Classic Servers

Classic servers are a peculiar thing.  They exist to bring back the past — a past that for many people, in many games, is often highly preferred over the existing state of the game.

Some of the more notable classic servers are EverQuest’s Project 1999, Star Wars Galaxies Emu, UO Second Age, and DAOC Uthgarde.  What they all have in common, unfortunately, is a third party operates them because the developers either ignore the idea or refuse to provide the service.

Let me first disclaim that I do not endorse the act of emulating servers when done illegaly, and I do not encourage piracy.  I have, however, tried them all and find them to be better versions than the real and official run/supported game becuase they exist for one reason: Giving players the opportunity to play once again when the games were at their best.

I wish developers would officially support vanilla/classic servers if enough players want them.  These servers require very little updating, and would bring more players back to play.  Many players wanting to play on classic servers are also fine with paying a subscription fee which means even more money for developers.

Classic servers seem like a win-win.  Developers get more money (that can be used to develop the game for the other customers) and more people talking about and playing their games, and the players get the games they want.   Heck, even games with a dieing population could be completely turned around by simply offering a classic server.  The pros outweigh the cons for many games out there.


  • Do that many people really want to perpetually experience a server state from the past?

    Or is it more a case that they want to re-experience that same feeling they had when progressing through TBC raid content for the first time?

    The former is available through the fan servers you described. The latter is now lost in nostalgia.

  • There are lots of problems with the idea though. The first and foremost is just lack of interest. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of people clamoring for it, but I think the number that would ACTUALLY find it fun enough to continually play on such a server is miniscule compared to the userbase as a whole. It’s a fun idea, but getting back into it after the nostalgia goggles wear off would be brutal. Generally speaking, changes get made for a reason. Some better, some worse, but when it comes to balance there generally isn’t any magic moment where everything is perfectly balanced in all aspects of the game. It’s an ideal to shoot for in balancing, but never reachable. For a classic server to exist, you sort of have to decide that you will NEVER change anything about it, otherwise it isn’t a classic server, it is erasing the changes you made and starting over. This also means no new content. You know how players get bored now when there isn’t new content CONSTANTLY being churned out? God help them coping with the idea that there will never be new content ever. Is there even any reason to play? You can get stronger, but there will never be any new challenges for you.

    Another issue is how do you define classic exactly? The server as it was a day before the expansion hit? That’s somewhat arbitrary. Let’s use WoW as an example since it is the easiest MMO to talk about. There were 11 major content patches before the first expansion was released (12, if you count Patch 2.0 which was still classic but also designed with TBC in mind). The game as it was during patch 1.1.0 was DRASTICALLY different than it was at 1.6.0 which was DRASTICALLY different than it was at 1.12.0 which was DRASTICALLY different than it was at 2.0.1. How do you choose which to freeze time at?

    There is no real easy way to do it. You obviously don’t want the game at release, which was devoid of high level content, glitchy, and quite unbalanced. Every major content patch fixed some issues and created a few more, but you can’t just argue that you want the fixes to things that were broken, that same reasoning leads you to, you know, wanting the current game with it’s YEARS of further work in making the game better.

    Who gets to decide when “the games were at their best”? If you go with 1.12.0, you have Naxxaramus as the final dungeon, but gosh the game had changed so much since then, and some raiders longed for the days of Ragnaros. Should we start a “classic classic” server too where raiding is capped at Molten Core, like was originally so? Or capped at Blackwing Lair? Ahn’Qiraj?

    What about battlegrounds? There are LOTS of pvpers that would argue that adding in BGs killed world PvP, what they want is to go back to when the game was at it’s best, before dishonorable kills and BGs. Do they get their own classic server too? Are they just out of luck because you don’t care about them as much as you care about PvErs? Are their needs more important than PvErs, meaning an earlier patch is chosen, and those PvErs that wanted any of the content introduced afterwards are the ones out of luck?

    The point I am trying to make is that there is a different best point for everyone, because it is completely subjective. You can make a classic server for EVERY SINGLE PATCH EVER RELEASED to please everyone, or you can say “I don’t care what you guys think, I’m only going to design for what I like” which is obviously a terrible way to make a game.

    Or you can do what devs do, and not make classic servers.

