As someone who creates video game content for a living, I try to adopt two types of online personalities. Leaning into either sometimes helps me create content for gamers and those interested in reading about video games.
1. The first persona is defined by a cynical, hypercritical attitude towards pretty much anything within the gaming world that tries to illicit hype or excitement. This isn't my natural state of being (my friends will affirm that I like to get excited over video games), but I'd like to think it helps me keep my cool when attending gaming events or writing about the state of the industry.
2. The second persona is all about the casual majority. Despite my love of esports and high-level competition, I've found trying to develop empathy and compassion for casual gamers incredibly useful. I try to keep aware that most gamers crave gameplay experiences that are approachable, memorable, and above all, fun.
Normally, these two mindsets exist in harmony, each occupying the voice in my head when necessary and appropriate. Whenever I am tasked with telling a story or reporting on a video game, I try to rely on either of these voices to help me tap into the "gamer" perspective -- a perspective that, I hope, ultimately benefits whoever is reading. It helps me answer questions throughout an article as they might appear in a readers mind.
When it comes to writing about World of Warcraft: Classic, however, I have no idea where to start.
I fundamentally disagree with some of the cynicism regarding its existence and I also don't understand why a large majority of gamers, in my opinion, consistently misunderstand why WoW: Classic is being released in the first place.
"WoW: Classic is just that a classic. You can't just make Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and then remove it from the world."
I think that the existence of Wow: Classic automatically makes it a success. That is all it has to do, exist. It doesn't have to beat retail WoW and it doesn't have to dominate gaming culture like it once did (though the Beta has shown it still can draw a crowd). All WoW: Classic has to do is start Blizzard's journey back into the hearts of their loyal fans.
Classic, or out-dated?
Full transparency: I am incredibly excited about the release of World of Warcraft: Classic. Blizzard jail is a real place and I will certainly be sent there for admitting this, but I have enjoyed my time playing on private Classic servers immensely and, despite popular opinion, my enjoyment wasn't steeped in nostalgia or some attempt to re-live my teenage years.
I think WoW: Classic is just an incredible MMORPG, full stop. At the peak of its popularity in 2006, 7 million subscribers would likely agree with that statement. Those numbers seemed like an impossibly large number back in 2006 but, nevertheless, quality gameplay and thoughtful design that sought to eliminate everything that wasn't fun about MMORPG's made WoW the most popular game in the world.
When the game launched in 2004, YouTube, Twitter, and Twitch didn't exist. Gaming wasn't a mainstream phenomenon and word of mouth among PC gaming communities would make or break a title. It is hard to remember how things were back then, but I remember separating gamers into two distinct categories: those that played WoW and those who didn't (maybe they played Guild Wars).
With all this in mind, I don't understand why so many pundits and WoW: Classic doubters choose to ignore the reality of the game's appeal. For some reason, WoW: Classic isn't recognized as a great game. Instead, it is talked about like a piece of out-dated technology that simply can not exist in 2019. WoW: Classic's mechanics are described as impossible frustrating, its raid content as tedious and demanding.
No one talks about how satisfying WoW: Classic's progression felt or how lethal it's PvP was, the discussion is almost always dominated by quality of life concerns, as if WoW: Classic's only selling point its ability to offer grown-up gamers a ride down a lazy-river of nostalgia.
"It sounds like hyperbole, but this is exactly what happened with WoW: Classic -- it just happened over 15 years and not overnight."
Gamers discuss WoW: Classic like Blizzard is asking iPhone users to suddenly switching to a Nokia brick. The game just isn't given the respect that other classic video games have. For example, virtually every Final Fantasy game has legions of fans who would support a modern re-release: no one would think of discrediting the core mechanics of these games because they are old.
Consider E3 this year and remember that some of the most beloved reveals were all re-makes. Where are the doubters that claim people won't even enjoy The Collection of Mana bundle, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening or Final Fantasy VIII Remaster in 2019? Even Super Mario Maker 2, which can only be described as an incredible achievement in gaming fun, is almost complete founded off of a series of classic game mechanics that Nintendo has respected for decades.
In hindsight, WoW: Classic's gameplay and mechanics could have been respected by Blizzard in the same way that Nintendo does with Mario's jump speed, height, and aerial drag. After all, can you imagine the backlash if Nintendo released a Mario game that drastically changed his jump properties, simultaneously declared "New Mario" as the franchise's future while also making any previous Mario titles unavailable to purchase or play?
It sounds like hyperbole, but this is exactly what happened with WoW: Classic -- it just happened over 15 years and not overnight. Is it so crazy to suggest that WoW: Classic is just a really good game and nostalgia isn't the only reason fans will enjoy it?
Righting a wrong
Because WoW: Classic evolved into the out-of-touch dud that is retail WoW, it has lost its identity as a stand-alone game that is radically different than any other MMORPG on the market. It makes sense for people to wonder whether or not WoW: Classic will find an audience, but this line of thinking forgets a very important reality.
The audience for WoW: Classic hasn't gone anywhere. They have always persisted, WoW: Classic is the thing that disappeared. The existence of WoW: Classic audience is felt every time a surge of players return during a new expansion and quit after 2 months of playing. The audience for WoW: Classic is why gaming influencers like Asmongold exist. He and personalities like him have become beacons for the WoW audience that never really went away and sincerely miss their favorite video game.
Ever since WoW: Classic became impossible to play on an official Blizzard platform, a tension was created between Blizzard and their most loyal fans. From YouTuber "JonTrons" viral condemnation of Blizzard over the thriving community of WoW: Classic gamers that had their private servers shut down, or the non-stop criticism of retail WoW spearheaded by vocal Twitch streamers, it was always apparent that a bubbling resentment existed within the hearts of many Blizzard gamers.
