There was a to-do recently when Blizzard lawyers forced the World of Warcraft Nostalrius servers to close. They were pirate/private servers not allowed by Blizzard so they didn't have a wooden leg to stand on, yet they offered something Blizzard does not: a vanilla (pre-expansions) version of World of Warcraft for people to play. And they were popular - home to an active community of thousands of people.
Nostalrius' closure gave rise to many questions about pirate/private servers as well as questions about why Blizzard couldn't - or wouldn't - offer a vanilla WOW experience itself. Now Blizzard has finally broken its silence on the matter and addressed the community directly.
"We have been discussing classic servers for years," wrote WOW executive producer J. Allen Brack on the game's forum. "It's a topic every BlizzCon and especially over the past few weeks. From active internal team discussions to after-hours meetings with leadership, this subject has been highly debated
"We explored options for developing classic servers and none could be executed without great difficulty," he added. "If we could push a button and all of this would be created, we would. However, there are tremendous operational challenges to integrating classic servers, not to mention the ongoing support of multiple live versions for every aspect of WOW."
The only workable idea Blizzard came up with was "pristine realms" - something it seems to be gauging interest for in the thread.
"Over the years we have talked about a 'pristine realm'," he said. "In essence that would turn off all levelling acceleration including character transfers, heirloom gear, character boosts, Recruit-A-Friend bonuses, WOW Token, and access to cross realm zones, as well as group finder.
"We aren't sure whether this version of a clean slate is something that would appeal to the community and it's still an open topic of discussion."
On Nostalrius' closure specifically, Brack said Blizzard had to protect the company's intellectual property. "Failure to protect against intellectual property infringement would damage Blizzard's rights," he said. "This applies to anything that uses WOW's IP, including unofficial servers.
"And while we've looked into the possibility, there is not a clear legal path to protect Blizzard's IP and grant an operating license to a pirate server."
Nevertheless, there's an odd sliver of hope for Nostalrius, whose operators Brack said he and Blizzard had been in contact with. Perhaps it has something to do with the Change.org petition that has more than 235,000 signatures. "They obviously care deeply about the game, and we look forward to more conversations with them in the coming weeks," Brack said.