Fan-Run Vanilla WoW Server Gets Shut Down By Blizzard

This morning I’m reading about a fan-run vanilla World of Warcraft server being shut down after a legal notice issued by Blizzard’s lawyers.

It’s interesting to me because the subject involves keeping an older version of an otherwise changing game online and alive in some fashion and I have a background in heritage work/archiving. But first here’s what happened with WoW:

A small team of volunteers operated an international legacy server for the version of World of Warcraft which existed immediately after the game’s launch and ran until the first expansion, The Burning Crusade – it’s also referred to as “vanilla” WoW. Known as “Nostalrius“, the server has been running for about a year and apparently reached 800,000 registered accounts and 150,000 active players.

The idea, as per a forum post, was to provide “the adventure you always dreamed of, as it was just before the first expansion Burning Crusade, a golden age for most players”. The team also say “We passionately reproduced the original progression you created throughout patches and content releases. The mighty Ahn Qiraj raid was to be released next month.” – so a living version of vanilla WoW.

Here’s a trailer:

But on 6 April they posted an update to explain that Blizzard had issued a legal challenge:

“Yesterday, we received a letter of formal notice from US and French 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.”

There’s now a petition online asking Blizzard to reconsider the decision and to work out some kind of relationship whereby fans can continue to run these legacy servers. It’s not an angry petition, by the way. The phrasing is maybe slightly clunky but it’s actually written as this hopeful, nice thing:

Do you think that a policy change can be made regarding legacy servers based on volunteers work, for very old no longer supported game expansion?

Or do you think that legacy servers are doomed by definition since, in the end, it’s hurting Blizzard trademark & communication more than anything else?

We finally truly understand the difficulty to handle constant community evolution, requiring often more updates for a shorter period of interest in a MMORPG context.

Nevertheless, the time spent helping people in this kind of context will be part of our memories forever, every team member also certainly acquired a unique experience that will be valuable in its future life.

Unless anything changes as a result of the petition Nostalrius Begins PvP, Nostalrius Begins PvE and Nostalrius TBC and all related servers will be shut down at 23:00 server time on 10 April if not sooner. The Nostalrius team say they will release source code and anonymised player data to those who want it “so the community as a whole will decide the form of the future of Nostalrius”.

From a business perspective, I can imagine why Blizzard don’t want people playing a version of WoW that they haven’t sanctioned and which isn’t how they want their game to be played currently. It means ceding control and not enforcing their own copyright as well as having potential financial implications if people no longer feel the need to purchase expansions and so on. Instead of running legacy servers they ran some weekend events where players could revisit dungeons of the past:

As they said at the time: “When you Timewalk these dungeons, you’ll find that your character’s power and gear has been scaled down to a fraction of what they normally are. For the first time in years, some dungeons you outgrew long ago will once more put your skills to the test.”

So they’re not exactly ignoring that interest in older versions of the game, but nor is it a priority.

The question of how to archive or document older versions of these living games is something I think about every now and again. It came up when I was at FanFest last year because I was wondering if CCP had a kind of museum of EVE or some kind of archive for these older versions of the game, particularly as Andrew Groen was still in the process of writing his book, A History Of The Great Wars Of EVE Online, at the time and I wondered what resources there were for a task like that.

Executive producer Andie Nordgren explained that for EVE Online it works as follows:

“We do have a lot of data for the whole history of the game but most of the stuff that Andrew’s doing now for the history book – we don’t know these things. I don’t think we could have done what he’s doing because none of this we can see in the logs of the game. Of course we write stuff down and capture it in one way or another…”

It also came up when I spoke to Paola Antonelli, senior curator in the department of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art in New York about their acquisition of a number of video games. The piece was for the print edition of PC Gamer so I don’t have it online to link to but here’s the relevant paragraph:

A related curation problem in that often games are works in progress. Updates and patches are released, DLC materialises, items are added to in-game shops. MoMA aims to collect the game’s source code in the language in which it was written as well as updates and revisions. What it is also trying to do is capture the idea of games as living communities and systems. “When games are alive like Minecraft, Dwarf Fortress, EVE Online, what you truly acquire is the relationship with the developer and the community. It’s a live acquisition and you can never really crystallise it or freeze it cryogenically until it dies. You hope that’s never going to happen so you acquire the relationship.”

