WoW Factor: The five paths forward for WoW Classic

I circle the waterfront, I'm watching the sea.

Throughout its lifespan, WoW Classic has had an interesting relationship with the future. Not just because it is and always was an explicitly back-looking piece of World of Warcraft, but because the game was essentially launched as a complete product with the last-patch balancing all done. What remained to be seen was not what would happen in the future but rather what players would do within the expected and planned content phases.

But along those same lines now… the game is done. The final content patch has gone live. Naxxramas is out there now, which means that the stated purpose of the classic servers has now been fulfilled and we are looking at what is truly a complete product.

So what happens next? Well, thereby hangs a tale! Or, more precisely, a few potential tales because there are a number of options that the developers at Blizzard might go with and no certainties. So let’s take a look at the paths forward for WoW Classic after a few more months, since naturally people will need a bit more time to get those Naxxramas clears.

If we are being altogether honest, you were probably prepared before.

Option 1: Full progression servers

In about six months, we’re moving on to The Burning Crusade, and that means the game is accelerating once again. Thus does Classic wind up in the more familiar model of progression servers, with one bit of progress only there until we move on to the next tier just like before.

This has the advantage of ensuring that Blizzard still has a constant stream of new content. However, it also means explicitly rewriting the core of the game and ensuring that you really didn’t have Classic around for all that long. Some people really did want to live forever in this version of the game, and forcibly upgrading feels a bit like a violation.

I’m not sure this is exactly a good option, either, because the game has changed substantially over time, and people are going to be upset at the thought that Classic was fundamentally a time-limited time capsule.

Option 2: Optional transfer to The Burning Crusade

So the game turns on some servers with Outland. You can transfer to those servers for free. But the TBC servers are a one-way trip. Thus, you can pick the era you want to play in and remain there forever.

This option is one that’s been floated a bunch, and it does have the obvious advantage of not winding up invalidating older content and/or the reason people wanted to go back to the classic game. At the same time, it has the major disadvantage of requiring a much higher volume of servers to keep running, which puts additional burden on Blizzard and starts getting complicated a few expansions in. It also means that server populations on the existing version of Classic will get thrown out of whack, and it also means having to release another version of the client in all likelihood.


Option 3: Forever museums

All of this, to be fair, is assuming that there is a future other than what is already there. It is conceivable that this is not the case. We’re talking about the future of the game, but it’s possible that the future a year from now is similar to the present, but older.

This seems unlikely on one level because it feels a touch off to think that we would spend the next year without any sort of forward movement on a live service. (It would probably feel more off if Blizzard didn’t routinely leave the “retail” branch of the game languishing that long, but now I’m jabbing a finger at a totally different development branch.) But it’s assuming both that Blizzard wouldn’t want to do this and that the players who had long agitated for Classic wouldn’t be perfectly content to just leave the game where it is for an extended period.

I’d be a bit surprised by this one, in other words… but only a bit. I could totally buy that some of the players who wanted Classic are happy with Classic as fundamentally a maintenance mode experience.

Option 4: New old content

I’ve talked before about how the Classic experience could continue beyond the final content phase, and I want to stress now as then that those suggestions – and this one – are meant with a certain degree of implicit tongue-in-cheek amusement. Heck, as the last entry should make clear, there’s nothing implicitly requiring the game to keep getting new content at all; it’s entirely believable for the game to just declare that done is done and we’re leaving things here.

But at the same time, it’s also plausible that we’re going to see this progress in a somewhat analogous format to RuneScape, with additional bits of content and patches. In other words, Classic remains as a springboard for a version of the game that stays in that older mindset while also bringing in new stuff.

The caveat, of course, is that you then have to create a subset of content that feels appropriate for Classic while not actually being Classic. That sounds a bit like a contradiction in terms right from the premise, and it’s why this suggestion remains a kind of tongue-in-cheek only half-serious proposal. Put another way, for all the work that would be involved in bringing out any permutation of TBC, it’d be less annoying for the developers than this hypothetical would be.

But gosh, wouldn’t it be a stunner.

Liches do it with nothing.

