Free servers are the MMO equivalent of regular game piracy, they’re likely never going to fully go away and developers have different approaches on how to deal with them. The gaming community is split on how private servers should be regarded, and there are plenty of legitimate and illegitimate reasons for their existence.
If Nostalrius has proven anything, it is that vanilla World of Warcraft continues to be the holy grail of a large number of MMO gamers. It proves that there is at least heavy interest in the concept. Whether or not those players, plus the unknown quantity of gamers who want vanilla WoW but won’t play on pirate servers, will translate into a profitable venture is unknown, but that’s just it: The number is unknown.
To not misquote Blizzard, they never really talk about profitability when it comes to classic servers. Rather, the answer is generally about artistic vision and supporting the live game going forward. I have little doubt that an official classic server with the Blizzard seal of “this won’t get shut down pending a lawsuit” would be profitable, and I’m sure that their bean counters have come to the same conclusion. So the only choices are artistic vision and technical feasibility.
On the technical side, it’s hard to argue that such a venture would be impossible. It’s been done, numerous times by people working out of their house, in fact it’s been done better. Nostalrius was capable of supporting a massive number of players in a server.
I suspect, and don’t hold me to this, that a classic World of Warcraft server is and for years has been on Blizzard’s potential project list. When Jagex launched RuneScape 3 along with the Evolution of Combat update and players began leaving the game, I suspected that if the population dropped enough that they would launch a classic version of RuneScape 2. Lo and behold, I was right. I feel that World of Vanillacraft doesn’t stray too far from that theory.
Because creative vision doesn’t mean jack when your subscriber numbers are falling and your customers are badgering you to please let them give you money. Right now, Blizzard is in a place where the ebb and flow of expansions and microtransactions are keeping that ace firmly placed up Blizzard’s sleeve. Should those sales dip, I have a feeling Blizzard will come across a functioning version from 2005-2006, and all of a sudden those claims of artistic vision will have been just a prank, bro.
And just as with Old School RuneScape, I suspect that WoW Vanilla would do amazingly well within its first months, enough to fund the hiring of dedicated developers and get the content train rolling in a way that didn’t diminish from the old school style of play. You’d gradually see small tweaks and bug fixes turn into regular content updates, kind of like Old School RuneScape, and who knows? In a few more months its population could rival that of the main game.
But, like I said, we’ll never know until Blizzard tries. Jagex has Old School RuneScape, Daybreak Game Company gave its blessing to Project 99, hasn’t sued the Star Wars Galaxies emulator, Lineage II has its classic servers, etc.
I’m not saying Blizzard is obligated to provide a classic server, but never say never.