WoW is stupid. Yes, I said it. World of Warcraft is dumb. More accurately, I should say Blizzard is stupid. The reason? Its stance on legacy servers. This month, the studio through legal pressure effectively shut down an unauthorized, player-run WoW emulator, Nostalrius — a place where fans were getting their fix of vanilla WoW goodness. I can understand not wanting others to profit off your work, but we’re talking about ignoring a fan base that desperately wants your product! Why not get in on the action?
As much hate as people want to hate on Daybreak (and far be it from me to say some of that isn’t rightly deserved), the studio got one thing right: It respects players’ desire to play older versions of its games. Both EverQuest and EverQuest II have official progression servers, and Daybreak has even signed a supportive agreement with the fan-run EQ emulator Project 1999. Even Daybreak’s former President John Smedley threw his support behind emulators. So why don’t more companies give this notion a go?
I wonder if one reason studios don’t want to look back and offer older products is because they feel insulted that players prefer their older work over their newer. Newer is always better, right? Wrong. If that were the case, we’d have no antiques, no classic films (how many remakes can you count that were better than the original?), and no classic cars. Instead, devs should feel proud that their original product was so good that players want more of it just as it was. Developers needn’t feel slighted when players don’t love or even want the cool new stuff that’s being produced. It’s OK — it’s not a reflection on your personal abilities as a dev! What is a reflection is how the rejection of new stuff is responded to. Do you actually listen to your players? Is it about the game players want, or only the game devs want? There has to be a balance in order to profit, yes?
I have to say, I personally was pretty impressed with the view that the RuneScape folks shared with me last winter. Players clamored for the old game, and Jagex delivered with Old School RuneScape. And more than just offering said vanilla game, the studio does nothing to the server without getting a 75% majority approval from the playerbase. It was refreshing to have a dev admit that players have indeed voted down ideas that the team thought were really cool, ideas that were summarily scrapped and then the team moved on. Jagex even argues in favor of this philosophy in the genre. I think the industry could learn a lot from this team!
And don’t give me any of that “it’s just rose-colored glasses” bull. As MOP editor Bree so eloquently put it last week, it isn’t even about nostalgia. Not that nostalgia is bad; it’s not some disease that must be eradicated. Some people just genuinely prefer different things in games. I get grief from folks who want to speed-demon run though things when I want to slowly meander my way through. Even as admin of my ARK: Survival Evolved open server, I get asked to speed things up, make it all easier. Well guess what? I do not want it easier. I get immense satisfaction on working towards goals. That moment when I accomplish something that I’ve been (possibly painstakingly) striving for is phenomenal. The point is, liking one thing and not another is simply called personal taste, and different gamers have different tastes. The fact that a gamer loves the work you did but would like something just a little different should be not an affront to your artistic integrity but a source of pride. So capitalize on that!
While not perfect, I think Daybreak’s solution is definitely a start. First off, the studio worked with the EQ emulator’s creators to outline a path that would allow that server to continue running for all those fans without infringing on the marketability of the official EverQuest product. Bravo! Giving fans what they want is always a bonus, and sometimes you have to take goodwill where you can find it — bank it up for those times you stumble and need it. (We all know Daybreak needs it lately!)
Second, Daybreak gave us progression servers. After the success of the EverQuest servers (there was such a rush to get in that it crashed everything and forced another to be opened), younger sibling EverQuest II got some as well. New servers, such as EQ’s anti-multiboxing one, are opened to try to cater to players’ concerns and desires. These allow players to go back and start the game from scratch at the beginning. Sadly in some respects, the games can’t be a true throwback, as certain elements of the programming was just impossible to revert to. But hey, fans got to return to the Isle of Refuge! To EQII vets, that’s no small thing.
Sure, things aren’t perfect; there are bugs and balancing issues and times when devs disregard the votes of players regarding expansions. It is still a bumpy road, and there is room for improvement. Even the mere fact that there are expansions may go against what some players actually want. When it comes to wanting vanilla WoW, the question is raised as to whether players wanted to just start at the beginning and then add expansions in under the original rules or players wanted to just live in the static starting world. There is value for quite a number of people to just live indefinitely in that static world. Understandably some people want an influx of more content over time, but why dismiss those who don’t? Provide those folks with this service — make money and make players happy.
I think this is one reason that games with private servers are taking off now: More companies are understanding that there truly are a variety of playstyles, and people are willing to pay to get the experience they want. Make that experience in a game they love, and all the better. While I may not pay to host a vanilla EQII server (I am totally happy in the live main game and am enjoying my meandering slow progress on the Time-Locked Expansion server), I don’t begrudge others who might want to just lock their experience at one particular point. I might very well move onto a server that gave me access to Qeynos and Freeport before the big revamps, so I could move back into my homes in the racial boroughs. And if you offered me a Star Wars Galaxies pre-NGE server — with added post- NGE storyteller and atmospheric flight elements — to play with my friends, I’d be forking over the funds so fast that heads would spin! There is merit to the point that a certain change comes along and just simply ruins a game for some folks. Trust me, I can totally relate to this (see above comment on SWG). Instead of making folks move on to something else, why not keep them in the world that they love so much — yours — at the point of the world that they love the most? That seems like pretty good business sense to me.
I know it is a probably a pipe dream, but I’d be applauding Daybreak big time if official privately hosted servers started cropping up for the EQ franchise games (*cough* and SWG *cough*). Let’s take this next step: Let Daybreak make money off the idea, and let players live in their ideal Norrath. I think Blizzard would be smart to do the same.