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Blizzard shutting down Nostalrius, popular WoW private server (nostalrius.org)
262 points by bbunqq on Apr 7, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 137 comments

I used to be involved with this sort of thing, and it's actually pretty interesting stuff. There are enormous open source projects, operating largely out of public sight, that have recreated the WoW server backend in most of its glory. The lower-level content works quite well these days, though a lot of complex raid scripts are missing or broken.

This one is probably the most popular: https://github.com/TrinityCore/TrinityCore

It's pretty rare for Blizzard to go after these companies in court, but it's happened here and there. Look up "Blizzard Entertainment, Inc. v. Alyson Reeves" if you're curious what such a lawsuit looks like! Every patch since Lich King, though, has attacked these reverse engineers on the technical front by adding layers upon layers of obfuscation to the protocol. That's had some effect, and many private servers have stuck with the old Burning Crusade or Lich King releases.

One could argue that the Lich King was the last "good" patch for WoW. What I've never understood though was there is clearly some residual demand for "down rev" versions of the game where the mechanics favored a more engaged play style, why not facilitate it? How much does it really cost to run a single realm at the Vanilla, TBC, and LK levels? So many new players where their first experience with Onxyia was soloing her with a Paladin. Just not the same as 40 people trying to bring her down without falling to the whelp adds.

Sure I don't think you could get $15/month for it but certainly $5/month or $10 a month. And they already let you "play for free up to level 20" why not just let you play for free on a vanilla server up to level 60?

My personal intuition is that splitting your userbase like this is disastrous for a game in the long-term (to say nothing of my intuition that 90% of people longing for "the old days" are just looking for a quick hit of nostalgia, with no intent to pay long-term).

However, it's worth mentioning that Runescape now officially offers a "classic" version of the game alongside (and separate from) the modern version, which should be an interesting experiment to watch.

You know that is an argument about expansions in the first place? Significant player dropoffs in WoW happen in the last patches before new expansions. The userbase usually spikes up on new releases, but almost always drops lower every time, predominately because new releases gate players who were on old versions against those on the new one. Friends stop being interested, unsub, and never come back because the player base is fragmented across every level cap WoW has had.

I've always thought that level caps in MMOs, particularly the WoW variety slash-and-burn where you basically make a new theme park every two years and throw the last one in the dumpster in terms of player viability, is a destructive cycle not conductive to building real living worlds.

On the flip side, you've got the EVE Online model. Expansions are released every 6-8 months as "super-patches". Like every MMO it's mandatory to be playing on the latest version, but everyone gets it for "free".

It's pretty simple to avoid the problem of having players scattered across multiple content sets and levelcaps: stop bleeding your players dry. What are subscription fees paying for if not ongoing development of additional content?

IMO you should either charge for expansions or charge subscription fees - but not both.

Blizzard releases paid expansions because people will pay for them.

Yeah, it's hard to make the business case for leaving money on the table - with every expansion comes change and change much more than the expansion cost is really what is causing the gating effect.

Treating your customers as customers rather than cash cows engenders positive feelings toward your company, and ensures continued subscription. There's your business case.

Positive feelings don't always maximize profits.

Blizzard isn't and never has been trying to create a "living world". That dream died when Ultima Online showed us exactly what players will do in an unscripted world that's as close to living as the tech of the time would permit.

WoW was, from the outset, designed to railroad players through content theme parks and give a hit of dopamine just often enough to keep them playing.

Wow was far more free in the early days. After about Burning Crusade they were under increasing pressure to allow players of all play styles and skill levels the ability to "see the content", which lead eventually to Raid Finder and gated progression. This ripped the last shreds of immersion away from the world and left the bare, creaking treadmill of "get tier X, farm tier X+1 tokens, get tier X+1, farm tier X+2 tokens..." exposed, which (for me) is what finally killed the game.

Blizzard isn't interested in "building a living world" and never has been. From its inception the purpose of WoW has been to farm the likes of you for gold.

And how do they continue to "farm" you for gold if you unsubscribe because you no longer feel a part of the world?

By getting a small subset of players to buy premium cosmetic content and in-game gold. Blizzard came up with a clever mechanism involving game time and other players for the latter, both in order to obfuscate what they were doing somewhat and to give them a little more control over their economy.

The Blizzard Warcraft Store: https://us.battle.net/shop/en/product/game/wow

Information on the "WoW Token" mechanism for turning $ into gold: http://www.tentonhammer.com/guides/guide-to-buying-and-selli...

That is exactly why subscriptions had dropped sharply after the release of Warlords of Draenor. (the endgame was designed around the antisocial garrisons, a mistake which they have scaled back in the upcoming expansion)

Ultimately, you don't matter to them. For every subscriber like you they lose because of a change, if they get two more, more casual players to sign up, they're in the black and sacrificing your membership is rational from a financial perspective.

If you look hard enough, you'll realise "a living world" is used as a synonym to "a market".

This brings up another point in favor of "why not".

If existing players who are willing to buy new expansions whenever they are available migrate to vanilla servers, they might as well opt out of buying the expansions, since adding new content in the vanilla servers will make them non-vanilla.


A prudent developer might make the expansions a mandatory purchase that adds the new content in cosmetic ways.

I've always thought that level caps in MMOs, particularly the WoW variety slash-and-burn where you basically make a new theme park every two years and throw the last one in the dumpster in terms of player viability, is a destructive cycle not conductive to building real living worlds.

Theme Park/Resort Casino. Basically dazzle your senses while getting you to play a rigged game to massage you with variable schedule of reward. A real, living world is spoiler-proof.

I really question this logic though. As someone who played with a large group of friends from Beta to TBC, none of us would even consider picking up WoW in its current state. Obviously this is a very small sample size, but I talked to many people when playing on Nost that felt the same way.

