Friday, September 22, 2006

World of Warcraft nostalgia servers

April 1st, 2015 - Blizzard today announced that they would be offering nostalgia servers for World of Warcraft soon. On these servers the world of Azeroth would be initially limited to the continents and dungeons that were available when the game started 10 years ago, and the level would be capped at 60. After one year the content of the first expansion would then become available, raising the level cap to 70, followed by the other expansion sets in 6-month intervals. The Blizzard director of game development explained the reasons for this decision: "Players starting the game now were often complaining that the current level cap of 150 was too high, taking too long to reach the endgame raid content. Raid dungeons that were popular in 2005/2006, like the long forgotten Molten Core, are standing empty nowadays, because of the difficulties of getting 40 people between level 60 and 70 together. The nostalgia servers will bring back the good old days of World of Warcraft, for which many veterans have been clamoring."

Critics claim that the nostalgia servers are just a cheap way for Blizzard to regain customers that have been leaving World of Warcraft in droves. Subscription numbers are down to 10 million players, just half of what is was during the peak days of WoW. The recently released "10th anniversary" expansion didn't sell as well as expected. And many players complain that the land mass of Azeroth is now so huge that you could play for days without meeting other players. As every expansion increased the level cap by 10, up to 150 now, the number of players of any given level on a server is now so small, that it is hard to find groups. And many of the items added in the last couple of expansions are so powerful that they are now considered a must-have for PvP, with players complaining about the long grind necessary to collect them.

Content is king, but as every expansion added more content to World of Warcraft, after 10 years the game has grown too big. Veteran players are leaving because they got bored in spite of the new content, while new players are feeling lost in a too huge world, with a too long path to the top. Server populations have dropped, and Blizzard has yet to come up with a good way to combine servers. And although Blizzard has done some updates of the initial graphics engine, the graphics of World of Warcraft after 10 years look definitely dated. Players are flocking to newer online games, offering better graphics, and more up-to-date combat mechanisms. The times where World of Warcraft was the market leader are over, and it is questionable whether any game can be kept alive forever by adding regular expansions. Blizzard has high hopes that World of Warcraft 2: Ragnaros Returns, currently under development, will revive their flagging fortunes.

[Note: I got this press release from the future through my slightly blurry crystal ball, and had some problems reading the numbers. So the number of years until WoW's decline, as well as the number of players at peak might not be correct. Still the question remains how far you can extend the longevity of a game with expansion sets. Both Everquest and Dark Age of Camelot are currently offering servers where the attraction is that not all expansions are running on them.]

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