I find myself in a very odd and unique position this year.
I’m one of a few select players that has had the pleasure of playing both Vanilla, what we now call Classic World of Warcraft, and current live World of Warcraft. We covered the distinctions between the two in may of this year, as well as why I never really wish to return to it. Recently, however, I’ve seen particular discussions surrounding major differences between the two that I thought were interesting enough to share. While we briefly discussed this particular point in ‘A Classic Take,’ this week let’s discuss about the ties of community and how they impact both Classic as we knew it and Live as we know it now.
So what is a community, at least as it pertains to the World of Warcraft? For the purposes of our discussion, we’ll define it as a group of like-minded individuals. These days that term is used interchangeably between the Community Feature, your group of RealID friends, your guild, your faction, your server, or even your particular gameplay fashion. In Classic’s day it was often used to refer to one of three things.
First you would have your collection of friends. Due to Classic’s higher string of difficulty in comparison to modern, or Live, Warcraft, you would often be forced into socializing and cooperating with other players frequently. Playing alone was simply a slower, if not often unsuccessful, method of questing and playing Warcraft. Finding a few people to connect with and make memories made the experience more entertaining overall.
Secondly, you would have your guild community. As Classic only had one major source of endgame at its launch, your guild was a major part of the experience. Often your group of friends would morph into a guild of its own. This was the vehicle for which to move through Warcraft’s higher-level challenges and, for some aspects like raiding, was necessary. That being said, Guilds were not mandatory aspects of the Classic community.
Instead that was relegated to your Server or Realm Community. This was an indelible part not just of your Warcraft experience, but the very identity of who you were as a player. More so than faction, more so than class, your Realm was your world. Word could quickly explode in your community if you were a competent tank or if you were a particularly dastardly player. Some stories, like those of Angwe or Leeroy Jenkins carry on long after their Realms have been reshuffled and forgotten. Here is where you went when, failing friends or a guild, you wanted to engage in content beyond what you could as a solo player.
Each part of this ‘community ladder’ that Classic had was an extension of its social hierarchy. As one couldn’t simply race change or server transfer you were, to an extent, inflicted with that Server Social hierarchy. As most players are often playing with good faith, very few had anything to fear from their server. Instead these self-contained communities were so closely tight knit due to gameplay progression. Classic’s high difficulty throughout forced players to cooperate or suffer, thus forging community bonds that reached throughout a realm and, in some cases, could last a lifetime.
These days, in Live Warcraft, the concept of community is different. While the concept and indeed the practices still exist throughout Azeroth things have changed. Server community, with the implementation of Cross-Realm Zones, had been significantly reduced to little more than a curse word for Frostmourne-US. While Roleplay Servers and communities self-identify still to this day, this practice is far more reduced than it has been.
In reality, the concept of community overall is indeed far more reduced in current Warcraft. That isn’t due to any failure on the part of the community, though there are certainly horror stories to share. There isn’t an organization digital or otherwise that could remain exactly the same over the course of fifteen years. People get older, change their lives, and eventually leave their communities behind.
From a gameplay perspective, there simply isn’t a reason for players to truly band together anymore on a wider scale. Content throughout Warcraft is now easily soloable. Group content can be forged quickly through in-game group finders and Pick-Up Groups. Only the absolute cutting edge of Warcaft’s challenges require a strong community base. But if you find your community not up to your standards, you can simply go elsewhere with no recompense or issue. It is now easier than ever to be a free agent in the raiding scene.
Ironically enough, there are really only two major gameplay elements that require a strong community base. Roleplaying and Rated Player vs. Player gameplay. Two communities of such vast difference in ideals that most would never expect them to be mentioned in the same sentence. However, they share much more in their common ideals than one would believe.
Roleplaying, by its nature, is a cooperative activity. In World of Warcraft roleplayers are often segregated by Classic’s social hierarchy. You may play with a handful of friends, just within a guild, or you may be a server figurehead. However, due to the nature of attaching an identity and proverbial face to your avatar, your name is far more easily identifiable. You can quickly make a good or bad name for yourself on a server, much like Classic in a sense.
Rated PvP, once more by its nature, is a cooperative activity. While this is magnified even more so in the Rated Battleground scene, players looking for any major sort of progression spend an unbelievable amount of time working with vast combinations of other players and classes. Your name can quickly get around for both poor performance and bad, certainly if you join one of several communities for casual RPvP. This is only exacerbated for those who are Gladiator level players; PvPers that have crossed the 2400 rating threshold and reaped elite rewards in either being the top 0.1% or claiming their Gladiator’s Mounts. Your name quickly gets around, and as such you get access for good playing, to all of the players in those brackets.
So, where does this leave us in the differentiation between Classic and Live? Community, frankly, no longer exists for the casual player. If you log only a handful of hours a week, you’ll never need to get to know anyone ever. In contrast community was such a vital part of Classic that its hard to think about questing or preparing for dungeons alone in the time. Elements of that still exist, to an extent, but even then those are communities and play-style you can easily opt out of.
The differences between Classic’s and Live’s communities are simple. The former’s exists purely by necessity, while the latter’s only exist when players see fit to make one. It makes the game as we know it today less social, but without that reliance on community other gameplay designs have flourished. Warcraft is more accessible to the casual player than ever without needing to pass arbitrary community bars. The experience, however, is far more detached and impersonal than it has ever been. After all, why would you want to try as hard as you can in a raid lest you face social backlash when one can simply PuG Heroic Azshara and sit in a corner?