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.
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.
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.