Despite the runaway success of World of Warcraft Classic, Blizzard Entertainment is finding out that nostalgia can be an uneven foundation. Classic takes WoW back to its launch era, reproducing the original game on top of Blizzard's current server and engine technology. Engineers ran Classic alongside the original code to make sure that "every blade of grass is exactly like it was". For Classic, Blizzard is trapped, with one foot on each side of huge chasm: attempting to preserve the original working order of WoW, while fixing actual bugs.
The thing is, nostalgia is based on memories, and memories are imperfect. WoW Classic is running against players' 15-year old memories in this case; some of those memories came from later patches and expansions, while others are completely misremembered. This divergence has led to players logging bugs during the WoW Classic beta that weren't actually bugs. To tackle this issue, Blizzard created the "Not A Bug" list on the official WoW forums.
"As we’ve discussed before, the nature of WoW Classic sometimes invokes different memories for different players, and this leads to certain misconceptions for some about what is or isn’t working as intended. The following is a list of commonly-reported gameplay in WoW Classic that is not actually a bug, and is working as we expect it to," wrote WoW community manager Randy 'Kaivax' Jordan back in May.
Since then, Blizzard has dutifully added to the list. The latest addition to the list came a few days ago, involving issues with off-hand attacks, item drop rates, the summoning of a Warlock's Infernal. For example, one issue reported by players involves Practice Dummies in the Undercity not working like Training Dummies in modern World of Warcraft. "Practice Dummies in the Undercity cannot be attacked. There are no 'Training Dummies' in WoW Classic," says part of the recent update. That illustrates the difference between reality and nostalgia; Training Dummies didn't go live in World of Warcraft until the third expansion, Wrath of the Lich King.
"We have these memories. 'Oh, I think that this thing was like this.' That certainly drives our passion, and the emotional memories are what drives us towards what feels good and right," WoW Classic technical lead Brian Birmingham told USgamer back in May, "but when you get down into the nitty gritty details, sometimes you remember something and it was actually from early Burning Crusade."
More interesting is the intense amount of pushback within the Not a Bug thread. Players are literally fighting with Blizzard over the foundations of WoW Classic. Some are even arguing that Blizzard doesn't actually know vanilla WoW, and certain reproduced mechanics should be fixed in the name of balance.
"I sincerely believe there is no dev at Blizzard now who knows how the game originally worked. They have no idea at all how the classes were supposed to function. They are clueless and can only be guided by the notes left by the original dev team. Apparently, these are not complete and Blizzard’s present Classic team are at least giving it a try," said WoW forum user Velara, in regard to the recent additions to the list.
"Some people have been waiting for years for Classic to come out and it's an outrage that this is not a bug," added WoW forum user Inthmix. "This bug is so game breaking that it honestly makes almost every single other class useless in raid or impossible to even compete against warriors. Why is Blizzard on a hellbent conquest to make the game so goddamn easy and overpowered for Warriors?"
It's true that in WoW's vanilla state, there were only two classes that were considered proper Tanks by the community—Warriors and Druids—despite there actually being a third class, Paladins, that could also be a tank. Out of Warriors and Druids, Warriors were far and away considered the best tank in most content. That's something that Blizzard would correct in future patches and expansions, but correcting that isn't exactly what WoW Classic is about. It's aim is presenting the game as it was.
There are other concerns raised in the thread, with some players lashing out at Blizzard since WoW Classic's launch in August. They reference their memories of how the game worked, or old videos. Others merely question their memories within the thread itself. One user wondered if the low drop rate of certain items was bug or not, noting that "can’t possibly be reasonable" to kill 10 lions and only get the needed quest item from two of them. Another asked to see Blizzard's reference client directly, indicating that they don't believe the company's statements on the matter.
Even with the backlash, Blizzard has been remarkably consistent in its statement about WoW Classic's balance. Classic is based on vanilla World of Warcraft patch 1.12, with all that entails. Blizzard engineers are literally running the original client for reference to ensure the game runs as intended. "We have the old code, so we can get it up and running internally. It wasn't as stable, so we don't want to just ship that, but we do have it. We can look at it and do side-by-side comparisons," said Birmingham to USgamer back in May.
The truth is some players wanted World of Warcraft to return to this earlier state, but they weren't entirely cognizant of what that meant. That nostalgia clashing with reality has resulted in the WoW Classic forums becoming a warzone. It's a community that's now split. There are the players that love what Classic is (standing behind the hashtag #nochanges), versus those that want small changes, versus those that would like Classic to move forward in expansions like The Burning Crusade or Wrath of the Lich King.
"Do not let Pro-[Burning Crusade] people take our home again. It wasn’t enough that they destroyed our home the first time. Do not let them have their way with Classic WoW becoming TBC again. It’s like watching them take someone precious to you and deform it," said one WoW forums user.
The #NoChanges crowd also applauded the disabling of the add-on Classic LFG, which helped players create groups easier. "After careful examination, we believe the nature of ClassicLFG is incompatible with our social design for Classic," Blizzard said near-launch. Of course, players in favor of the add-on argued that it would've worked in vanilla WoW, thus disabling it is actually a change.
Essentially, there's a war going on over the soul of World of Warcraft Classic, driven primarily by very strong feelings and half-remembered situations that are more than a decade old at this point. And in the center of it is Blizzard, looking at its reference client and trying to hold the line. How the studio evolves WoW Classic a year from now, or even further out, is important for the ongoing health of the game. Is this a game trapped in amber, or will Blizzard shift the ethos of WoW Classic to make players happy?
"We need to more importantly keep the spirit of Vanilla alive," said Twitter user Power Word: Classic. "That does mean in all of it's awful glory."