WoW Factor: Will most WoW Classic players genuinely move on to The Burning Crusade?

And what is the long-term future of this experiment?

    
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Dead friends.

So as much praise as I had for the WoW Classic side of the World of Warcraft equation last week, there’s something that was interesting as part of the presentation that’s been rolling over in my head the whole time. One of the recurring talking points that was raised was the idea that the staff expects the majority of people to move on from the existing Classic experience to The Burning Crusade, and I feel like that’s an interesting assertion. Not because it’s necessarily wrong, but because analyzing it provides some interesting fodder for thought.

Let’s be clear here, it’s very obvious that plans are in place to ensure that people who don’t want to move on will not be forced to, and as I said before I think that’s probably the right answer for what was always going to be a complicated transition phase for the project. But I think it’s worth unpacking the question of whether or not most people will, in fact, move on. To do that, we have to unpack the people playing Classic now – and also take a look at the future destinations of the project.

First and foremost, it’s important to note that this discussion is largely speculative by nature because there is no pop-up window in the game that asks you every couple of hours why you’re playing Classic instead of retail. That would be kind of terrible, for one thing. I don’t have any definite answers here beyond speculation, as a result, but I concurrently imagine that the data Blizzard has are not tremendously clear on this point either.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure Blizzard knows how many people are actually playing Classic (obfuscating MAU statistic aside). But the company probably has less of a clear picture of why they are, partly because… well, at least for most of the project’s lifespan, it hasn’t really mattered. But with TBC, it kind of does.

It's classically something.

Let’s break this down. As I see it, the current Classic population falls into loosely three groups.

  • The novelty crowd. This group is composed of people who genuinely did not experience the older eras of WoW’s history and want to take what amounts to an interactive walking tour of same. While this may not be new content to them depending on when they started, the experience of having it be novel or the entirety of the game is novel all the same. For this group, moving on to TBC is most likely a natural progression, a new step along the same walking tour as before.
  • The Wrath crowd. I’ve named this group as such because they’re the people most looking forward to their preferred version of the game, and statistically speaking that’s probably going to be Wrath of the Lich King. These are people playing Classic right now not so much because it delivers what they want but more because it’s about a step removed from what they want. It’s closer than the retail experience, at any rate. Again, for this group, TBC is probably a natural progression toward what they’d really like in the first place.
  • The pure crowd. It’s easy to forget, but there were people crowing for a return to “classic” WoW pretty much as soon as TBC arrived, and it only intensified over time. There are a number of features that were introduced over time that this particular group of players genuinely disliked, most of them related to accessibility or social friction, and for this particular crowd moving forward to TBC is the opposite of what they want. For this particular group, there’s not going to be any sort of moving forward.

Herein lies the question. With this breakdown, two of the three groups are going to want to advance. But how big is each of these groups? If the purist group is only one of the three main player types in the game and accounts for, let’s say, 60% of the population, the majority of the playerbase isn’t going to be moving forward into the expansion.

As I mentioned earlier, this is something that is kind of unknowable. There are surveys taken about whether or not people would like TBC to be a classic option, so obviously Blizzard feels at least remotely confident about that, but it’s still hard to be sure exactly what percentage of the existing base each group makes up. And that raises some interesting questions about the Classic project as a whole because as time goes by this sort of subdivision is going to become more and more of an issue.

Hashtag maybe some changes.

Consider, for a moment, what happens if most of the population doesn’t move forward. That’s going to kneecap TBC right out of the gate because the group content for the endgame is going to suffer from a paucity of players and a general inaccessibility. The same thing happens in the reverse if most of the population does move forward. Sure, you might be happy doing Naxxramas until the end of time, but if 32 people of your 40-person raid group move on to the expansion, you’re going to have to start rebuilding almost from scratch.

