Blizzard has been steadfast that they want to move the game forward and not stick players in the past. And I wholeheartedly agree with this approach. However, at this point the game we're playing doesn't much resemble the game we were started with eight years ago. The socioeconomic dynamics are entirely different, the game's systems have completely changed, the physical maps are heavily modified (if not outright new), and even many of the spells are not the same ones we used initially.
The implementation of a new Vanilla WoW server would be difficult from a technical standpoint, contrary to what many people believe. The old client data would need to be released, possibly in a new client package, and the server itself would need to work with all the new hardware Blizzard has. Remember a few things here: the WoW servers are not at all the same ones that were originally there, and our computers themselves are vastly different than they were eight years ago. 64-bit WoW wasn't a thing when the game initially released. Now they'd need to get Vanilla clients working with it, and work with the new battle.net systems (we'd have to keep the new authentication -- although minus the friends list in-game, hopefully). All that leads to some serious technical challenges. But they are challenges, not impasses.
Blizzard has said that they don't want to support two versions of the game; and this is something they'd need to change their mind on. Because implementing a Vanilla WoW server would be exactly that -- two entirely different versions of the game. The only thing similar between the two would be the 16-slot backpack and overpowered rogues.
I believe that if we were to have Vanilla WoW servers available, many players who yearn for those good ol' days would rejoin the game if only to experience what was. And after the fog of memory has lifted on those times, they'd see that what we've got now is a helluva lot better. From a business standpoint, nothing might argue for the massive changes taken place with WoW like a taste of what was. In the end, I could see a Vanilla server being a key part of an overall strategy that would significantly increase the player population again (not that it's doing bad now, by any means).
If Blizzard was so inclined, it could also be the first microtransaction server. Would I pay $5 to allow my account access to Vanilla WoW? In an instant. I suspect many people would as well, especially if it was made clear that the reason for such a charge was to cover the cost of running the server.
The solution to launching a Vanilla WoW server is not something that Blizzard can do overnight. They need to address the technical issues above, and prepare the community for the launch with significant heads up. This process will take a lot of time, but I believe it's in Blizzard's best interest to do. Will they? I have my hopes.
Will WoW end?
I used to think that there'd be a time in the future where WoW would pass into "that game you used to play" and sit idly by as most of the population moved on. I used to think that this would, in the end, result in the servers being shut down for good. I've changed my mind, entirely.
First, I don't believe WoW itself will ever be shut down. There could come a time when a massive server merge happens and the game collapses in on itself, and there could be a time when there are only a few hundred people playing it. The game would exist as virtual machine running on a forgotten server in the backroom at Blizzard -- but it would still be on. Why?
At this point WoW has transcended from a game to a cultural icon. It's difficult to justify the closure of anything culturally significant. Besides the hipster uprisings that happen whenever something with a shred of cultural impact closes, the game itself has such a dedicated following and large fanbase that I have no doubt in 20 years from now people will still want to log in, if only to see what was.
This longevity, this transcendence in purpose and meaning, surpasses the need for WoW to be run like a business in the extreme long term. Infact, I would contend that the game itself, in 50 years, would be looked upon fondly like Pacman or Mario -- two things that find themselves in the halls of museums now. This paradigm shift is already slowly happening, and as the game continues to age it will only pick up steam. I believe by the time WoW hits 15 years online, and still has a playerbase of a couple million (which yes, would likely make it even then the most popular MMO), the change in mindset will be quite evident. Blizzard will still wants to make money off the game, but it won't be the primary motivating factor anymore.
I realize I'm making a pretty outlandish prediction, and there's a lot more that can be said on this issue (which I may take up in a separate editorial at some point). But I steadfastly believe that WoW itself will not end. In fact, I would go so far as to say there is a good possibility my character could outlive me. In the world we live in where the most expensive thing is the time we spend in our lives, the virtual bits of WoW keep getting cheaper. Could these servers still be running in 100 years from now on an emulator, kept alive as a cultural snapshot of the early 2000's online life?
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