Monday, May 2, 2011

Azeroth is doomed

About a year ago I read about a mmorpg in a gaming magazine that I had never heard of or played. What interested me about this article in particular was that it was about the end of this mmorpg. The vaining interest from players and inability to earn enough money to keep the servers going had forced the developers to shut the servers down for good. I don't remember anymore which game it was, but I was immediately struck by what such a decision meant for any kind of online game. It meant the game would be gone, forever. Everything the players had experienced and created would also be gone. The magazine had some quotes from various players, taken from the game forums, where they talked about how horrible the news were to them, and that they still couldn't understand that they'd wake up tomorrow and wouldn't be able to log onto the game they had been investing so much time into. I read the article with interest and made a short mental note about how sad I thought it was when small mmorpgs didn't make it because they didn't manage to get a hold of the big audience. Kind of when the small local shop has to close down because Wal-mart is coming to town. But then I logged onto my "Wal-mart" aka WoW and quickly forgot about it.

Until a couple of weeks ago. I was running around doing something randomly in WoW when the thought suddenly hit me. I remembered the article for some reason and I realized - this too will be gone some day. No matter how dedicated I am about the game, or how much I want to play it, there will ultimately, inevitably come a time when it will be taken from me. Even if I decide to quit playing long before WoW actually finally shuts down, there will come a time when I will be unable to return at all, even if I wanted to. I stopped and looked around. I don't remember where I was in the game exactly, but it doesn't matter. I realized that things that don't really interest me today, like the area outside of the Auction House in Orgrimmar, things I see almost every day, would at one point not exist anymore. Be gone, completely.

It made me remember a couple of years ago when I revisited my childhood school. I had moved away from the area when I was a kid, and returned some years later to see what it looked like. I found that they had completed removed my old school, every dang brick of it, and built up a whole nother set of buildings. Everything I remembered, every corner I had played in, was completely gone. I was totally shocked and it took me weeks to get over the feeling of having lost something really important. It's not like having someone close to you die, definitely not. But it's damn close. All that was left of my memories were exactly that, my memories. I had nothing to which I could tie them, I couldn't stroll around and think "oh yeah, I remember when I fell and hurt my knee running through those bushes" and so on.

I started thinking about all the wonderful memories I have in WoW. My first steps in the game running through Deathknell, fighting off zombies. The first time I met Love... (in Duskwood). All the bosses I've fought, but also things that I consider "mundane" today, everyday stuff like the major cities, daily quest areas and instances. One day I won't be able to run through it, point and tell my children that "this is where I got my Benediction/Anathema" or "this is where I always fell down because I lagged so much" and all the other thousands of memories that I have tied to WoW. One day they will all exist only in my head, and in the bunch of screenshots that I have stored on my computer (with backup copies of course!).

What bothered me about it wasn't the thought about WoW coming to an end. Everything comes to an end, as sad as it sounds. Relationships end, friendships end. But there is something special about the end of a world. I can only imagine what the Alderaans must have thought when the Deathstar blew up their planet, or Arthur Dent when the Earth was destroyed. Every tree, every corner, every stone - gone. It's like losing a bit of your identity, something that I've spent so much time with, something of which so much of me is tied into, that I won't have any way to reach again. Some people discuss what they would do on their last day of WoW. But if quitting WoW is a big decision, imagine what it would feel like if you knew for sure that you could never return? And that in fact, no one else in the world could either? That when discussing some detail of WoW with a friend you will finally understand that it was really all virtual and that nothing of it exists anymore?

With most other games we always have the option of returning.
We can always start up our old consoles and play them through again, if the urge to get nostalgic takes over. Even if there are games that are difficult to come by or are expensive, we can still be comforted by the knowledge that if we really wanted, we'd be able to experience them again. This isn't the case with mmorpgs. We could start up our own servers but we all know it's nothing like the real thing. Once the owners decide to shut their servers down, there isn't much you can do about it unless you happen to be Bill Gates. When Blizzard takes that decision, whether it be 2 or 15 years from now, I can only sit there and know that tomorrow, everything I've taken for granted for so long, everything I basically know every corner of today, will be gone, probably forever. I'm not really sure how I will handle that.


  1. I'm hoping WoW will just scale down as time goes on when it loses the unbelievable popularity it has now. Over time they could just merge more and more realms and scale down the running costs up until the point where there's only one realm left and that one realm could be kept alive with donations...

    I try to think positive and forget any negative scenarios, to avoid getting myself all depressed about these sort of things.

    Death? No, I will most certainly be downloaded into a cyborg by the time my natural body expires.

    Am I denial? Well, it's one way to stay alive.


  2. I know exactly what you mean.
    My problem is I feel like I already lost something when Azeroth changed. I miss certain zones in the game, and think back with nostalgia to pre Cataclysm days.

    Thinking about a day when I can't even log in, is indeed horrorfying. So this is something where my mind says "let's not even go there" but you just did. It was okay though, you wrote it well, very compelling with good imagery.

    You mentioned how we would then have to realize how it was after all virtual, but didn't your story about your school show how much our offline lives are just as much affected by impermanence, even when not being virtual? And that the virtual can be just as powerful in terms of meaning?

  3. Even expansions already make most of Warcraft's content something of the past. It's simply not possible to play through BC or Wrath content in the way it was as the time. And even in Wrath, it wasn't possible to go through the vanilla raiding progression even if you turned off experience at level 60. I mean, you technically could, but the classes have really changed a lot since then.

    I find I don't really mind. Part of what's fun in a game is that it's a diversion.

    As well, there aren't THAT many old games I really go back to. I mostly want to spend time on new ones.

    But I know what you mean. I have a few old games on the shelf that I can't even install, and some of them are now available as emulations runnable on a current computer. That's cool, and it's something that can't be done for online games. There's too much data, and there's too much of it hidden behind the server walls.

  4. "Relationships end", my only comfort has been. "relationships come and go, but epics are soulbound" Now you say the epics mightn't be ripped from our soul? ;)

  5. What a sad day that will be. The only comfort is in thinking that my family will be glad to have me back when that happens. :)

  6. It's interesting - some of you mention the changes to WoW, which I haven't thought about at all actually. It is true that some things aren't there in the sense that they are -exactly- the same, but the general area is still there (more or less). I can still stand on one spot and say "there used to be X here". To me it's kind of like going to see the Colosseum, or any antique. It's not like it used to be, but it gives me a glimps of how things were. Destroying that building would break my heart - probably what I would feel about removing a game world completely.

    Right now I'm just hoping that when that happens, I won't care enough for it to hurt that much. That I've moved on, or accepted, or found something new (that sounds just like a relationship).

  7. I was also going to say that I already felt a little bit like that with Cataclysm. Yes, Auberdine is still there, sort of, but it's completely in ruins and most of its inhabitants are dead. Where Mankrik's wife used to lie next to some huts there is now nothing but jungle. Most areas where you used to quest in Thousand Needles are now at the bottom of the sea. Yes, you can still go there, but it hardly even gives you a glimpse of how things used to be.

    On the plus side, I'm firmly convinced that WoW will be very long-lived and that I will have long lost interest in it by the time it shuts down for good, so hopefully it won't affect me too much.

  8. Aye, we have our screen shots, our little winryders and the like. But yes, one day it will be over. No more favorite characters and running dungeons for gear. No more dailies, no more AH or fishing for deviates outside of wailing cavern.

    What will really make me sad is the fact that I will not be on vent with the same guilies playing the game as well. Will we all migrate together to the next blizzard app? How will that function? I do think a lot about that. Our guild is pretty close.