The team behind a fan-run version of World of Warcraft has secured a meeting with the game’s developer after a public campaign.
In April, developer Blizzard Entertainment shut down Nostalrius, an unofficial server running an older, unsupported version of the game.
That led to more than 250,000 fans signing a petition for Blizzard to support so-called legacy servers.
It has now agreed to meet the team from Nostalrius to discuss the issue.
The private server ran an original version of the popular role-playing game, sometimes called a “vanilla” version, which reflects the game as it was released in 2004.
In the years since launch, WoW has been updated and patched with several expansions, which some fans feel has altered the fundamental experience.
Nostalrius was shut down in April after Blizzard issued a legal warning, igniting a public debate among fans on the issue. Now the developer says it will invite the Nostalrius team to its California headquarters for discussions – though a date has not been fixed.
The company also suggested the possibility of what it called a “pristine” server, which would do away with some of the modern game’s boosts and services, but run within the current version.
Nostalrius says formal meetings with Blizzard will make it a community advocate – and it hopes the company will take over the responsibility to run legacy servers legally.
“We feel we are now not only the admins of a private server, we are also the ambassadors of a larger movement for the entire World of Warcraft community that wants to see game history restored,” they wrote in a forum post.
“It is a major responsibility. Our top priority and only focus now is to fulfil the needs of this community, by carrying your voice to Blizzard directly.”
Blizzard has never supported legacy servers itself, making illegal private servers the only option for experiencing the “classic” game.
Blizzard said the issue of “classic” servers had been discussed for years, but claimed it could not be implemented “without extreme difficulty”. It also said it could not have allowed the private Nostalrius server to continue, as “failure to protect against intellectual property infringement would damage Blizzard’s rights”.
Fans reacted with mixed views to Blizzard’s tentative discussions. Some fear that official legacy servers could pull company resources away from developing new content for the main version of the game. Others – including former WoW developer Mark Kern – said legacy servers were still needed.
“WoW is an important game – it’s part of gaming history – but there’s no legal way for people to enjoy its earlier versions or see where it all came from,” Mr Kern said in a video addressed to Blizzard.
“Unlike the old days, they can’t just boot up a floppy disk or slip in a CD-Rom.
“The original game is gone from the world forever and legacy servers are the only way to preserve this vital part of gaming culture.”
At its peak in 2010, World of Warcraft attracted almost 12 million subscribers, but today it has about five million paying customers. Nostalrius had about 150,000 active members when it was shut down on 10 April.