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Despite my own belief that ActiBlizz would be upsetting nobody at Blizzcon, there’s already a casualty before the celebrations even begin. See if you can guess who they are… okay, I’ll tell you.

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Now, I’m not a brilliant wielder of language: I get by, but this is hardly Pulitzer Prize material. However, this little press release is hardly screaming ‘yeah gonna happen guys, just you wait’ to me. In fact, the implication I take from this statement is ‘no, we’ve decided we’re not interested in Vanilla, please buy our brilliant original content instead.’ Of course, ActiBlizz absolutely won’t want Vanilla to take any thunder away from Legion, that goes without saying, and if there were an announcement about it at Blizzcon that would be all the press would talk about, because that’s all certain sections are still talking about. The fact this announcement was made got more column inches in certain publications than 7.1 will, and that’s really telling.

For those who crave Vanilla/Legacy, these remain uncertain times ahead.

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I’ve had my moments with the Vanilla lovers, it must be said, but I do understand the desire to play the game that way, in the same way that I grasp that my Son’s loving the replay he’s doing through Super Mario Galaxy 2 between revising for exams. Nostalgia is big business, especially when that feeling allows you to go back to an earlier time where you felt safe about the world around you, and there was less stress involved in anything. For many people, playing Vanilla was the antidote to Warlords’ lack of content or engagement. However, now a new Expansion is here? Many of us just can’t keep up with what there is already provided to complete. That, of course, was the plan all along. However, for those players who have lost love with the game as it now exists? Giving them all the content they will ever need won’t solve the problem. They’ll only now be satisfied if you go back to basics.

So, what realistically are the chances of this happening with an ‘official’ ActiBlizz seal of approval?

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Now Tom Chilton’s no longer part of the ‘current’ team, we’ve already speculated here that his ‘new job’ could be involved with some retro-project: after all, the man knows a lot about the game to begin with. Whether ActiBlizz could afford a couple of years of R&D on the possibility before calling it a bust is debatable, but the fact remains if the Vanilla people really believe they’ll have an answer to their question in months instead of years, or a new game just as quickly?  If there is money to be made from this project, there will need to be considerations of who hosts the code, how it is ‘maintained’ and (ultimately) how it is updated, and that’s probably the most crucial thing of all. Even Vanilla will need updating, people, and although you may never go to Outland, there will come a time when that static environment is no longer enough.

I would argue that the desire to play this version of the game is also very limited. My son will put Mario away and come back to him in a few years. ActiBlizz cannot just mothball a Vanilla ‘project’ once it drops below a critical number of player in the hope everyone returns. What this desire seems more now to be about is the idea of being able to direct a games company to produce what people want, not what the company decides to present. Blizzard is very good at giving players product they enjoy, but it takes time, quite a lot of it (as it happens.) That’s only begun to change in the last two and a bit months. This is the fastest I’ve ever seen this company respond to change. I suppose, in that regard, it could still be possible, but I can’t help but feel that what matters more now isn’t the game itself, but the fact that players got a bunch of Developers to stop doing their jobs.

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This has become, at least for me, about the fundamentals of why people buy games. Normally how this works is simple: someone has an idea, makes it, and if people like that idea they buy and play it. Vanilla takes an idea that evolved into something else and tells the designers that they did it wrong. What is now needed is the game as a small and vocal group of people believes was right to begin with, so they can prove that people would play it and it would be viable as a long-term concern. It’s almost stopped being about the enjoyment factor and become an exercise in proving this point. It would also set a potentially crippling precedent in the industry: producing high definition reboots of every title known in Gaming history would suddenly be on the cards. If you thought Hollywood was bad with recycling content? Think again. Is that really what designers crave for the future, simply repackaging other people’s work as their own?

It is an interesting situation, all told. If ActiBlizz’s statement had said ‘no, we won’t be pursuing this’ that would have started a chain of events that would have totally eclipsed Blizzcon. Saying no after the event makes far more sense, but if that happens then there will undoubtedly be calls for all those people running Vanilla servers who didn’t get invited to Blizzcon to be shut down, and to do that might need more legal clout than the company is currently prepared to wield. It seems more likely that there’ll be a decision that if the company can’t wow these ‘original’ players back to Legion they’ll be given a different game that pretends to be Vanilla, but isn’t: possibly on a tablet, maybe with original Warcraft RTS elements, but it won’t happen in six months from the original meeting. It will take time, and as patience does not seem to be a strong point of Vanilla lovers? You can see why the press are still very interested.

There is still a great deal of potential drama left to play out.

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