One thing that I think is a make or break for World of Warcraft Classic is going to be the community.
Something I think that is often talked about in a one-way fashion is that the modern WoW community is kind of…not great. I don’t mean to say bad or toxic (although I will discuss that point in the future in more detail), but it is largely the case that the WoW playerbase is sort of fragmented.
For example, my own play is heavily curated, as I would put it. I don’t do PUG raids, I don’t do LFR, once I’ve leveled a character and experienced the content, I don’t queue for or PUG dungeons, I do World Quests solo, I raid with my guild only, and I almost never talk in chat. I hit trade trolls with either an ignore or a report, depending on how awful the thing that led me to think “I don’t want to read this anymore” was, and I generally build most community friendships through my guild or through outside endeavors (like this blog or Blizzcon groups). Maybe this makes me a miserly jerk, and if so, I don’t particularly care. It makes my time in WoW enjoyable and minimizes potential conflicts, which eases my mind.
In FFXIV, I do more dungeon queuing, but generally because the community is friendlier in random settings. Roulettes often have hellos exchanged and a polite “tyfp” or “GG” at the end, and there tends to be less general chatter in the world. The party finder in-game has better settings for finding groups for EX Trials or Savage raids – you can designate a group as learning, and that generally helps temper expectations in the event of a few wipes. I’ve only really used it to try Titania EX for the first time, but the number of learning groups I saw was actually really nice!
That brings me back to WoW Classic, though. What I meant when I said that community is often talked about in a one-way fashion is this: discussions comparing Classic to modern only really talk about how modern currently is, and tend to take it as a given that because Classic depends on community, Classic will automatically be better.
Vanilla WoW did have a good sense of community, with a lot of players who would interact with each other positively and negative behavior would often make finding groups more difficult. The game used server community in this way quite often, and in the time before Raider.IO scores and Gearscore, a simple check of the official forums for a given player’s name was all we really had. If they had ninjalooted an item, trolled, or made an experience awful for a group, that was all you really needed to know.
WoW Classic has the general outline of this, in that there is no LFG tool, group formation is a naturally slow process among server-mates via chat, and the process is manual. However, something that I think will bear on this heavier is the current environment and the out-of-game advances that have been made since.
First, we can’t avoid talking about the streamers. Streamers have their own flavor, and while a lot of streamers are often good about cultivating the community they want, not all of them are. For every friendly community of a couple hundred viewers you have Asmongold’s toxic runoff, or streamers that name-search criticisms of them in Discord servers and hassle the people who made them, like Esfand. Nearly all of the (in my opinion) worst streamers are gravitating to WoW Classic, and nearly all of them on the North American servers to Faerlina. If you are on that server to just play, I’m sorry for what you’re going to have to go through. The problems with streamers aren’t just the personalities themselves – I wouldn’t say running into Asmongold himself in the wild is a net-negative event, if it happens on its own.
What is going to be bad, and is the biggest negative to playing Classic at this point in time in my view, is that the servers with these streamers are going to be packed to the gills with the awful communities that tend to spring up around them. In vanilla, such a thing didn’t really exist and so it was easy to avoid the worst by throwing up a forum post and calmly detailing what happened. In the current environment, the toxic community will band together around one-another to defend their own, and the likely social fallout isn’t going to be that big. Sure, if their “buddies” aren’t online, they might not be able to find a dungeon group, but not everyone is going to check the forums, and they are less likely to find any meaningful fallout for being dicks. Without trying to invite the sludge I’m about to reference, it is quite telling that in a recent, relatively tame comment, YouTuber and streamer Taliesin called Asmongold’s community toxic (which, I think, is accurate) and the response after Asmongold watched that on his stream was for Asmongold’s fans to…make death threats, send awful tweets, and then to attempt to gaslight other people about how the negative response had to have been sockpuppets or fake.
In 2019, this kind of thing isn’t much of a surprise (sadly), but it is worth noting that if you are on servers with streamers, it is something you’ll have to deal with. These communities are tribes, banded together in their mutual awfulness, and that means they’ll have stable places that will shield them from being called out by ensuring they are still invited to groups, still able to play without paying for their douchery, and any reports of misbehavior will be misdirected and gaslit around. Of course, in modern times we can share proof much more readily as well – captured video or high quality screenshots of chat logs are far more common than they were, and Blizzard’s team is at least slightly more likely to act on reports.
Having said that, I think that is a problem that is largely localized, and the worst examples of streamers with absolute garbage communities are all sequestered on Faerlina, so if you’ve reserved on a different server, great news – you might already be clear! However, I wouldn’t doubt that the kind of curation I mentioned I do in the modern game will exist on every server, and can just as easily be used to allow misbehaving players to learn nothing from their transgressions as it can be to protect players from those who don’t make an effort to be a part of the group fabric.
