WoW Factor: Three thoughts on the latest WoW Classic stress test

    
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Surprised? Really?

It’s hard to find a whole lot to say about World of Warcraft: Classic at this point. Not in a bad sense, mind you; it’s just that after my initial evaluation, well, everything’s already been said. It’s definitely what it wants to be insofar as it’s a good recreation of the classic game, which means that it has better class design than the live game due to how atrocious things are in Battle for Azeroth, and it’s a dose of nostalgia for those who want it. But I think it’s really an open question as to how much of a long-term impact it’s going to make.

Either way, it certainly has no shortage of people very interested to try it out. And I think there’s a lot to take away from the latest stress test antics. In fact, I would even argue that there are three interesting things to examine as a result of that stress test. They’re not really thematically linked aside from that fact, but that’s enough, right? Yes.

You have to draw out the tests

Seeing no red at all, see no rain.We were chatting a little bit during this week’s podcast (which you’ve heard by now) about how the release date for patch 8.2 doubtlessly ties in at least a little bit to the fact that Classic isn’t due out until later. I don’t think that’s really a primary element, but I think it’s definitely something to consider, especially when it comes to the fact that WoW really needs these stress tests and betas to run for a while to build up anticipation, down to, well, making them a bit longer than they need to be.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think this is a lack of due diligence. Yes, the testing is doing a good job of making sure that there are no seams or bugs in any major stretch of the leveling experience. But I also think those same things could be accomplished with fewer stress tests, shorter betas, and a generally more functionalist take on the overall process.

Blizzard does not want the Classic beta to move faster.

I recognize that saying this is the equivalent of mentioning to a wrestling fan that it’s all fake (i.e., a bit of a “no duh”), but there’s a finite amount of stuff in Classic. If you’re thinking that we can always just move on to the next tier of content, just wait for the last point. And for the first time in, well, forever, Classic seems to be generating a lot of positive buzz for the game in a way that the current expansion definitely isn’t doing.

It also does a great job of driving subscriptions. The word of mouth around BFA has been negative, but around Classic it’s been positive, and since you have to have an active subscription to drag people in, that’s often enough to get people subscribed for a month or two even if they plan to play only Classic. This means it’s sort of in the best interests of the studio to make this take as long as possible.

It’s not actually going to be that bad

“Isn’t it also in their best interests to make this as playable as possible?” Actually, no, hypothetical reader who’s talking to me for the purposes of this point! In fact, that’s the beautiful paradox of this whole situation. Blizzard wants you subscribed and not playing because the less you play, the more you can wallow in nostalgia without remembering any negative aspects of the game.

That’s not to say that Classic is bad, of course. It’s to say that there are two truisms going into the experience for a lot of the people who will be playing: that this is both a game you already know and a game that had reasons for making a whole bunch of changes over the past many, many years. The last thing that Blizzard wants is for people to get over the nostalgia trip and then immediately back out again, only now with the reminder that the game somehow has gotten worse at class design over 15 years.

The most recent stress test is an illustration of this paradox. Yes, it’s an effort to stress the servers as much as possible and find the breaking points. However, it was also conducted with several servers being turned off so that people couldn’t play, without any sort of layering or whatever, with everything being made as unplayable as possible.

On the one hand, this gives the developers a better picture of what to expect when everyone is expecting to be ready to go for real. People are a bit more forgiving of a stress test being unplayable, and since all of the characters are getting wiped anyway, it’s enough to zone into a forest and just stand there while there are too many people to actually play. (Precisely what Justin described doing on the podcast.)

But on the other hand, it also makes things worse than they actually will be when the servers go live. You get a fuzzy nostalgia rush without anything more than “I wish I could actually hunt some kobolds” to distract you from that. So I doubt it’ll be half as bad as it has been on the stress tests so far.

Not that I know. Not that anyone knows.

Doom approaches.

Even Blizzard doesn’t know what to expect

You might think that it’s a bit cynical to say that it’s in Blizzard’s best interests to not let people actually play for fear of people getting bored. That’s a fair cop, what with all the cynicism of that statement. But in this particular case, I’m not putting it forth as something I consider as an absolute truth and failure of the game. I’m floating it as a possibility.

It’s plausible that people will actually play the game, enjoy having classes that don’t feel like the mess they currently are, get up to 20 or so, and crash out hard. It’s also plausible that real raiding communities and big groups will form. It’s also plausible that the servers will be a ghost town in a month after launch. No one actually knows what will happen.

You can point to private servers, but those aren’t really working on the same scale or with precisely the same restrictions (or freedoms or legitimacy, for that matter). You can make guesses based on other games, but other games aren’t WoW (and things like full-on progression servers usually both have a coherent picture of what’s being done and aren’t made for games that rewrite the dang game every two years or so). I fully believe that Blizzard isn’t really sure what to expect or how big to invest just yet.

This, to be fair, is actually one of the most authentic parts of the classic experience right there. Or at least it will be if it turns out that everyone wants to play and Blizzard’s lack of investment was woefully insufficient, leading to widespread problems logging in and general playerbase dissatisfaction with login issues.

