Blizzard responds to fan outcry following takedown of popular private WoW server

News
April 26, 2016 by Kris Ligman

Almost three weeks after administrators of the fan-driven 'progressive vanilla' World of Warcraft server Nostalrius announced it would be shutting down following threat of legal action from Blizzard, a community manager speaks up.

On April 6th, Nostalrius -- a free, private World of Warcraft server aimed at meticulously recreating old versions of the game -- announced it had received legal notice from Blizzard and would be shutting down. Though Blizzard has gone after paid fan servers before (understandably, as that would be someone else profiting from its intellectual property), Nostalrius was notable for being both free and extremely popular.

Its closure prompted widespread calls for Blizzard to reconsider its position on "legacy servers," whether fan-produced or official, which run an older version of the game. Apart from being a service to veteran players, it also helps preserve the history of something that is, by its nature, ephemeral. Some games like Runescape actually run official legacy servers already, so making a request to Blizzard to do the same does not, from the outside, seem like an unreasonable position for a fan to take at all.

This morning, Blizzard community manager J. Allen Brack took to the official World of Warcraft forums to -- after 20 days of silence -- share the company's opinion on closing fan servers like Nostalrius and the difficulties of maintaining the kind of legacy servers fans have requested.

"Why not just let Nostalrius continue the way it was? The honest answer is, failure to protect against intellectual property infringement would damage Blizzard’s rights," Brack says in the post. "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."

The use of the term "pirate server" is notable here. While it's true Nostalrius players were accessing a version of World of Warcraft without paying a subscription fee to Blizzard, they were playing a version of the game that is otherwise inaccessible in any format. In an offline game, this would be akin to investing in some hardware and a used cartridge, and we don't (generally) consider that piracy. But take things online, where the legalities of consumer aftermarkets are a bit more fraught, and your "retrogamer" is now a "pirate." I'm not criticizing Brack's language here so much as I am interested in the particular emotional charge of the word he's using, and how that -- perhaps subconsciously -- influences how we think about what Nostalrius's administrators were doing.

Yes, Blizzard has the legal right to protect its intellectual property. But that was never in question here. It's not a matter of whether Blizzard could shut Nostalrius down, but whether it should, given the limited options people have to play old versions of World of Warcraft in any form, legal or not.

"We explored options for developing classic servers and none could be executed without great difficulty," Brack says, in directly addressing the issue of official legacy servers. "There are tremendous operational challenges to integrating classic servers, not to mention the ongoing support of multiple live versions for every aspect of WoW."

Brack goes on to add that the company has been in touch with Nostalrius's administrators, however, and while he steers clear of suggesting what these talks might amount to, it does give players hope that there is a compromise to be reached here -- or at the very least, lessons for Blizzard to take forward.

"They [Nostalrius's administrators] obviously care deeply about the game, and we look forward to more conversations with them in the coming weeks," says Brack.

The entire statement follows below.

To the WoW Community

We wanted to let you know that we’ve been closely following the Nostalrius discussion and we appreciate your constructive thoughts and suggestions.

Our silence on this subject definitely doesn’t reflect our level of engagement and passion around this topic. We hear you. Many of us across Blizzard and the WoW Dev team have been passionate players ever since classic WoW. In fact, I personally work at Blizzard because of my love for classic WoW.

We have been discussing classic servers for years - 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. Some of our current thoughts:

Why not just let Nostalrius continue the way it was? The honest answer is, failure to protect against intellectual property infringement would damage Blizzard’s rights. 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.

We explored options for developing classic servers and none could be executed without great difficulty. 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.

So what can we do to capture that nostalgia of when WoW first launched? Over the years we have talked about a “pristine realm”. In essence that would turn off all leveling 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.

One other note - we’ve recently been in contact with some of the folks who operated Nostalrius. They obviously care deeply about the game, and we look forward to more conversations with them in the coming weeks.

You, the Blizzard community, are the most dedicated, passionate players out there. We thank you for your constructive thoughts and suggestions. We are listening.

J. Allen Brack

Kris Ligman is the News Editor of ZAM, and will refrain from delivering another lecture on media preservation in the footer of an article, but seriously, it's important stuff. Twitter: @KrisLigman.