The nature of Classic does help with this, to be clear – there is still going to be some “name value” on your behavior in groups, and I do think that the worst examples of bad-faith actors will have harder times finding groups and will still get reputations tied to their names. However, I do think that the cultural environment of 2019 is also going to mean that bad-faith actors will more readily find places to land after being douches in groups, and they’ll find ready defenders in those groups.
The thing I like about modern WoW in this regard is that if I have a bad experience with a player, it is only ever the one time – I can ignore or report them and that means they’ll never appear in a group I’m matchmade into again. I don’t have to see them in capitals on my server, or deal with them at all past the initial run. While this also means I’m far less likely to see the good players again too, I can at least Battletag add players I like, and overall, I think that system functions better for me. I did fine under the vanilla systems, but I think it also means that the bar is going to be higher for players in anxiety-riddled roles, like healing or tanking.
The other movement I want to talk about in relation to this topic is one of the nature of a Classic release. Vanilla WoW’s community was fairly good in my opinion in part because, as I’ve talked about from a gameplay perspective, none of us knew much about what we were doing. Sure, there were MMO players from other games that were harder – EverQuest, Asheron’s Call, or Dark Age Of Camelot players probably had a vastly different outlook on WoW compared to someone like me, whose first MMO was WoW – but overall the community was still fresh and it was common for players at all levels to make mistakes. The pacing of the game was slower, because everyone was sort of fumbling around to make things work.
Classic will be 15 years old this November. Not only is the game not new, but the template of gameplay from WoW 1.0 became the full genre template for nearly a decade afterwards, with nearly every MMO released in that window purporting to be a “WoW-Killer” and using the same gameplay mechanics, many of which were borrowed from EQ and other games that came before. The difference is that the MMO veterans of that time numbered under a million between all the various MMOs with similar gameplay to what WoW adopted, where at this point in time, just looking at WoW, 14 million plus have played it and are familiar with the experience.
What does that mean for Classic? Well, I expect that there will be people wanting to rush through dungeons like they do on live, despite expectation setting that the opposite should be done. People will expect tanks to know their way through the dungeon without hesitation, which will decrease the pool of new tanks willing to run in dungeons as the anxiety of that level of responsibility will undoubtedly push some out. I expect that learning on the job will be frowned upon by some in the community, since the expectation is that the game is old and people playing it should know better – “read a guide” and the like will likely be thrown out at newer players or those unfamiliar with certain dungeons and mechanics. With those, I think a part of what made vanilla WoW special for so many will fade. The thing I remember is that vanilla WoW was a patient, almost kind endeavor – I rarely felt pressured, rushed, or otherwise like I needed to play differently just to appease a group. No one asked me about min-maxing, or if a piece of gear was truly my BiS. I was free to play how I wanted, so long as I gave my best effort. To a modern audience, many of whom are critical of a tank if they don’t pull enough trash for them to AOE at maximum efficiency and are more willing in general to be vocally critical over minor play issues, the expectation is that things always go smoothly and quickly.
That is the other side of the Pandora’s Box conundrum I feel with WoW Classic, and what I think of equally with the conditions of an individual’s environment at the time they played vanilla being something that cannot be recreated. WoW Classic is not going to teleport me back to my first apartment fresh after moving out of my parent’s home, working full time with minimal responsibilities, just about to have my first girlfriend. Similarly, WoW Classic is not going to be able to suppress the 15 years of learning in the MMO genre from the original release of WoW through to today. We all know too much about the genre and how it works, Wowhead already has a BiS guide for many specs (Do you want to farm specific random-drop greens? Because they’re on the lists!), there are dungeon guides already up in written format and doubtless videos to follow once the game is live, raid guides are likely already up, Method is going to stream the whole process of 1-60 and into Molten Core, and the game no longer has this aura of mystery around it.
I do think WoW Classic is going to be a runaway success when it launches in 4 hours. I think a lot of people are going to spend a lot of time playing the absolute crap out of it. I certainly hope it succeeds, not so much because I love vanilla, but because I want Blizzard to wind their way towards a Wrath of the Lich King classic server.
However, I do think that in the desire to relive the golden years, players have a lot of blinders to the problems inherent with Classic, not just in the gameplay terms that have been beaten like a dead horse, but in the social environment that will exist around the game. There is a lot of, in my opinion, unwarranted optimism that the community in Classic will be “better” by whatever means you define that for yourself. I do think that this blinder is the one that is going to be game-breaking for some. Just having an environment that once shunned douchebags isn’t enough to make a pristine play experience, and I think the cultural environment the game will find itself in coupled with the popularity it will have means that a lot of douchebags are going to find their way in and ruin the experience for some.
That’s why I’ll do what I do in the modern game – heavily curate my play experience so that I don’t have to suffer any maladjusted players creating awful social dynamics.