I do not see how they would be splitting the userbase, when many of the players of this server wouldn't even consider returning to Blizzard's current product.

If done at least semi-officially it could equally be a way to bring back lapsed players as much as any splitting of user base. Many leave in major updates or exciting new releases. WoW lost loads since LK. In other games LotRO horse riding update lost 30% of the users. GW2 redesigned for the intellectually challenged. I'm sure some would want to come back to the game before it was wrecked. Maybe not so much GW2 - it was always too easy to hold interest for long.

The problem I see is old versions would be unlikely to get updates like new content or dungeons so even those hoping to play long term would get bored eventually.

Still to put WOW in perspective with other games you list, WOW's population loss and gains around expansions tends to be higher in number than other games ever achieve.

Games age and taste change too. Blizzard has done an amazing job to see so many millions of players interested. The one surprise to me is how low of level their free play is limited to.

Oh very true. Somehow they made it achieve the same as most of the rest of the MMO space together. Never quite saw why as, well, I never got hooked on it, so left early. One of the kids is still hooked on WOW and won't let us kill the sub even now!

Personally, I'd play a lot of Mabinogi Classic if they released that.

I think the first concern could be countered somewhat by 1) the nature of Battle.net's integration with WoW and 2) either doing it via their phasing mechanics or having a means to copy a character over at the expansion's level cap. This way, you could see what friends are playing, which expansion level, and opt to join them.

Otherwise, I do see your point. As much as I'd enjoy it if they offered new players/characters the option of playing revised post-Cataclysm content for leveling or "classic" content instead, it might pull away enough of the existing population to make early group quests painful. (Although, that could be mitigated somewhat in the same manner their cross-realm stuff currently works.)

You may be right about the nostalgic effects, although it is a pretty powerful effect and certainly got one particular company's side venture off to a good start [1]. In the times I've toyed around with TrinityCore, I find I'd play it at least 2-3 times a week if I had friends who weren't absolutely terrified of the potential for permanent bans--the old content was that enjoyable to me. Nevertheless, I recently re-subscribed to retail this February, and I enjoy it, but it feels like it's missing something. It doesn't have the same charm, but I do appreciate a few of the improvements (the "spell crunch" is miserable, however).

I'm a sample size of one, though, and that's certainly not enough to make any time investment worthwhile on Blizzard's behalf.

[1] http://www.polygon.com/2014/7/21/5913763/gog-com-back-catalo...

Everquest started doing this long ago (~2006 I believe?), where people could progress starting at the first expansion. They would slowly move a server through the expansions. EQ2 looks to have it now as well. It's pretty successful in context, if I remember right, though naturally much of the original Everquest magic wasn't quite there

As an interesting illustration of this idea, RuneScape (a popular freemium MMORPG) has done just this: they split up into the modern game and "Old School" (OSRS) which is based on the game in 2007. Some people heavily prefer one or the other, and by now the communities feel very distinct.

I don't know exactly how well it's working out for them. Now they have two games to support and promote, with about the same number of users. This number might (likely?) be higher than if they had stuck to providing a single game, but I'm not sure. It's hard to tell.

There seems to be some business risk to doing this. Apart from possibly cannibalizing your main product, it also requires two teams to support and run the two games. If you actually want the experience on the old-style server to be at all stable or compelling, you'll have to put some time and energy into them—it's more than just running the server.

Honestly, I have no idea if what RuneScape did was the right move, but it's a really interesting case study.

RuneScape did this in the past, they've got previous experience here. RS Classic ran alongside RS2007 for absolutely ages, and it seemed to work pretty well.

Runescape has enough grinding to provide near perpetual play. WoW you get the best end-game raid gear and there's a lot less left to do.

They've answered this directly numerous times. Compared to their user base, the demand is essentially zero while the development, maintenance and support costs are massive.

More importantly, the resources they have are better used developing new things for their existing properties which is what statistically all their paying customers actually want. The most persistent and universal complaint about Blizzard is that they don't produce content as quickly as their audience demands and consumes it. They'd be foolish and negligent to waste their time on anything else.

They could still outsource running old versions to a third party (with some sort of revenue share). They could have let these guys continue to run, sanction it but demand they charge X$ and pay y% of that to Blizzard.

There are some pretty obvious downsides to that plan but it's an option.

It amounts to the same thing - 'they can do some deeply convoluted, labourious thing for a few thousand nostalgic players' or 'they can focus on meeting the needs and collecting the payments of their millions of existing customers'. It's hard to see how the former makes the slightest bit of sense for them.

I actually question how much interest there would be. Nostalrius reported 150k active players, with over 800k accounts. That is much higher than I would have thought.

Where did they report this? It seems like it had a few thousand players online at a time on a single server.

I originally saw those numbers stated in one of the first articles covering this topic, but I do not remember which site it was on. However, I did see they also mentioned it on their AMA.


I'm mostly a fan of single-player games and don't feel that massively-multiplayer games can come close to offering the same level of engagement or fulfillment, apart from the social fix.

The biggest concern I've had against investing emotions into any MMO's content, is the complete lack of a guarantee that it'll always be officially available. So many quests and such get old pretty fast and eventually forgotten. There's just no way to relive that content.

Maybe a paradigm shift is needed, away from how MMO content has been traditionally designed.

Not a terrible idea. Maybe a "seasonal" server that runs through the expansions every 6 months.

That said, I'm sure maintaining different versions of the servers would actually be a huge pain. The live ops was most likely not a solved problem at the end of an expansion.

It would take a lot of back porting security patches as well as bringing certain things forward like connecting to the current bnet.

