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

Over 800,000 fans prepare to move on after Blizzard flexes its legal muscle.

35

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.

Long Reads Editor
From The Chatty
    • reply
      April 7, 2016 2:48 PM

      I hope the people who ran that server go to prison for a really long time.

      • reply
        April 7, 2016 2:53 PM

        Really..? Come on dude.

      • reply
        April 7, 2016 2:58 PM

        Why? Vanilla WoW is long gone, you can't blame people for wanting to play WoW back when it required some thought.

      • reply
        April 7, 2016 2:58 PM

        Mike Morhaime?

      • reply
        April 7, 2016 3:08 PM

        You deserve a lol for that one you sweet man

      • reply
        April 7, 2016 3:39 PM

        Didn't you also say that anyone who downloads an out of print song should get hard time?

      • reply
        April 7, 2016 4:22 PM

        me too. i sincerely hope they get prosecuted to the full extent of the law and are forced to do hard time for the maximum sentence. in fact this would be a good opportunity to try and set a precedent and raise the penalties for videogame buggery to deter those who would trample over the rights of those citizens who rightly and legally pay for teh purpulz.

        • reply
          April 7, 2016 4:24 PM

          I'm envisioning a very different act for the crime of "videogame buggery" than what's happened here.

          • reply
            April 8, 2016 12:36 PM

            i was being sarcastic, im afraid maybe it didnt come across

      • reply
        April 7, 2016 4:31 PM

        Not sure if troll. It goes to show that there is still demand, and enjoyment found in WoW vanilla despite everybody always calling the nostalgia card.

        Hell even SOE gave the thumbs up to Project 1999. Blizzard has always been rather shitty when it comes to server emulation as far back as the late 90's early 2000's.

        For months now I've been trying to find a solid trinity MMO, and the things are just pretty much dead. Current iterations are FFXIV, Tera, and Wildstar. I was actually going to look at some of the WoW vanilla third party servers, but after Nostalrius shutting down I'm not so certain. Going to hunt down EQ titanium and check out Project 1999 instead. Good old tank, healer, dps & caster crack party builds.

      • reply
        April 7, 2016 9:11 PM

        oh you

    • reply
      April 7, 2016 3:14 PM

      A few people got on trade chat and went on a tirade about it yesterday. I'm not opposed to stuff like this, but I would imagine companies are legally obligated to stop stuff like this aren't they?

      • reply
        April 7, 2016 3:17 PM

        Myth #11: If I don’t defend my copyright I may lose it

        False. Copyright protection is effectively never lost, unless explicitly given away or the copyright has expired. However, if you do not actively defend your copyright, there may be broader unauthorized uses than you would like. It is a good idea to pursue enforcement actions as soon as you discover misuse of your copyright protected material.

        http://sites.lib.byu.edu/copyright/about-copyright/basics/

        • reply
          April 7, 2016 3:54 PM

          I doubt it was about copyright, probably more related to the fact that 800k former WoW players were on it. Hehe.

          • reply
            April 7, 2016 5:29 PM

            Really 800k? Wow that sounds nuts. I guess it's a considerable loss of potential revenue but how many people played just because it's free?

            • reply
              April 7, 2016 5:51 PM

              Which I want to say was only 10% of vanilla WoW's sub prior to BC.

          • reply
            April 7, 2016 5:45 PM

            No...they had 800k account sign ups but only about 150k active accounts (played in the last ten days). Highest concurrent players on both servers was ~18k. https://www.reddit.com/r/wow/comments/4droz4/we_are_nostalrius_a_world_of_warcraft_fanmade/d1tqz6t

            • reply
              April 7, 2016 6:13 PM

              Thats still pretty amazing feat engineering wise for a server emulator

              • reply
                April 7, 2016 6:15 PM

                For sure. I'm not here to knock it, only better understand the situation. 800k active accounts would be insane.

                • reply
                  April 7, 2016 6:22 PM

                  Regardless of the numbers, I think Blizz shut it down because people were actively moving to Nostalrius from the paid Blizzard service. If it was only about trademark they would be shutting down the multitudes of other private servers. This was just (by far) the most popular.

