Massively Overthinking: The future of WoW and WoW Classic

    
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Paladinhood.

With WoW Classic finally launched, perfectly capping off the summer with jokes about queueing like it’s 2004, we can’t help but look to the future of the game and wonder what’s next. We’d like to assume Blizzard has a plan for WoW Classic‘s future development, but it’s announced nothing concrete yet. We’re also assuming that Blizzard will follow its traditional pattern and reveal the modern game’s expansion at BlizzCon this fall, but we’re in uncharted territory as now the WoW teams are serving two very different masters. And beyond Blizzard, there’s the greater MMO genre to contend with, as even those games that beat Blizzard to vanilla servers by decades could still be battered or reshaped by a big enough storm.

Let’s tackle the future of WoW and WoW Classic in this week’s MOP staff roundtable. Where do you think the games will stand half a year from now and beyond?

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): WoW itself will keep going forward while the Classic servers will be significantly less populated than they are right now. My brother actually jumped back in with some new friends, but even he’s admitted it’s a nostalgia thing.

However, I do wonder if the Classic servers may tempt some nostalgia people into seeing what they’ve missed and get them into modern WoW, at least for a little bit. I know the new races can be enticing for me as a former player, so I’m sure actual returnees may be curious enough to try them out too, along with other new to WoW features.

Andy McAdams: I think the excitement over WoWC will bottom out and become a small but vibrant community and everyone will move on to the next MMOmessiah. Blizzard will float the idea of progressing some of the servers to BC and Wrath and beyond, and the WoWC community will fracture and devolve into in-fighting over whether Classic should stay the same or gradually progress through the expansions. In the end, Blizzard will probably split the difference and keep a server or two as Classic and start progressions on others. Overall, I’m expecting WoWC to peter out as a direct influential force.

WoW Retail – Blizzard is definitely going to announce a new expansion, and I’m expecting a radical shift in the core of the game. Between the performance of ATVI and the challenges they’ve faced with BfA, I’m expecting Blizzard to do something bold to “right the ship” and entice people back. I think Blizzard will “rediscover” some of what worked in Classic (and probably a few things that didn’t) to bring into retail. I’m expecting they’ll announce the ability to group cross-faction, but keep and enhance War Mode for those still wanting world PVP but as it’s Blizzard, it’ll probably come with some arbitrary restriction to minimize the benefit of being able group cross-faction. I’m also expecting Blizzard to start to loosen the death-march focus on raiding and start expanding to other play-styles.

Ben Griggs (@braxwolf): I’m very skeptical about the long term success of vanilla-type servers in general. We need look no further than the waning interest in the LOTRO progression servers to be able to predict the inevitable population fall-off over time. That said, nostalgia is a powerful thing, and I’m impressed with the initial excitement that a 15-year-old game has been able to generate. Perhaps the hype generated by this re-launch will introduce some people to the genre who otherwise would be playing looter shooters or battle royale’s!

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I tend to agree with most of my colleagues here: I think WoW Classic will fade quite a bit once the looky-loos wander off again. That’s not a slam; that’s just how MMOs and frankly most online games work. I definitely expect a large contingent to stay, though. I won’t be surprised at all if it’s well over 1M people still in there a year from now – roughly in line with how many people were already playing vanilla rogue servers before. So it’ll be a return to the status quo in terms of population; the main difference is that Blizzard has finally figured out how to monetize that status quo and turn those people into customers again. If nothing else, it’ll change the financial landscape for Blizzard for sure.

If Blizzard continues to develop Classic – say, bumps it forward to the heyday of Wrath – then I expect it to explode all over again. I know a lot of old-school MMO folks who aren’t particularly interested in WoW’s original flavor, preferring the feel of other old-school MMOs instead, but would still leap for Wrath’s sensibilities. It’s a rare sweet spot for the genre. But that’s going to be a massive fight between different factions in the MMO world, so I expect this topic to be one of the big ones for the next couple of years.

