Blizzard shuts down fan-hosted server 'Nostalrius' running vanilla World of Warcraft

Nostalgia is a powerful motivator in the gaming community, especially now, with anything retro in vogue. But "retro" need not be synonymous with cartridges, pixel art, and Q-tips doused in rubbing alcohol. Nostalrius, a server started by fans interested in playing and preserving the original World of WarCraft, has been shut down by Blizzard's lawyers per a notice posted on the server's official forums.

"For over a year, you have been part of an extraordinary journey," begins the notice written by Nostalrius admin Daemon. "Yesterday, we received a letter of formal notice from US and french [sic] lawyers, acting on behalf of Blizzard Entertainment, preparing to stand trial against our hosting company OVH and ourselves in less than a week now. This means the de facto end of Nostalrius under its current form."

The team's preservation efforts won't go dark immediately. Blizzard's lawyers granted them one week to pull the plug; the server will go offline at 23:00 hours server time this Sunday, April 10.

"Nostalrius was all about the nostalgia and memories of the glorious vanilla days," the message concludes. "We don’t know if you truly felt like it was the glory days while playing here, but we hope that you will keep good memories of the time spent here. Once again, we can all be proud to have been part of the Nostalrius journey, no matter how much time was actually spent 'in-game.'"

Blizzard's reason for bringing an end to Nostalrius? The short reason: because it can. The longer reason: competition, or at least perceived competition.

Nostalrius ran World of WarCraft version 1.12, the last version of the game prior to the launch of Burning Crusade, the first of many expansions for the popular MMORPG. The server went live in 2015. At first, only 30 fans played. The number grew steadily, topping out at 800,000 fans total and approximately 150,000 active at any given time.

Since fans maintained the server, Blizzard didn't see a dime from players who preferred to stick to play on WoW's playground circa September 2006. Perhaps Blizzard's feeling a pinch. World of WarCraft has been shedding subscribers steadily for years; in late 2015, the company announced it would no longer share subscription numbers. WoW's executive producer, J. Allen, admitted to Polygon that the issue of subscriptions poses "a difficult problem" in terms of conflating total subscribers at any given time, with the MMO's health. "I wouldn't say that World of Warcraft is necessarily half as successful now as in previous times."

True... but why go after fan-operated servers like Nostalrius now? It's not as if the 800,000+ players who specifically sought out a vanilla experience are guaranteed to translate to current subscribers, which some of them probably are, anyway.

Unsurprisingly, Blizzard's decision hasn't engendered goodwill from the Nostalrius camp. "You stole our game to pander to the mainstream gamers and won't even make your own vanilla and TBC [The Burning Crusade] progression servers," wrote one angry player on r/NostalriusBegins. "You ruined this genre and continue to sh*t on your original audience."

Other players took the news differently; emotions ranged from sad, to thoughtful. "The only reason I can think why Blizz would spend a lot of money on lawyers in two seperate [sic] countries is that they've done a U turn on the legacy server idea," another Reddit user speculated.

He raises a good point. Oftentimes, publishers shut down fan-made projects if they're planning to capitalize on legacy material in some way, such as Capcom shutting down a fan remake of Resident Evil 2 in the wake of its announcement that an official reboot was on the way.

There may be hope for fans of vanilla WoW sooner rather than later. Daemon and the rest of Nostalrius's admin team announced that they would be releasing the source code "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."

Other Nostalrius faithful are taking a different tack. A petition has emerged on Change.org asking Blizzard to consider allowing volunteer-run servers to continue in some capacity—perhaps even sanctioned. "We don’t have the pretention to come up with a complete solution regarding legacy servers that you and your company didn't already think about, but we'd be glad and honored to share it with you if you're interested, still on a volunteer basis."

As of this writing, the petition has collected over 35,476 signatures in just 24 hours, and will be delivered to Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime.

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