World of Warcraft: Why do people play on private servers?

World of Warcraft private servers were a hot topic in 2016. When the most popular one, called Nostalrius, received a cease and desist letter from Blizzard Entertainment, they went ahead and did so. This shut down, however, greatly impacted all ten thousand players who committed countless hours into the game, as is well explained in this article (link).

Elysium legacy/private server during its stress test in November. 10,000 players online which was the maximum the server could handle at the time.

On December 17, the Nostalrius team brought their servers back up, this time under the name “Elysium”. Their server maintained a player count of thirty thousand – this is three times more than before shutting down.

Something clearly attracts people to private servers, and throughout social media and forums people voice different opinions on the subject. It has been around seven years since some of blizzard’s customers began to cry out for legacy WoW servers; to give then an option to experience the game before all the changes made to it ever wsince it came out in 2004.

The general consensus between most official WoW players is that those playing on private servers are too poor to afford the monthly subscription of £9.99, or that they’re simply looking through rose tinted glasses. To find out whether that’s true or not, I interviewed a private server player on the subject.

“I first started playing a few years ago, what must have been the summer of 2012, although I’ve only started being more actively involved 2 years ago, when Kronos launched.”

He then goes on to explain why he joined private servers in the first place.

“Having two older brothers, I was initiated in the Warcraft universe from a very young age. However, being only 4 years old when World of Warcraft launched, I couldn’t exactly experience it to the fullest..

Starting to play at the 4th or 5th expansion didn’t make much sense for me, so I decided to take it from the beginning. When I realized that was not possible through official servers, I found out about the private server scene, which fulfilled my needs as a player.”

Official World of Warcraft went through many changes since 2004. The game is totally different from when it first came out.

Naturally, these servers are run by groups of people, and it costs them money to do so. Some organisations, like Elysium, only accept donations. There are also some organisations, like Twinstar, who offer many in-game services like name change or character transfer for a fee. Both types care for their customers, but how well do they go about it, compared to Blizzard?

“I don’t think there is much point for comparison here; Blizzard employees are professionals, while private server staff are people who basically dump most of their free time on a project that is anything but profitable. Nevertheless, their dedication and hard work are admirable and I have the feeling that they care more about their community than Blizzard do for theirs. Of course Blizzard is a company that pays thousands of employees, which makes earning money a top priority for them, but this might have overridden several good aspects that still exist in private server management or even old Blizzard management.”

I asked the player about the risks of playing on a private server.

“Well, when playing on a private server, nothing is certain. The servers’ owners are most of the time average people with average-paid jobs, so running a server might not always be affordable for extended periods of time. There’s always the possible DDoS or even Blizzard pulling the plug, wasting all the time you invested in your characters. Quality is obviously another issue when playing on private servers, since you’re basically playing a replica of Blizzard’s original game, with features and bugs varying from server to server. However, playing there is free, in contrast to official servers, and in most cases the community seems to be more bonded. The advantages of official servers are the disadvantages of private ones and vice versa I guess.”

The general consensus between retail players is that the reason people don’t play official wow is because they don’t want to pay the subscription fee. He argued that this is not the case.

“No. I don’t think 12 eu/month is the reason why someone who loves the game would stop playing it. Even so, with the introduction of game time tokens, you can buy game time for gold, so that’s one less problem for a player who spends the time to farm that gold in the game. There has been a great decline in the number of subscribers after Wrath of the Lich King expansion came out and I think it’s safe to say that the subscription fee wasn’t the cause.”

As mentioned earlier, Nostalrius relaunch counted  forty thousand players online at all times, which was a lot more than prior to shut down. This means new people came to try out the game and stayed.

“Since private legacy servers have accumulated a lot of popularity lately, it’s natural for people completely new to the game to get involved. Some of them (most I would say) prefer these legacy servers to the official WoW. It’s like a completely different game altogether. Each one picks their poison.”

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Below is an official World of Warcraft player talking about his thoughts on legacy/private servers.

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