World of Warcraft Fans are Denied Legacy Servers: Interview with Mark Kern

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By Ian Miles Cheong | 4:38 pm, November 21, 2016

World of Warcraft has changed greatly over the years, with new features big and small.  But there exists a contingent of gamers who yearn for the old school, classic WOW experience they first played when it was released back in 2004.

For the better part of a year, these players could indulge in their nostalgia by running their own World of Warcraft server that reproduced the original title in its entirety, without any of the trappings and content of its numerous expansion packs. This server, known as Nostalrius, hosted hundreds of thousands of active users and was set to launch a major in-game event when the game’s developer, Blizzard Entertainment, issued a legal notice for the fans to cease and desist.

A petition was raised by these players, and with the help of World of Warcraft team lead Mark Kern and a host of popular gaming streamers, it received over 275,000 signatures. In August, Kern hand-delivered the petition to Mike Morhaime, CEO of Blizzard Entertainment.

Nostalrius supporters expected Blizzard to make a statement on the matter at this year’s annual Blizzcon gaming convention. To their disappointment, the publisher offered only silence.

“I only know that e-mail responses by Blizzard to Nostalrius and I tapered off soon after our meetings with them,” Mark Kern tells me. “Since then there have been no responses to our e-mails regarding Legacy. Also, at Blizzcon, they expressly released a statement saying that they would not comment on Legacy WoW at the show. They did seem to leave the door open to some future communication, but we still haven’t seen anything.”

“You can sort of a read a company’s body language,” Kern explains. “We know Blizzard has stopped answering our e-mails about Legacy. We also know they shut down any questions or comments on Legacy servers at Blizzcon. Finally, we know that both founders, Mike and Frank, when commenting about remastering Warcraft 1 & 2 said ‘old games just aren’t fun anymore.’ Taken together, I think you can tell that an official Legacy server from Blizzard is very unlikely.”

Kern offers the possibility that the reason Blizzard hasn’t said anything is because its developers might not themselves be interested in working on the project.

“Perhaps, around the time of the petition, there was real interest and discussion going on at Blizzard about making Legacy a real possibility,” says Kern. “It’s also likely that the decrease in comments and communication are because the idea just hasn’t gained any internal traction.”

If Blizzard continues to remain silent, I wondered what options the fans would have.

“Legacy players are going to have an exciting option in playing Elysium, which is going to be direct from the Nostalrius code base. Nostalrius had the highest quality version of the server, and the most fans. That’s one option,” says Kern.

“The other option is just to keep reminding Blizzard that they want Legacy. Fans of Final Fantasy VII never gave up on Square, and now we are getting remake. So keep wearing Legacy t-shirts, mentioning Legacy on forums, and keeping it in the public eye. It can happen. Maybe not right away, but someday.”

Elysium is the latest attempt by fans to deliver the classic WoW experience, building on the Nostalrius codebase. It even uses the old server’s characters and databases, so players who enjoyed the game previously will retain all their progress. That said, there is always a possibility that takedowns will be sent to Elysium, like Nostalrius.

“Blizzard legally has the right to go after these servers,” says Kern. “However, Blizzard has traditionally been unable to reach servers in Russia and China and some other nations with poor enforcement of these types of laws. I believe Elysium is located in one of those countries. If so, it would be very hard for Blizzard to shut them down.”

I asked Kern what he’d do in this situation, if it were up to him.

“If I were still at Blizzard, I would have hired the Nostalrius devs or officially licensed a server to them to run for charity,” he says. “When Valve was confronted with similar situations in the past, they ended up hiring the dev team. I wish Blizzard had done that and launched an official Legacy server run by the team that built the best emulated version.”

Blizzard’s loss is his gain. Kern tells me that he has since hired one of Nostalrius’ programmers to work on his own game, a new massively multiplayer wargame called EM-8ER.

“But at the very least, Blizzard should deliver a definitive answer,” says Kern. “Even if that answer is ‘no’ or ‘no, but we will revisit it in the future’ it would go a long way to give the many Nostalrius fans closure.”

Ian Miles Cheong is a journalist and outspoken game critic. You can reach him through social media at @stillgray on Twitter and on Facebook.