I've been thinking about this quite a bit lately (why not, not much going on with quarantine anyways). One of the problems I've been trying to address is how can we take what makes Classic great and port it over to retail. The first step of this, to me, was really breaking down what makes Classic…"classic". Now at the core, Retail and Classic are very similar games. There's a gear grind which you do dungeons, raids, or pvp. Now retail has more "paths" to that goal, so to speak. So like you've got mythic dungeons and arenas as the main difference.
To me, it's not so much the content that makes the two games different. Rather it is the structure around it. So below is a quick summarization of what I believe makes classic…classic.
Much much larger focus on the player economy. Crafting, professions, and the auction house is basically not something you can easily ignore in the game. You need these things to progress, make money, and basically do endgame. That's not to say that retail doesn't have any presence in this regard, But you can do a lot in that game without really paying attention to it.
Gearing takes much longer. Without personal loot, you have a large portion of people competing over a small set of drops. You can do raids for weeks, or even months, without seeing an upgrade ( I know cause this happened to me). There are some community driven ways to fix this (DKP), but experiences in those can be a hit or miss. Even then your time to upgrades may not be "small". Now what this does do is make it so when you get gear, it has a huge impact. It is a big deal. And everything around this process is a big deal. Preparation for the raid, signing up, organizing, etc. The other thing I've seen that is impacted by this is people develop a "connection" to gear more. Gear is more recognizable. More well known. They're not just some generically named stuff.
While there are other parts of classic that you can say are unique/add to them. I think the two above things are the major pillars that causes it to be different. You've got community interaction, class balance, and things like that. But that's something that is true for both games. While I think the above two things is something very unique to classic.
Now the issue arises when I started thinking how can we port this over. The first thing is identifying issues with this system.
Because professions/crafting are such a big part of the game, gold is a major part of the game. So is farming. Sadly, this is not everyone's cup of tea. In fact a pretty large portion of the playerbase in current retail WoW doesn't want to sit there killing the same mob group for hours. Or running circles around one zone looking for crafting nodes. This system also "takes a hit" when you introduce flying mounts. It does completely change how this gamestyle is approached. Some like it more, and some classic players very much dislike it. If they were to make crafting "required" in the next expansion, I can see some major issues with that system and forcing people to farm.
While gearing has a greater impact, it does produce some big cons. First, people are very prone to burn out. I have a lot of my people on my FL who burnt out of Classic. Simply because they played every week, for months and didn't get the gear they wanted. Eventually it gets tiring. And with a motherload of other MMORPGs, never mind Retail itself, on the shelf; it is easy to make the switch over to something else that feels more rewarding to them. The other major issue is raid logging. Because you farm something so much, you may be less tempted to go back and do it once you get your gear. There's a lot of people I know who raidlog. They log in to do raids and then go do something else. Funny enough, a ton of people actually go and play retail WoW in between Raids (at least in my social network). I can't blame them, aside from node farming it can be tiresome to play content without a purpose. To make Retail mimic this, I think it would alienate a ton of people. It would also take a significant rework of their current system. Which, from a business perspective, is super risky. You don't know if the system that comes out of it will be more popular.
So I think going forward, Blizzard's gonna be in a strange position. What I think they'll find is that the Classic trio doesn't really have many systems that they can just copy over. Vanilla being the most difficult. I think what their best bet, if they want to keep the classic only players, is to do a seasonal approach. They release Vanilla – wotlk; then they make changes to each expansion and do a "new season". Maybe offer some rewards in terms of cosmetics or titles to award those who play each season. Or just develop each game as its own game and release small content updates. Though those updates will probably be significantly spaced out as there is a big development overhead to do that (essentially updating 4 MMORPGs at once for Blizzard). It would have to be a voting driven system to make sure they follow what the community wants. Maybe a new zone with a new raid/attunement/etc. That should keep each respective game entertained for another 3-6 months.
Either way, by the time we reach wotlk its going to be very interesting to see if there are any new steps.
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