It’s an interesting way of looking at that problem, and a practical one when you are a museum and need to consider logistics, costs, storage regulations and so forth in a very particular way.

But legacy servers are another potential solution. They’re not perfect – there might be technological issues as games age out of current operating systems/hardware/software and then you need to choose whether to tweak the game or whether the players will need to find their own solutions. There’s also the question of whether you’re more interested in faithfully replicating an experience or replicating the spirit of the experience. And then there’s the fact that you’ll still never be able to replicate all of the external context framing the game.

I should add that this heritage/archiving side of Nostalrius is something I’m bringing to the table and not what the volunteer team were explicitly setting out to do with the server. I just find that side of things fascinating.


Empires Of EVE: A History Of The Great Wars Of EVE Online is on sale now – I’ve started reading it and it is really interesting

The petition against the shutting down of Nostalrius is here.

Current WoW is here.

And here are five of Eurogamer attempting to remember how to play an old dungeon as part of one of those Timewalking weekends:

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  1. Mansen says:

    Eh – What else is new. Private WoW servers have been around since before vanilla even released (Yes – Leaks happened). That one is shut down isn’t really news at this point, since it happens all of the time.

    • rocketman71 says:

      And Blizzard being dicks and sending C&D’s isn’t exactly new either. It’s par for the course since they sold their souls.

      • Mansen says:

        I wasn’t aware companies were “dicks” for protecting their livelihood.

        • FuriKuri says:

          Well, yeah, one glance at anything to do with copyright law establishes they are very much dicks when it comes to ‘protecting their livelihood’.

          Forever minus a day.

          link to

          You may have had more of an argument here if Blizzard were offering their own classic servers – but they aren’t.

        • satan says:

          Not sure what you mean, vanilla servers are missing 10 years of content/changes and having played on a few vanilla servers they’re generally populated by really dedicated fans who (if the server wasn’t vanilla) otherwise wouldn’t be playing WoW.

          Considering these servers are only blizz-like (if you’ve tried playing on one you’ll know there are all kinds of quality of life problems you just have to live with, e.g. pathing/ai quibbles/slingshotting/rollbacks/crashes… the experience is an imitation), as it isn’t physically possible to replicate the complete vanilla experience, Blizz legal going after these poor sods just seems incredibly petty.

          note: I’d completely understand Blizz going after WOTLK/cata/panda servers, again though, going after the people playing the most basic, cut-down version of an imitation of vanilla WoW, just sad and reeks of intimidation.

        • TillEulenspiegel says:

          I love the word “livelihood” here, as if a corporation with $892 million in profit last year is in serious danger of going bust if they don’t shut down these microscopic fan creations.

        • Chaoslord AJ says:

          Completely logical as those players playing vanilla don’t log on to the official server and buy Blizzard’s merchandise. This equals to a bunch of money. Besides rivaling there’s also a chance to water down the franchise and IP reasoning.
          As stated by ToS it’s also legally in their right to shut them down.
          It wasn’t meant to be in the first place merely tolerated and the operators knew that it could be over any minute as it was with the Minecrafters before they were legalized recently.

          Blizzard has to answer for a lot of things but this is cooperate business and they have mouth to feed too (while shareholders go first I know).

    • SaintAn says:

      Actually, this is the most popular server. Blizz has refused to make their own Vanilla server saying “We know you don’t actually want a Vanilla server” or something stupid like that, and saying that if people want to play Vanilla or BC they can just play on private servers. And finally the biggest reason why this is news worthy is because no laws were broken by the server devs or host, all the laws broken were client side since that’s where the art and everything comes from. The server code and everything is all reverse engineered and completely legal, so Blizz is just bullying them into shutting down.

      Plus private servers rarely ever get shut down. This is actually the first I’ve ever seen.

