WoW: Burning Crusade Classic Interview – Holly Longdale and Patrick Dawson

With all of the content originally announced for World of Warcraft Classic already released, many fans have been eagerly waiting to hear about the game’s next steps. Their anticipation was rewarded during the opening ceremony of BlizzConline, where it was announced that World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade Classic is coming in 2021.

With WoW: Burning Crusade Classic officially announced, fans of the game can begin making preparations for their journeys through the Dark Portal. While many players will choose to keep their characters from World of Warcraft Classic and continue on with their story, others may decide to begin an all new adventure at the game’s launch.

Screen Rant had the chance to speak with Holly Longdale, lead producer for World of Warcraft Classic, along with Patrick Dawson, World of Warcraft‘s production director, about the exciting announcement. We discussed the successes Blizzard had with Classic‘s initial release, how the studio’s design philosophy has changed heading into Burning Crusade Classic, and what could be coming for World of Warcraft in the distant future.

How did your commitment to no changes affect both the development and overall success of World of Warcraft Classic?

Patrick Dawson: “No changes” being our guiding principle for WoW Classic made it very easy to make decisions on it. We just went to the reference client and went to that. But one thing we learned as we went through the release of the content in Classic is that [no changes] may not always be in the best interest of the players. Putting back in things like spell batching made the game feel a little less crisp. It was authentic, but it’s not what modern players want. The community today is so different from what the community was back in 2007 that it had us take a different philosophy with Burning Crusade, where we actually started to allow ourselves to make some changes that were in the best interests of the players that will continue to develop alongside the community.

What about the original World of Warcraft do you think has kept players engaged over 16 years after its initial release?

Holly Longdale: From my point of view, it’s all the mechanics and the design that bring people together. It’s all the growth of the community, within the mechanics of the game itself. I talk a lot about “drive-by buffing” and making friends on long runs to places. I always make the run from Teldrassil to Ironforge, and I usually meet a couple people along the way. To me, that’s what makes Classic really unique, and it’s sustaining it and the excitement of bringing that back. It’s a very friendly, loving place. The pace is also a little bit slower. There’s a bit more time to take your time and get embedded in the immersion and the story, and evolve that way. And there’s the thrill and excitement of achievement. So getting into dungeons and getting into raids has a different feel to it. It was more like an achievement rather than an expectation. And I think that’s some of the magic of Classic that started way back when – and continued, again, in 2007 with The Burning Crusade. And we fully expect it will continue when Burning Crusade Classic launches.

Patrick Dawson: One thing that I love, especially, about Burning Crusade was, given that it was the first expansion for World of Warcraft, the feature set that was added was so rich and diverse. Not only do you have the new levels [and] all the new abilities that come with that, you have heroic dungeons, the arena system, flying, jewelcrafting, [and] Blood Elf and Draenei for your new races. There really was something for everyone. I think that’s really what the staying power behind this is. At its core, World of Warcraft is a game about the community and the players that you play with. And the fact that there is something for everyone out there just makes that community so much more rich and vibrant. And it supports itself really well, so it’s this really cool symbiotic relationship between making sure we have something for everyone and having the community be there to flourish with itself.

Some Classic players have taken to creating their own challenges, such as speedrunning raids or reaching the max level without any deaths. Are there any steps that you can take to support these niche ways of playing the game?

Holly Longdale: Right now, we’re just focused purely on creating the best experience we can with the Burning Crusade Classic and Classic era. You know, one of those things, like Pat mentioned, was removing spell batching. We’re always going to respond to what is quality of life.

Patrick Dawson: Those are all really cool ideas, and we love seeing the way players engage with that kind of stuff. We talk about it internally from time to time as a, “Hey, it would be cool if…” But we can only do so much at one time. If those voices get louder, we’ll see how we can serve them, as well.

Was Burning Crusade Classic always planned to be the next step in the game’s lifespan, or were other options considered?

Patrick Dawson: WoW Classic itself was released as a love letter to the fans. We didn’t have any plans beyond WoW Classic at the time we released it. But once that moment happened – that epic moment, where we saw everyone come back and start playing this in droves – we knew we had something we needed to do more with. The players knew we had something we had to do more with. We listened to them, and what they said with a resounding voice was, “We want Burning Crusade.” So there was never any question in our mind, once we heard that and we saw how engaged the community was, that we would want to go forward and do something like Burning Crusade.

There are many players who think of the Burning Crusade as their favorite time in WoW’s history. Can you speak on why that might be?