And the customer service concerns are an interesting consideration as well - Game Masters use ever evolving tools (which evolve with the game client) to be able to more effectively help players. Changing the client will break the tools which will require new tools to be developed, new policies to be developed around those tools, new (or really, old but forgotten) types of solutions for game issues that have been obsoleted.

Just imagining this small aspect of the overall challenge makes it clear to me that this type of server just would never happen on an official basis - so many cross-linked considerations and it's really hard to make a business case for almost any of them, even if it would be a lot of fun from a player point of view. Which means that allowing a volunteer community like Nostalrius is really the ideal, outside of the reality of the law which requires protecting intellectual property in all cases in order preserve it in the cases where you really want to. Could some kind of official license be made available specifically for Nostalrius?

> Just not the same as 40 people trying to bring her down without falling to the whelp adds.

It's worth noting that Wildstar launched targeting the hardcore WoW raider experience.

It failed miserably since targeting only a single-digit percentage of WoW's playerbase is not a profitable business decision.

The comparison between Wildstar and Vanilla WoW is a complete misnomer.

I played both Nostalrius and Wildstar extensively and the two were nowhere close in terms of scale, depth of world, community, lore, or any other metric you can think of really. The boss mechanics, housing, and soundtrack were great but the game was incredibly lackluster otherwise. Lore had some potential with the Drusera arc being interesting.

As for the bad: PvP balance was a trainwreck. Quests were meaningless as you'd get 30 at once and blow through each on in a couple minutes. Rep grind rewards were poorly balanced. Instances offered little reason to run them repeatedly and relied too much on the interrupt mechanic. The world was much less atmospheric barring some neat zones like Farside that you had no reason to return to after leveling through. Itemization was dull with no interesting items or stats. No secondary professions. No cosmetic pets. Instanced zones. I could go on and on but that touches on most of the major issues.

Oh, and while I love addons they needed to be more careful with just how powerful they could be within their poorly planned economy. I coded an autocrafter for the Architect profession in the first couple days and basically botted (legally) $1500 worth of currency @CREDD rates in a single week. Fun for me but rather unhealthy for the economy itself.

I played Wildstar for a couple of months after launch, and very sporadically since it went free-to-play. They basically built the game for people who loved early WoW, and (IMO) they did a rather good job of it.

The problem with Wildstar is rather like the problem with trying to get your highschool band back together. The drummer moved to another country, the lead singer has two kids, the bass player works shift work. Everyone grew up and no-one has the time (or inclination) to raid any more.

I think a lot of people (myself included) loved the idea of Wildstar but just weren't in a position to make the investment of time and effort required to really enjoy a game like that.

The last good patch was Ulduar for me. ICC was big disappointment.

Ulduar was the game at its peak. All downhill from there. I still hate how they crippled the hard modes afterwards.

Everyone has a patch they loved and was a peak for them. There are people who joined during cataclysm and think that was the best before "Panda" ruined the game.

Plenty of people think BC was the peak and LK ruined everything. I personally think ICC was amazing and the peak, because that's when I played.

MMO experiences are always the best when they are novel, there is something really special about the first time you beat a raid boss. Also later expansions will never recapture the innocence of the first time discovering a world. Then you learn how to "beat" the game and minimax your experience. Then an expansion comes out and you just can't view the content without a minimax hat on, and that ruins it.

People often long for the glory of days past, but remember that everyone also has their own frames of reference. For new players WoW is probably still as good now as it has ever been, it's just impossible for you or I to see that when we saw we had it so much better.

Maybe it's because my first MMO was Neverwinter Nights, a 1991 game that took the Gold Box DnD experience online, but I think WoW has only gotten better with every expansion. When it came out, most people I knew disliked it for being too simple but agreed that it had better atmosphere and polish than any other MMO. It felt like MMO Disneyland. The initial mechanics for raids and PvP were limited, but as the designers gained experience, they kept coming up with new and interesting mechanics, and the art and atmosphere maintained their high standards throughout the years. I haven't had time in the last few years to spend on high-end raiding, but I've heard nothing but praise for the raids from the top players.

The only place I see it failing is figuring out a way to keep communities together over the years. Most people's main experience with the game is social, and if your group can't stay cohesive, and few can for 12 years, you're going to get a diminished experience. It's simply an impossible task to figure out a way to keep gamers together for that long.

Other people will complain about parts of the game being too easy, but I always dismiss those out of hand. The high end parts are more challenging than ever, and the existence of diverse content is nothing against the game design. I love that I can log on for a few minutes here and there and even only play Pokemon if that's what I want in the moment. As an old-school MMO person who never saw WoW through the eyes of novelty, my perspective is that no game has managed to maintain such high quality and consistency while continually reinventing itself over such a long time. The fact that it's still the number one MMO by far and maintains a subscription model while everyone else is going free-to-play is testament to its quality. I think it's a piece of software that any developer should look at for inspiration on how to keep people engaged for a very long time.

Counterpoint: I played since a month after Vanilla launched until about half-way through WoD.

By your logic I should be a hardcore "Vanilla was the best" player, but actually, I'd argue that most of the game peaked in TBC (the first expansion) and raiding peaked in Wrath.

MMORPGs was always about grind-to-win, ideally forcing a group play along the way - that built communities. Blizzard kinda killed that turning the game into a solo adventure - most people just logged in for a raid and be gone for the rest of the week and those casual pug raids was the last nail into the coffin of social bit, that actually kept me playing.

I've had enough in Cataclysm, but I can't really say if vanilla, tbc or lk was the best (ignoring my personal achievements in each of those, tbc was the peak of my raiding). All of those bring good memories.