                  • reply
                    April 7, 2016 8:25 PM

                    I'm sure it cost them way more money to pay those lawyers than "lost" funds through people leaving WoW in it's current state, to play a bootleg version of what once was.

        • reply
          April 7, 2016 4:13 PM

          People conflate copyright with trademark. It's trademark that you must actively defend or you lose it.

        • reply
          April 7, 2016 4:26 PM

          I thought it was trademarks?

    • reply
      April 7, 2016 3:37 PM

      Kinda sucks. Blizzard has taken a hard-line against ever running their own legacy server, so this is the only option people really have to experience the old content as it was.

      I haven't played in years but I might roll a new character if they ever DO make an official legacy thing.

      • reply
        April 7, 2016 3:55 PM

        I would have to agree with them on not doing it.

        DAoC listened to customers on those things and spent time/money on implementing them (PvE server, classic server). All it did was further fracture the player base and lead more people to quit playing.

        • reply
          April 7, 2016 4:01 PM

          Maybe it needs more time, I don't know. I'd use Everquest as a counterpoint to that argument... EQ's new progression servers that have come around in the last few years have proven really popular. I tried one myself for a bit.

          I personally won't come back WoW unless they do a Legacy type thing.

        • reply
          April 7, 2016 4:24 PM

          one distinction to make is that WoW has over 23 billion human players at any given time, where as Daoc had only 4 people playing when they did the classic server thing.

        • reply
          April 7, 2016 5:37 PM

          Mythic killed themselves with trials of Atlantis bullshit...requiring 80 people with shitty connections to possibly maybe get some loot.

          • reply
            April 7, 2016 5:42 PM

            with loot that eventually wore out and couldn't be replaced.

            • reply
              April 7, 2016 5:44 PM

              I loved that game but they completely fucked it over...I was so pissed. Felt like a battered housewife when I quit that game.

              • reply
                April 7, 2016 5:48 PM

                I got overall bored with it after ToA. ToA itself didn't make me lose interest, just burnt out (solo'd level 49 > 50, third level 50 spirit master on Galahad).

                I went back to it for awhile about 10 years ago now. It was still really fun, but I got to the point where I could "solo" about half of the end game content by myself with my Cabby or Necro + buffbot. New Frontiers was still busted as hell (those fucking bridges), and I burned out again.

                Now I can't really give a fuck about MMO's in general.

    • reply
      April 7, 2016 4:11 PM

      Blizzard should have just provided an OAuth interface and told them that they had to have people auth against it to ensure they are paying a subscription.

      This would have been trivial for Blizzard to do, and would have engendered a decent amount of goodwill, and would have solved the primary problem Blizzard had with the server.

      But this is Blizzard's MO. They are highly respected because they make phenomenal games, but they are definitely not a good example of a modern customer-forward company. :(

      • reply
        April 7, 2016 4:36 PM

        The only example I can think of as a modern customer-forward game dev company is CDPR. Nobody else stands out.

      • reply
        April 7, 2016 4:45 PM

        That is actually the first reasonable solution for this kind of thing i have heard. Although Blizzard might be uncomfortable giving those guys the legitimacy without having any direct control, if i have to be a paying customer to log into nostalrius, then am I entitled to support for it? Then blizzard has to provide support for this, ugh, Actually forget it, sounds like a nightmare, they could just roll their own vanilla server with about as much hassle.

      • reply
        April 7, 2016 5:05 PM

        Hey, Diane made this. https://dev.battle.net/docs/read/oauth

        But I don't think it can check your subscriptions or account status. That would probably be a security nightmare if account information was put into an API.

        • reply
          April 7, 2016 5:06 PM

          Actually, I take that back, because I think that's how you log into Hearthstone on iOS and Android devices.

        • reply
          April 7, 2016 11:40 PM

          Hah, I actually looked at those docs a ways back! I want to write a Slack plugin that posts to my family slack whenever someone hops in to HOTS. Sadly, that info is not available in the API last I checked.

          • reply
            April 7, 2016 11:45 PM

            I'll pass that along to the guy who maintains the API now, who is also my guild leader.

