 2019 version.

The classic version of WoW has become a phenomenon, popularising a culture that, until recently, existed mostly underground. In fact, so many people are playing WoW Classic that in its earliest days, there were hours-long queues to log in.

“I figured if Blizzard did it right, there would be no reason for us to continue on with the private server scene, which was just fine in my book,” said a person on Kronos’ game master team who asked to remain anonymous. “Log into any of the major private servers now and you will see a marked drop in player activity, as well as on their forums you will see people talking about leaving for Classic. Blizzard is the original creator of the game and it is only right that people will think they will do a better job with supporting, scripting, and managing the game and its servers.”

Said Skeith, who helped run Light’s Hope, “I absolutely do believe WoW Classic is pulling people away from private servers.” He said he appreciates how well Blizzard has handled some of the trickier aspects of running a large-scale MMO, like players exploiting the in-game economy. “We had quite a difficult time throughout our history dealing with people who could have destroyed our economy when they discovered a bug in our engine. I’d say for this fact alone that WoW Classic definitely scratches that itch.”

The stability of WoW Classic is one big draw, say private server players on WoW’s official forum. “Blizzard managed to get named quest mobs spawning in the right places; unlike [private] servers that had named quest mobs with static spawn locations,” said one.

Lots of players are happier with how monsters “aggro,” or aggressively approach, players. Without the polish of a huge, money-backed studio with a full-time staff, legacy servers are full of bugs and exploits. WoW Classic has also drawn in a huge portion of the standard WoW community, making for a healthy, active player base.

Three people who help run private servers said they believe many of the players sticking with those servers either can’t afford to play World of Warcraft Classic or don’t have PCs good enough to run it. Playing World of Warcraft Classic requires an active WoW subscription, which costs $US15 ($22) a month. Fan servers, meanwhile, are functionally free (although many players choose to donate).

Said one player on the server Dalaran, “I am not currently playing WoW Classic as I cannot afford a subscription. However, I shall be playing in 2 weeks after I get a paycheck in finally and to join many of my friends who have already gone ahead.”

The Kronos Game Master says he’s ideologically opposed to paying $22 a month, the same price as retail WoW. “Many in the community (myself included) do not believe we should be charged the same fee for a 15 year old game as for a current game that has literally thousands of additional hours of content in it, and we see it as yet another way of them being able to pad their subscription numbers.”

A deep suspicion of publisher Activision colours lots of remaining private server players’ distaste for WoW Classic. Two told Kotaku they’re not playing the official version in protest of Activision, which in the words of the Kronos Game Master, is “more interested in quarterly profits than actually putting out good games and content for their player base.”

DodgyKebaab, a YouTuber making content about private WoW servers, says that while he’s playing the new game, he’s fearful that WoW Classic will be subject to in-game monetisation efforts that will ruin the experience for him. “A company that parades loot boxes around like they are the greatest thing to hit gaming is not a company I trust to keep a game like WoW Classic free of extra in-game real money transactions,” he said.

In a video titled “Why I’m not hyped for Warcraft Classic,” DodgyKebaab details the mechanical differences between Blizzard’s fresh take on Vanilla WoW and fans’ private servers. Like others in his community, he is deeply in touch with the intricacies of early WoW mechanics, and has strong opinions on them.

In a direct message on Discord, he gave Kotaku the TL;DR version of his biggest complaint against WoW Classic: “They have used a technique called layering so each realm has multiple versions running at the same time,” he explained. “This does mean the player base is split up even though people are playing on the same realm. So you might meet someone one day [and] add them as a friend but the next day you find that you are on two separate layers so you won’t run into each other again.”

The continuing benefit of private servers is that they offer specific, custom features for players with personal preferences. Some have their own seasonal events, like for Valentine’s Day. Some feature hardcore raiding experiences, while others are entirely player-versus-player (PvP), ditching the computer-controlled monsters that populate most versions of World of Warcraft.

Player WhiteKidney, who helped run Light’s Hope, says he’s received over 50 direct messages on Discord from players requesting they bring back the server. “They feel we provided a much better experience than Blizzard has with classic (harder content, no layering for example),” he said.

