The Dark Ages
Previously I spoke about the downfall of the most promising genre in gaming, the MMORPG. Today the once brilliant World of Warcraft is to MMOs what the Twilight Saga is to vampire novels. A victim of a vulgar massification that slowly infected the entire scene, generating a rabble of replicants, engineered with the purpose of inheriting the throne, or cashing in on its success.
Ironically, every single one of these games has been unsuccessful, and it was solely due to WoW’s own self-destruction that some of these have become more prominent. Downgrading itself even below the standards of the wrath babies, the game has been relinquished by many in favor of Final Fantasy XIV, Elder Scrolls Online, and Guild Wars 2.
Nonetheless, the continuum of replication and failure has plunged the industry into a state of permanent skepticism. After the spectacular failure of beloved titles such as Star Wars: The Old Republic, Aion, Warhammer Online, Lord of the Rings Online, Age of Conan, Wildstar, Dungeons and Dragon Online, and many more, the big developers are doubtful that any MMO game can be truly successful, while smaller games, such as mobile titles and MOBAs, are making sizeable profits. Furthermore, the MMO genre cannot be handled by smaller companies, as it requires large investments in order to make polished products.
Since the lucrative Themepark MMOs have failed, investing in niche Sandbox titles is, of course, out of the question.
Still, throughout this age of mediocrity, the beacon of hope has been kept alive by small titles, imperfect, but creative and rich in vision. Amongst these Mortal Online, Darkfall Unholy Wars and its predecessor Darkfall, now reincarnated in Age of Agon and New Dawn, Perpetuum, Wurm Online, Xsyon, and even the everlasting grandparents of the genre, Ultima Online and EverQuest. Lastly, I would be vile not to mention the most distinguished Sandbox MMO, Eve Online. It deserves a thousand and more blog posts on its own, but suffice it to say that it is the closest we have ever been to the MMO dream and it is, nonetheless, nothing but a sample of the genre’s potential.
It’s also worth mentioning that a hybrid of the two major models, Sandbox and Themepark, has been attempted. Firstly with Archeage and, more recently, with Black Desert Online. These games are truly interesting and vastly superior to the WoW clones but have failed to seize a large audience for a few reasons, the most prevalent of which involve the western publishers’ monetization methods: both games feature heavily Pay-to-Win elements.
Last but not least, WoW’s private community and most importantly its Vanilla and The Burning Crusade private communities, show J. Allen Brack that we think we do, ‘cuz we do and that we’re not going to settle for lazy and uninspired mediocrity once we’ve sampled the excellent. It has proven that nostalgia is not a factor in the evaluation of Old WoW. Nostalrius, the spark that lit the flame, shall never be forgotten, but neither will the teams behind today’s servers, namely Kronos, Light’s Hope, Elysium and more.
The Drums of War Thunder Once Again
2017. During November’s Blizzcon extravaganza the company announced their Classic World of Warcraft project. Within a couple of years, they will release a version of the game featuring none of the expansions. In a Forbes interview, the devs seem to be uncertain about the correct method of bringing the game back to life. The gamers, in return, have doubts about the possible alterations the game can be subjected to. Will the company change any of the feature in an attempt to increase the game’s mass appeal? What kind of changes are acceptable?
The first question is an easy one. The company is still developing the game and the project as a whole, so they don’t really know if and how they can efficiently milk the audience. They will test their limits in order to get a feeling of the terrain. If the bulk of the community shows intransigence and a firm conviction that any revision is unacceptable, then the team won’t implement any. On the other hand, if the Blizzard percieves the masses as ready to embrace a certain level of change, they will introduce such in the attempt to cash in on a larger crowd.
To answer the second question, we must distinguish between three types of changes, not taking in consideration obvious bug and exploitation fixes.
- aesthetic: namely new graphics, animations, transmogrification and cash shop items (pets, mounts, etc.). These changes would hurt Vanilla either because they would alter the sense vanilla conveys while playing or because they would lessen the sense of merit derived from the unique visuals of gear and mounts.
- functional: changes such as flying, decreasing the cost or level requirements of mounts, decreasing the prices of repairs, skills and respecs, implementing dynamic spawning, generate more portals, and so on. These changes hail from the same mentality which got us in this shit in the first place. It is to be crystal clear that Vanilla’s difficulties and hardships are a core feature of the game experience, as they convey a sense of accomplishment, distinction, and purpose. They are to be embraced and not shunned. Revisioning the game in such fashion would make it not Vanilla.
- Wrath and post-Wrath: LFG, LFR, Extreme amounts of gold and epic loot, complete lack of challenge, tiered raid difficulties, Pokémon, portals everywhere, automated quest tracking, heirlooms, and so on. These changes are culpable for the general destruction of WoW and the MMO market and there is no reason to implement them once again. Revisioning the game in such fashion would make it a non-MMORPG.
Long story short, no changes are acceptable. Furthermore, it is our duty as gamers to watch over the rebirth of our beloved world and shield it from the corporate vultures, ready to infantilize it once more.
But Why? What’s its Importance?
With hundreds of millions of unique subscriptions over its lifespan, WoW is by far one of the most important gaming phenomena in history. Its return to form is nothing short of groundbreaking and an opportunity for a new start within the MMO sphere. Warcraft singlehandedly shaped the gaming market we know today, but soon became too much of a model for game creators and, once it devolved, it brought the MMO market with it. Vanilla’s relative success can bring back the school of thought of older MMOs to the mainstream and unveil the opportunities that have been missed. It can redefine positively the core concepts of MMO gameplay, namely a slow, poised progression, emphasis on achievement and merit, exploration and adventure, the longing for the unknown, steep learning and difficulty curves, meaningful interaction with the environment, meaningful class and skill choices, player-made economy, different levels of codependency between players, the development of relationships and communities, a sense of immersion and belonging, of dispersion within a limitless virtual fantasy.
Classic World of Warcraft has the chance to undo the horrors of the past ten years and shatter the gaming world once more, but this time won’t be alone.
Small, young and promising developers, witnessing the downfall of their beloved genre started projects of their own that have grown into games ripe with potential. Let’s not forget the world record for the biggest crowdfunded project in history, Star Citizen, the ambitious Ashes of Creation, the intricate Chronicles of Elyria, the old-school Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen, Crowfall, Camelot Unchained, Ascent: Infinite Realm, Project Gorgon, Legends of Aria, Life is Feudal, Worlds Adrift, and more.
One way or the other, the staleness is dissipating, the industry is invigorated and from here on out we shall witness a new, beautiful era of gaming, where technology blends with the endless variability of human interaction, where the MMO genre deploys its full potential.
And it all begins with Vanilla.