I still remember entering Horde territory on a PvP server for the first time trying to complete the baby Alliance warlock quests. It was a huge thrill, and I felt completely immersed. I had many other fun times in the game and seeing the other beautifully crafted zones, however, the time commitment I wanted to sink into the game to fully enjoy it couldn't be sustained. I had to quit for personal well being reasons.

Once Jeff Kaplan left the designer team (Post-WoLK), WoW just never left the same for me.

I think this is the reason EVE online just gives everyone each expansion free. Everybody's playing the same game, and it's included in your subscription.

> It's pretty rare for Blizzard to go after these companies in court

Blizzard is actually the company that set the precedent of going after these companies in court (bnetd [1]), and I can't think of a single company that has gone after these types of projects (private servers) more than Blizzard.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bnetd

I was thinking of bnetd when I saw the title.

Bnetd set a horrible prescient IMO. You have the court saying reverse engineering a protocol and creating a clone of it was essentially illegal. The software which, was both free and open source, was now infringing if it was published (even though it was a totally original work).

You can sill find the bnetd source code around here and there for people who made copies. I've been at LAN parties where we cranked one up and ran old copies of Blizzard games.

I was thinking of publishing a legal paper on this a few years back; started some preliminary work with a friend who was a lawyer in NZ, but it kinda all fell through the cracks.

Interestingly, I wonder what would have happened had this project been based in NZ instead. Software patents are illegal there .. but, they did illegally spy on Kim dotcom (then change the laws so it wasn't illegal anymore), impounded his servers on behalf of the US (coughmovieindustrycough) government. He lost his extradition trial, so he now faces extradition...for copyright infringement. They are extraditing a man, for a non-criminal, civil violation. (Don't get me wrong, he's kinda a dick and his CD was terrible, but the whole case is bullshit...plus he's fucking hilarious).

The majority of the private servers are either WOD or MOP, there are virtually no TBC servers and Nost was one of the few vanilla servers.

There are allot of WOTLK servers because WOTLK was the most "popular" patch of WoW and allot of work on both the emulation and the database was done for that patch.

However private servers for Cata, MoP, and WoD came out pretty much almost hand in hand with live release, they were and still are utterly garbage but most private servers are.

This is quite big it's the first time for quite a long while that Blizzard went to close an private server, and it's the first time that the server in question was not hosted in the US/CA and was not anywhere close to emulating retail content.

The content that is available on Nostralius is literally not available on any live server any more since Cataclysm which altered all the original "vanilla" content.

This might actually also be interesting to see if this can actually go to court, the server emulation (if done as a clean room) does not infringe on Blizzards actual IP, all the text, sounds, textures models are present on the client side alone the server holds only an itemized database of objects and knows how to communicate with the client.

>all the text, sounds, textures models are present on the client side alone

This isn't entirely true. All the quest text, monster says, NPC interactions and more are sent by the server. Sure, the models and sounds are part of the client, but the server tells your client where to place which mobs, how much health they should have, how they react to you, etc.

>The content that is available on Nostralius is literally not available on any live server any more

Yeah, hosting a game server that is no longer available because the company that used to host them stopped offering that option should probably not be against the law. Even single player games are being created as "multiplayer" nowadays, so it's bound to become an even bigger problem in the future.

You're absolutely right, this is a larger issue (not just with games but with "always-on" and connected devices in general).

It's one thing for a company to shut down an older game's multiplayer-only services when the player base dwindles, but with many single player games now requiring a server connection to even function, what happens to those?

At the very least, companies should have a contingency plan for making a "sunset" patch available to allow those games to keep working - even in reduced capacity - once those servers go away.

Where do you draw the line? Should I legally be allowed to run my own League of Legends client that is current version - 0.0.1 since that's no longer available to players, and offer all skins/runes at a fraction of the cost to my user base?

There is something of a problem here, but the solution (as ever) is not a simple one.

there's also this https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MDY_Industries,_LLC_v._Blizzar... when they managed to get glider, one of the first bots taken down

> Every patch since Lich King, though, has attacked these reverse engineers on the technical front by adding layers upon layers of obfuscation to the protocol.

I haven't seen such obfuscation, personally. Mostly design/implementation inconsistency, which, can happen to any large, old software project.

The biggest nastiness I personally witnessed was the battle.net authentication system upgrade, and it wasn't borne out of anti-RCE efforts.

Randomization of opcode identifiers or shuffling packet structures every other (client) build is not "inconsistency".

There's also a cool community around reversing the battle.net protocol(s).

The Battle.net 2 protocol is almost entirely Protobuf based and the protos can be recreated from the HS decompiled code or the Diablo 3 in-executable protobins.



I was involved in the Ultima Online scene.

I submitted RunUO patches to our local forks (I then had no idea how to help with "upstream" stuff), and I also was fan of Sphere based servers.

Also I GMed a couple servers, made maps, scripts, RPG Scenes, researched lore of the series to teach to people...

One thing that happened interestingly, is that several servers over time ended rolling back expansions, even if they already had implemented them, because of how obviously bad they were for the game overall, this also affected the mainstream EA servers, each expansion made people leave instead of grow...

The most popular servers were the "T2A" servers, that emulated the expansion "The Second Age", usually with a few minor features from new expansions (like custom house architecture).

I noticed after I started to study game design formally, that the problem of the expansions was two-fold: 1, power creep, lots of it, each expansion introduced stronger enemies, harder dungeons, and better equipment... and required that you paid for them to get all that, in a obvious cash grab, but that made the game unbalanced.

And 2, and biggest problem: it shifted the genre of the game!