Holly Longdale: I feel like we hear that about almost every expansion from a variety of different groups of players. For [Burning Crusade], it really was an expansion of the world in a very meaningful way. There were two new races and a level increase and flying and jewelcrafting. Everything expanded. That was a moment in time where we took WoW vanilla, which was a phenomenon, and built on it in really meaningful ways. And I think that’s what’s resounding with players now.

Do you think Burning Crusade Classic has the potential to attract current World of Warcraft: Shadowlands players in a way that the original Classic did not?

Patrick Dawson: I know I’m going to give it a try, and I mainly play Shadowlands. I think one really cool thing that we have decided to do is offered the level 58 paid boost, once per account. If you didn’t participate in Classic and you are a Shadowlands player, or just a former player that wants to come back and experience that moment of going through the Dark Portal with all of your friends, you can actually go and do that now without having to go back and try to finish your levels in Classic. It was important for us to add the restrictions on the boost and make it something that wasn’t simple to get so that we can recognize the effort that those who leveled in Classic have put in. But we also know that World of Warcraft is better with friends. And that moment of going through the Dark Portal is just one that you really can’t miss. We wanted everybody to have the chance to experience it.

Do you worry that some fans of the game are going to be upset about the level boost?

Patrick Dawson: I’m sure there will be some people that are going to be less than thrilled about a boost. But if you take a step back and think about what makes a World of Warcraft fun and engaging, it is playing with your friends. And, really, the goal of the boost is to give you an opportunity to play with even more people. But because we hear their voice, too, that they want us to protect leveling, we’ve added these restrictions on it. We made it so that you can’t do it in Classic-era realms at all. You can’t do it for Blood Elf and Draenei. If you want to level them, you have to do that from scratch. It’s really just meant to try to get those people in who want to try Burning Crusade and add to the community and make it bigger and more vibrant.

Holly Longdale: There was a lot of discussion around it, and we made it very basic. It doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles. It literally is just to get you through the Dark Portal. You’re not going to be more advanced than other players as you go through. It’s dungeon blues and no professions. The goal is to get you in with your friends and get you through the Dark Portal on launch day.

Are you considering any other paid services that are offered in Shadowlands, such as faction transfers or race changes?

Patrick Dawson: We always take a look at what makes sense, but some of those things didn’t exist in Burning Crusade. We don’t have any plans for anything other than what we’ve announced here for the launch of Burning Crusade. If it comes to pass that there’s a lot of people that really need that faction change, or they are really interested in a race change, we can reevaluate that choice. But as of today, we’re not planning to do that.

Will players have the opportunity to experience Burning Crusade Classic on “fresh” servers that don’t have preexisting characters? Or will every server allow Classic characters to be transferred over?

Patrick Dawson: If you remember how it worked when you logged out in 2007, before The Burning Crusade launched, and then you logged in the next day: Same guilds, same players, same community, same friends, same servers. Same thing is going to happens here. Every server that currently exists is going to become a progression server, and you will have The Burning Crusade available as an option to play there. If you would like to choose Classic, that is where you will select a Classic-era server because we want to keep those communities vibrant and healthy, as well. We recognize fewer people will likely want to stay in Classic and not progress to Burning Crusade. So you and everyone else on your server that has selected Classic [are] going to go to a destination server in the Classic era, along with other people who have also selected that option. But we wanted to make it easy for people that wanted to go to Burning Crusade to just continue on and not have to re-form any social structures or fight for character names or anything like that.

So the Classic-era servers will be in phase six, and they will have all of the current content unlocked?

Holly Longdale: Correct.

Have you considered a periodic release of the phases again in World of Warcraft Classic?

Holly Longdale: This evolution of Classic, from Burning Crusade and Classic era, is a monumental effort, and our focus is on stability and making sure that we go through this transition in a very stable way. We want to focus on that, for now. As far as what could be coming in the future, we’ve got a lot of ideas, [and] we’re getting a lot of ideas. This notion of fresh-start servers – that’s not immediately on the table. But we recognize that there is a desire for that out there. For now, we want to focus on making the best evolution of Classic to Burning Crusade. Then we’ll look at what the community wants, going forward.

You revealed that both Alliance and Horde Paladins will have access to Seal of Blood and Seal of Vengeance. Are there any other changes currently planned to prevent faction imbalance?

Holly Longdale: Nothing that significant yet. But once we get into beta, we’ll start looking at how things are shaking out. Everything we do is in response to the community and the feedback we get, particularly during beta. We’ll keep evaluating as we go, as we did in Classic. We’re very mindful of any changes that we made, but we also want to respond to issues in the community in gameplay.

With the original Classic, Burning Crusade Classic and Shadowlands, there will be three different ways to play World of Warcraft. Are you concerned at all about splitting up the game’s player base?

