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
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.
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.