In this article we have used proper names and aliases to name people, in order to protect their identity.

Few genres are capable of evoking the same level of grand nostalgia as MMORPGs. Most of them remained in the public eye for only a few years, made an impact, attracted people into a genre that perhaps they would never try a second time and then disappeared as fast as they appeared on the scene.

The genre is also a classic example of the courses and appeals of trends within the gaming industry. World of Warcraft’s staggering success inspired a generation of imitators (and innovators) before big-profile failures like APB: All Points Bulletin and Star Wars: The Old Republic prompted publishers to think twice before investing in projects so complex and risky.

But for the fans these were more than just projects. These were thriving communities where lifelong friendships were born and vocations were found. So it’s not surprising that every time an MMO’s servers go offline there is a small crowd of enthusiasts with the means and the desire to attempt a resurrection. But what is it actually like to spend your free time working on someone else’s game?

“I’m just a normal person with a full-time job, wife and family,” says Davros. “I’m not important in the grand scheme of things.”

“There are quite a few paying users that Blizzard has been ignoring for a very long time.”

However Davros is rather modest because in his spare time he is the main GM of Kronos, one of the largest private servers in World of Warcraft. He is just one of many enthusiasts who helps keep unofficial servers for old or abandoned MMOs alive.

The relationship between Davros and WoW is quite typical of many fans. He started playing during the initial release of the title and met many of his best friends and even his future wife in the virtual world of Azeroth. Then he was progressively disappointed with the gradual changes made to the retail version and started looking for something that could offer him the “vanilla” experience he loved so much. After a few months of playing on Kronos, he has applied for a moderator position, worked his way up to the position of GM chief, and now administers more than a million accounts.

In Davros’ perspective, its very existence is a side effect of Blizzard’s inability to listen to the needs of its customers. Unlike many others in his community, who think Blizzard owes its fans a vanilla server, he explicitly states that “the company’s only obligations are to its investors”. Yet this is where he personally feels that the publisher has failed.

“If the private community project were only featuring a handful of players around the world we wouldn’t see the plethora of projects that currently exist, let alone the hundreds that have come and gone,” he says. “If the community was really that small then I think it would just make sense not to even mention our existence. But the community isn’t small. There are quite a few paying users here who have been ignored for a very long time.

Projects like Kronos have ‘paved the way’ for Blizzard’s official WoW classic servers.

Davros believes that Blizzard “has indirectly initiated a movement from below” and that the perceived loss of money is nothing more than the inevitable effect of a protest. “They are using their power by not giving money to the company,” he explains. “These players paved the way for classic servers.”

This might sound like an honest but somewhat misinformed opinion of a true fan but Davros’ feelings regarding WoW development are backed up by some respected experts. In a recent interview with Gamasutra, video game economics expert Ramin Shokrizade said that “MMOs are not failing commercially due to lack of consumer demand. They fail because they are assembled almost randomly (what I call Frankenstein style) without an understanding. the systems needed for success “.

“We had the promise of files for private servers that never came true and now we are re-creating an emulator of something they promised us.”

Shokrizade mainly refers to the economics of the game, as he based a large part of his studies on the once rampant WoW money farming problem. However in a persistent world driven by an economy these kinds of problems are compounded when new mechanics are introduced and radical changes are made.

This problem hasn’t escaped the attention of the WoW developers either. Game director Ion Hazzikostas also admitted that “adding and adding continuously with each expansion at the end the result is something very cumbersome. This is an issue that we weren’t quite aware of initially because we were in a uncharted territory “.

Davros’ much desired legacy servers are now on the horizon for WoW fans but many of the older MMO communities have not been so lucky. Asheron’s Call (AC for fans) was released in 1999, before the impressive rise of titles like WoW and Everquest 2 brought MMOs to the attention of a wider audience. The game’s servers were shut down last year amid an outburst of frustration and chagrin from the community, within which many have been playing for nearly two decades.

Contacting the ReefCull team was difficult. Many of the active members of this private server project for Asheron’s Call were scared of any media attention. On the part of the majority of them there is a very clear concern that some lawyer can step forward by destroying everything they have worked for.

The Asheron’s Call ReefCull community feels that Warner Bros has promised a lot but accomplished little

In all fairness this caution is understandable. Many of these players were sold “lifetime subscriptions” to the game in 2014, only to see servers down a handful of years later. When the owners, Warner Bros, announced the loaves to reactivate them in 2017, they removed the option to create new accounts making sure previous players couldn’t grow a new character and experience the game one last time. Eventually Warner sent a cease-and-desist order to the first team that attempted to build a private server, further reinforcing in the minds of his previous players the idea that AC was being killed.