When Ultima Online started, it was a sort of medieval life simulator, it had farming, alchemy, baking, and all sorts of "boring" daily stuff, there was even one interview were Richard Garriot mentioned when he was walking around invisible, and saw a warrior show up near a fisherman, and out of pity drop on the ground for him lots of good equipment, and the fisherman got offended, and explained he was a fisherman, he wanted to fish, not kill, and did not wanted swords and armour near him.

New expansions routinely broke "skills" that did non-combat tasks (example: item identification), or made them irrelevant (blacksmithing... in the original game a blacksmith could make the best equipment possible, after expansions blacksmithing became useless, with the best smithed equipment having only half the power of the stuff you could find in the "end-game" dungeons).

Meanwhile they introduced mostly combat features: new weapons, new offensive magic, new combat-based "classes" (in a game that was supposed to be classless in first place), and so on...

Also expansions gimped some past features that made the game interesting, for example in UO default map, you could attack anyone that you wanted, anywhere, the only protection players had were other players, and the city guards (that were practically invincible).

New expansions instead introduced new maps that had all sorts of shenanigans disabled, and lots of restrictions, also they made LOTS of maps, and after they pissed off players with the genre shifts, it became too much map for too little people, it became easy to wander for hours before ever meeting people.

Thus, if you wanted a "real" UO experience, private servers were the way to go.

Yeah, Ultima Online should be a case study into how to completely destroy a game.

I loved T2A so much that I tried all the way up to Samurai Empire to stay with it, but it was hopeless. By that point, they turned what I still believe was the most original MMO out there into a tepid World of Warcraft clone. Only it could never compete on graphics, and everyone just played the same five boss "Doom Gauntlet" on auto-repeat for months on end to get psychotically overpowered gear that lasted forever and couldn't be stolen or lost.

It was so great back in the day. Some of my best memories were playing that game. I get really weird nostalgia in the truest sense just listening to the old MIDI files from the game. The classic servers just don't capture the mood with ~800 people on at most. That world is so huge that even pre-T2A, 800 people would mean maybe you'd see three people at the Britannia bank and that's it.

It's funny you talk about fishing un UO, because my best memories of WoW were sitting on a ledge in Wailing Caverns, stocking up Deviate Fish.

I can't believe they actually re-create the backend. Seems harder than actually making a MMORPG from scratch. Where do you even begin?

The thing to understand is that MMORPGs create the illusion that they're kind of like browsers -- all the content is on the server, the client is little more than a window into a shared world.

That's not the case. The bandwidth would be crippling if it were. Most of the game is in the client. Clients know how to do actions, cast spells, count cooldowns, etc. The server has some maps that tell the clients "put this immobile resource here, spawn this mob there" (but the clients know what those resources and mobs look and act like, the server just tells them to instantiate a mob of this id there), and then sanity-checks and synchronizes the clients.

> but the clients know what those resources and mobs look and act like, the server just tells them to instantiate a mob of this id there

Are you saying the clients decide how a mob moves and behaves?

> sanity-checks and synchronizes the clients

Which in practice means the whole game logic must live on the server as well, right? How else would they validate the client's input?

You examine the packets received by the client in response to a discrete action by the client. Recorded enough of these, and you can emulate the server!

It would be pretty hilarious if this was a ML problem.

Do you have any good reads on how someone would go about starting a TrinityCore like project and the approach it takes to emulation?

Here's a petition written by the Nost team asking to legalize Legacy servers: https://www.change.org/p/michael-morhaime-legacy-server-amon...

Wow, this is eerie for me! I literally just sat down on my computer to create an account to play on Nostalrius and see this on HackerNews.

Talk about synchronicity!

Here's a neat info graphic of what Nostalrius had achieved (found on /r/wow): http://i.imgur.com/jxtOQlu.jpg

> Today is also the day where Nostalrius will start being community-driven in the truest sense of the word, as we will be releasing the source code, and anonymized players data (encrypting personal account data)

This will be interesting. Apparently, there are open source reverse-engineerings of the old WoW code already, but having them release the source code may allow for some interesting applications.

I'd love to play around with that data dump as well.

There are actually dozens of WoW private server implementations (called cores) on github, for every version of the game. Their patches will be immensely useful to the various vanilla cores to improve their out of the box support, but this is actually the second shutdown server this year that is dumping its full scripting as open source after a server called Sunwell did it for WoW 3.3, and those scripts produced a dramatic increase in quality among other servers at that version very quickly.

Is there a project that focuses on portability between these "cores", for example taking your AD&D Character sheet with you between all these different cores?

Series of the cores share common functionality amongst themselves, but the character data structures between them are radically different because of changes in character info between versions (ie, they added achievements in wotlk, and then made them account wide in Cata / MOP), and in MoP / WoD they removed several item slots on certain classes).

The problem with most private servers is not character portability, but scripting portability. A quest scripted for a vanilla core probably won't work on a Burning Crusade one because the API used is different.

The WoW private server scene is actually fascinating to read from a code study perspective, because its all entirely hobbyist and often novice software development. Common solutions to problems like delegation or templates are often unused because the people writing the code just didn't know they existed and never formally studied software best practices.

My friend logged on last night to see the response to the decision and found a huge number of players online. They were gathering together and mourning, doing things together one last time. It's kinda sad to think about a community destroyed.

Here is a gif of the action from the reddit thread:


This is more populated than any live server event since the dark portal opened (the first time).

I learnt programming from running an ultimate online server back in the day.

A little sad to seeing an(I assume), open source server like this being taken down.

As an admin we use to run on the premise of, if we weren't told not to run it, we could. Probably not 100% legal but it seemed to work.

It does make me wonder if they take the server down, is it because their subscription dropping so much?

Assuming the open source software was freely licensed, why would hosting an alternative server not be legal?