      So this all is why it is completely news worthy. And Blizz just got added to 100,000 peoples shitlist, so the boycott will hurt. I’m sure a lot of the 100,000 active players on Nos played retail WoW still, Hearthstone, HotS, and Blizzards other games, and now many of those people will be boycotting them. I actually subbed WoW while I play on private servers, but not anymore. I’ll be playing my private servers without giving Blizz any money for anything now. Not touching another Blizz game and I’ll make sure I convince others out of playing their games too. That’s what happens when a corporation abuses and bullies people just because those people don’t have the resources to fight back.

      • bv728 says:

        Private servers get shut down regularly. I mean, this isn’t even the first time Blizz has shut down private WoW servers – they hit a private server operator in 2010 for an $88m judgement. NCSoft has shut down private Lineage and Lineage 2 servers (now that L1 is out of service in NA, they seem to have stopped going after NA facing L1 servers. To kill the L2 servers, they bought in the FBI at one point). Verant went after private EQ servers back in the day, and Sony still does.

        I have a theory as to what really brings you into the spotlight – once Blizz starts getting CS Support tickets for your private server, they move. You’ve gone from taking a small number of primarily non-customers, and made them a financial cost.

  2. Chris Cunningham says:

    I’ve always played WoW solo, and even I miss the way vanilla felt so much more like a world – so much of the game forced you to collaborate, whether it be to poll your strength against the elite mobs that were everywhere or just so that someone else could pick the mushrooms you needed for some random quest. What each region might have lacked in specific story depth was made up for by it being full of people doing things, testing things, barking for help with things.

    I understand why Blizzard changed non-endgame to be so much more of a linear, story-driven* experience, but it killed that experience off, especially when the experience ramping that accompanied said changes in the later expansions meant that players levelled far more quickly than would actually encourage them to explore more than the bare minimum path through the various zones.

    But yeah. Any hopes that Blizzard’s approach to shutting down things with negligible ongoing detriment to their IP would have changed after divesting themselves of their parent company seem to have been premature.

    * For the Horde, obviously. There’s a series of books that one can purchase if Alliance players wish to know what was supposed to be happening to the world behind their quests.

    • makute says:

      “I miss the way vanilla felt so much more like a world”

      Me too. I left WoW ages ago due to RL and such, but I really miss the old WoW. The feeling of discovery at every turn, the friends made in PUGs, and the calm pace of advancement.

      Had I knew about this server before, I could have had a try. I sincerelly wish to the admin team the best of lucks.

      • hp7015ca says:

        If you still want to try there are other really good private servers faithful to the original such as:

        link to

        Personally i’m hoping that Blizzard sees the light and allows access to fan recreated content as long as they have an active subscription or something similar, but I guess there’s too many problems with the fine details and it won’t happen.

    • Premium User Badge

      Qazinsky says:

      That feeling of starting a troll shaman in Valley of Trials like I did so many years ago is what I miss the most. I did some variation of that several times during the years, but it’s not possible anymore. The whole area has been streamlined and the quests chained in a specific order, it’s but a pale shadow of the original experience of uncertainty and possability.

  3. Jeroen D Stout says:

    For me one of the great shames of Team Fortress is that I cannot play it now because the stuff in it is just annoying. I want to play vanilla but that is surprisingly hard to do. It makes me quite weary of playing online games because they can change out from under you.

    Actually even offline it happens; Half Life 2 was updated to change the dune buggy physics (making the chapter less interesting) and it is impossible to play the ‘vanilla’ version legally.

    • dontnormally says:

      Totally agree. I *loved* TF2 but can’t stand it at all now. It’s a mess.

    • Premium User Badge

      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      If you have a PS3/360 you can track down a copy of the Orange Box. The TF2 in that is as barebones as you can get and there are people who still play it for that reason.

  4. malkav11 says:

    The appeal of servers like this simply isn’t possible for the main game to replicate. (Short of running their own “legacy” server, I suppose.) It’s not about seeing the dungeons at level (which Timewalking undoubtedly fails to accurately replicate anyway). It’s about the whole feel of the game having changed in the meantime.

