Posted by: seanmalstrom | April 23, 2016

The Cost of Vanilla WoW

This is a very interesting interview from a Vanilla WoW developer. Let us take a look.

When we planned World of Warcraft, we only expected 1M sold and 500k active. And yet..and yet that was enough to bet the whole company on making WoW. It was the most expensive game Blizzard had ever made, and a huge risk. And yet, we would have been happy with 1M accounts back then. So I don’t understand this talk about 850k account not being worthwhile. That’s bunk. And you know what? With Blizzard officially behind legacy servers, you would see far more than 1M account re-activations. If a relatively unknown private server can reach 850k, then think what putting the Blizzard name behind it could do…far, far more.

As for 150k active, my understanding is that was measured over a 10 day window. The industry standard for measuring active is 30 days. I bet the 30 day number is higher, but even at 150k, during vanilla WoW we only expected around 450k active subscribers, and it would have been a huge success. Nostalrius is not that far off from what would have been a home run for us at the time. Of course, we ended up doing much, much more than that, but I’m talking about what we would have been thrilled with in the beginning and been very profitable.

This is true. World of Warcraft was a massive risk at the time. No one at Blizzard was sure it would work. Passionate intensity from some developers who loved Everquest was behind it. Even when WoW came out, it was a massive cost to GROW in order to match the pace of the sales of the game. I think at one time, Blizzard had to stop sending out copies of WoW as they were trying to keep up to pace with the massive growth. It was a mess. However, it was a mess of dramatic growth which is the type of mess a company would prefer to have.

Now, let us try to look at it from Blizzard’s perspective. Shouldn’t a progressive server such as a Vanilla server be a slam dunk? Not exactly. This ex-dev in the interview has his own agenda to peddle as well. He’s an ex-dev, of course he is going to highlight what he worked on is the best and should always be out there.

First of all, WoW has a massive support staff. World of Warcraft is currently unified around one version of the game. When you have multiple versions of that same game, you have issues. Also, there has been many changes in the OS and hardware since Vanilla. Vanilla software was not designed to run on today’s hardware. The type of people who would go to a private WoW server are the more savvy type of consumer. But when you are a company offering this type of product, you will get the unsavvy types. There will be people who do not understand why Vanilla WoW is not 64 bit. Because of this, you are going to have more headaches and increase the cost of support. The support cost of Vanilla is likely going to be more expensive in a commercial setting today.

Another big issue is splitting up the brand. Instead of World of Warcraft, you have multiple World of Warcrafts. You end up with marketing issues. You’re not just marketing World of Warcraft, you are marketing a certain type of World of Warcraft (consumers will get confused there are multiple WoWs running around).

Blizzard is many things, but they are not fools. The changes to WoW have been many, but have they been ‘stupid’ decisions in light to them continuing to make money?

Let me tell you about a kid I just talked to. He is 19. I finally convinced him to ditch his consoles and go buy a big boy PC. He told me he wants to play WoW again. He grew up, as a child, playing Everquest. He began WoW in Cataclysm. He loves WoW. I inquired how he plays the game. “I mostly play the game solo, and I prefer it that way.” He does the starter quest area until he can queue for PvP. Then he goes back and forth queuing for PvP battlegrounds and dungeons. Does he go out in the world? “No, I hate that. With all those mobs that chain at you.”

Is this kid representative of everyone? No. But he is a living, breathing member of what I suspect is what Blizzard’s market research is telling them. Market research for video games is looking at the young pipleline of teenagers, not old farts in their thirties and forties who no longer have the time to play. Don’t like it? Well, you liked it when you were the bratty teenager thinking the SNES or Genesis were ‘so cool’ because of their ‘edginess’. Older adults who liked the sports games of the NES or the puzzle games like Tetris were turned off by the ‘extreme’ attitude of the 16 bit era. And let’s not even get into the Wii versus Xbox 360/PS3.

Here’s another question: Is Blizzard trying to distance itself or deny its older games? I think Blizzard is the hardest company to make for that argument. Unlike every other company, Blizzard still supports and sells older games such as Warcraft 3 and Starcraft 1 (online servers still running!). I suspect we have to thank Mike Morhaime for him being such a fan of Starcraft 1 for the servers still going. You can still buy Diablo 2. I wish we could still buy Warcraft 1, 2, and Diablo 1, but you get what you can. Blizzard also offers some of its SNES games for free on its website like Rock and Roll Racing and Blackthorne and Lost Vikings. The argument that Blizzard is trying to remove its past doesn’t pass the smell test.

There is also another, serious component to the Vanilla Server issue. Game developers are people with their own egos and morale. Seeing more excitement for Vanilla WoW than for Current WoW is a huge kick to the gut to these guys. They must feel awful. As such, constantly saying, “Vanilla WoW is teh best, modern WoW sucks!” is just going to make them defensive. It is better for everyone to place this in a more generational context.

There is a market of people who do want Vanilla WoW. These people will be older, more experienced gamers. The question is whether or not it is worthwhile to bother investing in these gamers anymore. Video game companies want to snag the YOUNG people, not the OLD. Young people have the energy and time to play the games, not old people. Young people are also easier to manipulate to buy the stupid DLC and mounts.

“But Malstrom,” says the hardcore Vanilla WoW player, “I don’t like getting old. I think game companies should make games for everyone, including older people.”

Then where were you when they were attacking the Wii? It’s all related. Nintendo tries to make games for all people which you hate they include older people. You hate Brain Age. You hate girl friendly games like Nintendogs and Animal Crossing.

Most of the Video Game Industry makes games for young male teenagers. When the young male teenager becomes an old male, suddenly the game industry becomes ‘frustrating’ because it no longer serves him. Yep, that’s right. They don’t give a shit about you, only the market you once were in.

“I think Blizzard should make games for all people including older fans.”

Currently, Blizzard mimics whatever the Xbox, and general console, direction is going. Is it a coincidence that WoW’s golden era (Vanilla 2004, Burning Crusade 2006, Wrath of Lich King 2008) was also the exact same time as the DS (2004) and Wii (2006)?

Above: They say we’re ‘too old’ to play video games, and that it is all for the younger people. “You cannot play the game any longer.”

Above: Our gameplay thinking is not obsolete!


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