I think it's because players have to download an old version of WoW in order to play. This is a full game download and includes artwork and music IP content. Not to mention it means there is no need to pay a monthly fee to Blizzard.

Blizzard is fully in their right to shut it down, but it's unfortunate the current state of things.

This is not about getting around paying for WoW. Vanilla WoW is practically abandoned-ware. Blizzard has been clear they have no plans to launch a Vanilla server, and they don't even seem sympathetic to the idea. There is content and gameplay in Vanilla that you cannot experience in the current version of WoW. There are many old school players who have fond memories of Vanilla (including me), and we have no way to get our nostalgia fix other than a server like Nostalrius.

I have moved on from WoW and have no interest in the current game, but I would enjoy experiencing Vanilla again, just like I enjoy playing old SNES RPGs, listening to 80's music, or reading the same books or watching the same movies over and over. With other forms of media you can do that, but not here. I understand the legal reasons, but still, it's unfortunate.

I see this as another new and lamentable consequence of things moving to the cloud. I find similarities here with the Nest/Google fiasco. It used to be you could buy something and it was yours, completely, forever, to do with whatever you want. Now, not as much.

The problem legally is Blizzard is going to have an extremely hard time proving a private server user downloaded an unauthorized copy of WoW from a third party rather than from Blizzard themselves when the version they are playing was the live version.

There are a lot of nuanced stipulations involving the legal distribution of the Wow client:

* The game has always been distributed using peer to peer seeding, such that Blizzard has never been the exclusive provider of game data, they just told users where to get the data from. * Blizzard has in several cases (mostly early on) recommended users download whole copies of the game from third party websites like fileplanet back in the day when the servers were overloaded with players updating to new versions of the game. * Blizzard has always made WoW available as freeware, and has never auth-gated the download pages before the Battle.net launcher. Old versions of the game used to have installers hosted on Worldofwarcraft.com that anyone could download with a URL regardless of being signed in or not, and users could make accounts without buying the game anyway.

This isn't some classical "game developer sells copies for money and people were sharing copies without permission". Today, anyone sharing WoW clients through torrents is obviously violating blizzard IP, but the distribution methods of the client in the past, combined with the fact no player needed to have an account or paper trail showing they had a legit "claim" to the game to have the client, means they cannot realistically argue that anyone playing a private server also violated their copyright on the client. They could have easily obtained it legally, and just changed the home server to a private one so it never updated. That is a violation of the ToS in the game, but not an IP violation, and ToS are civil matters that are often not even upheld in court when tested, and WoW has a fairly grandiose ToS if it were ever put in a real trial.

Legally they might be within their right, but cases like this really demonstrate to me that there ought to be some legal concept of abandonware when a product is substantially modified from its original state.

What precedent does it set that you have no legal right to retain access to software in the form that you've paid for it? If Gabe Newell went insane tomorrow and fired all employees then shipped patches making all Valve titles unplayable is there really no legal recourse for the people who bought those games? This is a case of the law being behind the technological realities in my opinion.

(and yes I know there's probably some EULA cop-out about how you don't own the client and merely paid for a temporary license to it or blah blah blah)

Library of Congress did change DCMA rules last year to allow consumers to modify an abandon-ware game to bypass authentication servers that no longer exist. However, they specifically excluded MMO-like games, only covering "video games that can be played by users without accessing or reproducing copyrightable content stored or previously stored on an external computer server". Still, it's at least acknowledgement that abandon-ware is a legitimate form of media that rightfully deserves preservation.


It also doesn't allow for copying of games beyond personal use as I understand it, so it's really hitting MMO emulation from two directions as it's currently defined. How many of your potential players still retain the original install disks, especially after 12+ years? I can't imagine very many.

As mj said in reply, we were worried about the face our clients used the artwork, even if it wasn't their servers.

In our mind it became quite complicated as we wernt sending them the ultimate files, just responding to their requests. So I think it's safe. But I am not sure how wow servers work.

Because in every implementation I've seen so far, the server software won't run without certain copyrighted assets extracted from the client being present on the server for it to run in the first place.

Generally, when Blizzard goes after private server owners, they go after them for copyright and trademark infringement. In fact, the very popular case of MDY Industries linked above is exactly that: trademark infringement, copyright infringement etc.

The silent rule is "don't tarnish the Blizzard trademarks". It's generally the most unethical servers with tons of microtransactions that get taken down first. This is also why plenty of them are left alone.

Hosting the server itself is not per se illegal (well, maybe it might be; alternative Battle.net servers were given C&Ds back in the day), but you still need a game client to extract stuff like map and vmap data from all of the game files.

Did you mean Ultima Online? Loved that game, were you running a sphere or RunUO server?

Yup, ultimate online, on runuo. Had a fun few years there.

It's worth noting amidst all the debate about whether it's feasible or worthwhile to offer older versions of the game as server options, blizzard has already done this for a long time with Diablo 2. You could (can still) choose to play classic or expansion on the legit battle net servers, and both had ( possibly still have ) vibrant communities. So it's not like this would be particularly novel as an idea to them, I'm surprised they haven't done it with wow already.

with their constantly dropping subscription numbers it might just be a good idea for them business wise to open specific expansion set servers.

I would honestly pay to play pre-BC WoW again.

The real problem that Blizzard seems to have is listening to their users - they're constantly making changes based on the feedback of vocal groups of players or trying to simplify their games to be more appealing. They have some of the most valuable IP in gaming and I feel like they're not making the most of it.

I used to work for a private server that shut down in 2010 (Phoenix Wow). It was my first exposure ever to a big code base, teamwork with version control and some reverse engineering. The "cores" were usually forks of the Mangos project (TrinityCore, R2) written in C++ and pretty unstable (uptime was usually only hours). If Rust existed in that era it would've been much better.

