When World of Warcraft Classic first was announced, Blizzard president J. Allen Brack made it clear that it was all a big gamble. For years Blizzard had hummed and hawed as players begged to play a version of WoW as it existed when it first launched. Not only would getting a 15-year-old MMO to actually work on modern computers be a monumental challenge, Brack infamously suggested that a 2004-era WoW might be a lot less fun than people remembered. But when WoW Classic launched in 2019 and WoW's subscription numbers had more than doubled a few months later, one thing was clear: People love old school WoW.
Now Blizzard has announced that WoW Classic isn't ending with that original, vanilla experience. Today at BlizzCon, TK TK said that later this year the Burning Crusade, WoW's first expansion, will be getting its own Classic treatment. Players will soon be able to explore the continent of the Outlands beyond the Dark Portal, leveling to 70 while taking on some of WoW's toughest endgame raids and dungeons as they existed in 2007.
But that leaves a very large Elekk in the room: Is WoW Classic going to one day include other expansions like the much-loved Wrath of the Lich King? Prior to BlizzCon, I spoke to production director Patrick Dawson and lead producer Holly Longdale to learn all about their approach to Burning Crusade Classic, how it's deviating from the Burning Crusade you might remember, and how players will be able to immediately jump in and play even if they don't have a max-level character. Naturally, I had to ask about what's next after the Burning Crusade.
"We're focusing on Burning Crusade right now," Dawson said. "That's what the community said they wanted, that's what we want to give them. It sounds like you're casting a vote for future things too, and we'll be sure to listen to you and others as we progress along through here."
It's a predictable answer—especially considering Burning Crusade Classic isn't even out yet and will likely occupy players' attention for the next two years or more. But I had to know if the unexpected success of WoW Classic, which led Blizzard to pursue making Burning Crusade Classic in the first place, was making the development team think more long term. Dawson implied the answer is yes, but said that there's still "a lot of problems to solve" including the biggest one: How do you run multiple versions of the same MMO simultaneously?
See, when Burning Crusade Classic launches later this year, it won't be an expansion to WoW Classic in the traditional sense but more like a wholly separate game. Longdale explained that current level 60 players in Classic will choose whether to take their characters into the Burning Crusade or stick to playing the strictly vanilla version of WoW. Those who opt into the Burning Crusade will stay where they are on the same servers, but players who choose to play vanilla WoW Classic will have their character copied over to a different server that requires an entirely different WoW client to access. So, essentially, WoW Classic, WoW: Burning Crusade Classic, and WoW: Shadowlands, the modern version, will all run simultaneously. If Blizzard gives more expansions the Classic treatment, it's easy to see how complicated that system might become. "There's a lot of problems to solve, even with Burning Crusade, Classic, and modern all running as three large MMOs running alongside each other," Dawson said. "And we're committed to getting that right."
"Once we get that right," Dawson added, "yeah, that does open possibilities to potentially other things in the future for us. But we need to build that muscle a little bit too and make sure we're focusing on the important priority things for today, which is serving the Classic community and serving the Burning Crusade community."
Still, despite the difficulties of resurrecting a 15-year-old MMO and getting it to play nice on modern computers and modern server infrastructure, it's hard to imagine a world where Blizzard cuts WoW Classic just short of its most beloved expansion ever. Wrath of the Lich King is considered by many to be a high point of WoW's long history and it helped transform WoW into a mainstream phenomenon with an all-time high of over 12 million subscribers.
At the beginning of our interview, Dawson explained that development on Burning Crusade Classic started shortly after WoW Classic's 2019 release. He explained that, almost immediately, players began asking for Blizzard to also include the Burning Crusade. "It's what people want," he said. "We'd been listening to the community and the community has been pretty loud that they're interested in the Burning Crusade, so let's do that. Let's make it happen."
That sentiment of giving the players what they want is really at the core of what WoW Classic is. And while Dawson says he's only thinking about Burning Crusade for now, it's likely that the development of Wrath of the Lich King Classic will depend entirely on players.