GameSpot may receive revenue from affiliate and advertising partnerships for sharing this content and from purchases through links.

WoW Classic Is Still Growing, And Players Can't Get Enough

How a small team with "very big dreams" is keeping the old-school versions of Blizzard's MMO fresh.


At BlizzCon 2013, then-World of Warcraft executive producer (and later, Blizzard president) J. Allen Brack infamously said, "You think you do, but you don't," in response to a fan asking about being able to replay old expansions from World of Warcraft's history.

Flash forward to 2024, and there's not just one old-school, "Classic" version of Blizzard's enduring MMORPG to play, but four. It's an impressive accomplishment for a bite-sized team of a few dozen developers that exists within the larger WoW development team at Blizzard. GameSpot recently sat down with WoW Classic lead software engineer Nora Valletta and associate production director Clayton Stone to learn more about how, exactly, such a small team is able to operate so many different versions of the same game concurrently, its most recent seasonal experiments, and the team's goals for the future.

Please use a html5 video capable browser to watch videos.
This video has an invalid file format.
Sorry, but you can't access this content!
Please enter your date of birth to view this video

By clicking 'enter', you agree to GameSpot's
Terms of Use and Privacy Policy

Now Playing: World of Warcraft - Cataclysm Classic Cinematic Announcement Trailer

WoW Classic, which launched in 2019 as a largely unaltered version of the original game as it used to be in 2004, proved to be hugely successful. Since then, Blizzard first re-released the game's popular Burning Crusade expansion before having players progress to Wrath of the Lich King, the most popular expansion in the game's history. Somewhat controversially, but citing player demand, Blizzard will soon convert its Wrath of the Lich King servers to the game's 2010 Cataclysm expansion, with the Cataclysm beta recently kicking off ahead of a full release slated for this summer.

For those who would rather stick to the original, pre-expansion version of Azeroth, there's no shortage of options. Players can still play the version of WoW Classic that launched in 2019, but can additionally try their hand at the game's "Hardcore" servers where the looming specter of permadeath injects a shot of adrenaline into even the most boring quest. More recently, Blizzard launched servers for WoW Classic Season of Discovery, which for the first time adds all-new abilities and content to the 2004 version of the MMO and has players foaming at the mouth at what could be in store for the future.

At first glance, having so many versions of what on the surface is the same game seems to be a double-edged sword. Too many options can split the playerbase, resulting in a diminished experience in each version of WoW Classic Blizzard operates. WoW is an MMO, and having fewer players can cast ripples across each version of the game, ranging from weaker economies to fewer groups running dungeons to a sense of being alone in what is supposed to be a bustling, alive world. However, at least for now, Blizzard isn't concerned about splitting the playerbase. In fact, the opposite seems true. Players want more new content and experiences, and the WoW Classic team is actively hiring as a result, including looking for a senior game designer to continue pushing the game forward.

"In order to be able to do that, and fulfill those ambitions, it certainly required some growth for us to be able to accomplish it," Stone said. "Considering the response we've seen, which has just felt amazing, it fills us with confidence that players are going to want more new experiences and so that's what we are trying to build and build a team for."

Cataclysm Classic will launch this summer, with some changes including a faster content rollout schedule and optional up-rezzed graphics.
Cataclysm Classic will launch this summer, with some changes including a faster content rollout schedule and optional up-rezzed graphics.

The WoW Classic team, described as generalists and multitaskers who wear multiple hats at once, is able to punch far above its weight class by leaning on the much larger modern WoW development team when it comes to aspects of the game like live operations and server infrastructure. That, in turn, allows the Classic team to focus more on rebuilding old content, making new content, and ensuring a positive overall player experience, something that has taken on new importance with the introduction of Season of Discovery's new raid content, items, quests, PvP events, and class abilities.

Communication with the community is a key part of how the Classic team operates and is something Valletta said the team takes pride in. The benefit of being a small team is that it's able to pivot quickly, Valletta said, and is in a near-constant state of active development and discussion in regards to feedback. The key, Valletta said, is to not get so bogged down in listening and addressing feedback that it's "all we're doing."

"We also have to be able to focus on delivering new content…there's a lot of things our players are really hungry for that we want to make sure we can deliver sustainably to them," Valletta said.

When Season of Discovery was in early development, Stone said the team "went crazy" with the number of new class abilities, many of which ended up on the cutting room floor. The team had to scale back its ambition, something he said was ultimately to the benefit of players who could have been left with abilities that would never see use or would quickly become obsolete. Other times, the team's ambitions encounter limitations due to the way the game was originally made back in the early 2000s.

A developer update recently posted to the game's forums highlights that dilemma. Season of Discovery's new level-up raids have, up to this point, been built for 10 players. Come the game's next level 50 phase, that will change, with the new raid being built for 20 players. At some point in Season of Discovery's endgame, 40-man raids will be on the table, as was the case in the original version of WoW. That has caused friction among guilds and player communities who have built their teams around the idea of 10-man raids but will soon need to accommodate larger raid sizes. Potential solutions, such as the "Flex Raiding" feature found in the modern version of the game that scales the difficulty of the raid based on the number of players, currently isn't possible in WoW Classic.

"Sometimes our ambitions outstretch our technical capabilities for some of our Classic experiences and the way they were originally developed," Stone said.

Season of Discovery's new Blood Moon event turns Stranglethorn Vale into a PvP free-for-all.
Season of Discovery's new Blood Moon event turns Stranglethorn Vale into a PvP free-for-all.

But that doesn't mean the Classic team isn't pushing boundaries and taking risks, particularly when it comes to Season of Discovery. Aside from the game's ambitious class changes and new content, simply on a technical level, Season of Discovery has seen a number of firsts for the Classic team. Season of Discovery restricted new character creation in the name of having evenly balanced factions on PvP realms, a first in WoW's two-decade history and an experiment that has been seen as a resounding success. Server capacities for the new season went "far above anything we've ever raised them to before," Stone said, something that resulted in a relatively smooth launch compared to previous WoW Classic launches, where players were forced to wait in login queues for hours on end.

"We're even, for the first time ever for the Classic team, doing weekly class balancing," Stone said. "If you asked me two years ago, I never thought we would commit to something like that, and we're doing it for Season of Discovery."

The team more recently made the bold decision to ban GDKP runs in Season of Discovery, where players use gold to bid on items. GDKPs have been an ongoing point of controversy since WoW Classic's launch in 2019, as they encourage players to buy gold through third-party sites, a violation of the game's terms of service. So far, the results from the GDKP ban "look very promising," according to Valletta, who wouldn't go into more detail on Blizzard's internal methods and statistics in order to deny providing more concrete information to bad apples seeking circumvent punishment.

"I don't think a lot of players were expecting it…I do think it's paying off," Valletta said.

Season of Discovery is still in full swing, with two more content phases planned before players reach a reimagined endgame that will have large itemization changes and reworked progression. Blizzard did confirm that endgame content will roll out in phases and won't be available all at once, as was the case on the game's Hardcore servers. Even though the future of Season of Discovery is very much still in development, the WoW Classic team is already thinking about the future. Season of Discovery will continue to live on in some form, with its new content and class changes possibly receiving their own servers once the season ends. Many players are hoping that, following the success of Season of Discovery, Blizzard will continue to develop new content for the vanilla version of WoW Classic, an idea the community has termed "Classic Plus." Blizzard hasn't commented one way or the other, but said it's listening to feedback and putting ideas in their back pocket for potential future WoW Classic seasons or whatever comes next.

"We're a small team with I'd say very big dreams," Valletta said.

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email

Join the conversation
There are 7 comments about this story