Eurogamer has become quite used to attending Blizzcon and asking the World of Warcraft team about their stance on Legacy servers. We're not so used to Blizzard actually having anything to say on that front.
That all changed at this morning's opening ceremony as executive producer J. Allen Brack took to the stage and announced the team's plans to return to Vanilla WOW, with a new project entitled World of Warcraft Classic.
I spoke to Brack shortly after this surprise reveal and although he was wary of giving too many details, we were able to get a better sense of how much work will be involved in making oldschool WOW a reality once again.
I'm still not over the ice cream gag you managed to pull off during the announcement. That was brilliant, well done.
J. Allen Brack: Yeah, that ice cream joke was the best joke I've ever written. I'm glad it was well received.
I'll get a couple of questions out of the way here, which I suspect you can't answer. When is WOW Classic going live?
J. Allen Brack: We don't know yet. Just like every Blizzard game.
And I suppose you're not ready to talk, in any detail, about how it'll work?
J. Allen Brack: Some of the reason for why we're not ready to talk about that is... we actually don't know yet. The important announcement today was: we're doing this. We've heard the community, we've heard our own internal teams, we've heard all the comments over the years. When it comes to the details, we don't know all of the answers just yet.
There's also the fact that now we've announced this, we might want to partner with the community on some of those answers. WOW changed a lot in the first two years, before The Burning Crusade came along, and so, how exactly should it work? Those are questions we need to talk about, for sure.
The unofficial servers were clearly a huge factor in Blizzard's decision to return to vanilla WOW. Am I right in thinking the Nostalrius team provided you with access to their build at some point?
J. Allen Brack: Yeah, they did. We did a dungeon run with some of the folks, it was an old school Scholomance run. It was interesting.
Anything jump out at you that you'd forgotten about old school World of Warcraft?
J. Allen Brack: Yeah, I'd forgotten that whenever you buffed one of your party members with Intellect, you had to actually sit down and drink after that. Then you stood up, buffed another party member with Intellect and then you had to drink again. It's a much slower pace. There's a lot of prep time.
It's an interesting part of human memories, right? I think we like to remember the good parts, but the bad parts sometimes go away over time.
Do you think there'll be a line to walk for the team, then? Somewhere between creating that authentic experience that people have asked for, while also figuring out what doesn't make sense anymore? For example, with the Intellect buff, is it important to you that players do need to drink after casting it?
J. Allen Brack: Yes. That's part of the level 60 experience. Our goal is to recreate that classic 1-60 gameplay. Some things changed as time went on, with different patches. How does that get manifested? That's one of the outstanding questions. But yeah, the goal is to recreate that exact experience, for better or for worse.
How far into this process are you? Do you have a build that you can actually play, internally, and figure some of this stuff out?
J. Allen Brack: We've got some infrastructure stuff in place. We've got an old build that's up and running that we're using for reference. Most of this job is going to be infrastructure: making sure everything can work on a more modern setup. Then there'll be the design questions, ones that the community will have strong opinions on: should UBRS be 10-person, or 5-person? Things like that.
What are the big issues that you're going to need to face here? You mentioned during the presentation that the server infrastructure that was there originally, is no longer in place. In fact, the way the game was programmed at that point must be wildly different to today. What else is there?
J. Allen Brack: You've highlighted the big ones. Before we started work on this project, we couldn't actually run vanilla WOW. The hardware is different. The operating systems are different. There was no way for it to just work.
Are these going to be separate development teams? One working on Battle for Azeroth and one working on WOW Classic?
J. Allen Brack: Yeah, so it was really important for us to be able to answer the community honestly. How many raids is this going to cost them in Battle for Azeroth? The answer is zero. We're going to hire people specifically for this effort. We already are.
How are players going to pay for WOW Classic?
J. Allen Brack: No idea.
Okay. What happens if WOW Classic ends up being a huge success? That's potentially expensive for Blizzard in terms of server cost, right?
J. Allen Brack: That's a problem for future us. I mean, it's a great problem. I think there will be a lot of initial interest and then some sustained interest. But if if happens, we'll figure it out then.
I've had a number of interview with the WOW team in which I've asked about Legacy servers and you couldn't talk about it. So, why it's happening now? What's changed?
J. Allen Brack: We said for several years that if there was a way for us to flip a switch and have it work, we'd flip that switch. It's not something that we didn't want to do for any arbitrary reason. There were legitimate, significant technical reasons.
I know you're not ready to talk about the release date here. It sounds like you're at the very early stages of development here and as you've mentioned, you're still in the hiring process. But are we talking about months of development before this goes live, or years?
J. Allen Brack: This is a massive effort. This is a very, very significant effort. I would not expect it to be soon. We actually don't know when we're going to release it. I know that's a generic answer that we give for all of our Blizzard titles, but with this one, we don't actually know how long it will take.
But do you suspect we're talking about months here, or years?
J. Allen Brack: This is a massive effort.
Ha, alright then. A couple of years ago, there was a quote going around from you after somebody asked you about legacy servers. You told them it's not actually something they'd want to play.
J. Allen Brack: I'm familiar with that quote [laughs].
Have you changed your mind since then?
J. Allen Brack: I think the sentiment I was trying to communicate back then was: nostalgia is a very real thing. But that doesn't diminish the fact that there are people that want that game experience, right? I think sentimentality and nostalgia are worthwhile. I wasn't trying to say that players didn't deserve this thing or anything like that.
Are you expecting players to come back to vanilla WOW and properly invest in that game, or just have a look around for nostalgia's sake?
J. Allen Brack: Both, I think. One of the things we do know is that by announcing this, we're in the WOW Classic business forever. Once that starts, there's a commitment on our end that we're going to continue maintaining those servers for as long as there is a World of Warcraft. I think there will be people that come and do the nostalgia trip, they go to the Barrens and find Mankrik's wife, and then they're done. That's fine. Some amount of people, however, are going to create a new Classic community and that's what we'll be providing.
Those people don't just want the old gameplay features, they want the constant social connection. And so we can't just support it for a couple of months and then if it's not working out, ditch it. There has to be an assurance that you can build this character, build this guild, build these friendships, and the server will continue.
Has Blizzard maintained a relationship with the people behind the unofficial legacy servers? I know the Nostalrius guys visited Blizzard at one point.
J. Allen Brack: We've talked to Daemon and Viper, the leads for that project, a handful of times since that visit.
Do you see them being more heavily involved in WOW Classic?
J. Allen Brack: We would welcome their involvement, for sure. I think one of the challenges is that they're both French and so there's a little bit of a visa concern, but we'd be open to it. They're very passionate and strong Blizzard fans, clearly.
I think they've certainly proven that! Thanks for your time.