Let’s pause for a hot minute to absorb the fact that WoW Classic just hit its fourth anniversary. For the reheated leftovers of an MMORPG from 2004, it’s actually been an impressive run. It enjoyed immense popularity for a time, and even when it fell out of the spotlight, it still clawed its way back to being noticed through patches, expansion rollouts, seasons, and — most recently — the debut of official hardcore realms.
Four years isn’t a passing fad. And if that ends up being it – if Blizzard pretty much abandons WoW Classic to a virtual maintenance mode – well, it’s been a good run. We had a whole lot of fun, and it’s proved to be a welcome substitute to retail and a value increaser (is that a term?) for the monthly subscription.
But it doesn’t have to be it. I strongly feel that Blizzard is at an important crossroads with WoW Classic, where one path leads toward oblivion and the other toward an interesting and even profitable future. While I can’t say for certain if the studio is going to abandon this version of its famous MMO, I do think that it needs to decide — right now — which way it’s going to hop. Because hardcore realms are most likely going to be a blip in popularity before the community grows hungry for further direction.
The way I see it, if you manage to tap into something and get a whole lot of attention all of the sudden, then you really need to move fast to capitalize on that. WoW Classic isn’t the phenomenon that it was back in 2019, and just about nobody is excited about the prospect of Cataclysm Classic.
But this permadeath ruleset that originated within the community itself? That’s got people coming back for a curious look. If they’re given a reason to stay, a real hope in a positive future for WoW Classic, then Blizzard could convert them into more permanent residents rather than tourists with a virtual death wish.
It’s been really discouraging to see how little Blizzard seems to be regarding WoW Classic these days. Wrath Classic was the last time the studio roused itself to caring about it with videos and plans and whatnot. Hardcore Classic barely got like three dev diaries and no dialogue between the studio and the community.
So what could Blizzard do to create a future for WoW Classic? As I indicated a few paragraphs before, I don’t see retooling Cataclysm for the Classic crowd as the way to go. While this would provide more content and effectively cement this version of the game as a progression server, it simply doesn’t fit. It would change too much about the game world — as well all well-known from actual history — to keep it feeling “classic.”
And without beating a dead horse, I’ll simply say that Cataclysm doesn’t evoke the fondest of memories within the WoW community. It’s kind of like The Phantom Menace for Star Wars fans. There are some who champion it, especially if that was their entry point, but that’s a small pushback against a tidal wave of disappointment and bad reputation.
Apart from maintenance mode and Cataclysm Classic, I really only see two other possibilities for a future. The good news is that both of them are genuinely interesting and could be worth the risk. The bad news is that Blizzard isn’t in the risk business. But let’s look at them anyway.
The first option is to finally pull the trigger on the community’s desire for a “Classic Plus” experience. As evidenced on certain rogue server projects, Classic Plus represents a divergent path of development that starts with the same basic game but starts to add to it and modify it in ways that WoW never did.
So we’re talking about keeping the core of Classic — the slower gameplay, the talent trees, the older look — and adding more zones and quests to it. Creating a new flavor of Classic that never existed historically but absolutely can now. This is pretty much the avenue that Old School RuneScape took, and that paid off in spades for that MMO.
If Blizzard even wanted to be extra-daring, it would leap-frog right over minor additions to Classic and announce a full-blown, brand-new Classic expansion. Sure, that would never, ever happen… but can you imagine how amazing it would be if it did? It would put WoW Classic right back on the map and make it a full competitor to retail. And it could be absolutely awesome. Toss in a new class or two, why not, and you’re just blowing everyone’s minds.
The second option is somewhat more realistic and builds off of the enthusiasm for hardcore realms (and to a lesser degree, Season of Mastery). Blizzard already seems willing to experiment with rulesets for Classic, so why not do more? Instead of adding onto the game world, you take that world and make it fresh and fun by implementing different rules once in a while. Maybe this could be a yearly or bi-annual event, where the studio announces and activates a new ruleset for Classic.
Permadeath runs are only the start of the ideas that could come out of such an initiative. You could create a pauper realm where gold is an extreme scarcity. Realms where enemy AI becomes a lot more unpredictable and chaotic. Realms with speed-leveling, vastly higher crit rates (for players AND mobs), faction-swapped races, no faction lines whatsoever, and so on.
Maybe all of those are horrible ideas, but you understand that the possibilities are endless. If we can play Monopoly with dozens of types of house rules, why not this? And — here’s a shocker — why not include the community in that conversation? After all, the community came up with hardcore classic, so maybe it has another golden ticket or two up its sleeve? Throw out a contest to come up with ideas and then take the best ones for future rulesets.
For anything other than a decline into obscurity, Blizzard has to care and it has to act — now. Hardcore is going to enjoy a brief moment in the sun, but this isn’t enough to keep the whole act afloat for years to come.