My opinion is not popular, but I think Blizzard are absolutely right in this case, by many reasons (not only because of money).

Care to elaborate on your reasoning? The people playing on Nostalrius aren't suddenly going to switch to the latest expansion, so there's literally zero incentive for them to go after it.

It seems likely to me that they executed this maneuver for similar reasons to the kik/azer fiasco that happened on NPM; if they didn't sue, they would lose their trademarks.

I think a better response would've been to purchase Nostalrius (the organization), and offer it as a value-add for their players. But it seems clear Blizzard is extracting whatever value it can from WoW before it dies, rather than truly serving their customers.

Kik interactive never sued NPM. Kik tried to strongarm azer via indirect threats but NPM gave Kik the package name at their own discretion (arguing that it might confuse people looking for the kik packages).

Also, the "trademark means you must sue" myth has been debunked by the EFF: https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2013/11/trademark-law-does-not...

Thanks, I didn't know that. I certainly didn't mean to provide a defense for Blizzard or Kik, just to try and illustrate/understand their motivations.

Why can't Blizzard just license the older versions for some minimal fee then?

It's exactly main reason: Blizzard have right to control the history and evolution of the WoW universe. Players can still play on old locations even on official servers, but things like game balance, economics - it's all was made by Blizzard and they have right to change it, for good or bad.

you sound like a libertarian invoking libertarian principles which I don't agree with so I don't see the "obviousness" of it that you see.

Even if Blizzard hired Howard Roark himself as their architect, seems to me I should be able to make alterations to the design of my own building in which I wish to park a Howard Roark designed car, no matter how angry it makes Howard, Eugene, and Blizzard.

And a court may rule in my favor even if you seem to think I should take your word on it, from your perspective of the zany libertariangasm you guys get from thinking about the ownership of ideas and not having anybody tell you what you can't do so long as you get to tell other people what they can't do.

Even if I have different opinion, it doesn't mean I want to offend you, so please don't be so aggressive. I have no relations with Blizzard (I don't even play WoW, it was long time ago). Thank you for letting me know who are libertarians - and yes, looks like I support this idea, but in minarchism form :)

sorry if I offended you, I was making a point in debate-style, I wasn't attacking you.

I also sense that you are not a native speaker of English: so, just mentioning, what you wrote comes across in English as very "there is only one way, the way I am saying". It sounds like you didn't mean it that way, so sorry it triggered, when I saw that debate blip on my radar screen, I decided to shoot it down :)

> Players can still play on old locations

That is not true, unfortunately.

I think he meant you can still visit Stormwind, Dun Morogh, etc. and aren't limited to Draenor. But of course, the mechanics of everything in the old areas will be that of the new expansion.

>Blizzard have right to control the history and evolution of the WoW universe.

Do they? They have the right to profit off of it and are allowed to set the only profit, but others are allowed to create evolutions of the universe in other directions as long as they don't profit. And if any of those are more popular, Blizzard has no recourse.

> but others are allowed to create evolutions of the universe

No, I disagree. It's Blizzard's right to decide, who is allowed to do it. Only Peter Jackson was allowed to create movie about Tolkien's universe - and it was right of the author, without any doubts. It's the same case.

Anyone could've created a movie. Only those given rights could profit off of it.

Suddenly Blizzard's April Fools tweet seems cruel.

Re-Live the old worlds of warcraft with our legacy servers coming this june!

Starting with vanilla!


That's a fake account.

It's not verified but I'm missing the obvious clue as to why you think it's fake. They seem to post genuine tweets and link to official marketing websites.

All of Blizzard's accounts are verified. Their official corporate account is @blizzard_ent (note the "t").

I've been had. Ironic timing on their part, at least.


Seems the classy thing to do would have been for Blizzard to ask politely instead of sending in the dogs.

I'm wondering if their objective here was to make an example out of this particular server as they have with others. Once they reach a particular critical mass, they gain Blizzard's interests and down comes the legal hammer.

Although you have to wonder what sort of impact this is going to have, if any. I'd wager most of the players are unlikely to pay for a retail subscription if they aren't already simply on the merits that they were actively looking for a 1.x vanilla server. Further, it has to be a bit like a game of whack-a-mole: For each server they shut down, one or two reappear to take their place, but it does serve as trademark/copyright protection against dilution and illegal use of game assets.

I've read a few threads on the official forums out of shear curiosity, and it almost reminds me of the discussions that occurred during the height of Napster et al. The primary difference being that the private servers recreate a product that effectively doesn't exist anymore (not justifying the legality of it, but if you ignore the copyright/trademark issues, that's essentially the underpinning issue). Blizzard claims there's insufficient interest in prior expansions to justify re-implementation (and maybe they're right) but the number of private servers surely can't all be populated with freeloaders.

Part of me wishes there was a better resolution to this. WotLK was my favorite expansion, and it'd be nice to play it again with some of the more recent improvements mixed in (minus the spell culling and talent nonsense--it feels far too dumbed down).

> I'd wager most of the players are unlikely to pay for a retail subscription if they aren't already simply on the merits that they were actively looking for a 1.x vanilla server.

I can only speak for myself, but back when I played WoW (2005-2007) I started exploring the private server scene after the first expansion. I liked BC and continued my paid account for it, but I also missed Vanilla so I sought out ways to play it without having to pay for two subs.

Needless to say, it was a whack-a-mole affair back then, with private servers popping up and others disappearing constantly. Fun, but too much work for a game that was already taking too much of my time. I quit playing altogether when my then-girlfriend and I broke up (she was the one who got me into the game and was really the only reason I kept playing).