But the ultimate point is that it’s not really clear what awaits the game once it moves into a proper launch. I don’t think there’s really a loss state for Blizzard with this particular launch, outside of shining a harsh light on both new problems in the modern era and problems that have never actually been solved, but I don’t think it’s clear just what the launch will look like until it happens.

Until then, though, I’m sure the positive word-of-mouth is nice.

War never changes, but World of Warcraft does, with a decade of history and a huge footprint in the MMORPG industry. Join Eliot Lefebvre each week for a new installment of WoW Factor as he examines the enormous MMO, how it interacts with the larger world of online gaming, and what’s new in the worlds of Azeroth and Draenor.
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carnalforce1337
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carnalforce1337

For those wondering “what if WoW Classic becomes bigger than retail / BfA”. Nope, not gonna happen, boyos. The wide range of gamers are now too spoiled in general for QoL things in games, even graphics. This will never draw huge crowd. Maybe just out of curiosity for the first few months.

Alyn
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Alyn

The jury is still out for Classic vs Live. Let us reconvene in late December and assess what actually transpired.

That should be enlightening! : )

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Kherova

I have every intention to subscribe and try out the game. And I’m also not sure I will keep playing after a couple of hours.

Alyn
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Alyn

It does NOT surprise me to see the mixed emotions here. However to call for Eliot’s head when he is doing his job, well nope I don’t agree. Eliot’s point of view is honest and his doesn’t try to “fluff” it up. It is a opinion piece. He is writing with a subjective voice. He isn’t making it up.

Look, the YouTube-o-sphere is absolute crammed fully of fan bois and gurls out there that are excited. Placing someone who won’t write in a manner that shows both the flowers and the slugs in the garden is not genuine in my opinion. Personally, and once again thanks Eliot for being consistent in both World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy 14, arguably the two most popular mmo’s going for now.

Keep fighting the good fight, Eliot. May a gentle wind blow favorably at your back.

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maydrock .

You are to Classic what Scrooge was to Christmas.

I mean, really, what’s your issue with this whole idea?

MurderHobo
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MurderHobo

I’m enjoying the thrill of watching those dice tumble with so much at stake, not knowing which way this thing could fall. At least something is finally happening. Possibilities seem fluid once more.

Like Jiminy below, I think a lot of us are looking for what happens if Classic becomes more popular than Live. I don’t think it’s probable, but it’s within the realm of the possible, and that’s the most interesting thing I’ve seen come out of WoW since Wrath.

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Jiminy Smegit

What I find fascinating about this experiment is what does Blizzard do if classic turns out to be more popular than live over a sustained period (past the ooh I member when nostalgia phase)?

Do they advance to BC and WOTLK? Separate servers for each expansion with characters copied forward? Do they write new content that does not affect future expansions? Do they write new content that forms a new timeline? How would any of that affect the customer base they have now conditioned into accepting Facebook mini-game daily quests as content?

Given their extreme herp-derping with class design in BFA, I am less than optimistic about any of those things but I will enjoy classic for a few months at least. Having actual reasons to interact with people in an online world is curiously enjoyable.

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silverlock

While I to like classic more then live I think it very unlikely that it will be as popular simply because many players wont want to play with out lives QOL features. It is totally possible though that classic will post better numbers during low points between live updates.

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Ironwu

Separate servers for the BC/WotLK expansions with character copy. That would be my preference. :)

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Jim Bergevin Jr

My human rogue will still be spending his days table dancing at the Lion’s Pride Inn!

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Sorenthaz

It’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out for sure. It seems like this is the year Blizzard reflects back on what made them rise to popularity in the early-mid 2000’s (Warcraft 3 Reforged + WoW Classic) as they seem to be struggling to figure out how to go forward and not piss off what remains of their once-loyal fanbase.

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Ironwu

An interesting perspective. I do think there is a LOT more to say though regarding the draw of Classic WoW than just ‘nostalgia’. The game design is truly far superior than what currently exists today in Retail. Just my opinion.

Yes, Blizzard has spent the years since the launch of Cataclysm dumbing down the game, year after year. Without letup. All in the quest to appease the elitist players, the top 1% of the subscribers. And look where we are today. It is really very sad what WoW has become; the very type of games it was intended to replace (which it did quite handily back in 2004).

Just as an aside, this pattern of very long closed beta punctuated by very short stress tests is exactly the way the run up to launch of the 2004 World of Warcraft was handled. So not only are we getting the Original Game in August, we are also getting the same attention to quality that was put into it.

I just wish they had put up that original on-line manual for WoW. Now that would have been some nostalgia. :)

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johnwillo

I still have the original printed manual for the game. I should re-read it. I remember that the concept of “soulbound” made no sense to me in the pseudo-mystical bull**** text of the manual, but was perfectly clear in-game.

One of the huge benefits of Classic for me is that Blizzard won’t constantly be introducing new currencies, systems, reputations, and lore. And I won’t be getting constantly buffed or nerfed for PvE because they’re trying to balance the classes for PvP.