            Diane and I did a Slack plugin that posts items in the WoW armory and has a loot list manager for suicide kings loot assignment. https://github.com/DianeOfTheMoon/slack-wowintegration

            • reply
              April 8, 2016 12:01 AM

              The thing that was missing back when I looked was anything to do with Friends - you couldn't query for friend list related stuff so that pretty much ruled out any sort of "post to slack when this user begins playing XXX"

              • reply
                April 8, 2016 12:10 AM

                It's pretty limited right now to game data and login. The API doesn't even have anything for HotS, Hearthstone or Overwatch yet. Even if you manually put in a list of Battle.net IDs to check, you'd probably have to check the last modified flag on all their characters to know if they were playing one of the games that does provide data right now.

      • reply
        April 7, 2016 6:00 PM

        I'd hardly call them customers, given that they're actively avoiding the version of the game with expansion packs and subscription fees to pay.

        • reply
          April 7, 2016 6:08 PM

          If you were validating them against the subscription database they would have to be customers. They're playing vanilla because they miss vanilla, not because they don't want to pay a sub.

          • reply
            April 7, 2016 6:35 PM

            I think that's as useless an assumption as when people count every downloaded copy of a game as a lost sale.

            Sure, a non-zero number of people would pay for it, but I seriously doubt most of them would.

            • reply
              April 7, 2016 7:02 PM

              If they just wanted to avoid paying a sub, why would they still be playing specifically vanilla instead of one of the later expansions which also have private servers?

              • reply
                April 7, 2016 8:31 PM

                Or any free MMO in general? These two versions are so different they may as well be different games.

              • reply
                April 7, 2016 8:44 PM

                Maybe they like that one better? When everything is free, all you're seeing is a preference, not a willingness to pay.

                • reply
                  April 8, 2016 11:39 AM

                  My whole point is that the reason they're playing there is because they like that one better.

      • reply
        April 7, 2016 8:28 PM

        I don't know how hard it would have been for them, but too true.

    • reply
      April 7, 2016 4:49 PM

      Besides the opportunity that these servers gives to players to experience the old days, they also allow people to step back in time to experience and see the gamedesign paradigms. WoW is like an archeological dignity, where new designs and and mechanics are built on top of older ones. Just think of Stormwind, which consisted of small zones and trickery so older pc's could handle the city. This changed in Cataclysm. But if Blizzard keeps closing these realms without offering an alternative, gamers and researchers will never be able to see the evolution of the game.

      I hope Blizzard has documented their decisions and changes thoroughly, so someone can look into the history of WoW and the mmorpg genre.

      • reply
        April 7, 2016 8:33 PM

        I know there used to be a guy who ran around the world and just gave tours and talked about lore if you felt like listening. I think something like this could work well in a caster format. Record yourself going around talking to and about all the NPCs, and just the world and design in general.

      • reply
        April 8, 2016 12:03 AM

        To me, this is the most tragic part, and why I suggested to OAuth thing above. I think it's sort of important for old versions of games to be available in some format, because there is so much potential lost culture there without it :(

        • reply
          April 8, 2016 2:12 AM

          Exactly. There's more and more interest among archeologists, historians and sociologists in videogames as a serious subject of research. I hope that we can convince companies that there's value in older versions and in game design decisions

    • reply
      April 7, 2016 5:06 PM

      Cool you are writing officially for the shack, good new content!

      As for these guys wish I knew about it sooner, would have checked it out, they better release whatever code they have fast into the wild before lawyers get to them

    • reply
      April 7, 2016 5:41 PM

      I still remember when those bastards shut down bnetd. >:|

    • reply
      April 7, 2016 6:09 PM

      This makes me want to fire up a private server again. It's an interesting thing but ultimately super empty feeling.

    • reply
      April 8, 2016 12:59 AM

      Cool, i would really love to run my own server for the old WOW friends. Is it easy or do i have to wait for the source code to be released (compiled, and repackaged as easy to install files for noobs like me).

      Besides, i never understood why the f*ck Blizzard didn't milk the old WOW players that wants to play vanilla...

    • reply
      April 9, 2016 12:01 PM

      i played on this server. this is sad