After their lawyers recently shut down the fan-run World of Warcraft [official site] server Nostalrius, Blizzard have piped up with some thoughts thoughts on vintage WoW and unofficial servers. In short, don't hold your breath for Blizzard to run their own vintage version of WoW. However, they have considered a 'pristine realm' which would remove levelling acceleration to get closer to the old way of taking a character up through Azeroth. It's only a thought, mind. Though they are at least in conversation with the Nostalrius folks now.
Nostalrius ran vintage versions of WoW, going back to the days before expansions and even rolling out new raids and whatnot over time, like Blizzard did the first time around. They were recreating and repeating WoW from a decade ago. The game has changed a whole lot since then, and Blizzard offer no official way to see what it once was. They do have a throwback events, but they're still taking place in what WoW is now.
Why would Blizzard ruin this fun? It's pretty obvious. WoW's executive producer J. Allen Brack explained in a forum post yesterday:
"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."
Which, yep, clearly was what was going on. But how about running their own vintage servers? Brack explains it's mighty unlikely:
"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."
Which is trickier. Clearly it is possible to run a vintage WoW server - look at Nostalrius and all the other unofficial servers - but it'll be less easy to do it in a way tied into Blizzard's modern infrastructure. More work than they feel is worth it, evidently. However, Blizzard have tossed around an idea for something that's... slightly closer to old WoW. Brack sez:
"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."
That's quite far from vintage, vanilla WoW, but the experience might be welcome. All the levelling boosts and cross-realm doodads can ruin the fun of moving through the world of World of Warcraft bit by bit, slowly becoming more powerful and seeing questlines through to the end. Last time I played WoW, levelling was so accelerated that I was overpowered for the big conclusion to zones and their questlines, and would skip them because they became boring. But, like Blizzard, I'm not sure how much demand there would be for it - many people want something more.
So maybe it's encouraging that Brack says "we've recently been in contact with some of the folks who operated Nostalrius." Assuming that's not to deliver threats to bring the full force of the law upon their heads and take their homes, the shirts from their backs, the shoes from their feet, and the food out their babies' mouths, that might be encouraging? "They obviously care deeply about the game, and we look forward to more conversations with them in the coming weeks," he adds.
I wouldn't get my hopes up for official or authorised vintage WoW servers, but Blizzard speaking about the issue publicly like this is perhaps an encouraging sign.
"We are excited to discuss further with [Blizzard] about WoW legacy servers!" the Nostalrius folks said on Twitter.