I have a feeling that the Classic Games department at Blizzard were keenly aware of this resentment. I have a feeling many of them agreed that it was wrong and foolish to have the games responsible for Blizzard's success ignored, forgotten about, or changed to the point where they are unrecognizable.
Take a look at this quote from the Executive Producer of Classic Games at Blizzard, Rob Bridenbecker. He was speaking about Warcraft 3: Reforged during BlizzCon 2018
"At the end of the day, like all of this, was an effort to really heal-up the community and bring everybody together. So when you talk about putting this stuff on the modern battle.net -- that's the vision, that's the reason that's why we got to do this stuff. There is one big blizzard and the way in which we engage with that one big blizzard is through battle.net and through the launcher.
To not have some of our games in that, it's just criminal. And I'm just happy as hell to be able to usher [Warcraft 3] back in."
If the team feels this way about Warcraft 3, a game that never evolved into something its most veteran users hated and, despite not being on the launcher, was still available to play and watch as a niche but dedicated esport, imagine how the team of Blizzard's most veteran developers must feel about WoW: Classic?
"The entire appeal of WoW: Classic lies within the intoxicating balance between investment and reward."
With all this in mind, I'd argue that the very existence of WoW: Classic server means that Blizzard is already on the right path. It never made sense that EverQuest had official progression servers that are still played on today and WoW: Classic just vanished. To borrow the language of Mr. Bridenbecker, it was criminal that one of the most important video games in the world didn't exist anymore.
WoW: Classic is just that a classic. You can't just make Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and then remove it from the world. You can't just create Super Mario 64, Mario Kart, or Super Smash Bros. Melee and then make them impossible to play. Sure, new games and sequels exist and that is a good thing, but how can you expect an entire generation of gamers to just accept that they can never play Kingdom Hearts, Metal Gear Solid or Final Fantasy 7 ever again?
In what world is it a smart move to remove players ability to positively interact with your IP?
At the risk of sounding redundant, imagine if your favorite older movie inexplicably became impossible to view because whoever controlled the IP only wanted you to engage with the 2019 remake of the story. That is what, perhaps accidentally, happened with WoW: Classic and it never made any sense.
Step in the right direction
A lot of the doubt surrounding WoW: Classic is steeped in how implausible it is for modern gamers to enjoy such an old game. People talk about how the quality of life improvements (debatable) in Retail WoW are too important and how the massive time investment required to experience Classic: WoW's end-game content is impossible to expect nowadays.
In my opinion, these criticisms miss the point entirely and forget (or perhaps never experienced) why WoW: Classic was popular in the first place. The entire appeal of WoW: Classic lies within the intoxicating balance between investment and reward. Because things are hard to accomplish, it feels better to accomplish them.
Combine this with the reality that WoW: Classic is a social game that encourages players to work together, interact with each other, and forge friendships every time a player logs in and you get a game world that encourages people to invest heavily. Almost every detail of WoW: Classic, perhaps by accident, causes players to care about the advancement of their character and those who love Classic: WoW doesn't need any convincing. They already know this and are eager to experience it again.
Simply put, if you think WoW: Classic has no chance of success, you are missing the point. WoW: Classic isn't meant to compete with Retail WoW or any other modern MMORPG -- its primary goal is to regain the millions of ex-WoW players who try a new expansion, dislike it because it isn't how they remembered, and cancel their subscription.
After all, a subscription to WoW grants users accesses to both versions of the game. WoW: Classic will undoubtedly bring in new monthly subscribers and, for the first time in years, give a large majority WoW players what they have been asking for. Who knows, it may even get old players warmed-up enough to enter the modern age of WoW.
Much needed positivity
This is why WoW: Classic isn't just a good idea that will help Retail WoW retain more monthly subscribers and satisfy the games most vocal critics -- it might very well be the thing that stops the reputational death spiral Blizzard seems to be trapped in.
It is no secret that Blizzard, the company once thought of as a dream-destination for gamers to work at, is going through some reputation issues. Rumors of low employee morale due to a team-wide exodus of the companies most seasoned leaders have already made 2019 a difficult year for Blizzard and that doesn't even account for the brewing bitterness surrounding Activision's detrimental effect on the "Blizz-magic" of old.
Was Blizzard ever a magical place? Who knows, but this reputation created BlizzCon and allowed Blizzard to create an unprecedented sense of loyalty and passion among its core audience. In an age where gamers seek active communities to join whenever they invest in a new video game, this spark was the thing that gave Blizzard a huge advantage over other triple-A developers. As of now, the Classic Department at Blizzard is the best chance at restoring this advantage.
I've spoken to the Classic department at Blizzard at length about the development of WoW: Classic. Make no mistake, it was a massive undertaking that isn't nearly as simple as "turning on the old servers". In fact, some of Blizzards best and brightest had to work backward, sifting through 10 years old code and spending weeks at-a-time just trying to perfect one particular game-play experience the original WoW offered.
But, every time a developer shared a story about some obscure problem or difficult technical hurdle, I could sense a real sense of pride and passion. These stories almost always ended with a remark about how important the work felt and, in many cases, sheer excitement to be working on a project that so many Blizzard fans have been craving for.
The Classic department at Blizzard is filled with confident leadership, optimism, and a sincere sense of reverence for the game they are working on. In other words, the team exudes all the traits that first cemented Blizzard as an industry unicorn that, for some reason, was able to make games that players felt personally attached to.
So maybe it doesn't really matter how well WoW: Classic performs. Once it's released, perhaps a new generation of Blizzard fans will fall in love with WoW: Classic the same way millions of us did 16 years ago.