I agree that it's making an example rather than actually trying to shut down private servers. probably more about copyright and being able to maintain that they were defending theirs, rather than being scared of multitudes of private servers depriving them of business.

Something that to some small degree worries me is that video game preservation is all but impossible for online-only services. WoW and its ilk have played a large role in the evolution of video games, but in ten years we're unlikely to be able to recreate anything like the experience of playing the game at any stage.

I don't think there's a good solution, especially without market leaders such as Blizzard, Sony, or NCSoft taking a pro-preservation stance. Legislation to protect the rights of reverse-engineers seems troublesome, and existing copyright law makes any kind of expiration period ineffective.

A lot of commenters are suggesting a server that runs old patches, like Jagex and RS. This is essentially the definition of cannibalization and almost never a good idea. IMO Jagex only got away with it because they explicitly released a new version of the game that was totally different. Unless WoW's next expansion is WoW 2.0 with totally different mechanics, I don't see them hosting an old server.

Each version of WoW in general has completely different mechanics. Between different versions of the game they have changed effectively everything. If you were to play the live version of the game today and compare it to vanilla, it is much more different in both mechanics and technical implementation than a lot of standalone independent games have been by significant margins. Just think of Doom 1 and 2, or more recently Wolfenstein: The New Order vs The Old Blood, or CoD Black Ops 1 and 2. All those pairs of games reused game assets and engines almost verbatim, with much more similar or identical game mechanics compared to how much Blizzard changes between versions.

The argument these players make is that the version of WoW today is not the game they bought or played in 2006 at all, and by every metric you would measure "difference" in besides "is this the game Blizzard entertainment today calls World of Warcraft?" it would be measurably more different than dozens of games we consider independent products.

I had a feeling this was gonna happen when I saw blizzard shilling WoW on reddit the other day and these guys were all over the comments promoting.

A bit off topic but anybody knows what kind of stack Blizzard is using for WOW ?

I'd love to know/dig into this as well! Any ideas?

You can get some clues here:


Linux, C++, SQL, etc...

I don't have a timestamp but some of the details were discussed in this panel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mx_C7LkB1Q8

Wonder if the popularity of Nostalrius will cause Blizzard to do a Jagex inspired re-release of vanilla or the burning crusade? Not sure if I have the commitment but it would certainly be nostalgic.

I like how there are two versions of the title

>popular WoW private server

>popular WoW pirate server

I wonder if it makes sense to charge the monthly subscription for the client, rather than the server. That way you could play on whatever server you want, but still had to pay a monthly fee.

They'd probably be worried about "watering down" the player counts on their One True server.

Only in theory. In practice any client will be hacked.

A bit late to this discussion (understatement I know), but running this type of private game server was partially what got me in this industry. In my case, I was running relatively successful Maplestory private servers back in 2008, on the order of 12,000~15,000 concurrent users.

Hundreds, probably thousands of these servers cropped up overnight after the first "core" was created, and many many variations of that core quickly followed. At some point, many of us in the private server community caught wind of Nexon (creators of Maplestory) going after certain kids for their private servers. This was an everyday occurrence. Almost always, it was in the form of a Cease and Desist letter.

Many of these servers had < 10~50 users concurrently and were run on home computers as many of us had non-existent budgets. Most servers were merely carbon copies of each other, as the owner would be able to create the server by using some reputable core and a setup guide. As with anything, a lot of traction was gained by servers that put development effort into adding their own touch into the game (alternative currencies like chickens, alternative bosses like Sonic the Hedgehog, and rebirth systems that let you utilize the skills of multiple character classes at once), and ones who were frequently engaging with their community and hosting in game events/contests.

There were private server rankings. Everyone would be vying for votes to get to the top 3 and gain visibility, which invariably resulted in them receiving letters. Those of us that became significantly more popular and had players actively going out and advertising for us quickly came under the spotlight and received letters with the threat of legal action if not promptly shutdown.

In fact, these shutdown letters were such a big part of the scene at the time, that some popular servers got shutdown by competitors sending fake Cease and Desist letters (don't ask how I know)...the response would typically be a quick and simple shutdown, waving goodbye to the community. Some owners with more skin in the game would deviously "shutdown" their server, then "re-birth" it as a different, smaller server since any communication sent in game was unlikely to be seen by Nexon. Few brave souls would post the Cease and Desist on their website while taunting and berating Nexon, though I never found out what happened to those guys.

Seeing this post brings back so many memories -- Honestly, a lot of time was wasted on that game but I would not be doing what I do today if it weren't for the people I met while doing it (my next major project was with a friend of a dedicated player on my server). It was also lots of fun.

Maybe blizzard might be getting ready to release a "classic" version of the game because the nostalgia is strong (even though they've publicly decried it many times).

I wonder if this will mean more and more servers are going to be sued. I've been playing on private servers since 2012, I play hours each day, and the future does not look very bright if this keeps happening I'm afraid...

Just two days ago I started my journey as a blood elf hunter :-)

The problem with private servers is that they seem to be addicted to OVH. I get it that it's cheap, has nice routes and usually they don't give a damn about what you host, but it's a single point of failure. I wonder if many of those servers are about to move to Ukraine (Russia) or something like that :-)

Ah, and believe me, some of them make ludicrous amounts of money, have paid employees, etc. It's not just a community. They all forked MaNGOS or TrinityCore and starting piling up their fixes on top of it (which they don't have to share because it's GPL, not AGPL), but some chose to pay their developers!

I'm happy to answer any questions about what it's like to play on private servers or how some stuff works in the technical side, or the community, or whatever!

How much administrative effort does it take to operate a private server? I've always kind of conceptualized it as a duct-tape-and-baling-wire affair, but I have a sneaking suspicion things are a lot more professional these days.

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