ChosenOne is the alias of one of the members of ReefCull’s small development team. Speaking with him, the frustration is immediately evident. “How could we be understandable?” question. “If they had fulfilled their promises today we would not have this discussion … There were promises of files for private servers, which never came true, and now we are recreating an emulator of something that was promised to us. I would say that we are all still embittered. from their actions and how things went “.

“We are quite confident that we are well within the limits of the law … We do not and will never generate any profit or revenue from the project”

ChoosenOne’s feelings about closing AC are in line with those of the community. Like many others he started playing in 1999 when his uncle was in the beta. He vividly remembers searching for a physical copy in every store in his area on launch day and then waiting several hours for his 56k modem to download updates before logging in. There is real love for Asheron’s Call in this community, as well as a deep awareness that the team is preserving and protecting a work from those who would like to permanently shelve it.

Almost every attempt to discuss the legality of their servers is met with concise and laconic answers. “No comment,” bad question “or” we are fans, not lawyers “are just some of the answers I received. Only one of the five developers I spoke to had something to say on the subject stating that he hopes the future Defense Contract Management Agency decision will allow MMO emulation efforts to remain untouched.

The bigger problem of game preservation is perhaps best explored in this same article but there is a very solid precedent that justifies the fears of the ReefCull community. In 2010 Blizzard won a lawsuit against private servers. However, for the members of this community the question is not about legality but morality. As one of ChosenOne’s colleagues puts it, “People have spent thousands upon thousands of hours in this fantastic game. They had a remarkable collection of characters, items and memories that have been lost forever.”

For ReefCull members, Asheron’s Call closure and subsequent publisher decisions are equivalent to a local government demolishing homes to build a new highway or shopping mall. A place where some of them have spent the last 20 years is now gone forever and from their point of view it doesn’t seem to matter to anyone.

While the ReefCull team continues to fear legal repercussions, the developers of London 2038 (who run a Hellgate: London server) have chosen to approach the matter more directly. “We are quite confident that we are well within the limits of the law,” said Demetrios, the community manager of the project. “We do not and will not generate any profit or revenue from the project,” he explains before stating that he has also consulted a legal team on the matter, simply to be on the safe side.

The team behind London 2038 accepts existence in a legal gray area by necessity

Hellgate: London was based on an interesting idea when it launched in 2007. Designed by former Blizzard executives, Bill Roper and David Brevik, it was touted as a spiritual successor to Diablo II with features from the then very popular MMO genre embedded in the formula. of game. Yet it was also fully playable as an offline single-player experience. This makes London 2038 something unique among many private server projects, especially considering that just a while ago the single-player variant of the original game reappeared on Steam with a November 15th release.

Founder and lead developer Omerta is slightly less sure about the legal stability of London 2038. “Meeting with lawyers about our private server made a few things clearer to me,” he points out. “First of all the project will almost certainly exist in a legal gray area unless an unlikely legal agreement is reached. Secondly, involving the money issue in any way is the biggest risk to the project. the best we can do is underline that this is a fan project with no intellectual property claims. “

Furthermore, Omerta, unlike the ReefCull team, does not share the optimism in any law regarding abandoned software that could benefit them. “The best thing we can do is keep our heads and hands clean,” he says. “Unlike what some people assume, there is no safe haven for private ‘abandonware’ servers.”

Omerta admits that he is “moderately concerned” about the re-release of the original game. For Omerta and the London 2038 team, any current version of Hellgate: London is a separate entity and could even be considered completely different software. The team has made substantial changes to the base game, transforming it into what they consider a completely separate project. The result of all of this, as Omerta points out, is a game with a totally different direction than the one that arrived on Steam. Omerta hopes they can coexist peacefully but it remains to be seen whether publisher HanbitSoft agrees or not.

All three teams featured in this article have one thing in common: a sense of community. Their existence in a way brings to mind an interesting chapter in the history of English football, when disgruntled Manchester United FC fans split up and formed a new club, FC United of Manchester. They didn’t care about the stadium, physical ownership or the considerable financial strength of their former team. They simply shared a common love of sport and a desire to remain as a community, with a place to meet and share their hobby.

In one way or another all of these servers have formed in that spirit of community and shared passion. None of these examples appear to be an attempt at commercial enterprise. These are digital places (town halls, churches and recreation centers) and just like the common feelings of the ReefCull team we need to consider the implications behind taking them away from people.

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