  • The thing is as games grow with time they do not always get better. Sometimes what people see as a problem or issue with the game is actually the glue that is holding the game together and supporting day to day game play. A good example is Warhammer Online as of the 1.4 patch cycle. The 1.4 patch was designed to address the issue of having the big organized guilds rolling around and murdering the unguided or unorganized players. At 1.3.6 it took several guild / alliance warbands working together to lock a zone and push to a city. After 1.4 and the campaign redesign though you did not need as much cooperation, you did not need as many people in the zone. There was no guild claiming, guild keep defenses, and as a result slowly but surely the cooperation and coordination between guilds disappeared. As the guild groups and warbands fizzled out the number of players active in the zones fell apart and they slowly decayed into the state they are in now. Players were providing the bulk of the content, and once the organized guilds lost interest, as they left and numbers dropped that content in turned disappeared creating a vicious circle of guilds not finding fights and growing inactive / leaving the game.

    Pre 1.4 was not perfect but the metagame and focus was different from the changes made in 1.3.6 It also lacked many of the issues that arouse from the increased renown caps and gear treadmills.

    If a pre 1.4 server was available a lot of people would be interested in it, because it offered something that few very games have up to this point.

    The same can be said of many other games. There are some cases when a particular patch cycle, or expansion radically changed the focus and game play of a game.

    But it’s really hard for a studio to go and say “you know what we botched it at 1.4” or “yeah that expansion was fudge on a boot” and go back and create classic servers. They dev’s spend a great deal of time, energy, and willpower designing and redesigning new features so when they are told the old system was better it can rub them the wrong way, and I kind of feel that the corporate mind set of “constant progress” is partly to blame. They would rather fix the current product to make it like the old one than to bring the old one back. Think of the new coke boondoggle.

  • I guess you missed that Mythic did support classic servers? That’s how I played DAOC without ToA. Unfortunately, according to Wikipedia, sometime after I left, they shut the Mythic sponsored classic servers down.

    So you had your developer sponsored classic server for DAOC and didn’t even know it?

    Classic (Closed) [6] – on which PvE regions, abilities, and items from the Trials of Atlantis expansion have been disabled. The character enhancement spell system has also been altered so the character receiving these spells must be grouped with and remain relatively close to the caster. Due to recent clustering with classic players and normal ruleset players, this server type has been since removed.

  • The closest thing to a classic server that I play on, and is official, is Al’Kabor, the EQ Mac server. Originally I made a hackintosh to play on it, but since then, there are ways to play on it right from a PC if you look hard enough. It is time locked in the PoP era. I prefer the Vanilla/Kunark/Velious eras of P1999, but being on an official server outweighs that for me.

    Also, it is a truly free to play server. While the rest of EQ has gone “F2P,” Al’Kabor has no microtransactions, cash shop, or anything else, and it sub free.

    “The first and foremost is just lack of interest. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of people clamoring for it, but I think the number that would ACTUALLY find it fun enough to continually play on such a server is miniscule compared to the userbase as a whole. It’s a fun idea, but getting back into it after the nostalgia goggles wear off would be brutal.”

    Well I played a little earlier this week… does that qualify as no nostalgia goggles? 🙂
    You would be amazed at how game design trumps population. When I log into Al’Kabor and there are a few hundred people online, there are fantastic conversations going on, and people are constantly helping others. Compare that with todays games, with thousands online per server… who click the group finder and do some easymode dungeon treadmill without even talking to their group.

    It’s not nostalgia.

  • @Bernard: Yes, there are enough people. There are 1000+ people playing Project 1999. I think that’s more than the real EQ servers. Nostalgia, or not, there are guilds, end-game raids, PvP, and serious players playing. And that’s a THIRD PARTY player-made server. Make it official, market it, and I guarantee the number of people playing goes up.

    @SineNomine: Classic is easy to define. Anyone who actually played DAOC knows when it was good and when it changed. Same for SWG. Same for EQ. There are clear cut lines — exact patches — that changed these games. That’s the EASY part. And yes, there is enough interest. Plenty, and in many cases more interested in a classic server than the real deal. It’s money on the table being left there by devs.

    @Steeldragoon: It took forever for Mythic to actually release classic servers. I am well aware of them, tried them in fact, but you said it yourself that they were closed. Know why? They didn’t support it as well as Uthgard.

    I agree with Jenks. It’s not nostalgia when some of these games were better in their ‘classic’ ‘vanilla’ days. Regardless, even if it’s nostalgia, enough people want to play and enough people would be willing to PAY that it’s money on the table.

  • Have you ever done a write up on your Star Wars Galaxies EMU experiences? I have been considering trying it out but I am still working on a backlog of games to finish before I attempt it.

  • I agree with Keen pretty much 100%. It’s an idea that should be tried.

    As to those of you that doubt the interest level — this is an empirical question. Few if any games have tried it, so we really don’t know what the level of interest would be.