As far as live WoW and the rest of the industry, I’m more worried about that. We’ve already seen so much cargo-cult thinking when it comes to the recreation of old-school MMOs, with veteran devs gone indie who are convinced that if they duplicate the exact mechanical conditions of an old game, the magic will somehow return. I don’t want to see Blizzard or other larger MMO studios latch onto the idea that all they have to do is delete LFG and make us regen mana and we’ll all come rushing back. Old-school MMOs are a lot more complicated than that. I hope the industry learns the right lessons – starting with non-gross monetization.

Carlo Lacsina (@UltraMudkipEX): I’m pretty sure people will still be enjoying it in half a year, and I think there’s going to be an added bonus: Players will have an idea where things may have gone wrong with WoW. By looking back, I have a good feeling that players can confidently say what should be kept on a future expansion for WoW. It’s pretty much a given that WoW Classic is going to keep chuggin’ along too… maybe we’ll hear something about Burning Crusade too. Hint, hint, Blizzard.

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): Something tells me Classic will linger for at least that half-year with a sustainable enough population, but I also assume that the veneer will wear away in reasonably short order. Especially as people get to Vanilla’s endgame and the (presumed) attitudes it brings.

As for WoW itself, it will be a mainstay here, half a year, and a year from now and beyond. I anticipate an expansion announcement at BlizzCon and perhaps more, since most of the company’s other titles feel more and more like backburner projects. Yes, even Overwatch.

Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): Man, I just wrote this column; my projections for Classic haven’t changed in the slightest. The live game… well, it’s really a matter of two parts. The first option is that the game’s next expansion is going to start really looking at what other successful titles out right now are doing and make something more accessible and approachable, stealing more class design elements back from Classic while getting rid of the huge barriers to entry that have been making the game less fun (Mythic difficulty as an apex with far too many designed layers of fluff, a lack of any persistent reward structure, an aversion to letting people plan out upgrades, lack of abilities and interesting mechanics… you know, I’ve written about this a bunch, too). The second option is… well, not that, and that’s going to be bad. Very bad. I think this is a real moment when the game needs a redesign to come back from the edge it’s currently perched on, and it’s hard to say how likely that is.

I will say, though, that maybe the game’s current track record would benefit from some top-end leadership changes, because there’s kind of a persistent history of disappointments there. Ahem.

Mia DeSanzo (@neschria): I also have no thoughts on WoW or Blizzard. My last thought about Blizzard was astonishment that they didn’t foresee the reaction to mobile Diablo. Let that sink in.

Samon Kashani (@thesamkash): A half year from now WoW will be still charging ahead with its current cadence of updates. WoW Classic will have tapered off from being the old hotness. Nostalgia will have waned. The uber hardcore Nostalrius fans will be annoyed that Classic isn’t as good, but they’ll play. Most players will return to the full game.

A year later, almost everyone who joined for the novelty of it will be back to playing their new current game, be it real WoW or something else. Classic will still have a nice healthy population. But I don’t think it’ll be even close to the levels it is at now. Orders of magnitude.

Tyler Edwards: I don’t think there’s really any mystery here. It’s pretty easy to see what’s coming. Blizzard will announce a new expansion at BlizzCon. Some people will think it’s the Second Coming, some people will hate it, and a lot of other people will be somewhere in between. Classic’s population is bound to drop significantly over time, but it will probably remain popular enough to justify keeping the servers up.

We’ll probably hear about time-locked servers for other expansions at some point. I don’t see any of them developing a huge playerbase in the long run, but if nothing else it’s probably worth it on Blizzard’s end just to get extra sub money from the initial rush. It’ll probably stop with Wrath of the Lich King; I don’t see much of a market for legacy servers for Cataclysm and onward, though personally I’d be tempted to play on a Mists of Pandaria server just to have its version of demonology back.

Every week, join the Massively OP staff for Massively Overthinking column, a multi-writer roundtable in which we discuss the MMO industry topics du jour – and then invite you to join the fray in the comments. Overthinking it is literally the whole point. Your turn!
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