Massively Overthinking: The future of WoW and WoW Classic

    
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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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Chris Beaufait

What all MMOs miss today is discovery and complexity/mastery. Given today’s technologies and the ability to create galaxies of procedural content (No Man’s Sky, Elite Dangerous) and equipment (Borderlands), it is unfortunate that Blizzard has only created Raids and Mystic dungeons for end game. In reality, endgame becomes a chore, not new experiences together with friends. An MMO that truly captures mastery, exploration, challenge and puts the social back into the genre is the next game-changer. There is so much that could be done to refresh the genre, the question is who and when?

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Phil Gillespie

What if (it won’t happen, but imagine) they started building off of classic again with new fresh content patches, it would be like creating an alternative timeline from 2005.

That would keep me there.

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Bannex

I’ll be shocked if WoW classic maintains its popularity I am not saying it’s impossible I just personally think this is a perfect storm of a current ‘dial tone’ of an expansion followed by an incredible amount of hype involving classic.

It’s popularity is of no surprise to me despite my general lack of interest.

I will say that I don’t understand the classic vs live battle that keeps popping up, no matter what blizzard wins.

People keep pointing to the “you don’t know what you want. ” stance. If you think blizz doesn’t listen why is classic even a thing?

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Alex Rome

I think Blizz said “how can we get players back into retail”. Hmmmmm, let’s release classic and see what people missed most. We’ll add those back in some form or fashion to get people back in retail.

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Alex Rome

Don’t forget what happened in Runescape. The Old School Runescape servers are much more populated than EOC. It is possible to take the most advanced version of the game to a place that the majority doesn’t want to go.

Personally, I stopped playing WoW because the community started falling apart when it was no longer critical to interact with anyone in order to make progress. People forget that MMORPGs are MEANT to be social games, and the social part is what kept people coming back. Guildmates and friends had to rely on each other, and that type of connectivity between players makes you feel like you can’t quit, because quitting ends a relationship to people that you spent an endless time with. As a business, that’s the type of market psychology you want to leverage. “If I quit, I let all of these people down because they need me.” That’s a powerful thing.

It’s easy to start and stop retail right now, because it’s simple to just LFG and get anything you want done. If you start/stop in Classic, your adventuring buddies will replace you, and you’ll have to start over by building player-to-player reputation to get the group things done. It’s more painful to do it that way, so you’ll stay subscribed to the game to stay engaged enough to not lose those connections.

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Nathan Aldana

which is still , I argue, is more like being held hostage to a videogame with a gun pointed at your head than a good thing, but to each his own, really.

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Malcolm Swoboda

Late 2019 – Live gets a smaller patch that draws some attention there as Classic calms down. Classic calms down but whether that means a decline, same population, or increased population that just isn’t as newsworthy, is another matter. There’s a few phases to Classic and we might get the next one. 9.0 gets a spotlight and it may include things that pull more players over in the longer run.

Early 2020 – Live gets its final major patch and pulls the Classic players that were not as committed. Classic gets a further phase or two to keep those who were more committed. People have an idea of whether they’re sticking around for WoW at all, or dropping it again.

Late 2020 – Live gets its next expansion and we get better confirmation of whether Classic was successful enough for Classic+, BC/WOTLK, etc.

In 2021 – At worst, Live scrambles to recover subscriptions after the biggest disaster of an expansion, and Classic makes clear that it was only a novelty and it is reduced to a small fraction of its 2019 (won’t say first day/week as that’s silly) population. At best, Live gets a great redemption from its expansion and pushes forward, and Classic invigorates work for a release of at least BC. IMO Blizzard will take their time and they can release legacy servers in the year between Live expansions. Classic is unlikely to reach heights or beyond unless they are allowed to do something to serve the game further, so at least Classic+ updates in particular servers, but otherwise a best outcome is just a solid-as-hell-for-years base that will run characters in Classic.

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Max Sand

I mean, we all know the launch population is unsustainable, however even if it has a 70-80% dropoff, it would still likely make WoW both the #1 and #2(or maybe #3 with FF14 contending in that top 3) mmo, hardly a failure even in that case. I feel like the popular opinion forgets that. Which even if Classic is it, they don’t do further expacs like BC or Wrath, or “Classic+” or anything, and if population in a year is 10-15% of what it is now, it’s still a smash success and should give any MMO devs an indication that there is a huge market you COULD tap into, in theory, if you hit the right notes. A lot of them are nostalgic for WoW and only WoW, sure, but I bet if, say, Pantheon came out with that more old school social focused concept could make a dent in that market, and suddenly that market doesn’t look as fringe as it did last year. Hard to say how it all plays out, but its like it or hate it, it has changed the MMO genre’s trajectory going forward.

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Rick Mills

As for what Blizzard is going to do with Classic – nothing! They’ve fulfilled their promise and can walk away (leaving a few techs) and let the chips fall. A year from now they can open that bedroom door and see if there are any children. If so, well, hey, how many are clamoring for BC?

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Marty Woods

I think there are a lot of people like myself who haven’t played wow in years returning to the game . A lot of them wont return to playing the retail servers unless Blizzard goes ahead with its pristine idea which keeps the complexity of the vanilla game and advances it through the expansions .

There already seems to be a us and them attitude in the classic community and the retail community . I’ve seen a lot of comments about “retailers” being “filthy casuals” in chat and how most of them have already “fled back to retail in tears” .

So unless there is some new game that comes out that offers the classic community what it wants I think it might stay healthier for longer than most of us expect .

Then of course there are people like me who will probably play a bit of retail as well as classic or retailers who will play a bit of classic on the side too . Its not an either/or choice you can do both .

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Nathan Aldana

the classic community sadly has always had at least some part of them that resemble a crowd you also see in tabletop gaming or games in general. an ideal of “we’re the true players and everyone who hasnt suffered for their nerdiness for the last 3 decades is a fake trying to be cool and isnt a real gamer”

which is toxic, gatekeepey, and really just makes you look like an immature brat who never left highschool mentally.

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TomTurtle

I’m also expecting Blizzard to start to loosen the death-march focus on raiding and start expanding to other play-styles.

I highly doubt it, but I’d welcome it were Blizzard ever to do so.

Classic will do what other emulated MMOs have done, including the private WoW servers that came before it. You can even look at MMOs in general and realize there will be a drop off. It’s not really a bad thing either, just the way these things trend. I’m sure there will be steady enough population after the big dropoff.

The only potential bad thing is if Blizzard decided to switch an existing Classic server into a progression server without giving players a heads-up or a way to jump to a different Classic server. I don’t see that happening.

As for Live, who knows. I’m still waiting to see how they potentially further piss me off with the story. What I’d like to see though is as Eliot mentioned, more deterministic ways to acquire gear. Think the badge system from BC or Emblems from Wrath of the Lich King, much less so this Benthic gear system that still stubbornly has RNG in it.

Also, I’ll be really irritated if Blizzard continues this faction split into the next expansion. Let me tag open world mobs and help the other faction PvE and let me group with them if I so choose!

I wouldn’t say no to a new class either. The tinker class suggestion sounds neat, though I hope Blizzard wouldn’t limit it to just gnomes and goblins.

What I’d love but do not expect to happen is making more of the world relevant instead of just the latest expansion and its zones. They’ve made some strides towards that but not enough.

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Witches

Half the population will leave if they don’t add X, the other half will leave if they do add X, and the population will keep on splitting whatever they do, but i think it’s pretty smart of them to keep these players as clients whatever version of the game they are playing.

As long as regular WOW doesn’t drop too much in population i don’t think anything will change, a lot of people will keep on crying about something but still paying and playing.