    As to exactly what point to set the game at… well, that is a valid question. It is to a certain degree arbitrary. That said, a game could easily offer a variety of servers and then maintain the ones that draw the most interest over the long term.

  • @Keen, regarding SineNomine’s post, sure “everyone knows which patch broke it”. But try to get everyone to agree on a single (as in, one) patch that broke the game. I noticed you actually said (maybe by mistake), “clear cut lineS”. I don’t think it’d be good to make a classic server for each “bad” patch, splitting the classic server user base.

    Second, how do you keep enough users for the server to be viable without capturing their attention in some way? Keep in mind you can’t update over a certain patch – even if you can afford to implement certain patches, there’s a point when majority of people stop considering it a classic one – so what would you do when the novelty ends?

  • I agree – Classic servers could be very important. Games evolve over time and sometimes there is a patch that really changes the basic mode of the MMO. It isnt uncommon that because of this new patch…new people join the MMO…but inevitably some existing players will leave. Why not catch them all…put down some classic server to which players can transfer their characters and continue with the game?

    This goes much further in my opinion. Why stop at classic servers. I do believe that there a developer could get a lot of mileage out of providing servers with varying rule sets. Right now we have companies that refuse to do this because it is too cumbersome and it is too much work. However, eventually there will be a company that will do that work to distinguish themselves and I can see this as a nice opportunity for someone. MMOs have to fight hard these days for players…why not maximize the chances to get them…

    Players’ tastes continue to diverge too. How easily are we literally disgusted by some random feature x that totally ruins gameplay for us…often a feature that others love. It seems that a developer can piss off part of their customers pretty easily…I think if a MMO (where the basic game is fun) figures out how to provide many different type of rulesets they could do themselves a favor…and us too.

  • The “classic” games, or “classic” points in those early games all really have one thing in common. They were set up in such a way that the community itself becomes the game. When everyone needs to constantly work together those people don’t worry about new content or new gear upgrades. They fight the dragons and giants and other people because they know they have friends who will be fighting with them.

    WoW is the easiest MMO to talk about since it’s a good bet the person you are talking to has played it, but even vanilla or TBC raids haven’t set that feeling up. Instancing really detracts from that atmosphere too much. And being able to solo from 1 – max level makes it very hard for those communities to naturally form.

    Everyone thinks it’s those “classic” games or “classic” nostalgia we’re looking for to play, but really we’re looking to play as part of a strong community within a game. You can’t get that from trivial solo leveling, instance hopping, and battlegrounds. Those elements lead to gear score checks and dungeon queueing.

  • I don’t think the DAoC Classic servers were as much of a hit as they could have been, because it wasn’t a true classic server setup. Catacombs was still involved, which was in no way a “classic” expansion. It was basically a “no ToA expansion” server. The New Frontiers were still in, instanced grinding ala catacombs, and most of the same ToA gear bonuses were still able to be found through catacombs gear.

    Not really classic at all.

  • There are no cons for the MMO in question to have at least 1 classic server.
    Server costs are are only a very small portion of the overall costs it took to create and have the current game going.

    So lets see low cost and easy potential gain.
    Anyone would think why not. Thing is these once small studios have been bought by giants that are slow and stubborn. Not to mention blind…. If they do not see tens of millions of potential profit they pretend its not there.

    Why give people what they want for a modest profit if they believe they can get those same people to play their new Pay2Win and milk them dry.

    I remember in Diablo2 when the LOD expansion came out and people could just continue to play regular Diablo2 like nothing happened. Could not trade with those that played the expansion and there where separate ladders, so people did not compete with each other.

    Classic servers of a mmo.. yes pls.
    People where sceptic of pvp servers as well.
    And even more so about role playing servers.

    So why not.

  • I REALLY miss roleplay servers.

    The maturity level and camaraderie evident in the communities were astounding compared to the drivel of today’s internet gaming.

    So I guess I want not only classic, but classic roleplay servers? Oh man! I’m asking too much I know 🙁

  • @Rawblin – I wasn’t aware just how unclassic those servers were until they decided to also add on labyrinth. And even then, I didn’t realize it until just now when I read your post. So thank you for the well written distinction.

  • I would pretty much kill for a Final Fantasy XI classic server :/ I spent three years playing the game hardcore, then continued to go back at least once a year to play a bit more. That all stopped with the Abyssea expansion. Now when I think of going back I just remember that the Vana’diel I knew is dead. If I could go back to pre-Wings of the Goddess and start all over it would be amazing.