When Blizzard's fanbase rallied behind the #NoChanges sentiment regarding the World of Warcraft: Classics 2019 release, I was pleasantly surprised to see developers embrace the idea instead of brushing it off.
In fact, when I spoke to Blizzard developers about the challenge of faithfully recreating a 15+-year-old game, I learned that their team had #NoChanges written prominently on a whiteboard for the entire team to see. They were convinced, as many of us were, that this community demand was paramount to a successful WoW Classic.
Two years later, as Blizzard encourages players to pay $39.99 for instant 1-58 level boost and free mounts, it's clear that #NoChanges never stood a chance. Blizzard has changed, online gaming expectations have changed, and, most importantly, the way that people play WoW has changed.
The butterfly effect
#NoChanges proved impossible for developers to uphold, even during the game's initial launch. One such change early on was the introduction of Layering, a system that creates multiple versions of the same realm in order to combat overcrowded servers and impossible queue times at the height of WoW Classics' popularity. Sounds like a harmless change, but MMO Veterans were quick to point out that players would inevitably learn how to abuse layers and generate massive economical advantages.
As suspected, dozens of server economies were turned on their heads due to layer hopping players abusing the mechanic. While it was easier for gamers to understand why layering was a necessary change, the solution's unintended negative consequences on WoW gameplay were significant and reveal how even the smallest change can result in foreign WoW gameplay.
Like Jet Ski's on a Lazy River
As evidence of these changes, consider the interaction between WoW gamers in a Reddit thread about character boosts in The Burning Crusade:
I'm fascinated by this interaction because it illustrates the core tension among players that have unexpectedly emerged across WoW Classic servers. Some players want to play fast, some players want to play slow, and both tend to think their way of playing is superior.
Whether it is a Blizzard sanctioned boost or an in-game farmer offering infinite XP in exchange for gold, a large percentage of players will always choose the fastest possible route to an MMORPG's endgame. Some players want to reach desirable endgame content as soon as possible while others feel the unique MMO pressure to keep up and not lag behind — either way the ends justify the means.
The other half of players enjoy leveling and, even when given the "fast pass" option, won't take it. These are the players that, upon the frenzy of WoW Classics 2019 release, literally waited in line just to finish a low-level quest. These players tend to resent the playstyle of their zoomer counterparts, as the culture they bring a server is more "LF FAST GOLD RUNS" and less "anyone down to quest together?"
In many ways, the groundbreaking success of the original WoW was due to both of these types of players playing together in harmony. By contrast, WoW Classic's player base is divided between those seeking a recreation of the social MMO they once loved and those bored senseless by anything but a min-maxed end-game.
As the era of #NoChanges ends, Blizzard is betting on the recently announced Season of Mastery to provide a more intense gameplay experience and help alleviate the growing gameplay tension among current servers.
The Season of Compromise (Mastery)
The Season of Mastery, live as of November 16th is Blizzard's take on what many are used to calling a progression server. In short, these are fresh WoW classic servers that will unlock new phases of content on a much quicker timetable. Some of the #slightmorechanges include faster XP rates, increased raid difficulty, and certain resource-gathering nodes spawn faster.
Most controversially, there is also the inclusion of Summoning Stones that will take the place of those useless meeting stones players see in front of every instance. Summoning Stones allows players to warp around Azeroth's many instances instead of having to manually travel there. Considering this very mechanic was at the core of why fans insisted on #NoChanges in the first place, it's clear Season of Mastery isn't trying to attract that crowd.
One of the oldest traps in talking about video games is the temptation of defining what is and what isn't fun for players. Fun is subjective and the way a player interacts with a game is inherently personal. In the case of WoW Classic, we are seeing what happens when one group's idea of fun consistently clashes with another.
#NoChanges was a community-wide pitch for a certain type of WoW Classic fun. It existed due to an earnest worry that Blizzard might, yet again, make a game worse by trying to appease everyone. Character boosts in TBC were disappointing and it may turn out that Season of Mastery is just another ploy to allure disillusioned WoW players.
On the other hand, it might also be the first step towards a modern WoW Classic experienced unburdened by the demand to never change.
Warcraft 3 is my one true love and I will challenge anyone to a game of Super Smash Brothers Melee.