Blizzard kills classic WoW private server, “Nostalrius Begins”

It’s got so many people, but it’s got no soul

Gerry Rafferty sang this about the nature of London – but these days, it’s clear that various video game companies fit that criticism just as well.

In a bittersweet post on their front page, World of Warcraft private realm-providers Nostalrius Begins have revealed that Blizzard Entertainment have begun legal proceedings to shut them down.

I have supped from the cup of nostalgia and played on Nostalrius’s server. Unlike other private realms, Nostalrius Begins spurned the idea of faster levelling, increased gold gain, and purchased bonuses in favour of delivering the only thing that mattered to a lot of people. The original World of Warcraft experience. Gone were the heirlooms, hastened levelling curve, and the ridiculously easy early dungeons that now pollute the WoW experience – and back was the pure MMORPG experience that so many of us knew and loved.

Classic Orgrimmar
Many an hour was spent here, waiting for raids

And now it’s gone – killed by the very company that originally created it.

I’m being melodramatic – Blizzard has the right to close down anything that infringes on their copyright. Technically, Nostalrius Begins does this, and it’s Blizzard’s duty to see that World of Warcraft’s rights are upheld.

The thing is, “Old Azeroth” no longer exists. Every piece of content that was present when World of Warcraft originally launched in 2004 was completely remade in the 2010 Cataclysm expansion that famously “broke” the old world and allowed Blizzard to re-envision Azeroth as a more modern MMO experience. And despite my past insistence that Cataclysm cured me of my Warcraft addiction, there’s little merit to the idea that this was a bad thing. It needed an update. But this means that everything Nostalrius Begins recreates is no longer available. It’s not provided by Blizzard. It’s not abandonware, but only by a technicality.

So why haven’t Blizzard created classic servers of their own? Because they firmly believe that people don’t really want it. Patronisingly, Blizzard sees us as children, expecting us to drop the mode after a few weeks. It’s not hard to believe that they see classic WoW as outdated, archaic – a product of its time, now regarded with disdain by its creators.

What it must be to have such faith in your product. A product that near single-handedly brought Blizzard to the prominence it enjoys today.

But, Blizzard believes that we don’t really want this. Nostalrius boasted nearly a million registered accounts, with usual active server populations of eight thousand people. At peak times, that number would almost double to fifteen thousand; three times the usual capacity of official Blizzard servers. That’s the number of people who “don’t want this”.

At one time, those numbers would have been a drop in the ocean. And it still is, but that ocean is shrinking fast; World of Warcraft subscription numbers are dwindling. From a peak of 12 million in late 2010, subscribed accounts are now suspected to be around 5.5 million. Still an incredible number for a subscription-based MMO, but clearly not what it used to be. How long can Blizzard afford to ignore money on the table?

Why do people want this? It’s in the name: “Nostalrius”. Nostalgia is a powerful emotion. It was powerful enough that, thanks to Nostalrius, I was able to go back and play vanilla WoW. And I loved every moment of it. The original World of Warcraft is a part of my childhood; a treasured memory. And yet Blizzard tells me that I “don’t want this”.

Well I do. And so did almost a million other people, just like me.

Get with the times, Blizzard. Build it, and we will come. And we will throw money at you for it. But until you do, you won’t be able to stop the private servers from giving us what you haven’t.

Today is also the day where Nostalrius will start being community-driven in the truest sense of the word, as we will be releasing the source code, and anonymized players data (encrypting personal account data), so the community as a whole will decide the form of the future of Nostalrius. We will still be there in the background if you want us to, but will no longer take the lead.

To sign the petition asking Blizzard to create a “Legacy” server, go here.

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Overwatch’s second short animation releases – spiders, societal tensions, and ‘ssassinations

It should be obvious that Blizzard’s short Overwatch animations owe a lot to Team Fortress 2‘s “Meet the Team” series. And thankfully, they’ve inherited the characterisation, engaging narrative, and quality of animation from Valve, rather than “Valve Time”, that curious phenomenon that meant releasing ten videos took five years.

Valve Time
Never forget.

But who cares about that? These shorts are doing a fantastic job of building the surprisingly deep world of Overwatch – any ideas that this was going to be yet another multiplayer shooter can be safely put aside. With this video, we’re introduced to the idea that there are larger issues in the Overwatch universe than just the war the players are engaged in. Who was the robotic messiah-figure “Halo”? What implications do his assassination have for the wider world of Overwatch? Add this intricate world-building to the compelling and fun characters that we’ve seen so far, and it’s clear that Blizzard know the key elements that are going to keep people shooting at oversized gunbots and Cockney women until long after launch. The game comes out in May, but now all I care about is seeing the next video and seeing how the pseudo-Deus Ex narrative continues to build.

And to think, all I previously wanted to do was shoot people. Shame on me.

Tracer - Overwatch
That, and to spend time gazing at this fine derrière.

Coupled with the positive feedback coming from the closed beta, Overwatch is clearly set to be one of the most anticipated hits of 2016. As long as Blizzard doesn’t “do a Blizzard” and mess up the launch, this could be huge. If you’re a Blizzard employee, keep that in mind. Oh, and send me a beta key.

If you missed the first Overwatch short, catch it here. It’s similarly great, and features baby gorillas. D’awww.

No more free packs in Tavern Brawl?

One free pack per week during the opening celebration of Tavern Brawl.

I think we were all ignoring that second part. But I guess it’s time to pay the piper. Last week’s Brawl was the first to not have a free pack as a prize for your first victory, instead granting a Christmas-themed card back.

Which was good, because last week’s Brawl was shit and I really didn’t want to play it.

I mean, I did anyway. But I didn’t enjoy it. And that card back can go into the ever-growing pile of card backs I simply do not give a fuck about.
Continue reading “No more free packs in Tavern Brawl?”

Overwatch IS NOT free-to-play

If Blizzard aren’t the current king of free-to-play, it’s only because Valve exist. Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm are two highly successful, fully fledged F2P games, while World of Warcraft, Starcraft, and Diablo all have their own free starter editions which arguably fall into the “free-to-play” category.

That’s why it’s so surprising to hear that Overwatch – the upcoming Dota-clone-FPS-thing from Blizzard – isn’t going to be launched on a free-to-play model.

I remember that there was some previous discussion about how Blizzard were going to monetise Overwatch. The gameplay is based on each character having a hard counter, and much is made of changing characters in order to adapt to your enemies composition – and that element of the game would have been severely limited if the heroes were bought, or available on a free rotation. A team with 20 available heroes versus a team with only five could conceivably create a composition that the opposition could not answer, making the game fundamentally pay to win. But paying for skins probably wouldn’t have been enough of a money-spinner to support a game of this size.

Continue reading “Overwatch IS NOT free-to-play”