    Personally I think WoW’s never been better and people who want to go back to 2004 era WoW are completely mental, but that’s me.

  5. Mr Ogs says:

    I hadn’t heard about this but would love to replay Vanilla, it was such a good experience.

  6. Thankmar says:

    The archiving/ exhibiting thoughts are very interesting. I love it that there is the internet archive with some hundred arcade games, but do I play them? Does anyone?

    I’ve got to look up the exhibit in the MoMA (online), because its so difficult to exhibit gaming. I’ve seen two exhibitions: one decided to to show console hardware mostly, the other one boiled down to videos with commentary. How to exhibit something that you have to be involved in for quite some time, an experience? Are soccer museums a thing? Or theme park ride museums? Or is it the rapid change that makes everyone so keen to exhibit games in museums, to conserve the steps of their incredible fast evolution? Or is this a reaction of a certain academic group to a phenomenon which they didn’t/couldn’t see the impact it would have?

    • timzania says:

      Well, there is a group around Dallas that sometimes puts on old-timey-baseball exhibition matches. Baseball sure has changed a lot over 100+ years.

    • Geewhizbatman says:

      I would wager it is because of the amount of multi-media art that continually nudges its way into both art and museum collections these days. As a pure art object, mixing sound-human psychology- and graphics make them a compelling thing to include for the modern museum patron. Most Science museums at this point have become video game museums, with science facts thrown in, these days. So, I don’t think it is some out of the blue decision, just a reaction to the world we currently live in.

      They are clearly struggling with how to give the history in an appealing way though. I think the initial draw for a museum is “parents won’t have to force their kids here if we put up a vidjah game section” but forget that falls short when it is still a bunch of musty equipment people neither want to, nor are permitted to, touch. Games or video-game style art/interaction needs to be tailored for a museum setting. It is natural they would want to create an exhibit about this thing that museums have been exhibiting in some form but haven’t actually talked about. Then it is just the endless struggle of how to get the point across. Games are like trying to do medieval history. You could just show all the tools, pictures, and history and let people think about it–Or you could try and create the world itself and risk being hokey. Video games in a museum are challenging because you either make it a Disney ride (Welcome to the magic of the imagination children! Yes please, touch everything. But only here, remember that anywhere else makes you a monster. Play this machine while someone glares at the back of your head for hogging. What fun, what wonder) or a dry dissertation on hunks of plastic and the things people once did with them.

      Oh and ya, a legacy version of one particular popular mmo being stomped on like a little daisy in a field is sad but I can’t get behind outrage. Things end sometimes. I think those that want to boycott should, but it is still Blizzard’s product and they can be as terrible with it as they like.

  7. Dudeness says:

    Archiving ole games and analog gaming systems is relevant! For now, it’s more museum and university stuff, but I still think history is always interesting and important.
    Keep up your curating work!

  8. adwool says:

    great video

  9. frenz0rz says:

    I started playing on Nostalrius just over a couple of months ago, having not touched WoW since around 2007. It was honestly the best experience I’ve had with an MMO since that time.

    Nostalrius emulated not only the world and progression of classic WoW; it had somehow managed to reforge the spirit and community of those frontier days. Normally these nostalgic forays into old games on GoG and such end in bitter disappointment for me. Genres evolve, games surpass each other, UIs and mechanics age poorly.

    But everything here was, incredibly, precisely as I remembered. And I don’t consider that hyperbole; from an Orgrimmar teeming with people yelling “LFM WC need tank!” to the timeless “where is Mankirk’s wife?” of Barrens chat, here was a world I remembered and loved, with a large, friendly, welcoming community, and a chance to experience the highlight of my gaming youth all over again.

    It pains me that I discovered it so late, and that’s it’s now gone forever. Again. And what’s more – what frustrates the most of all – is that Blizzard STILL refuse to accept there is a demand for Official Classic WoW servers. If they existed, I’d subscribe without hesitation.

    • Harvey says:

      Ya know, I think part of the reason Blizzard won’t ever put up their own classic servers of WoW is that there’s quite a difference between what we currently put up with on free private servers and what we would on a paid official one. How would they balance an economy made stagnant? How would they stop players with the best gear from dominating new players in BGs? How do they keep players interested and paying? without splintering their current subscriber base?

