World of Warcraft: Classic and Video Game Preservation - An Opinion

Back in August, Blizzard Entertainment released the so-called “Classic” version of their long-running MMORPG World of Warcraft that presents the game in all its 2004 glory. This resulted in a article that talks about how in the long run ongoing updates can inadvertently erase a game's history and turn it into something completely different from what it once was. The article then makes an argument for better archiving and preservation efforts when it comes to video games. Here's an excerpt and you take it from there:

Nonetheless, it's fascinating the see how much attention and demand Blizzard has generated for WoW Classic. This is something genuinely new for the industry. We've become accustomed to the enthusiasm that greets updates and re-releases of retro titles, most notably in the form of miniature retro consoles loaded with classic games, but WoW Classic is something quite different. A stripped-down retro re-release of a game that actually still has a very popular live service right now. WoW isn't a retro game -- it's a current, regularly updated and widely played game -- yet it's clear that a substantial number of consumers see an earlier iteration of that live service as being something different enough to qualify as an exciting retro re-release.

Aside from what this says about the accelerating cycles of "retro" gaming (WoW itself only launched back in 2004), the success of WoW Classic, whether it be long-term or merely flash-in-the-pan nostalgia, stands as strong evidence of something else as well -- namely how much of the industry's cultural history is being washed away every single month by the proliferation of live service games, and the lack of a clearly defined or well-implemented strategy or rulebook for archiving them.

The most obvious concerns in this regard are about games that simply disappear; online or mobile games that are discontinued by their creators, with their servers and licensing systems going offline and the games becoming entirely unplayable. In the worst-case scenario required code may be lost entirely, and the game -- however significant or minor it may have seemed, no matter how far-reaching or inconsequential its influence may have been -- is likely lost forever to would be archivists or students of this medium.

WoW Classic, however, highlights another major aspect of this problem. World of Warcraft is a hugely influential part of gaming history and culture, but nobody is worried about it going away entirely, at least not for now. It's an active, popular game that still makes plenty of money, after all. However, the fact that an earlier version of that game is so radically different that it's possible to launch it as a separate, "retro" service is a clear acknowledgement that WoW has evolved so much since launch that what you can play right now is effectively a whole different game.