Option 5: Reset to zero

Last but not least, we could take this progression server content a different way and have the existing Classic servers prove to be time-limited in a different capacity. A full wipe and restart to zero after a certain amount of time, making the climb up to Naxxramas and the associated content be a repeated ascent time and again instead of something that’s done once for fixed gains.

The fundamental problem with this particular idea, obviously, is that people who might be willing to go on one climb to 60 and through the associated bits of content might not willing to do so twice or three times or so on. No one really likes the idea of losing progress on their main characters, and it gets even more pronounced when this isn’t something anyone was told to expect ahead of the launch. Ambushing players with the news that their characters get reset will feel unfair – especially if there’s no sort of long-term impact from doing all the work the first time.

It would, however, ensure that people who really liked this particular incarnation of the game still have something to fall back on and a new goal to push. That may be what the designers ultimately feel like players want, whether or not it’s accurate.

So which one is it? Well, I don’t know. I’d say one of the first two are the most likely possibilities, but until we get some actual clarity out of Blizzard, we are ultimately just guessing and flailing in the dark. What’s most clear is that we are now in a firm place of completed product, and while we’re going to enjoy some progress updates along the path through Naxxramas, eventually that is going to be settled content.

And at that point, something more will need to happen. Or at least the nothing will need to be announced as the plan.

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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Here is what I don’t get (having experienced the progression server process with Everquest)…

The servers are great for launch and up to a point (for EQ it was up to Planes of Power or around there) then the population dies massively as new players have no one to play with and old players dont like the progression into the content that stopped them from playing.

So they launched NEW progressions servers starting at 0. But that only lead to repeating what I said above.

Then they locked the server at a particular expansion (similiar to if Classic was locked and doesnt move onto TBC). The population raved, but then died off because at some point (which could be way in the future) you literally run out of content to do.

Then they launched a top end progression server starting at a future expac (this would be equivalent to Blizz launching a Cata server and progressing on from there). Now in EQ that flamed out quick but I did see it was an interesting idea. Everyone started out at max level.. which led to new players having a bunch of skills they didnt know but I’d argue that could be part of the fun/challenge.

Now Daybreak/DarkPaw/whoever they are today imo just gave up and simply release a new progression server starting at 0 every year around february or march. They try to change up the rulesets but it ends up being the same pattern. Great launch. Tons of people. Downward trajectory from there until low pop around a specific expansion.

I don’t see Bliz getting around this conceptual pattern. You can’t play classic forever. Progressing through the expansions will lose players at some point as it wont be “Classic” anymore.

The only viable is new content in Classic which would be interesting, but curious if it could actually be done.

I say this to say I dont have the answer, but these retro classic servers never end well. They are a temporary thing regardless of what people “say” they want to play.

2Ton Gamer

I think to put so much work into remaking the Classic feel should not be undone, by adding to it. Make TBC something people can copy to if they want, then leave those Classic servers to remain open and combine Classic servers if the pops dwindle. Also, I think a timed Classic 1 or 2 year progression server option should be offered with the same thing being offered for TBC servers when WOTLK comes out. There can be different avenues here to maintain sub interest and this helps keep sub numbers from dropping between Retail releases.


Option 2 and 4 should be combined.

Add TBC content, but tweaked for classic progression.

1) No level cap increase.

2) New talent trees and specs. Talent points and new abilities are earned through various level 60 questlines in Outland rather than just levelups.

The level cap increase causes the content island issue WoW has been dealing with since TBC. Keep the entire world relevant, don’t arbitrarily increase the grind.

3) Outland content is scaled from 40 to 60, with HFP being 40-45 to start with, and SMV and NS being level 60 zones, all other zones are scaled in between.

4) Magtheridon, Kara and Gruul are tuned to a level between BWL and AQ40. SSC/TK are at Naxx level, Hyjal, BT and Sunwell are just above Naxx level.

5) All new dungeons are scaled according to the zones they reside in otherwise, with heroic versions of course being level 60 only.

Point 4 and 5 mean that vanilla content remains relevant for newer players and alts, with more options being given to raid at at every level. There’s still vertical progression, especially in 5-man dungeons with heroic difficulty, but your Naxx gear isn’t automatically invalidated by the first quest reward.

6) Professions are adjusted to the levels accordingly, with no skill increases required for max gear, however you may need to get the new resources to craft the TBC items, and find out where to learn the recipes – Less of them will be at the trainer, more as loot and quest rewards.