Consider also that people like the Wrath group are going to reach a certain point wherein the game does hit the stage they’re actually interested in. The people looking into the history are similarly going to hit a point wherein the game is no longer stuff they never experienced, and if the primary motivator there is a walking tour of unfamiliar content, hitting familiar content is likely to be a good reason to not move on or just stop bothering to log in either way.

I suspect, although I can’t be sure, that there were people who genuinely were hoping that the Classic project would remain frozen in design philosophy but not in time, that new content would actually come out for the older version of the game after the game’s natural endpoint was reached. That’s never going to happen (if indeed it was ever even considered). And you wind up with a long tail for older content that was never actually designed to sustain people for a year, or two years, or further onward over time.

Wrath in particular seems as if it’s going to be a flashpoint because I suspect that if there is a majority of people willing to move from the vanilla game to TBC, there is not a majority of people willing to move from Wrath to Cataclysm. By heading along this particular path, we reach a point wherein that assumption of most people moving on may not be true, and that pretty thoroughly screws up the expected dynamic.

For now, well, it’s hard to know. As I have said repeatedly, I don’t doubt that Blizzard has reason to believe most people will move forward, and it’s entirely possible the company has access to some crucial data I don’t that makes the goals clearer. But I do think that we are looking at a future where just releasing the next expansion isn’t going to consistently produce a popularity boost, and I’m curious about whether or not that’s been planned for or if it’s just the assumption that people will want to progress every other year or so.

If it’s the latter… well, I suspect that’s going to only work for so long.

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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Jonathan Hughes

Actually I feel as if you missed something huge. TBC was the best time for community. You finally had a PVE situation that worked with instant Dungeons being exciting and fun, but also hard and required you to be careful. And heroics amplified this. Each pull was a possible wipe so you had to communicate with the other player and on top of that people forget that TBC wasn’t the Trinity of PvE as stated all the time but the square. CC was very important because tanks couldn’t take every mob banging on him. So it’s more a square. Now what I feel was the biggest part of TBC having great communities and why people played and what eventually killed Wrath. The Auto Group function. Auto Grouping and dungeons getting easier and requiring much less CC made it where you didn’t need to remember that great tanks name and friend him. You didn’t care later that a Hunter you knew could manage CC of 3 mobs at once.
And last thing that made TBC shine was the heroic epics and badge system that would keep you doing heroics while also taking part in 10 man raids of Karazhan. It also helped that you got a drop on a boss but not one for you every time but sometimes it might work for your off spec. That random loot table was exciting. I had hoped after the success of Karazhan and then ZG’s 10 man would show blizzard we liked the ten man runs as a starting point and even running it as a alternative way to play other than the larger raids and scaled down 20 man wasn’t the same.
So for me, Wrath was the sad beginning of death to a community.

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Zandohaha .

What about the crowd who’s favourite version of the game was TBC? You ignored them completely.

What about the crowd who just prefer the mechanics of old school WoW and want that alongside raid and character progression?

What about PvPers who are really looking forward to Arena?

Your three categories didn’t represent the majority of my guild at all. So I really don’t know what point you are trying to make.

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Bread

This is how I felt, as someone who doesn’t like Wrath or Vanilla and only likes TBC out of the first 3 versions of the game….. I felt disrespected in this article.

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Paaperclips

The Wrath crowd. I’ve named this group as such because they’re the people most looking forward to their preferred version of the game, and statistically speaking that’s probably going to be Wrath of the Lich King. These are people playing Classic right now not so much because it delivers what they want but more because it’s about a step removed from what they want. It’s closer than the retail experience, at any rate. Again, for this group, TBC is probably a natural progression toward what they’d really like in the first place.

Not a word out of place here for me personally. I am 100% this group.

And I know it’s more than just nostalgia and forgetting how Wrath really was. Because when Cata launched, even in 2010 I felt that longing to go back. Once the novelty of all the new stuff wore off, I wanted desperately to return to how things were before. And that never really went away.