Patrick Dawson: That is something that we talked about. But when we actually looked at the data and the facts behind it, we saw that we have, currently, two extremely large, very vibrant communities. And we were concerned about even doing [Classic]: Would it split the community there? It turns out we just created another large one; we didn’t split anything. So when we look at things going forward with Burning Crusade and Classic, we can support two very large communities in each one of those. We’ll have a large, vibrant community for Classic, a large, vibrant community for Burning Crusade, and a very large, vibrant community for Shadowlands.

Do you suspect Classic versions of World of Warcraft attract new players? Or do you believe it’s mainly enjoyed by people who have been playing the game for a long time?

Holly Longdale: Yes, in every case. We have a lot of new, [and] we have a lot of returning. And, because we have one subscription, we definitely got [Battle for Azeroth] players in Classic playing, and there’s still a community that goes back and forth. And we consider that. When we talk about releasing content, we want to be mindful that we’re not really stepping on each other’s toes because there are some players that like to go back and forth. It’s a really interesting phenomenon.

As game developers, what do you find fun about developing a game that already came out in the past? And what has been challenging about doing so?

Patrick Dawson: It’s very interesting. One of the things about developing a game like Burning Crusade is you can clearly see the goalposts from the beginning. Whereas with something like Shadowlands, it’s a little bit murkier and behind some fog, and you have to clear that away before you can really see the end destination. That’s the beauty of doing something like this. The challenges are that restoring what people remember is very difficult. The technology of today is not the same as 2007. You want to take advantage of what you have today, with all 17 years of stability improvements and code. You’d like to be able to use modern code. And so that was the decision we made. But then you have this data that describes the game rules of World of Warcraft that existed back in Burning Crusade time. That is not a small thing to try to convert because that data has been converted year after year for 17 years. It was something around three quarters of a million records that we had to change to just to even get the server running. Then there is a portion of Burning Crusade development that is about checking nostalgic memories with the truth of what existed. We have these reference clients, which show Burning Crusade as it was on old code, with old data – everything. With that, we can take a look and say, O.K., people remember this ability working this way, when in reality, it worked this way. But now that we’re embracing some changes, maybe it should work that way. Let’s try to really hit that feeling of what Burning Crusade was in people’s minds and memories.

Holly Longdale: Another challenge that has been ongoing in Classic is that it is absolutely a faithful recreation. And then we discover that players figure out ways to do things in Classic the second time around that didn’t happen the first time around. So we have to resolve those issues as we go. Even though we were 100% faithful, you know, players are smart.

You talked about how Burning Crusade Classic bosses are going to be in their most difficult state. Do you think players are going to be surprised by how difficult Burning Crusade‘s content is?

Patrick Dawson: Not surprised, so much. It’s more providing the challenge level that people are expecting, especially when they see something for the first time. As time goes on, if we notice that we do need to go back and nerf them, like we did in The Burning Crusade, we’ll consider doing that. But those people that are on the cutting edge and have been studying these bosses for a while and know all the mechanics in and out and the pace of the fight – they’re going to have an easier time than they did in 2007, when it was much more exploratory. Going back to [the bosses’] pre-nerf forms and making them a little bit more difficult is something that I think will add to that challenge that people are craving.

You described this progressive server system, where this specific set of servers will continue into the next era of the game. Does this mean you are anticipating going beyond Burning Crusade with Classic versions of World of Warcraft?

Holly Longdale: We’re focused on Burning Crusade Classic right now, but we’re going to keep our ears to the ground watching the community. If there’s a demand, we’ll explore that in the future, just like we said with fresh-start servers or special rule servers, etc. That’s beyond our view, at this point, but I like to say nothing’s off the table. If this incredible phenomenon and community continues, we’ll, of course, deliver what the players ask for.

For the Alliance, or For the Horde?

Holly Longdale: For the Alliance, of course. To me, it’s honor and duty and loyalty and light and joy. Not Horde, Pat!

Patrick Dawson: I played Alliance for 13 years, and I’ve played Horde for four. They both are awesome. Alliance was chosen because the group of friends I wanted to play with wanted to play more “pretty” races. I had a somebody who wanted to play a Druid, and I think at that point you could only play Tauren, and that wasn’t as cool as a Night Elf. So my guild went Alliance. It was fun. In the last few years, I managed to switch over to Horde. I really like the casting animations for the undead mage, where they’re kind of flinging things at stuff, and I had always wanted to be an undead mage. So I took my human and killed it, and I rose from the dead to become undead. And I’m raiding with friends, now, on the Horde side.

World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade Classic will launch sometime in 2021.

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