7) Itemization follows point 3 through 6: No massive increases in ilvl across every raid tier. New items should be minimally more powerful at best – Their point is to give access to more and varied playstyles through new tier pieces and more unique stat combinations, not give a flatout across the board increase in power. It will still be an upgrade for the extreme min-maxers, but not for the more casual player.

8) Disable all world buffs in raid instances.

The point if this all is to get the game to remain relevant across most, if not all of its content, while still offering new things to do. It also provides an alternative way to deal with power escalation and exploding ilvls/numbers.

Yeah, yeah, this needs to be worked out more thoroughly. I’m not a game designer. However, i believe that raising the level cap and ilvl with every expansion was the worst thing Blizzard could have done in the long run. Instead of a game with 15 years worth of content, every expansion is a game on its own, with zero reason for especially newer players to ever visit the old content.

Also, when we get to Cata, all Deathwing related content and storylines need to be temporary, or mostly confined to new zones only. The overly Deathwing specific world revamp dated that expansion much, much more than any other. But that’s a bridge we cross some time later. :)


Maintenance mode and BC-only sound cool to me. I know most players probably really enjoy the progression system, but I’ve always found the player-created activities or “content” is the real heart of these kinds of games.

Doing simple things like mini duel-tournaments or guild mount-races are more in-line to where these games originated from; when players used their imagination rather than plodding along the worn path. Of course players can do those things on any server, but I feel like the activities have a better chance of gaining some traction with less distractions.

I will say, however that the transition from classic to BC holds a memorable place in my heart, so I’d probably be happy to experience that again every so often. These servers may attract smaller numbers, but that could be a potential boon to foster a more close-knit community with similar interests and backgrounds.

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Option 6: Blizzard let the population dwindle then close the servers saying “We told you that you didn’t want it”


The biggest issue with Classic is that it does not have the steady influx of new players as was coming in for the original WoW/BC/WotLK. This pretty much means that doing dungeons for new players and alts is pretty much off the table.

Given that this is not likely to change, I think a ‘Copy Over’ model would best suit the player base. That would leave Classic WoW as it currently stands, and also provide for ‘Classic BC’ for those that want it.

New players and alts could level up in the current Classic WoW, then copy over to Classic BC servers if they so desired. Classic WoW would remain populated for those that wished to continue playing and raiding there.

Win – Win for everyone.


Option 4 is the dream. That team is gone though. Could the even pull it off? I think theyd be printing money if they did create new old content and sold us an expansion.


Option 1 is the classic progression, probably my preferred option of these five. The problem is the same as for Everquest progression, at some expansion the population will shrink to almost nothing (guessing Cataclysm and onwards). The great thing about progression servers like this, is if they also follow the small content updates between expansions, it will feel like the server is alive and always moving.

Option 2 is pretty nice as it allows anyone to progress at their own pace. The problem is mudflation, and that kinda negates from what the progression crowd plays for = pristine server economy where every is on equal footing and allowing for pseudo competition.

Option 3 .. yawn.

Option 4 is interesting. I would go for it as an option 1 with extra stuff. A lot probably wouldn’t because it is not “original” and .. oh man those p1999 purists are the worst kind and I am sure they exist on WoW too :P

Option 5 might work but is it really much different or better than Option 1 ?

One VERY IMPORTANT thing though (learned from Everquest progression servers), the rate of expansions matters a lot. Some players want to progress fast like a few months between expansions, others want to progress slow like years between expansions. Can’t please them all. Especially with Option 1 and 5 this needs to be planned well – Probably need both fast and often fresh servers as well as slow paced servers with years apart (again, Daybreak f.ed up a bunch of times on this, learn from it don’t repeat the mistakes, understand your audiences).

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Paragon Lost

I’m a fan of Option 4 personally.

Dug From The Earth

I think if classic just ends up being a 15 year delayed progression server… then what was the point? People who went to classic dont want it to become Legion, or BFA, even 10 years down the road.

I think the best bet is to keep the various “time bubbles” in their own bubble.

If they want to make a “BC classic” it should be separate from normal Classic. the same goes for Lich King, and anything else they do.