Alternately, I never had those feelings before Cata. When BC launched, I happily moved forward with it. When Wrath launched, I excitedly moved forward with it. So to me, Wrath feels like the “Ultimate Edition” of WoW, and everything since then has been “WoW 2”.

Classic is great for me because it’s still “WoW 1”, but I am really missing those extra “DLC” that were included in the Ultimate Edition.

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Daniel Pinhataro

Wrath was also the last before a series of filler expansions. It was clear that they were just making stuff up because they didn’t want to tell all their good stories too soon. Had we gone from Wrath straight to Legion I doubt there would’ve been as many complaints as we did.

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Zandohaha .

Deathwing was hardly filler. It was just badly executed.

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Snow

For me personally, the game was awesome during BC but really peaked in Wrath, I always felt like Wrath was the point where the classes I enjoyed finally came together and worked properly, the content was good, the community was good, it was the golden age of WoW for me.

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Mark Jacobs

Maybe, probably, oh hell, I’ll do it on one server just for nostalgia. I did think TBC was an awesome expansion that changed how MMO devs had to look at expansions in terms of timing/content/spending.

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Grimmtooth

TBC is actually my sweet spot. I had started Classic, hated it, started playing again in BC times due to the techno / trance videos of one Baron Soosdon, believe it or not. He made Classic and TBC look so awesome I had to try it all over again.

Wonder if I’m the only one.

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Bruno Brito

Yes.

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Scott McCulloch

Just to amend your groupings a little bit, which sound pretty accurate, there’s definitely a ‘TBC crowd’ just like there is a Wrath crowd.

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cursedseishi

I think the one thing the Classic servers have in their favor is, if I remember right, the fact that you have an ‘option’ to simply copy your character over for that server. You don’t need to sacrifice your Vanilla-WoW character to go into TBC Classic, you simply just copy-paste them.

Will there be a reduction in numbers? Most likely, of course. But that isn’t to say anyone who moves ‘forwards’ isn’t also interested still in doing things in Vanilla. People can have their ‘slices’, and choose whether they want to go for Vanilla, for Chocolate, or go for their ‘Wrath of The Whipcream’. Vanilla and TBC, for instance, still have access to Naxxramas in its classic state, and Wrath Classic would have the introductory Naxx raid, which gives people a unique chance to experience both versions of the raid.

I came into WoW in TBC. It was only in Wrath and its introduction of the 10/25 split for raids that the guild I was in could raid in earnest and that was how I ended up experiencing Naxxramas the first time. With Classic servers? I can play through Naxxramas and raid it as I used to do, as well as still have the option to ‘switch back’ and occasionally poke at Classic Naxx with my Burning Crusade character.

The biggest hurdle, I think, is just how you handle the community. You can ‘friend’ people and that sticks cross-servers sure, but guilds do not. And I think it would honestly be a good idea and would at least help to have some sort of… cross-classic Guild System. Sure people have Discord/etc., but there should always be some form of in-game system to facilitate communication and not force players to rely on outside software. Allow a Guild to mark itself as ‘Cross-Classic’ or ‘Expansion-specific’, and give them a chance of persistence and communication between Classic Servers if they opt for the former.
But I doubt that’ll be even a consideration.

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Danny Smith

I think you are in for a few reactions when it hits:

“I don’t go till im BiS” – Players who see having the perfect vanilla item loadout for the character after beating every boss/dungeon and calling it “done” then and only then as theres nothing to chase anymore.

“I wanted Vanilla not Chocolate” – People who don’t want to go through the whole WoW experience all over again. For them Classic is their new Diablo. 60 is the cap and they will roll new characters whenever for the experience they want and anymore is pointless.

“I was waiting for this” – The massive horde that will be crashing the servers when an entire server tries to load Hellfire Penninsula at once.

“This was a novelty and i had my fill already” – Tried and dropped classic and at best will give BC a month before doing the same.

“I never cared to begin with i’m sticking with retail” -Self explanatory.