WoW Factor: Good job torching Wrath of the Lich King Classic, my dudes!

    
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Just absolute galaxy brain

All right, this is… actually just hilarious to me. Like, seriously, I caught this particular detail after I’d already finished writing my initial reaction to World of Warcraft’s next expansion, and then as soon as I did I realized I was going to have to write an entirely new column about this. This is because WoW Classic removing the dungeon finder from Wrath of the Lich King Classic is – and I am not exaggerating – one of the funniest things I have seen this entire month. This is funnier than any April Fools’ gag that Blizzard has put out in years.

“Players rediscovering Wrath of the Lich King Classic won’t find the Looking for Dungeon feature originally added in Patch 3.3.5. We’ve heard from our Classic community that the importance of social bonds is a big part of what makes Classic their game of choice, and we agree.” [Editor’s note: A reader alerted us to the fact that this quote, pulled from Blizzard’s own splash page for WoW Classic, contains an error; in fact, LFD was added in patch 3.3.0 – a full six months earlier than 3.3.5.]

The fact that the Blizzard developers are serious only makes it funnier.

It’s almost impossible to overstate just what a colossally bad idea this is on almost every conceivable level. It’s just so alarmingly tone-deaf that I am, almost decidedly, going to miss some of the ways in which this is jaw-droppingly bad. So let’s just take this piece by piece and try to restrain our laughter long enough to dig into it at least a little.

First things first: This is, right here, an absolute destruction of any and every claim about the design philosophy of Classic having anything to do with accuracy or consistency or, really, anything beyond gatekeeping. This isn’t really a change in philosophy, it’s just… saying the quiet part loud, which is something that producer Holly Longdale has done before with similar results.

Now, let’s be clear. I am not saying that this was Longdale’s personal decision because I don’t know that. It would certainly mesh with her existing track record, but it could just as easily be the work of lead software engineer Brian Birmingham, who was taking to Twitter on the day of the announcement to defend the choice, and… well, he’s sorry you feel that way.

But my point here is that I don’t know who’s responsible for it, and frankly, it doesn’t matter. What I do know is that it is a hilarious extension of the same philosophy we already saw in the whole Season of Mastery nonsense, whereby a narrow slice of players are getting their gatekeeping-based fantasy catered to and the whole “no changes” thing is happily discarded as soon as reality gets in the way of that. It’s a remarkably tone-deaf decision that just hits as clueless.

See, I have long said that I am not the target audience for Classic because I was there for these eras of WoW and want the game to move forward and improve based on the parts of its old design that worked rather than just go back to the past. But that being said, there is a value in having the idea of a historical version of WoW in place, of letting players say functionally, “This is the era I like the most, so I am going to stay here and play.”

Except that the Classic team just said that’s not the case. The designers looked at a part of the game that was indisputably a part of this era of WoW – an era that it seems the majority of players regard as the game’s apex – and said “no, this isn’t a part of the game any more.” It’s like having Classic without Warlocks because they’re too hard to balance. You’re not recreating historical eras of the game any more; you’re indulging in whatever is the server equivalent of revisionist fanfic.

That’s not to say that there would be no value in that, either, especially because people have long asked for exactly that. There were a lot of people asking for the original Classic servers to keep going and add more features. Instead, what we got is a version of Classic that is filled with gatekeeping nonsense, and we’re told that this is what Classic is “supposed” to be.

It’s not about fidelity to the era of a given WoW expansion, or hashtag no changes, or preserving designer intent, or any of that. It’s even clearer when you read Birmingham saying, essentially, that they can’t remove boosting from the game because they already sold you boosts, but including a feature that was actually part of this expansion would be damaging. It’s just about whether or not the gatekeepers feel like they’re in control of access or not.

As an aside, there’s probably an entire article about how making content groups painful to form actually discourages new player engagement. For another day.

No king etc.

We’re not even close to done with talking about how accidentally hilarious this whole thing is, though, because the very first bit of the presentation featured Ion Hazzikostas talking about how Blizzard had learned its lesson and was working hard to ensure that players were able to play the game the way they wanted. This is an utterly ludicrous line in the wake of this change to the classic game, which very specifically removes the option for players to play the game how they want.

Like, it’s not just silly; it’s actively undercutting every part of the point that the developers are trying to make here. Is all of the other talk about learning lessons from Shadowlands a lie? I’m well aware that the Classic team and the retail team are not the same entities, but when they’re both operating under the same umbrella, does this make you feel like any lessons have been learned or any real changes are happening? It doesn’t just gut the Classic population; it guts the nascent trust that Blizzard is still trying to rebuild.

And make no mistake, this is a gutting motion. This is a harsh blow to a lot of people who, for a multitude of reasons, were genuinely looking forward to Wrath of the Lich King as “their” Classic experience. Back when I did a whole tour of all the expansions, I talked about how this was an obvious slam-dunk and an expansion people wanted back, and now instead of players being excited they’re at best arguing and far more likely actively disappointed.

This is made all the worse as a decision because this is very obviously being pushed out of the door almost certainly before it’s ready because otherwise we would get no big WoW release at all this year. The intent was very obviously to excite the playerbase, to bring people back, to get people excited by playing Wrath again and hey, maybe that new expansion is going to be good. At the very least, the bet seemed to have been to grab a subscriber bump here.

Now? I see no one who is not a subscriber converting to a subscriber. Even if this is 100% desired among the existing Classic base (which is a bit of a lift anyhow), this is failing to convince new people that they should come back for the game. And that is… just an astonishing failure to read the room, like if the Diablo II remaster had been announced to be removing multiplayer functionality to stay truer to the single-player vision.

Soulless.

And again, this is just absurd to the point of hilarity when you consider that this is Wrath of the Lich King Classic. This is the most absolute slam-dunk break-glass-in-case-of-emergency sort of rerelease that Blizzard could ever option. Calling back to the height of the game’s popularity and subscribers is an obvious play to the crowd, and finishing that announcement by removing one of the major player-friendly features that was actually in the expansion is so staggeringly foolish on multiple levels that it never once occurred to me Blizzard would actually do it.

Consider this fact: Even if the Classic team wakes up tomorrow collectively and realizes that it has made a grave error, the damage is already done. Blizzard will have to push twice as hard just to get people to learn about the fact that it’s not removing a big feature of Wrath, and it’s going to have to push even harder to fight its gatekeeping image, an image it by and large created for itself.

So with one move, the Classic team has voided the big population bump that it should’ve gotten for Wrath, damaged Blizzard’s efforts to repair its longstanding reputation for not listening to players, utterly alienated a large segment of the MMORPG-playing population that was looking forward to this, and made the future of Classic look stormier than it needed to be, at a time when Retail needed all the help it could get. And all of that to cater to… a crowd that already wasn’t going to play Wrath because it’s being served by Season of Mastery, which was the gatekeeping revisionist fanfic those players wanted in the first place.

Amazing. Indisputable comedy gold. The funniest thing you can imagine coming out of any development team. Just a straight-up farce.

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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