Earlier this week, YouTuber BellularGaming announced one of the most ambitious mods for World of Warcraft I've ever seen. Warcraft Tales was more than the typical user interface overhaul: the plan was to rewrite the entirety of World of Warcraft's level 1-60 quests zone-by-zone to make the story more interesting. I say "was" because today BellularGaming announced that Blizzard's legal team had nixed the idea.
"Essentially, [Blizzard's] legal department does not see the project as just an addon as governed by the addon policy, rather it's seen as a third-party expansion set," Michael of BellularGaming explains in a video update. Originally, the team was optimistic that Warcraft Tales would have been OK thanks to the precedent set by Starcraft Universe, a mod that turns Starcraft 2 into an RPG with some multiplayer elements.
Warcraft Tales wasn't a game within a game like Starcraft Universe, however. Instead, it would utilize World of Warcraft's robust modding tools to essentially redesign how quests and the story were presented to the player. You'd still be collecting boar livers and all that fun stuff, but instead of a page of dry text accompanying each quest, Warcraft Tales would utilize voice acting to deliver a more lively experience. "Our goal is to create a more narratively compelling and immersive experience for you to play through," Michael explains in the original announcement video.
One of the bigger features included re-engineering some of the game design so that the story could be told alongside gameplay instead of broken up in-between. As one example, Michael points to an early quest to explore a mine during which all the exposition is given beforehand, you run over to the mine and step inside, the objective is marked as complete, and you run back. Warcraft Tales' version of the quest would've given you some voice-acted dialogue to send you off, but upon reaching the mine you'd overhear a conversation between a villain of the whole zone's storyline.
The redesign would've happened in an episodic format, which each zone being redesigned per episode starting with the human questline in Elwynn Forest. To help cover the cost of a team of four developers in addition to hiring voice actors and renting office space, BellularGaming was turning to Patreon. The campaign page is now taken down, but BellularGaming was looking for $2,500 a month as its first goal, with stretch goals going from there. When I checked yesterday, they were well on their way to reaching that goal and the community response was universally positive—until Blizzard pulled the plug on everything.
In his video announcing that Warcraft Tales would cease development, Michael explains that he believes they were within Blizzard's policies for addons, but suspects the policy wasn't designed to handle a project of this scope.
I reached out to Blizzard for an official response.
"As we told Bellular directly, we really appreciate his passion for the game," a Blizzard rep said in an email. "But what it comes down to is that we need to protect the integrity and experience of the game for all of our players. WoW is very much a living world—anything that can change actual in-game content has the possibility of affecting the experience for all players on a technical side, even if they choose not to use the addon, besides materially changing the lore that binds the universe together. Fan fiction is awesome (and it takes place out of game), addons that modify the way quests are displayed are fine since they don’t modify the in-game content, but addons that alter [or] replace the actual in-game content and story are not since this has far-reaching implications on the player experience."
Blizzard's stance is sensible, but Warcraft Tales shutting down is tragic because Michael said that he was funding the first three episodes out of pocket, with the first due to be released on April 6. He doesn't specify how much, but I'm going to assume there's probably some amount of invested money that's now lost.
There's a small sliver of hope, however, as Michael says he will be pursuing negotiations with Blizzard to find some way to get Warcraft Tales released. But all of that will happen "behind the scenes." For now, Warcraft Tales is as good as dead, which is a shame. World of Warcraft's level 1-60 questlines received a pretty major overhaul years ago during the Cataclysm expansion, but since then they've definitely aged—especially compared to the new quests in Legion. Updating them has been on many player's wishlists for sometime. Warcraft Tales was an attempt to do that, and we won't know how it would've fared unless Blizzard bends its rules.