      While there are ways to solve these and other problems, is it really worth it to them? It would cost money to do it right, and could end up blowing up in their faces if they failed. I can totally see why they haven’t tried.

      • derbefrier says:

        yeah and just because people are willing to play on a free private server doesnt mean all of those people would pay 15 bucks a month to play the same game on an official server. I mean i might mess around if it was free but i certainty wouldn’t pay a sub for what is basically a 10 year old MMO and i think most people would probably feel the same or maybe play month or two until the nostalgia wore off then move on to more recent games. Also if people are spending money on it that comes with expectations of updates, bug fixes etc…basically a live MMO. it becomes its own separate game from the current WoW. which most definitely would not cost “basically nothing”

    • caerphoto says:

      it had somehow managed to reforge the spirit and community of those frontier days.

      I don’t find this particularly surprising. You have to go out of your way to use one of these servers, and you know full well what you’re getting into, and the kinds of people who do that are doing so precisely because they want the spirit and community of those frontier days.

  10. Harvey says:

    I was a player of retail WoW from beta until I bounced off of Mists of Pandaria. When I discovered a few years ago that vanilla servers were a thing I jumped in.

    The community is different in interesting ways. The hardest core players are generally friendly and generous, because they already have everything the server can offer and are eager to have more players give the server life. The Auction House is generally worthless (despite being made all-faction) due to the server’s small size.

    Since accounts are free, there’s a lot more dual-boxing (though botting is still a bannable offense.

    It’s hard to maintain a large player base since people will get on to level a toon, maybe max a character, then realize there’s no more loot incoming and quit to try a new expansion,

    Not to mention Blizzard’s style of litigation seems to be “Just take out the biggest guy”.

    Every time any server gets big enough to really feel alive They’ll come in and shut it down, for what amounts to a long enough time that when it returns the population won’t.

    I rambled a bit there didn’t I? I guess the important bit is that it’s still quite fun despite those things, a huge nostalgia rush. Absolutely go find one if you’re interested, there are tons of good options to try with a bit of research on your part.

  11. RegisteredUser says:

    At 150k active players that’s over a million per month missed revenue if they were to play the “real” WoW instead, no?
    I think we need to look no further in terms of why Blizzard is coming down hard on the free competition.

    • Palindrome says:

      One of them was me. I haven’t been a WoW subscriber for about 8 years and I certainly won’t become one now.

    • misfit says:

      No, that’s the point. These people aren’t going to play “real” WoW because they don’t like it. Therefore, Blizzard aren’t losing any money at all to these servers.

      Just because this server has been shutdown does not now mean that the player base are going to go and subscribe to a game that they clearly don’t like anymore.

      If Blizzard were the least bit concerned with falling WoW revenues then they would be working hard to recapture the lost player base by, not just churn out another glossy expansion pack that will provide a temporary boost to the coffers.

  12. lordfrikk says:

    I played back during vanilla and loved it. Had a real craving to try it again after all these years and the only thing I found out that vanilla is by current standards quite terrible – is this how we used to live?

    • caerphoto says:


      I suspect there’s a great deal of rose-tinted glasses going on around vanilla WoW, and that what most people actually miss is their life 10 years ago – their friends, their youth, their experiences (in and out of game) at the time, and not the game per se.

  13. trjp says:

    The reasons Blizzard don’t offer this experience are reasonably obvious

    1 – maintaining 2 codebases is WAY more than twice the work of maintaining 1
    2 – they have a vision for their game and they’d like the players to come along with them

    The problem with the idea of ‘it costs nothing to offer a Vanilla experience’ is that it’s not even remotely true. If they offered vanilla people would want just BC or just WoTLK or just pre-somethingorother thisorthat and it would go on and on and on and it’s not tenable in the slightest.

    As for allowing third-parties to continue – trademark law requires they defend themselves or risk losing their trademarks and failing to challenge someone replicating their work risks them losing future cases on the basis they’ve allowed such things in the past.