“I personally don’t think that there will ever be anything ever quite like Light’s Hope or Nostalrius ever again with the advent of WoW Classic,” said the player Skeith, who until recently also helped run Light’s Hope, “but I personally believe we both played an important role in showing Blizzard that going back to your roots is not necessarily a bad thing.”


Comments

    Checked my old Kronos server the other night. Completely dead.

    Which is a good thing. I'm glad it still exists for those less fortunate and from poorer countries - but the official Classic servers are absolutely pumping.

    Glad Blizzard has been rewarded for eating humble pie and spinning up official servers.

      The temptation is strong to snort derisively about the folks who are hanging on to the pirate servers as being cheapskates who were never going to migrate no matter how good/flawed Blizz made the classic servers, but after reading articles about it today, I find myself sympathizing with them.

      There are a lot of shitty circumstances out there, but few worse than the nations whose currency values are so fucked that asking someone to 'just pay $15US a month' is akin to asking them to 'just pay a three bedroom apartment's rent a month'. Some shit just doesn't scale across borders.

        WoW has had regional pricing on subscriptions for a while. I remember going through the maths on the Argentine peso sub fee back in 2016 or 17 and it came out as around $7.50 USD per month. I can't say if their regional pricing is correct for all regions right now, but they do adjust pricing to suit countries with poorer economies.

          From what I've read, it's pretty bad for a decent chunk of South America, right now. Who knows how often they update...

            Let's find out. I tentatively agree since some South American countries have experienced significant inflation in the last few years. So, a quick look at a few South American countries for loose data points. Obnoxiously, the wage data I could find didn't use a consistent scale, and I was only able to find sub pricing for a few countries. The un-bracketed price is the amount actually charged, the number in brackets is just the current conversion for comparison:

            - Brazil: 7.90 USD (32.13 BRL) sub, average wage 2286/month (sub is ~1.4%)
            - Chile: 9050 CLP (12.63 USD) sub, average wage 4871/hour, extrapolated to ~750,000/month (sub is ~1.2%)
            - Mexico: 199.90 MXN (10.26 USD) sub, average wage 380.7/day, extrapolated to ~8000/month (sub is ~2.5%)

            For comparison:

            - Australia: 16.50 AUD (11.35 UDF) sub, average wage 1237/week, extrapolated to ~5100/month (sub is 0.3%)
            - United States: 14.99 USD sub, average wage 23.59/hour, extrapolated to ~3600/month (sub is ~0.4%)

            Mexico seems to be getting screwed more than the others there, but the data is limited because they're averages and not medians. Generally you're looking at around 2-3x the effective cost for us relatively rich folks in Australia and the United States.

            The last time I remember looking at these numbers was three years ago and the percentages weren't that different, so I'd say this probably is a case of either the amount charged not being updated often enough to factor recent high inflation in Central/South America, or my source for regional pricing may be outdated.

              Just to add to this, the higher percent isn't necessarily unfair on Blizzard's part. The prices in the countries I listed above are all deeply discounted already from the USD price (except Chile, which only has a shallow discount), and there are real costs involved in running the Latin American servers that have minimums they can't drop below too. Plus the US infrastructure and staff that tie all the regions together.

              Unless Blizzard intends to subsidise the costs involved in hosting for South American players, then there's a point at which they can't reasonably lower the price further without cutting across their own costs. This sucks for players, but it's more a consequence of the shitty domestic economy than the evil corporation exploiting poor people.

        I will snort derisively though at those "ideologically opposed to paying $22 a month ...". These people seem to complain that they aren't happy with how Blizzard has changed WoW, but then turn around and don't want to pay for the classic experience they supposedly wanted because it's the same price as a game with all the content they don't want. Their straw man is showing.

        And by same price, it's pay once (per month) and play classic and/or current version, switching between as they wish. It's not like Blizzard just booted up old hardware and reinstalled the game servers - there are definitely infrastructure, development and maintenance costs to running stable classic servers (something those involved with running pirate servers too well know).

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now