    Lastly – and on a personal note – Vanilla WoW was WAY too grindy and hard. BC was WAY better, a massive improvement in every possible way ;0

    • Abacus says:

      “As for allowing third-parties to continue – trademark law requires they defend themselves or risk losing their trademarks and failing to challenge someone replicating their work risks them losing future cases on the basis they’ve allowed such things in the past.”

      I don’t think that’s really the case here. In fact I think a lot of the people who say Blizzard are completely justified in doing this misunderstand the situation.

      Nostalrius was never infringing trademark. At most, they MAY have breached World of Warcraft’s Terms of Service, but there is no way to prove that they ever agreed to those Terms of Service in the first place. Of course, ever person who played Nostalrius broke the TOS, but Blizzard would never take every Nostalrius player to court over TOS because TOS themselves aren’t bulletproof in court.

      Nostalrius and other private servers run on reverse-engineered server structures- not those of Blizzard. All they were doing was running a server of a game that Blizzard FREELY distributed many years ago. In fact WoW is still free, each time you download a free trial you are basically installing the entire game on to your system.

      Nostalrius wasn’t distributing anything. In fact I have used that version of WoW (1.12 I believe) when playing other vanilla private servers. You simply connect to a different server. This was completely not-for-profit, and if it wasn’t for the fact that the Nostalrius staff are just passionate hobbyists who can’t afford to lawyer up against Blizzard’s corporate onslaught, Blizzard would have a very difficult case against Nostalrius. It’s all very grey.

      • Hedgeclipper says:

        The whole have to defend the trademark thing is a red herring anyway. Want to protect your TM and still let a fan server run: “Here’s a contract allowing you to licence our IP for $1/month.”

        • trjp says:

          If they did that, there’s be a queue 2 miles long of people wanting such licences – many of whom would be making proper money from their work…

          This is why you can’t have nice things…

          • Hedgeclipper says:

            *shrug* “…for non-commercial use” Not that that have to make an offer to anyone they don’t want to in the first place.

      • trjp says:

        It isn’t grey, creating software which replicates the actions of a game server has been proven in court to infringe the law (Blizzard themselves having taken such cases to court!?)

        I mentioned trademarks because it’s perhaps easier just to say “You’re offering a World of Warcraft service and that’s our trademark” (anyone using it will be looking at Blizzard’s work) – I don’t think the ToS applies to the server people but it definately DOES apply to players of the software – aside the fact that ToS/Licence Agreements ARE a legal grey area.

        Bottom line tho, they weren’t going to leave it – they have history of going-after people – not even sure why people thought anything else would occur?

  14. alsoran says:

    I try to avoid online games because of their here today gone tomorrow nature. I know there are exceptions and I may be missing some fun but I hate the idea of wanting to play something and finding I can’t because its past its supposed sell by date.
    If online games could be continued to be run as they were with Nostalrius, I would have thought that the Developer/ publisher or whoever would gain a fair amount of kudos for not only creating worlds but allowing them to retire gracefully. What is wrong with fan support of old games? You have fans! Who incidentally loved what was created and can contribute to what is created now. That has to be worth something I would hope. My example being that MODs add a great deal of value to a brand or product, look at how much Fallout 4 is influenced by Skyrim MODs.
    As an aside (I don’t expect it to be workable) I wondered whether someone like GoG could be allowed to created a place for these games. Actually I think fans are better custodians on reflection.

  15. Shadow says:

    It’s simple: WoW is entering its terminal phase, and Blizzard will want to squeeze the most revenue out of the current playerbase, now more than ever. And that means shutting down servers which allow people to play for free, hoping they’ll be drawn to the official realms. This was apparently the most popular private place, so it makes sense.

  16. Chillicothe says:

    When the Stoppable Force meets the Movable Object…

  17. dr.denton says:

    Ah, pre 2.x WoW! When my shaman had exactly one (1) attack on a three-quarter-minute cooldown. That was … fun.

  18. caerphoto says:

    Today’s Dinosaur Comics is relevant:

    link to

  19. gvdexile9 says:

    money grubs